Magazine article The Spectator

'A Very Dangerous Woman', by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'A Very Dangerous Woman', by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield - Review

Article excerpt

A Very Dangerous Woman Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield

Oneworld, pp.400, £20, ISBN: 9781780747088

Moura Budberg (1892-1974) had an extraordinary life. She was born in the Poltava region of Ukraine, and as a young woman she danced at the Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam with the Russian Tsar and the German Kaiser. In her twenties by 1917, she had a well-placed aristocratic husband, two children and several fine homes in different countries.

This might have been enough for most of us, but for Moura it was merely a preamble -- we are only on page 15. Revolution, espionage, embezzlement, murder, executions, plenty of intimacy and arrests by several different nations take us through a few more chapters. She surges on, driven by her twin passions for men and intrigue and, above all, a determination to survive, fully exploiting her considerable brains, charm and languages, and her useful ability to drink men into oblivion 'without showing more than a slur in her voice'.

As Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield note with some pleasure, 'Moura's life was woven with lovers', to most of whom she showed no more fidelity than to her spymaster employers. The ten named in this book include Alexander Kerensky, the pre-Lenin Russian revolutionary leader; Yakov Peters, the head of the Moscow Cheka; and the leading agent of the British plotting against the Bolsheviks, Robert Bruce Hamilton Lockhart. Lockhart was the only man Moura fell passionately in love with, and when she writes to him hoping he will 'soon see the red sweater again', it is pleasingly ambiguous as to whether she is teasingly referring to her clothes or her person.

Few women can boast such political reach, aside perhaps from Magda Goebbels and Edwina Mountbatten. But Moura was not finished. Later lovers included the great Maxim Gorky, who on meeting her reportedly set out his thoughts to impress her, 'like a peacock spreading his beautiful feathers'. And Gorky introduced her to a visiting H.G. Wells, whom she quickly seduced and slowly came to care for, acquiring a British visa on the way.

With such material this book could read like a thriller, yet the thorough research here provides a weightier feast. This is impressive, given Moura's desire to control her own image and her fabrication of facts for both work and pleasure. …

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