Monday, 2 April 2018

My darling little Joan

Searching for information about Sydney Schiff led me to look for books by him, written under his pseudonym of Stephen Hudson. I was intrigued to find some of his books for sale that had handwritten dedications to a 'darling little Joan', and I wondered who this could be. After some false leads, it became clear that Joan was, in fact, the Countess of Drogheda, but her remarkable story only gradually appeared. In his book 'Sydney and Violet" Stephen Klaidman refers to Joan, Countess of Drogheda as a friend of Violet, who left Joan her grand piano. In fact their acquaintance went back a long way, to when Joan was still a teenager, and was discovered by Sydney for her skills as a pianist at her first performance at the end of the First World War, and who was to become their protégée. Julian Fane, a later protégé of the widowed Violet, wrote a detailed and affectionate memoir of Violet in his book 'Memoir in the Middle of the Journey', which he dedicated to 'Joan Drogheda'. This was published in 1971, nine years after Violet's death. It was Joan who had introduced Julian to Violet.

Image courtesy of Thomas Dorn, ABAA
Image courtesy of Thomas Dorn, ABAA

Image courtesy of Thomas Dorn, ABAA

In 1993 Julian Fane published his biographical novel 'Eleanor', which is closely based on the life of Joan, Countess of Drogheda. It deals with her illegitimate birth, her difficult upbringing, her informal adoption by Sydney and Violet Schiff, her disastrous marriages, her acting career in America and her eventual meeting and marriage to the earl.
When I read this book it was soon after I had completed extensive research in public records, tracing the story of her mother and her divorce, Joan's birth, and her acting career. The novel was corroborated by what I had discovered, and also brought the skeleton narrative to life.

The Earl and Countess of Drogheda
Details of her birth

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