Kenya, Orgies, and Idina Sackville – “The Bolter” by Frances Osbourne
She simply had to learn who her grandmother was.
In the twenties and thirties in Britain, women who fled their affluent marriages were called “Bolters.” This was a time with strict rules regarding the actions that did and didn’t affect a marriage. For example, having other lovers was alright as long as you didn’t divorce your spouse. Of all the crimes you could commit, bolting was the worst.
Still, women bolted.
Of all the Bolters, Idina Sackville was the most reported on, and the most notorious.
Not only did she leave her handsome (and philandering) husband and their two children, she fled to Kenya, of all places. There, in the African desert, she became the most prominent member of a group of British folk who brought themselves to Kenya to indulge in wildly drunken parties and orgies. Partner swapping, lewd parlor games, nothing was off limits for the Happy Valley set. Women even wore pants! (Gasp!)
Idina Sackville was right in the center of it all.
Osbourne tells the story of her grandmothers life with a balanced eye. Though she places emphasis on the fact that Idina was searching for something in all her partners and parties, she doesn’t condone leaving her children behind or many of the actions she and her circle of friends partook of. Idina is painted as a woman who desperately wanted love and affection, and would take it where she could get it. She married five times in an attempt to find someone whose eyes would never wander, and never hesitated to leave the man behind should their attentions ever fade or stray.
“The Bolter” is an intriguing book that is made better by the real-life people that inhabit it. A fiction writer could not have come up with a better cast. For example, when you first meet Idina’s best friend Alice, it’s because Alice is having an affair with Idina’s husband. Strangely, the two women become friends. You never expect Alice to become almost as equal a fascinating character as she does. (How a woman shoots a man and herself, yet gets six months in jail and a fine of four dollars is something I will never forget, or be able to wrap my head around.)
This book proves that sometimes the world is so wacky that fiction just isn’t necessary. Novelists would probably kill for a story like this one, and Osbourne unearthed it in her own lineage.