Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

Written by Emily Bingham
Review by Jeanne Mackin

Perhaps the most important task of the biographer is not just to tell the facts but to put the subject’s life in context. Bingham does that with extraordinary detail in this biography of her own ancestor, early 20th-century “It Girl” Henrietta Bingham.

Henrietta was born to an important Southern family with a doting father, tremendous wealth and mesmerizing good looks. She was white in a very racist time and place, and she was bisexual in a culture where it was considered deviant. She likely had learning disabilities, so despite her obvious intelligence did not do well academically. So what is a rich, beautiful rebellious girl to do? Good girls go to heaven, Mae West said, but bad girls go everywhere. Henrietta met the Bloomsbury authors, the Freudians, tennis stars, actors and most of the major names of the Jazz Age. But the point of this biography is not to glamorize, but to analyze what Henrietta’s life meant, a life that started with promise and ended in breakdown. It’s a life and a biography that makes for compelling reading.