Elisa Segrave

Elisa Segrave’s first book, Diary of a Breast, will be reviewed here by Mary Beard.

‘Did that man touch our car?’

Elisa Segrave, 17 October 1996

My name is Nicholas. I am 11 years old. I like plants because they have a different life to humans, and they are attractive. They can’t defend themselves and, instead of having blood, they have chlorophyll. They can’t move. They grow towards the light. I feel proud when my plants do well.

Diary: On the Pier at Key West

Elisa Segrave, 18 April 1996

I’m in Key West on the pier, off Higgs Beach. I came to that beach nearly every day in November 1977. I didn’t know anyone; for over a week I stayed alone in the Southern Cross Hotel on Duval, Key West’s main street. It was run by two men from the Midwest. On my birthday, a professor at a university in South Carolina, whom I met on this beach, took me out to dinner at La Concha Hotel. He told me I had a religious nature and that he continually heard voices from creatures from outerspace.

Diary: The bride wore fur

Elisa Segrave, 30 November 1995

I got married in January in my dead grandmother’s fur coat. I had to take it to the furrier afterwards as the seams had split. The furrier thought that the soft chestnut fur was dyed ermine and said it wasn’t worth getting it repaired; it had split too many times before. The coat probably hadn’t been kept cold enough during the summers, he explained.

My first book is now published. It’s a tragi-comedy about breast cancer. I’ve just got back from America, where I was carrying copies of it around in a beach-bag, trying to sell it to a New York publisher. In the Random House building, there were over twenty elevators, and a publisher on almost every floor. I ricocheted up and down, darting into offices without appointments, leaving my book like a cuckoo laying eggs. In one office a friendly black receptionist gave me a copy of Caroline Blackwood’s account of the Duchess of Windsor and her French lawyer, Maître Blum. The girl dismissed my interest in a history of the Harlem Renaissance, repeating how much she loved the book on the Duchess. I read it all night on the plane back, every now and then bursting out laughing.

Paulie lops it off

Elisa Segrave, 2 December 1993

I met Susan Swan, the author of this novel about a girls’ boarding-school, in a women’s dormitory on a holistic holiday in Greece. Apart from Susan, there was Tessa, a potter from Brixton, a German called Ingrid and Marjorie, an aromatherapist from Liverpool. Susan was a cut above the rest of us. She had been invited as a teacher of creative writing and had then been given the special status of literary consultant. While the other teachers taught mime, self-healing, massage, Tai-Chi and wind-surfing in groups, beginning at 7 a.m., Susan saw aspiring writers one at a time in the café on the beach, where she sat in a stately way sipping Greek coffee. She seemed to have thought deeply about writing, how it related to one’s life, and about the relations between men and women. She quickly assumed the role of big sister, school prefect, or even the witch, the one with magic powers. I had two sessions with her: she showed me a way of analysing dreams; and, as women often do, we discussed the opposite sex.

Diary: Revved Up on Solpadeine

Elisa Segrave, 22 July 1993

Saturday. I’m in a ward in the Charing Cross Hospital with Bertha, another woman with breast cancer. All the lymph glands under my right arm have been removed. Bertha, who’s 60 and lives near Heathrow Airport, is talking to a woman with hennaed hair who was bitten by her own corgi, or her daughter’s corgi, I’m not sure which. The corgis are father and son. The son attacked the father and they fought viciously till the corgi’s father’s owner, the woman talking to Bertha, managed to force a hoover down one dog’s throat. She then shut one dog in the garage but the other one bit her in the wrist. Her wrist is poisoned and she has to stay in hospital Several extra days.

Remembering Janet Hobhouse

Elisa Segrave, 11 March 1993

Janet Hobhouse, whom I first met in a street in Paris in 1974, was someone who inspired strong emotions. Being with her was like being on a roller-coaster, an exhilarating, intense, even frightening experience – a roller-coaster you often wanted to get off.

I was interested to read the letter from Marion Glastonbury, who, like me, has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome (Letters, 31 October). She questions ‘with due tentativeness’ whether my son Nicholas’s intuitive remarks about my mother’s childhood might simply be the result of five years of psychotherapy – he gave this up 18 months ago – and ‘some advanced...


18 April 1996

Elisa Segrave writes: I’m not anti-semitic in the drawing-room, or anywhere else for that matter, and I do not make things up, though I was mistaken in saying that Mrs Rosen had travelled in Europe during the war rather than the Fifties. As for Victor Menza (Letters, 6 June), he wasn’t even at the supper which I describe. I already apologised to Judith over a month ago for having unaccountably...

Designer Cancer

6 July 1995

Mary Beard’s review of my book The Diary of a Breast (LRB, 6 July) is complimentary and thought-provoking and I thank her for this, but her phrase ‘designer cancer’ is demeaning. If my book had been published posthumously, would she have still used these words? A life-threatening illness is not about fashion. I have survived, but many other women, who started with the same symptoms...


11 March 1993

Andrew O’Hagan’s Diary (LRB, 11 March) brought some note of honesty and reality to the sad death of the little boy in Liverpool. I myself remember torturing one of my brothers, four years younger than me, whom I adored, by putting him in a cage of chicken wire and feeding him rotten walnuts. (I was seven.) Seeing on television the adults going berserk and trying to storm the van containing...

‘Cancer Girl’

Mary Beard, 6 July 1995

Cancer must sell almost as many books as cookery: not just old-fashioned self-help guides to detection or prevention, tips on how to survive the chemotherapy or colostomy (now lavishly...

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