Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, by Donald Spoto
After Sean Hepurn Ferrer’s book on his mother came out in 2003, I had figured that no more books about Audrey Hepburn would be written. Here was a man who knew more about the real Audrey than nearly anyone, and he had given unprecedented access to this new, real side of Audrey. What more could be said?
Apparently, quite a bit. While Donald Spoto’s biography covers a lot of well-known ground (well-known to those who have read a few Audrey biographies, anyway), he also manages to bring forth new things that have never been unearthed before, either during Audrey’s life or in the years since her death. He also seems to have wrung some more information out of Sean himself, who is cited quite a bit in this book. Often times he’s mentioned as “Joseph’s grandson” or “one of her sons,” but if you know anything about Audrey’s two sons, then you know that only one of them is publicly vocal about his mother. In fact, the release of Enchantment coincided with the much talked about Gap commericals — which played on nearly every talk show Spoto had been on to promote the book — that brought Audrey around to new generations of fans and revived the “Audrey Style.” Sean had been much in the news himself at that time, promoting the Gap commercials, so it was very nearly impossible to get away from Audrey Hepburn. To his credit, Spoto says that the fashion plate idea of Audrey Hepburn is the wrong image, and just one shallow facet of the deeply complex person she was.
He is criticized in some reviews as treating Audrey too gently, like other biographers in the past, but when you read this book and learn about new extramarital affairs, you have to wonder what more the critics want. A completely new affair has surfaced in this book, and even a fiction book written about the relationship is out. (Robert Anderson’s After, which has been reviewed here.) How did we not hear about that before? Because Audrey lived her life with care, and he expresses this again and again, both to explain how he got the scoop, and to dissuade the skeptics. She made herself who she was very carefully and just happened to use her clothes to insulate herself from an increasingly mad world, which is unfortunately the only thing she seems to be remembered for. Spoto tries to correct this by writing a very easy to read biography that gently reminds you that she was just an average woman who didn’t think very highly of herself, but managed to be one of the most beloved women of her generation. Audrey herself had said that her look was attainable to everyone, and it seems that Spoto is trying to tell you that her gentleness and kindness is attainable as well.
While this biography is intensely easy to read and does contain mostly correct information, the section on Audrey’s supposed affair with Robert Anderson has been rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, myself included. I went so far as to obtain a copy of Anderson’s book to see if his description of Marianne is “spot-on” Audrey, and . . . well, read the review if you’d like. I do think, however, that Spoto’s inclusion of the alleged affair is his stumbling stone, so I can’t replace Barry Paris’s biography with Enchantment. While Paris’ biography may be a bit dense to newcomers, I’d rather they skip past some of the heavy WWII talk than be convinced that speculation is truth.