Obituary: Evangeline Bruce

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The Independent Online
Perhaps to some who did not know Evangeline Bruce she gave the impression of aloofness and even of unpredictability, writes Sir Nicholas Henderson. This was not on account of her presence, which was imposing, even awesome, but of a certain kind of shyness and lack of self-assurance, remarkable in someone of whom it could be said that she had everything: looks, intelligence, taste, wealth and a capacity for friendship.

There is no word for her appearance other than beautiful; and so too was the way she dressed and decorated her rooms. She had an Edwardian, Boldini-like elegance which was nevertheless up-to-date: wide-brimmed hats, flowing scarves, tailor-made suits, romantic evening dresses alternating with trouser-suits and short skirts; her colours were pearl, grey-blue and cream, not used glaringly but suffused mistily. John Fowler curtains dressed her windows. Everything was the result of an acute and discriminating visual sense. In the way she dressed, decorated or conducted her life she was not a Bohemian, but nor was she conventional; she was original, and possessed of a strong sense of creativity and merriment.

Yet it would be misleading to give the impression that she was only interested in the look of things. She had an acute intelligence and a lifelong interest in ideas and literature. For some dozen years she beavered away unobtrusively at research that led to Napoleon and Josephine. Although too diffident to take part herself in discussion, there was nothing she liked more than to be present when her friends were talking about serious subjects, for her preference humorously. She had a theory that the French were better at this than the Anglo-Saxons; she thought this was true of most things they did. She spoke French perfectly and was an excellent linguist, even succeeding in learning Chinese when en poste in Peking.

The impression of Vangye that evoked such love is of some light-winged dryad, difficult to catch or pin down, but inextinguishable in the heart or the mind's eye.

Evangeline Bell, ambassadress and author: born London 1918; married 1945 David Bruce (died 1977; two sons, and one daughter deceased); died Washington DC 12 December 1995.