In this biography, the arts patron Florence Gould is revealed to be not only a ruthless socialite but a Nazi collaborator who profiteered during World War II by collecting looted and other suspiciously acquired artworks.
A Dangerous Woman may fall short in exploring the complexities of a clearly captivating woman, but Ronald’s group portrait of people of great wealth — their expensive squabbles over inheritances and divorce settlements, their disinclination to pay taxes (Frank skipped out on paying federal income taxes for more than 30 years), their ability to manipulate people in power, all in the service of adding even more zeros to their bank accounts — is breathtaking and quite modern.
The best part of Ms. Ronald’s book is her account of Florence Gould’s war ... Ms. Ronald takes the opportunity to create scenes full of intrigue, as when the exiled Italian antifascist Carlo Rosselli and his brother were assassinated in Normandy while staying at Gould’s hotel ... But this speculation, like other instances in the book, is just that: speculative ... One of the problems with writing about compulsive liars and mythomanes is how to find out and be sure of the truth. Though Ms. Ronald is forced to fall back repeatedly on conjecture, she paints a lively picture of the world in which Florence moved, with all its intricate financial shenanigans, rivalrous investors and glittering social occasions. But there are small errors ... But if the author breezes over certain details, her narrative certainly moves at a brisk pace, even if her main characters besides Florence often remain shadowy.
Dangerous is probably not the first adjective that comes to mind when perusing Susan Ronald’s minutely detailed biography of Florence Gould, A Dangerous Woman. “Determined” and “devious” would be more apt descriptors ... The one element missing here is the sound of Florence’s own voice. That’s because her estate denied the author access to its archives, including Florence’s letters. So while we’re told virtually everything she did and everyone she slept with (a long list), we know precious little of how she felt as she moved full sail through her momentous life.