Pull Devil, Pull Baker is one of the most innovative autobiographies/biographies ever written.
The novelist Stella Benson first encountered an eccentric Russian nobleman, Count Nicolas de Toulouse Lautrec De Savine, in the pauper’s ward of a Hong Kong hospital. Striking up a friendship, she found herself fascinated by the Count’s garrulous memoirs, written in a unique blend of English, French, and Russian.
The Count's adventures included a stint as a Russian cavalry officer, gold mining in California, a failed attempt to establish himself as Czar of Bulgaria, a number of get-rich-quick schemes, and countless romantic entanglements. Were these all inventions of his fervid mind, like a latter-day Baron Munchausen? Were they true? Could they be both?
In Pull Devil, Pull Baker, Stella Benson not only collected the Count’s fascinatingly barmy recollections but provided a virtuosic running commentary that reflects on the nature of memory, truth, and the power of storytelling. In the process, she created a book that anticipates by decades the ”new nonfiction” school of such bestsellers as The Lifespan of a Fact and in various ways the work of Geoff Dyer, W. G. Sebald, Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner, Chris Kraus, Miranda July and many others who today flicker creatively between fiction and fact.
Born in Shropshire in 1892, Stella Benson published her first novel, I Pose, at the age of twenty-three. She went on to write six more novels, along with collections of poetry, short stories, and travel essays. Her fiction blends fantasy and cold-eyed realism, satire and tragedy and she remains one of the most original talents of her generation. She lived in America, Hong Kong, and Manchuria and died of pneumonia in Vietnam in 1933.
Pull Devil, Pull Baker by Stella Benson