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Don't forget Gypsy Rose Lee!

August 13, 2008 |  5:45 am


The Guardian, which puts together eclectic best-of book lists all summer long, rounds up the Top 10 Literary Gypsies.

Listmaker Jessica Duchen was thinking about gypsies — also known as The Roma — while putting together her novel "Hungarian Dances," about a British violinist who finds her Hungarian family has a Roma background.

While details are here, her list of literary gypsies is:
1. Carmen in "Carmen" by Prosper Merimee
2. Esmeralda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo
3. The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies in the traditional Scottish ballad
4. Kizzy in "The Diddakoi" by Rumer Godden
5. Mr. Rochester (in disguise) in "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë
6. Emil in "Fires in the Dark" by Louise Doughty
7. Jasper Petulengro in "Lavengro" by George Borrow
8. Pepita in"Pepita" by  Vita Sackville-West
9. Roux in "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris
10. Joe Boswell in "The Virgin and the Gypsy" by D.H. Lawrence

A highly literary and erudite list (except for the ballad, which seems, from out in California, to be a bit obscure). But I would say it is necessary to add the very American burlesque-queen-turned-author Gypsy Rose Lee.

Born Rose Louise (or Louise Rose) Hovick in 1911, Gypsy Rose Lee had a powerful stage mother, who had her daughter performing on vaudeville as a child. Lee later developed a talent for burlesque, an eye for art and a gift for writing. She penned a bestseller — "The G String Murders" — another novel and two plays, in addition to her 1957 memoir, which was translated to the stage and screen as "Gypsy."

She lived a fascinating, intellectual life, writing for the New Yorker and was described, in part, in 2004's "Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show" and the upcoming biography "Stripping Gypsy," both from Oxford University Press. Of course, she was also drinking bathtub gin and trying to stay off the theater casting couch.

Even if there's not a lot of sitting and typing in "Gypsy," it's a memorable musical version of her stage career; the first movie version stars Natalie Wood as Gypsy.

— Carolyn Kellogg