One of America’s most interesting novelists died last month but her passing barely caused a stir in the literary world – only London’s Daily Telegraph recognized this writer’s achievements with a full obituary. Theodora Keogh, who was 88, died in North Carolina on 5 January. She was the granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt but that wasn’t her main claim to fame. She produced nine novels in the 1950s and 1960s that stood out from the crowd for their challenging and dark subject matter.
Born in 1919, Theodora began her career as a dancer. She married Tom Keogh, a theatrical designer, in 1945 and went to Europe where they led a socialite lifestyle in France. She hung out with the Paris Review crowd, including founder George Plimpton and other literary figures, while Keogh designed costumes for stage and film, and also worked for Vogue magazine.
Meg - her debut novel - was published in 1950 and it concerns a 12-year-old girl who goes to an up-market private school but mixes with the wrong crowd from the streets. The heroine is raped. Many critics were taken aback by the storyline but Theodore was just getting started.
In 1952, she published The Double Door, which has a homosexual storyline - daring for the day. That same year saw the publication of Street Music where a music critic falls in love with a child criminal. The Fascinator (1954) concerned a young girl being seduced by a sculptor. In 1961, Gemini examined the taboo subject of incest in a story about twins. Her 1962 novel, The Other Girl, was a fictional account of the Elizabeth Short’s notorious ‘Black Dahlia’ murder in 1947.
Theodora Keogh didn’t write again after 1962 but her life was rarely dull. She divorced Tom, married a tugboat captain and lived in the Chelsea Hotel. She later moved to North Carolina and married again.
Theodora’s literary legacy is that she pushed the boundaries of acceptance in literature. She paved the way for many authors.