Maureen Emerson, from an Irish-Austrian background, grew up in London – for which she is eternally grateful. She brought up her family in North Africa, Lebanon, Dallas and Singapore, before settling in Provence for twenty-two years. There she worked as a local co-ordinator for CBS and NBC at media festivals in Cannes. During her years in Provence Maureen became enthralled with the stories of those expatriates who lived on the Riviera in the 1920s and 1930s and how the Second World War affected their lives. While still harbouring a strong affection for Provence, Maureen has now settled in Sussex with her husband.
In 2018 her latest book, ‘Riviera Dreaming’, was published by Tauris. ‘Riviera Dreaming – Love and War on the Côte d’Azur’ is the factual biography of Barry Dierks, ‘the American architect of the Riviera’ who build or remodelled around 70 of the most stunning villas on the coast of the South of France in the first half of the 20th century. The story tells of the life of Barry, his partner in business and life, the Englishman Colonel Eric Sawyer, and their wonderful villas and gardens. Above all, it describes the intimate lives of some of those fascinating people American, British and French, who had the privilege of commissioning and living in these villas. In 1940, as virtually all the expatriates in the south fled France, Barry and Eric stayed on and their charmed lives changed dramatically. Visit the Villas page for video and audio clips.
Her first book, ‘Escape to Provence’, is published by Chapter & Verse Books and is also available on Amazon as a Kindle e-book. It is the true story of two remarkable women who, with style and energy, in the tremulous peace between two world wars, carved out new lives for themselves in a village in the South of France. An American from Philadelphia, Elisabeth Parrish Starr a heroine of the Great War, and an Englishwoman, the author Winifred (Peggy) Fortescue, whose memoir Perfume from Provence became a best-seller of the 1930s and ’40s, both escaped to Provence for quite different reasons. Elisabeth as the result of a personal tragedy involving the nephew of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Peggy because she and her husband felt that in Provence ‘one could be poor with dignity’. It was first published in 2008 and re-printed in 2009.
Maureen is now researching her new biography – ‘The Russians of the Riviera’. The story will follow the progress of the Russian court, from around the mid-19th century, as many of its members became the ‘other expatriates’, as opposed to the British colony who had established themselves in Cannes. The Russians would generally prefer the stretch of the Riviera from Nice to Menton. Along with the immensely rich and self-indulgent members of the court, who arrived by boat or the royal train from St Petersburgh, so also came their artists and writers. When the revolution put an end to the Romanov dynasty, their aristocrats and landowners, many returned to the south of France as hotel concierges, minor clerks, butlers or taxi drivers. They too have their stories. Now, in the present day, the Russians have returned, and in yet another form.
Maureen has also researched and published articles, which can be found on this website, on the history of the Anglo American Sunny Bank Hospital in Cannes, Resistance Heroine Hélène Vagliano, Sir John Fortescue, Spitfire Pilot Richard Hillary, Eric Dunstan (‘the man with the golden voice’), and Olga Khokhlova.