Mrs. Alexander is the youngest of the four girls born to Victor Adda and Marie, née Mosseri, in Alexandria, Egypt, a city much glamorised by Durrell in The Alexandria Quartet. The Adda and Mosseri families were two of the country’s most renowned Sephardi families, with marriage bonds connecting them also to many of the other great Jewish mercantile and professional dynasties of Egypt and the Sephardi world.
In her memoir, Hélène Alexander recreates a stratum of the lost world of pre-revolutionary Alexandria, and tells us of idyllic childhood years interspersed with visits to Granny Mosseri in her magnificent villa on the bank of the Nile in Cairo, and of summer holidays variously spent near Loch Ness which they would reach after cultural peregrinations across Europe with their loving parents. She also speaks at length of the magical island in the Nile at Aswan which her father bought as a paradisaic getaway for his family and which brings some great names of the time into the memoir: Dame Nellie Melba, Sultan Mohamed Shah the Aga Khan, Somerset Maugham and others!
The memoir takes the reader through Mrs Alexander’s student years in the UK and her married life in London and Scotland. As with the Egyptian elite in general, her untroubled early life was sharply punctuated by the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the ensuing depredations carried out by the new revolutionary government against its resident minority communities.
And — naturally of great interest to all those connected with The Fan Museum, the memoir also details how Mrs Alexander and her husband Dicky, with a group of dedicated supporters, established The Fan Museum, Greenwich, an institution that has earned world renown during its over thirty years of operation.
The memoir contains over 300 illustrations. These include various family tree, rare family photographs from Mrs Alexander’s Egyptian years, topographical images, maps and of course many illustrations connected with fans and the activities and personalities associated with The Fan Museum.
Russell Harris, who collaborated with Hélène Alexander on the Cool: Presenting a Cooling Image exhibition and book, has provided a postscript to the memoir in which he contextualises the position of the Adda and Mosseri families within the history of post-Napoleonic Egypt. In this postscript, Russell presents some of the results of his research into the personalities and sites mentioned by Mrs Alexander.
We expect A Life of Ups and Downs to be available by late June 2022 in The Museum’s shop and on the website.
Please do not contact the Museum Office to reserve a copy as we are not currently able to do so.