PENINSULA OF LIES
A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love
(Simon and Schuster, 2004)
Peninsula of Lies is an investigation of a remarkable life, set in haunting locales and peopled with fascinating characters, that unwraps the mystery around one of the most unusual sexual scandals of the last century.
Gordon Langley Hall was the son of servants at Sissinghurst Castle, the estate of Vita Sackville-West, where as a child he met Vita’s lover, Virginia Woolf. In his twenties, Gordon made his way to New York, where he became an author of society biographies and befriended grand dames, like the actress Margaret Rutherford and the artist and heiress Isabel Whitney, who left him a small fortune.
The money allowed Gordon to buy a mansion in Charleston, South Carolina, and furnish it with period furniture, providing a stage for him to entertain more dowagers and climb the social ladder of the Southern gentry to its peak.
Gordon’s world changed instantly in 1968, however, when at Johns Hopkins Hospital he underwent one of the first sex reassignment surgeries, returning to Southern society and scandalizing Charleston as the new Dawn Langley Hall. Dawn Hall furthermore announced that her surgery had been corrective, because she’d actually been misidentified as a boy at birth.
Three months later, Dawn raised the stakes in still-segregated Charleston when she arranged her very public marriage to a young black mechanic, John-Paul Simmons. In due course, Dawn appeared around town pregnant, and finally she could be seen pushing a baby carriage with a child, her daughter Natasha.
Edward Ball has written a detective story that deciphers the enigma of Dawn Simmons, a once rich and infamous changeling. Peninsula of Lies is an engrossing life of a woman who tested every taboo, as well as the confidence of observers in their own eyes.
Peninsula of Lies
“A bizarre story, wonderfully told, with the right blend of gossip and research…intimacy and revelation.” —Jeanette Winterson, Evening Standard
“Excellent biography… it reads like a parody of the American myth of self-invention.” —Newsweek