Marc André Raffalovich was born on 11 September 1864 in Paris, the son of Herman and Marie Raffalovich, who had migrated to Paris the previous year from Odessa in Russia. Herman was a Jewish banker, who (unlike his brother) preferred to leave Russia than forcibly convert to Christianity under a new decree. Herman (d.1893) became an internationally renowned banker in Paris, whilst Marie (1832-1921), a beautiful and highly intelligent woman who spoke eight languages, established a successful salon attracting people such as the actress Sarah Bernhardt, writer Ernest Renan and writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Both Herman and Marie were philanthropists.
André was their youngest child. His brother Arthur (d.1921) became an eminent economist, working for the Russian Embassy in Paris. Their sister Sophie (1860-1960) married the Irish nationalist politician, William O’Brien (1852-1928), in 1890. Sophie published many works including a translation of Morley’s Life of Richard Cobden.
In 1882, aged eighteen, Raffalovich moved to London with his governess Miss Florence Truscott Gribbell (c.1842-1930), with the intention of studying at the University of Oxford. Instead, he settled at 72, South Audley Street with the intention of setting up a salon. Unlike his mother, he was not entirely successful. It was during his time in London that he was introduced to the poet and writer John Henry Gray (1866–1934), through Arthur William Symons (1865–1945), literary scholar and author. They were to remain close friends and companions throughout the next forty years, dying within months of each other.
Raffalovich was a prolific writer: his works include poetry, novels, plays and intellectual treatises. Raffalovich’s novels include A Willing Exile (1891) and Self Seekers: a Novel of Manners (1897). His collections of poems include Cyril and Lionel and Other Poems: A Volume of Sentimental Studies (1884), Tuberose and Meadowsweet (1885), In Fancy Dress (1886) and It Is Thyself (1889). His plays included Roses of Shadow (1893), Black Sheep and The Blackmailers (1894) and A Northern Aspect and The Ambush of Young Days written with John Gray in 1895. In 1896 Raffalovich published Uranisme et Unisexualité, a work on homosexuality, which included his essay ‘l’Affaire Oscar Wilde’.
In 1896, following the example of Sophie, Gribbell and Gray, Raffalovich converted to Catholicism, being baptised at the Jesuit Church in Mayfair. He became a Dominican tertiary in 1898, taking the middle name Sebastian, often signing his name as André Sebastian Raffalovich. He became an outstanding benefactor to the order, paying for a church at Pendleton, Manchester, dedicated to St Sebastian. Raffalovich also contributed to the building of a new church on Eriskay in the Hebrides.
During the 1890s, Raffalovich rented a house at Weybridge in Surrey. In 1905, after Gray (who had been ordained as a Catholic priest in 1901), was appointed to the parish of St Patrick in Edinburgh, Raffalovich settled in Edinburgh, purchasing No. 9, Whitehouse Terrace. Faithful Miss Gribbell (who died in 1930 aged 88 years) accompanied him. There, he greatly contributed to the cost of the building of St Peter's church in Edinburgh, designed by Sir Robert Lorimer. Gray was appointed the first rector of St Peter's. In Whitehouse Terrace, Raffalovich established a successful salon. His guests included writer Henry James, poet Lady Margaret Sackville, writer Compton Mackenzie and artist Hubert Wellington. Another close friend was Eric Gill, the sculptor. In Edinburgh Raffalovich pursued his interest in flowers and his extensive library. Raffalovich died in Edinburgh on 14 February 1934.