Wednesday, 17 December 2008
The hearth of the master
From The Letters of Lytton Strachey ed. Paul Levy (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York): To Leonard Woolf, from 'Ye Olde Mermaid Inn, Rye, Sussex', 4 January 1909: '[Henry James] came in here to show the antique fireplace to a young French poet - you never saw such a scene - the poor man absolutely bouche beante [gaping], and all the golfers and bishops sitting round quite solidly munching buttered buns. He has a colossal physiognomy, and it's almost impossible to believe that such an appearance could have produced the Sacred Fount'.
We were, accordingly, keen to see the vast fireplace - its width not captured above - on a visit to treat the mother-in-law to a Mermaid Xmas lunch on a biting cold, grey day. James's (and then E F Benson's) Lamb House still looks massively reassuring in winter, though of course the garden's best seen in the spring (we were particularly amused to discover from the guardian last time that there were two rival E F Benson societies giving very different tours around Rye - very Tilling). Pevsner tells us that West Street has a 'dog leg course', which means you can only see half the house as you approach it.
And so back to Lytton, writing to Leonard again, speculating on Clive Bell and Vanessa Stephen, 19 September 1906: 'He thinks that Vanessa will eventually marry him. It's impossible to say what may or may not happen in this monstrous universe, so that I can't help feeling a trifle nervous. If it should by any mad chance occur it would be a complete amalgamation of the disgusting and the grotesque. Imagine, please, the family!' No need to imagine - here's a granddaughter:
Not so bad, I'd say - rather handsome, in fact. And for common sense our dear Cressida, welcoming us here to Sunday lunch, says she takes more after mama Olivier than the obviously adorable Quentin (how I wish I'd met him).
We watched the film Carrington a couple of days ago. I'm afraid I found it the usual soft-centred British biopic, though with at least a smattering of vivid language and a few good one-liners - and Jonathan Pryce makes a living character out of Lytton. When Christopher Hampton's script stops making the characters utter platitudes, it can be briefly moving - it certainly is when Carrington (the always splendid Emma Thompson, though she has none of the artist's supposed sex appeal) roams the empty Ham Spray inconsolable and suicide-bent after Lytton's death. Thank God the Schubert Quintet takes over again from the overwrought Nyman score at that point. Carrington's pictures look very fine in the gallery shots you get as the credits roll; a one-woman show might be rather interesting.