Monday, August 28, 2006

# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

HM DEPT OF STUPID BIOGRAPHY TRICKS: The literary legacy of John Betjeman, former poet laureate, has recently grasped as a scholarly footnote some small acrimony amongst his biographers, in particular A N Wilson and Bevis Hillier. Their rivalry and antics would make the most jaded admirer of Alicia Silverstone's character in Clueless blush.

Hillier may not necessarily have been antecedent of the mystery letter which surfaced on Wilson's doorstep, and afterward wended its way into his Betjeman in evidence of a heretofore unknown affair with Anglo-Irish writer Honor Tracy. Whoever was, however, was possessed of a sense of humour and cunning I must applaud. Read the first letter of each sentence in the letter in question:
Darling Honor,

I loved yesterday. All day, I've thought of nothing else. No other love I've had means so much. Was it just an aberration on your part, or will you meet me at Mrs Holmes's again - say on Saturday? I won't be able to sleep until I have your answer.

Love has given me a miss for so long, and now this miracle has happened. Sex is a part of it, of course, but I have a Romaunt of the Rose feeling about it too. On Saturday we could have lunch at Fortt's, then go back to Mrs H's. Never mind if you can't make it then. I am free on Sunday too or Sunday week. Signal me tomorrow as to whether and when you can come.

Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the Army are v funny. He's somebody I'd like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters funnier than his books. Tinkerty-tonk, my darling. I pray I'll hear from you tomorrow. If I don't I'll visit your office in a fake beard.
All love, JB
Scholastic snarking, as among film buffs, has its spectatory pleasures.
(3) opinions -- Add your opinion

For his centenary a week ago, Martin Jarvis referred to his as 'the voice of a teddy bear on speed.' (Times)
John Betjeman is rumoured to have been to bed with W.H. Auden. Someone once said on seeing a photo of Auden's highly wrinkled face: "If that's his face, God knows what his scrotum is like!"
JB might have been in a position to offer an informed opinion...
Libby Purves writes an immensely readable note in today's Times arguing that the whole charade reminds us, or ought to, that personal details of the writer, beyond the most perfunctory, are a distraction:

[M]odern British readers are far keener to read clever-dick analysis and Hello!-style gossip about great writers than we are to approach their actual works, laying ourselves innocently and humbly open to what they have to say to us. It is good for publishers’ profits but less good for our souls. I was lucky enough years ago to study literature under tutors who demanded that we acquire only the most basic historical context and sketchy personal information about the masters, but who insisted that we knew each text and judged it by its intended meaning, its truth and the skill of its execution.
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