NORMAN DOUGLAS: A BIOGRAPHY BY MARK HOLLOWAY
George Norman Douglas (8 December 1868 – 7 February 1952) was a writer, born in Austria, but only a quarter Austrian in blood, three of his grandparents being Scottish. He was most celebrated as a novelist (most notably of South Wind in 1917) and travel writer (most notably of Old Calabria in 1915). He was also an active lover of boys. Fortunately for knowledge of this side of his life, an extremely thorough and well-researched biography of him was written by Mark Holloway, who was determined to find and write truthfully about every aspect of his life. His Norman Douglas: a Biography, was published by Secker & Warburg of London in 1976, a time when it was probably easier than any other before or since in modern England to publish objective writing about a pederast.
Presented here are the passages of relevance to Greek love. Included are all but the very briefest references to the boys he had loved even after he was no longer their lover, as this biography offers an extremely rare opportunity to examine the life-long bonds that could be forged by Greek love and its long-term effect on boys’ lives.
* * * *
“He was a very naughty old boy, rather than a very wicked old man.”
- Review of Nancy Cunard’s Grand Man in the Times Literary Supplement, 27 August 1954
Chapter Three. Vanda and Jakob: The Secret Years 1876-1877
From the autumn term of 1877 until the summer one of 1879, the eight- to ten-year-old Douglas was sent to a Lancashire boarding-school called Yarlet Hall, which he loathed:
The Revd “William Bull”, as Douglas calls him (his real name was the Revd Walter Earle), red-nosed and black-bearded, was a “pious hog … a worm in human form … a reptile”, and manifestly unfit for his duties. So much did Douglas loathe him, then and even fifty years later, “that if somebody were to assure me officially that he had died of a lingering and painful disease I should rejoice from the bottom of my heart”. People like Bull, he continued, had no right to inflict misery on children entrusted to them, and should be made to suffer for it. He admitted he was unforgiving. Why should he not be? Let others speak well of the man if they could…
The diatribe against Bull is long, and seems excessive; there seems to be a touch of obsession, of mania, in the attack – especially when the only crime of which Bull is accused was that of making Douglas learn by heart, as a punishment, some of the twenty lines of Portia’s “mercy” speech. But it is worth remembering that Douglas was extremely sensitive, in a quite objective and altruistic manner, concerning the unnecessary suffering endured by children. It looks as though he knew all about it from personal experience, and perhaps had his first taste of it at Yarlet.
Chapter Five. Vanda and Jakob: Happily Married 1879-1883
In September 1881, Douglas followed his older brother to Uppingham, a boy’s boarding-school in Rutland, which he also disliked intensely, and where his only close friend was a boy nicknamed The Bug. Meanwhile, his mother Vanda continued to live in the Vorarlberg in Austria with her new artist husband, Jakob Jehly. Two years later, when he was 14, …
The Bug was four years older than Norman, and both he and Norman’s brother John were due to leave Uppingham at the end of the summer term of 1883. The thought of attempting to endure Uppingham without them must have been too much for Norman, and is almost certainly the reason why he delivered an ultimatum to his mother: either she must remove him from the school, or he would arrange to be expelled. How? That question was put to him more than sixty years later by Constantine FitzGibbon, who was then intending to write a biography. “Was sodomy the threat?” “No,” replied Douglas enigmatically, “sexual malpractice. Not sodomy.”
The threat, if it existed, seems to have worked. It is not the sort of threat that most boys, even nowadays, and even in the freest families, would feel inclined to make to their mothers; and was it really necessary? Surely Vanda would only have had to be told that he was thoroughly unhappy, or was in danger sexually from other boys, to remove him? On the other hand, it is probable that she knew she would have to leave the Vorarlberg if Norman was to go to a day-school that would give him a really good education, and this both she and Jehly would have been reluctant to do, so some sort of threat is certainly a possibility, though it may well have been a good deal milder than Norman liked to make out.
If it was made, it worked. Norman and his brother left Uppingham together, before the end of the summer term in 1883.
Chapter Eight. St Petersburg 1894-1896
In June 1895, Douglas, who was on leave from his post as Third Secretary at the British embassy in St. Petersburg, visited the Lipari Islands off Sicily, “collecting, among other things, information which was embodied in a Foreign Office Report.”
As to the Report, Douglas wrote that the trade in London was annoyed with him for revealing the true prices of pumice-stone, “which I ascertained with a good deal of difficulty”. As a consequence of what he wrote about the employment of children in the workings, an inspector was sent down to the islands, and child labour, which consisted of porterage, was replaced eventually by a mechanical conveyor.
With typical exaggeration and provocation, Douglas delighted in telling everyone that this was the only meritorious act of his whole life.
Chapter Nine. The Bay of Naples 1897
In November 1896, Douglas left his diplomatic post in St. Petersburg and moved into a villa he bought in Naples. Holloway tells the story of how Douglas there came to know a boy of fifteen called Michele through a mixture of paraphrasing and quoting Douglas himself. As Douglas’s full, lively account can be read in this excerpt from his memoir Looking Back, only the amorous conclusion is duplicated here, together with Holloway’s comments:
Continuing the quotation from Looking Back:
… not long afterwards the boy fell in love with me desperately, as only a southern boy of his age can do; so blindly that at a hint from myself he would have abandoned his work and family and everything else. It came in a flash, and he did not care who knew it. And the queer thing is (queer, at least, to our English way of thinking) that his mother and sister were not in the least surprised; they thought it the most natural thing in the world.
“L’avete svegliato,” the mother said; you have woken him up.
This preoccupation with Michele is the first instance recorded by Douglas of a homosexual interest; and in view of what was to follow later, one wonders if it was in fact his first experience of this kind, apart perhaps from transitory relationships at school which are common enough even among those who do not subsequently revert to them.
Unfortunately, the only evidence that can be consulted is circumstantial. Conjecture must take the place of fact; but in the first instance it is reasonable to ask: up to this point (in his twenty-ninth year) is there any evidence that Douglas was capable of a deep and lasting relationship with a woman? There is not: the relationships of this kind do not seem to have been begun until later; until about 1897 they all seem to have been transitory. As he told Bryher later in life, probably with a characteristically provocative relish, he had had “eleven hundred virgins”. Even if one allows for exaggeration, the impression received is of a man more interested in satisfying a phsyical urge and sexual curiosity than in establishing a deep, lasting and complete relationship. These virgins, by the way, are indirectly referred to in his remarks about Raffaele Amoroso, who was apparently a famous Neapolitan provider of sexual entertainment:
“The tales this bespectacled and mild-looking old gentleman could tell – of the late Duke of Edinburgh, of the peculiarities of this or that Balkan sovereign, of what preparation had to be made when the British fleet called at Naples – they were a liberal education. His memory, like that of many uneducated people, was prodigious; it went far back, a store-house of real personages and real facts; facts almost unbelievable, many of them. Here was a man who should have written his memoirs! He had pet names for all his regular clients, mine being ‘Lo Sposo’, which requires no commentary.” No comment was required, because Douglas, like the traditional fiancé, always insisted on his partner being a virgin. Whether this was due to fear of disease or to an insatiable appetite for variety it is impossible to say. In old age, he apparently told Constantine FitzGibbon that he had been “more or less satiated with worldly pleasures” by the time he went to the Posilipo. If this is true, it is difficult to believe that it referred to sexual pleasures; it is more likely that he had decided by that time to drop out of Society and its trivial but approved activities, and devote himself to study and to “indulging his genius”, as he put it. If, at about the same time, virgins had begun to pall, then the meeting with Michele may have seemed to be a reminder from his Guardian Angel that a whole new world of endless possibilities was waiting ready to hand if women should cease to please.
Possibly Douglas first came to know himself well in the company of the Spanish diplomat Campo Alegre, whom he so much admired. Perhaps he admired him so much that he came to emulate him, the “man of boundless curiosity and boundless tolerance”, the scholar and man of the world who had “taken life by the throat in many lands and made it yield every pleasure, legitimate or otherwise. The civilised attitude ….”
There was certainly no better place in which to indulge this “civilised attitude” than in Naples; it had been catering, in the Amoroso tradition, to the civilised caprices of the wealthy at least since the time of Propertius, who begged his Cynthia to leave those shores:
tu modo quam primum corruptas desere Baias:
multis ista dabunt litora discidium,
litora quae fuerant castis inimica puellis:
a pereant Baiae, crimen amoris, aquae !
On these same shores, and in most of Italy, homosexuality amongst boys was not associated with fear and horror, or looked upon as a sin; and in men it was thought of as a harmless or unenviable eccentricity. Douglas’ “boundless curiosity” in other matters is well enough known; that it should have extended to sex is only to be expected. The child of seven who had denied God in the pinewood without being struck dead, would never thenceforth have been deterred by fear of any of the consequences of this curiosity; and that the avid collector of objects should have become the equally avid collector of experiences, of men and women as objects of love would be in no way surprising. “Stones were dropped when birds and beasts began”; “Birds and beasts were dropped when girls began”; “Girls were dropped when boys began”. None of these statements is strictly true; none of them need to be a downright lie; they may all be illustrations of a truth. […]
The repercussions in England of Wilde’s trial and imprisonment in 1895 were not long in making themselves evident among homosexuals: those who were free to do so escaped from the atmosphere of vicious intolerance at home, and stayed as long as possible, or settled, abroad. Italy received a good many, to join a fair number who already lived there, German as well as English and others. These Germans of an earlier generation, amongst whom a fervent Hellenism was often prevalent, had been drawn to Italy on this account, and found, no doubt, as many of their kind have found since, that it suited their tastes and temperaments more completely than other countries. Other Germans of similar interests followed later, notably Allers and Olinda, who both settled on Capri where they were joined by what might be called the Wilde Go. Jings fleeing England. This was one of the ways in which Capri acquired a small homosexual colony – or colonies, since there were groups of both sexes, the female of which has been fictionalised by Compton Mackenzie in Extraordinary Women. It was in this year, 1897, that a wealthy young Frenchman, Count Jacques Adelsward Fersen, first visited the island, with his mentor of that time, Robert le Tournel, and decided to build himself a house there. His story also has been told by Compton Mackenzie, with great brio and little exaggeration or deviation from the facts, in Vestal Fire — a highly enjoyable novel which contains a splendid sketch of Douglas as “Duncan Maxwell”. Vestal Fire was dedicated to John Ellingham Brooks, who symbolised expatriate life on Capri for many English and Americans. He too was among those for whom the island offered attractions other than climatic, as were “Dodo” (E.F.) Benson, who shared a villa with Brooks during annual visits, and Somerset Maugham, another regular visitor for a good many years.
Chapter Twelve. Capri 1903-1908
In 1904, an Edinburgh court granted Douglas a divorce from his wife Elsa, and custody of their two children, but she tried to regain custody of them until she lost another court case in 1908. For this, she in 1907 got men called Goldsmith and Saunders to try to find evidence against him.
In October Goldsmith and Saunders were closely observed by Norman consorting with Harold Trower, the British Consular Agent on Capri. The luckless Trower, who would almost certainly have observed what Romaine Brooks called Douglas’ “rather faunesque liking and pursuit of young boys about that island”, had now committed an offence far greater than that of publishing his guidebook to Capri: outraged moral sensibility, or officious rectitude, or both, probably led him to seek some kind of official restraint of Douglas, or perhaps his removal from the island, or imprisonment. At all events he was on Elsa’s side, and that in itself was probably enough to secure for him an immortality he could not have desired: a few years later he was to be gloriously transformed into that superb caricature of British expatriate seediness, Mr Freddy Parker of South Wind.
Chapter Thirteen. Siren Land 1908-1911
By May 1908, Douglas was used to the new sense of freedom he had from no longer having to worry that he might lose the battle for custody of his sons or must watch his behaviour.
On 21st May, with this new freedom singing in his blood, he began to write Siren Land, while living in the Yellow House (“The House of the Spirits”) at Nerano, attended by a peasant-boy, “a laughter-loving child” (laughter of a happier kind) whose surname was Amitrano. He had reached a turning-point: he had never thought much of conventions for their own sake, and had always tended to ignore those that might spoil his pleasure. One of his pleasures had now changed radically: henceforth he was to find fulfilment in love more and more with members of his own sex, not merely with males, but with youths and quite young boys. He was not merely a homosexual, as well as a heterosexual, but also a paederast, in the original sense of the word. His attitude to life had for a long time been that if a certain course of action seemed likely to result in pleasure, and was unlikely to do harm, then why not give it a trial? “Why not? Warum nicht?” This practical attitude to conduct was basically a sceptical and scientific one, the attitude of a man who is not prepared to accept received ideas of behaviour any more happily than he will accept fundamentalism or the notion that the moon is made of green cheese. He is prepared to put everything to the test. If the experiment is successful and adds to the richness of life, then society can be left to approve or disapprove as it wishes: it can be ignored. This was the mental climate in which Douglas’ robust appetites flourished.
Try it! See what happens! Why not? It should be emphasised, though, that the mainspring was emotional, spirited, not calculating, not the result of attempting to stimulate a jaded sexual appetite with dishes of increasing spiciness and complexity. All his appetites were in excellent condition, and needed no prompting. His pleasures were simple and straightforward, but for the age in which he lived, one of them was unusual. In the Graeco-Roman world, it would have passed without comment. In Italy itself, in Douglas’ lifetime, it was not generally regarded with the fierce moral reprobation with which it was greeted in the Anglo-Saxon world where, although it was quite prevalent among certain classes of men – such as schoolmasters, choirmasters, and scoutmasters, who suffered an occupational temptation – it was tacitly assumed not to exist, except amongst a handful of men whom the public was encouraged to regard as monsters. In South Italy, on the other hand, where the concept of sin is scarcely more than skin-deep, a more humane attitude prevailed. Everyone knew that boys went through a phase of homosexuality, and no one ever considered anyone else to have been the worse for it. It was thought unfortunate that an individual should grow up fixed in that mould – unfortunate, that a grown man should have to seek his pleasure from mere bambini: a case for commiseration, not condemnation, unless cruelty or callousness could be proved. They cannot be proved. One may deprecate Douglas’ habits as strongly as one likes; one can wish, as the present writer would have wished, to keep his young sons from too great an intimacy with Douglas; and yet, in the particular cases of close and lasting attachment between himself and young men or boys of which a good deal is known, his influence seems to have been beneficial. In the first place, he loved them truly, for their own sakes. To be loved thus, strongly and truly, for oneself, cannot be anything but an enhancing experience for anyone, at any age. As well as loving them, he educated them, as he educated everyone who spent any length of time with him. He broadened their outlook on life, made the whole of his experience and knowledge available to them, taught them out of books, saw that they got (if possible) satisfactory jobs, remained friends with them when they married, and may even have encouraged them to marry if doing so seemed likely to promote their happiness. He stood in relation to them like a combination of the type of inspiring schoolmaster one never forgets and the most companionable father that can be imagined: and if the sexual passion which may originally have been responsible for the relationship subsided, friendship remained.
This sort of pattern is true of the half dozen or so of his friends of whom quite a lot is known. There were undoubtedly dozens of others, acquaintances of an hour, a few days or a week: at worst, they may have been forgotten; if so, one can be sure that they were not ill-treated, or approached in a furtive or sneaking manner; on the contrary, a Rabelaisian atmosphere would have prevailed, a climate of enjoyment. It is probable that these boys and young men were treated with a good deal more love, consideration, and respect than were commonly shown at that time by the average heterosexual man to the girls he casually picked up.
The Yellow House at Nerano was known as the House of the Spirits because it was supposed to be in the possession of a malignant spirit, and for this reason had not been inhabited for years before Douglas went to live in it. It stood alone, in the midst of olive groves, and “the small but efficient peasant-boy” who feared no ghosts
revealed himself as an inexhaustible mine of that lore with which every nook of the district is saturated. Siren Land owes much to him, and so does the eighth chapter of Old Calabria.
For setting on foot a modest work of this variety what more propitious spot could have been chosen than my retreat among those exquisite surroundings? No friends, no neighbours; olives on every side and the sea far below, with views upon the Siren Islets, the distant mountains of Lucania and the Amalfitan coastline; the smile of that devoted little fellow who would wake me in the mornings with a fresh bouquet of vanilla-scented orchids gathered along the pathway overhead? […]
These lines, extracted from Late Harvest, are of much interest. The self-indulgence implied by that delicious little tableau of Douglas being gently woken by his acolyte bearing sweet-scented flowers is sufficiently characteristic: “one owes oneself something, n’est-ce pas?” It is almost narcissistic. And the actual words from Siren Land are a revelation once one knows the circumstances in which they were written. “A brief period of … purgation and re-adjustment”: a period, one might say, of sexual reorientation. […]
“For months,” he continues in Late Harvest, “I was alone with this friendly child learning what is not to be learned out of books and ‘casting off outworn weeds of thought with the painless ease of a serpent’. It was a cleansing interlude, one of those moments in life which must have left their mark, for even nowadays, after all these years and all their changes and chances, I never pass along the familiar tracks without a certain little heartache.”
“Casting off outworn weeds of thought …” The implication would seem to be that he was learning to see with the eyes of a child who was a product of the soil, of the traditional local culture. No doubt this was chiefly in his mind when he wrote these words; but “outworn weeds of thought” – how well the phrase applies also to habits of life he wished to abandon; and “learning what was not to be learned out of books” – how well that applied to habits he very rapidly acquired, and never relinquished.
The Amitrano boy is a good illustration of Douglas’ love for the young of his own sex, and of his continuing interest in their lives. He often came to see Douglas on Capri, and one can be sure that Douglas visited him on many of his short trips to the Sorrentine peninsula. In 1916 he joined Douglas on Capri for a good many weeks, and cooked for him while he was writing South Wind. “Then he was drafted into the army and died later at home after long suffering, the result of the War. A month before leaving Italy, in April 1937, I looked up his widow and the child. They were pretty comfortable… . They would be faring better, if he were still alive.”
This crucial year of 1908 was full of happiness for Douglas. The last unhappy vestiges of his marriage, which had taken place ten years before, had been successfully obliterated in March, and he had made a fresh start.
It was a year of release, the year when his way of life for the future was first entered upon in freedom, the year when the pattern of companionship and independence that he was to follow for the rest of his life first began to emerge. […]
At the end of the year, he was in London again where he stayed nearly two months in lodgings near the British Museum; […]
During this London visit, Douglas made another lifelong friend: the Eric to whom Looking Back is dedicated. The prefatory letter to that book implies that he and Eric met for the first time on 5th November 1910 at the Crystal Palace Fireworks Display; and this seems to be confirmed by the annotation (Berg) “A pick-up”, and by a special marking in Douglas’ pocket diary. Eric was then nearly twelve and a half years old, and it has been suggested that Douglas’ relationship with him, which became closely intimate, was so unusual that Eric must have been a natural son. This possibility looked for support to a certain facial resemblance later in life, and to a remark made by Douglas to Constantine FitzGibbon when the latter was proposing to write his biography. Douglas offered no objections, provided FitzGibbon told the truth, but added: “I don’t know how you’re going to get round Eric.” What was there to “get round” in Eric’s case that did not need “getting round” in the case of others? In all probability, nothing. Douglas may simply have been thinking of Eric, who was then still alive, and consequently of possible difficulties about telling the truth; or he may have been thinking of that relationship in those early years and realising that it was indeed extraordinary, something he could hardly “get round” or account for completely in his own mind. For Eric became virtually his third son. Douglas even tried to adopt him, but his mother would not let him go completely. It was not extraordinary to adopt a child although unusual to adopt one from a humble background such as Eric’s. What was extraordinary in Douglas’ case was that he should have taken up with a “third son” for whom he became largely responsible in every way when, although devoted to them, he could not afford to look after his own sons. The conclusion, that this was a devotion of a different order from the usual father-son relationship, is unavoidable. It proved to be a wonderfully happy and successful one for both parties.
Eric was an attractive boy, whom everybody liked. His parents, who lived in the back streets of Camden Town, came to like Douglas very much, and saw that he offered the means by which Eric might enter a world of greater possibilities than they could provide.
As soon as Douglas had left England for Capri, late in November, the postcards started to flow into Camden Town, at least once a week. This stream of letters and postcards continued with great frequency for many years, just as it did to Archie, and to a lesser extent, to Robert. Even when pressure of work was great and there might be fifteen other letters to write on the same day, they were never forgotten. There was a fund of deep devotion and allegiance in Douglas, never overtly expressed (catch him!) but absolutely unquestioning and faithful. It makes nonsense of accusations of “irresponsibility”, “selfishness” and “wickedness” – words that are anyway meaningless without further definition.
From January until 4th March 1911 he was in Capri, still working on the Tunisian book and on parts of what was to become Old Calabria. He arrived in London on 7th March, the day before publication of Siren Land, having spent a day with Conrad after crossing the Channel. This was to be a short visit of less than five weeks, which must have been made partly so that he could be present at the time of publication and partly because he had in mind a rather bold and unusual plan. […]
The rather bold and unusual plan which Douglas had had in mind was that of taking Eric with him back to Italy. There were numerous places in Calabria that he wanted to see or to revisit for the purposes of the book he was writing, and there was something about Eric’s companionship that was irresistible. Why not take him out there, if his parents did not object? Why not?
They left London on 12th April, and did not return until August. Eric kept a diary of the trip. (Douglas always made, or tried to make, his friends keep diaries of his and their journeys together.) The twelve-year-old Eric, though constantly interested and impressed by his first visit abroad, preserves a note of what might be detachment or urbanity in an adult, but which in his case is almost certainly an indication of that unquestioning trust in an older person which is one of the most endearing traits of childhood. “I said Good bye to England because it might be the last time I shall see her,” he writes, without really believing what he is writing. “I was very glad I had a seat at the window so that I could have a glance at the country as I past, because it was my first time I had been in France. As soon as we were out of Boulogne the country began to begin.” After dinner in Paris, “Slowly pasted the hours Severn to eight” before driving across the city to take the train to Modane. And going along at night “it seemed if you were travelling under the earth and soon I fell into a deep sleep”. The self-possession of this young Cockney who was travelling rapidly further and further away from the streets and parks that were familiar to him, in the company of someone he had known only a few weeks, is delightful. It is also a compliment to his travelling companion. “I woke up next morning amazed to see the train among mountains” … Some phrases, but not many, may have been suggested by or unconsciously copied from Douglas.
They went to Sant’ Agata, to the Pensione Petagna, for three weeks, after which the itinerary was roughly that of Old Calabria, with omissions. Douglas only made concessions that were absolutely necessary to the size and age of his companion: very long walks were avoided; but there were no substitutes for wine and the ordinary food of the country (“Salami” wrote Eric, “is a kind of sousage it is very beastly”); nor could fairly rough conditions be avoided; but Douglas, who knew what he was doing, was well aware of the huge delight and pride that young boys derive from being treated in some respects as adults:
At this place [Spinazzola] we slept the Town was to far away from the station so we had to sleep at the station. It was a tiny house and contain 4 beds to of them we [re] occupied and so we took the others and slept as best as we could. Not troubling to undress we layed on these beds and as soon as I got on mine I began to scratch any way at last I fell into a slumber. My friend woke me at 4 o’clock because we had to catch a train going to Taranto.
At Taranto Eric was invited by local boys on the beach to join them in a raw-crab feast. They were walking along the strand dismembering these creatures, breaking open their shells and stuffing the contents into their mouths. Eric had no hesitation in declining the invitation. At Morano “as soon as I got in bed I had to get [up again] because it was smothered with bugs. I did not sleep any more that night so I went and dressed myself and waited”. They went up Monte Pollino (7,450 ft), and descending to Terranova, spent nine hours on muleback. Echoes of Douglas’ conversation with Eric can be heard faintly at intervals: at the end of July, for instance, “we were getting sick of Cotrone and sick of Italy and sick of everything in it”; the river Neto “had once been a very important river and now it was a poor old miserable puddle”; “Going along you smell cheese that has been locked up to stop it running away.”
In due course they reached the centre of an extensive coastal belt in which Anopheline mosquitoes found huge breeding places in the swampy estuaries (malaria was endemic all over Calabria). Here, or hereabouts, they were infected, and thereafter soon began to live in what Douglas called a dazed condition, though not, apparently, knowing what they were suffering from. Somehow, they managed to get back to London:
I deposited Eric with his parents, who were none too pleased with his looks and sent for a doctor … while I tottered to Museum Street and took a room.
[…] Eric, also, was recovering, but the plasmodium malariae reasserted itself, as it will. Douglas was ill again in London. He took Eric away for a week to Yarmouth, hoping that the sea air would do good. It didn’t. Then Douglas had to return to Capri for a fortnight, leaving Eric in London. On his return they took rooms at Leigh-on-Sea and stayed there until mid-December.
The landlady was a good cook, but swindled us frightfully in her coal-bills, which was a serious matter, as we required huge fires on account of our shivering fits. Presently Eric began to have a bad time of it. His curly hair dropped out till he was nearly bald, and a sight for the gods; his spleen swelled to such an extent that the doctor vowed he ought to be exhibited at every hospital in England; worst of all – so far as the general public was concerned – he developed a disconcerting trick of being sea-sick, without a moment’s notice, in the middle of a street or wherever else he might happen to be.
Chapter Fourteen: London: The English Review 1912-1913
A new period in his life had now begun. He had settled down to regular work for the English Review, and later in the year became a member of its staff. […] Eric was more often than not with him; […]
In February Douglas had moved from Kew to Richmond, where he remained until August, except when he was in Italy (Capri and Calabria) in May. Eric was at the Richmond flat with him much of the time, and Eric’s mother and his sister Violet often used to go out there to lunch. And so occasionally did his brother Percy, who remembers going to an Italian restaurant in which Douglas, of course, spoke fluent Italian.
Among expeditions which Douglas and Eric made together were the visit to Stoke Newington in search of Poe’s schoolhouse – described in Looking Back – and one to Mowsley, described by Eric: […]
He took Eric to Sant’ Agata for three weeks and then for a week to Ischia. Since Eric was now two years older, almost fifteen, longer walks were possible on this visit abroad than on the previous one. They made a little three-day tour, for instance, walking from Sant’ Agata to Positano, where they spent the night, and then walking on the following day to Agerola. On the third day they got up at 4 a.m. and walked with a guide to the top of Mte Sant’ Angelo (4735 ft). The guide pointed out their path down the mountain, which took them to Moiano and Vico Equense, and then returned to Agerola. At Vico they caught the tram to Sorrento, and a carriage took them back to Sant’ Agata. […]
Brooks came over from Capri for the night and either brought with him or collected on the mainland a certain Pasqualino whom Eric refers to as “my Italian friend”. They all four went short walks together, idled in cafés, talked and smoked … Douglas and Eric were back in London by June 9th.
Chapter Sixteen: London: Tribulations 1915-1916
On someone saying, “It had been indicated to me that at that particular moment in England he would not be a success.”
This remark suggests that Douglas had become sufficiently careless in his conduct to allow of little doubt, at least in informed circles, about the more obvious objects of his personal interest. If no more was known, it was surely understood by this time that he was very much addicted to the company of young boys. An annotation in Looking Back makes it clear that by December 1915 at latest, even the office boy at the English Review was “one of his boys”. As Douglas himself would have known, it is always dangerous to mix work and pleasure in this way. People notice, even when you don’t think they do; and they talk; and word gets round and spreads to the most unlikely places. […]
Douglas wrote at the beginning of the year (1916) that he was “fussed to within an inch of my life” – a phrase that he was to use many times in that life. Sometimes it meant that he had more to do than he thought he could cope with, sometimes that he was worried, and sometimes that he was suffering from the consequences of his pleasures: being harassed by police or busybodies or other actors in the drama of “living dangerously”.
[…] Modern Minstrelsy was published in the English Review in January 1913. Ten months later, in November, it was followed by an article entitled In our Alley, about street games. Much of the material – and probably the idea – for this article came as a result of Douglas’ friendship with Eric. This is virtually proved by Douglas’ statement that he had been occupied with the subject since 4th November 1910, the day on which, or the day before, he met Eric. Eric’s sister remembers Douglas giving her ten shillings when she was about twelve years old because she had helped him gather information about street games, […]
After Douglas’ return from Capri to London in August he simply had to “stick it out” and finish South Wind; but he was bored and missed his friends. […] Eric also had gone, swept away by the war, joining the army under age, and actually landing in France in June 1916, just before his eighteenth birthday. And how vile was London in the infernal gloom of war, compared with Capri! He got out of it when he could, especially to Wimbledon Common and Richmond and the Surrey hills; but in wartime London itself there was not much to be done, except “live dangerously”. One could always go out and see what one could pick up… .
Douglas returned to London from Bournemouth on 23rd October, and a month later, almost to the day, was arrested at South Kensington Underground Station. That was a Saturday, and he first appeared in court on Monday the 27th. It was reported in The Times:
REMANDED IN CUSTODY
At Westminster Police Court yesterday, before Mr Francis, Norman Douglas, a well-dressed, middle-aged man, described as an author, of Albany Mansions, Albert Bridge-road, Battersea, was charged by the police as a suspected person. There was a further charge against the prisoner of assault on a boy of 16, whose schoolmaster signed the charge-sheet.
Detective-sergeant Cogging said he kept special observation on the prisoner on Saturday afternoon at the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, where he met a boy, for whom he purchased a shillings-worth of cakes. The pair were followed for some time and the prisoner was arrested. He then said: “I’ve just been with him to a lecture.” The boy made a statement as to visiting the prisoner’s house on the previous Saturday.
MR FRANCIS remanded the prisoner, who asked for bail.
Detective-Inspector Bedford said he was directed to oppose bail, as there might be serious developments in the case.
Bail was accordingly refused.
There was a more detailed report a few days later in another paper. The detective-sergeant (Goggin, not Cogging) and the boy had been waiting in their separate places in the Museum at two o’clock. Douglas arrived, walked down the central hall, and after waiting a few minutes crossed over to the boy, who was sitting on one of the seats. They went round various rooms of the Museum together, presumably shadowed by the detective, and shortly before three o’clock left the building together. At South Kensington station they went into the ABC shop, where Douglas bought the shillingsworth of cakes and gave them to the boy. Goggin stopped them outside and said to Douglas: “I am a police officer. What are you doing with that boy?” Reply: “I have just been with him to a lecture.” Goggin: “You have been with him in the Natural History Museum some considerable time, and there has been no lecture on. This boy says you took him home last Saturday and assaulted him.” Douglas: “No. I only took him there to find an address. I suppose it is no good my saying anything?” He was told that he was being taken into custody for being a suspected person frequenting for an unlawful purpose. At the police station he was told of the additional charge and said: “This is a serious charge. I have two boys of my own at home.”
Douglas’ solicitor asked for a remand, and one of eight days was ordered. Until 5th December, therefore, Douglas was locked in a cell.
Faith Mackenzie was one of those who read the report in The Times. In her memoirs she says she “wrote to him in prison assuring him of my belief in his innocence”; but when she tried to turn the experience into fiction, her belief in his innocence was less evident:
“Described as an author.” That was pretty good. Conway himself would have laughed at that. But was Conway laughing now? What was happening to him. She couldn’t imagine Conway in a prison cell with a warder outside. She tried to conjure him up, sitting there with that hunted look that came into his eyes sometimes and his hands with their fleshy palms and tapering fingers turning over the little pocket book he always carried to note down ideas. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be allowed to keep that – in prison. What was the technique when a friend went to prison? What did one do about it? Did one write “So sorry to see about you [sic] bad luck in the Times”, or “Distressed to hear the bad news.” And anyway, where did one write? Bron knew of no precedent.
She had dined with him only a few nights ago, and such was their intimacy that she had said: “You are an ass. You’ll be run in one day”, and he had poured himself out another tumbler of Chianti with his devil’s laugh. “Take away this porcheria Luigi and now bring me something to eat. No my dear, I’m not such an ass as you think. Rather not!”
“But you are if all the fairy tales you tell me are true. Perhaps they’re not.”
“Good gracious, but I don’t tell you everything! No fear!”
“Very well, then,” she had said rather annoyed. “Then you certainly will be run in.”
At the second hearing the boy said that on the Saturday afternoon before Douglas’ arrest – namely 18th November – he had attended a lecture at the Natural History Museum. The lecture finished at four o’clock, and as he was walking towards the door to leave the building, Douglas, whom he had seen at the lecture, spoke to him: “It’s very early to close the museum. It’s a pity. I was just getting interested.” He went on to ask the boy if he had any ambitions in connection with natural history – “There are lots of good posts for boys of your tastes…. I know plenty of good jobs you can get. Suppose you come round to my place and talk things over?” They went first of all to the ABC shop, where Douglas bought him some cakes, as on the second occasion. “Come round to my place and eat them,” he said; “It’s not far.” They took a cab, nevertheless, and Douglas told the boy he was lonely as his wife was out. He also asked him if his parents were hard to manage, and whether they would let him go in for natural history.
On getting into the flat the prisoner lit a gas fire, sat on a chair, and then committed the offence complained of. Witness did not say anything, but tried several times to get away, but prisoner pulled him back. Prisoner kissed him and gave him a shilling, also a screwdriver, telling him the latter was a keepsake from him. After that he took witness to a bus, and he proceeded to the school in this.
Douglas had asked the boy to meet him at the museum on the following Saturday, and he had promised that he would; but at the first opportunity the boy had reported the incident to one of his masters at school. There had been an interview with Goggin on the following Friday, and the set-up in the museum on the next day. Douglas asked him to go to his flat. On the way, he said, “We’ll go and get some cakes, shall we? You didn’t tell anybody about last Saturday, did you?” The boy said he hadn’t.
It was said that the boy had struggled, but did not call out; that he agreed to a further meeting because he did not think Douglas would have let him leave the flat if he did not agree. Outside, he was said to have looked for a policeman, but could not see one. His schoolmaster said he had an excellent character. The prosecution asked for remand for a week, and if no further evidence was produced, that the case be sent for trial. Douglas’ counsel submitted that there was no case for committal, as the boy’s story of the alleged assault was entirely uncorroborated. Mr Francis: “In my opinion it is obviously a case that should go for trial.” On this occasion, bail was allowed – a surety of £100, or two of £50.
Compton Mackenzie: “At this moment practically all Douglas’ friends avoided him, but two of them did stand bail for him; Joseph Conrad refused to do this.” (Mackenzie himself was in Athens at this time, and unable to help.) Borys Conrad knows nothing about the bail refusal, but claims to remember that his father’s instant reaction on seeing The Times report was “We must have the boy to stay, at once” – meaning Robert Douglas. Faith Mackenzie wrote: “… he turned up at my flat on bail, and asked me to help him with an important work he had to finish.” He wrote to Secker asking him to come and see him at Albany Mansions: “Faith will cook us something.” He wanted to see Secker about two things. Secker was unable to go at the time Douglas suggested; but one of the two things was South Wind, so very nearly, but not quite, finished.
Remands continued now for a month, so that the third hearing did not take place until 2nd January 1917. The prosecution was looking for further evidence. Meanwhile, Secker asked him to spend Christmas with him at Bridgefoot.
It was a green Christmas, and rather muggy. We went for walks a lot of the time, and all the talk was of what to do. It looked as though the case was certain to go for trial, and he would probably have got nine months at the Old Bailey. He thought he would be bored by nine months in the Scrubs, but to go abroad would be like “cutting off his head” as he called it. In the end he decided to clear out.
At the third hearing he was charged with further offences in July against brothers aged ten and twelve, also at the Natural History Museum. His counsel asked for a week’s remand so that a witness could be called who would effectively refute these charges. This witness was Faith Mackenzie, who duly appeared at the fourth hearing on 9th January to testify that Douglas had been on Capri at the time of the alleged offence, and had actually lunched with her there two days later. His passport also showed that he had left England in May and had not returned until August. Verdict: Alibi proved, and case of mistaken identity on the part of the brothers. Prisoner discharged. “He awaits trial therefore, on one charge only.”
He decided to leave, as soon as possible.
On 10th January he moved into the Ivanhoe Hotel; on the 11th he obtained a visa for France; on the 12th, a visa for Italy. Archie helped him pack, and on the 13th he was seen off at Waterloo by Faith Mackenzie and Archie, went down to Southampton and crossed to Le Havre. This effectively put an end to his patriotic tribulations – such as they may have been – for as he wrote later,
I… might for the next three years have been kicking my heels, like any other patriot, in the corridor of some dingy Government office at the mercy of a pack of tuppenny counter-jumpers, but for a God-sent little accident, the result of sheer boredom, which counselled a trip to the sunny Mediterranean.
He was forty-eight years old; he had no money worth speaking of; he was known as a writer only in limited circles; and this was the second country he had had to leave in a hurry. It was not to be the last.
Chapter Seventeen. Italy and South Wind 1917
The proofs of South Wind having been corrected for his publisher, Martin Secker, …
A curious idea had taken hold in his mind – curious because in those days it could hardly have hoped to reach print in England in any effective form:
“I am wondering whether my recent London experiences could be fashioned into a sort of novel. One might say one or two interesting things (about police methods etc) and bring in one or two interesting characters. Think it over and let me know. Certain things, of course, would have to be turned [toned?] down. There would also have to be a love-element, which I could easily invent. So meditate upon this and tell me how you think it might be done. Not more than 60,000 words, I mean.” Did Secker know E. S. P. Haynes? – “Let me hear about this”. […]
It is evident that he felt he had a score to settle with the police and with public morality in England. “How would you like,” asks Mr Keith in South Wind, “to be haled before a Court of Law for some ridiculous trifle, which became a crime only because it used to be a sin, and became a sin only because some dyspeptic or impotent old antediluvian was envious of his neighbour’s pleasure?” Douglas obviously did not like it, any more than anybody else would, and was prepared to fight back to the best of his ability; but there was to be no cant or hypocrisy about it – he was not fighting back on behalf of other people, or conducting a campaign: he was fighting back because the activities of the police impinged on his own activities and threatened a pleasure which he considered harmless. He was no zealot for reform; but if he was pinched, he was prepared to cry out. Furthermore, he was prepared to cry out at that particular moment even more loudly than usual because there had been reverberations of that affair in London which might affect him here in Italy. Faith Mackenzie wrote about it to her mother:
10 April 1917
… After dinner tonight a most beautiful capitano of the Caribinieri [sic] came to visit me sword & all. I had written to the Consul General at Naples who is a great friend, that I had been asked impertinent questions by the Head of the police here about N. Douglas. The result being that this exquisite person was sent over from Naples to enquire into the matter. My wrath having by now died down I begged him to be lenient with the poor old Head, who is really a dunderheaded contadino. But I was very angry with him at the time.
Three weeks later Douglas said there was no further news “as regards what Faith wrote about. I have not moved. I imagine things are quieting down.” It looks as though someone on Capri – presumably a reader of The Times – had been nagging at the “dunderheaded contadino” (who was, of course, Capolozzi, the Capri magistrate who appears in South Wind as Malipizzo) to ban Douglas from the island, or even perhaps to try to get him kept out of Italy.
Chapter Eighteen. Paris and St Malo 1917-1918
On Douglas’s life in wartime Paris:
Eric, to whom he still wrote at least once a week, must frequently have sprung to mind when Douglas felt that life was particularly hard – Eric “somewhere in France” within sixty miles or so of Paris, and “in the thick of it” …
He is not merely shameless: he deliberately displays his shamelessness. In the same way, he is not merely atheist, but anti-theist; not merely homosexual (as well as heterosexual) but a paederast; and he did not merely come to dislike his wife, but took every opportunity of vilifying her to others even twenty or thirty years after her death. If there is one adjective which fits him like a glove, it is “perverse”; he was not only contrary, in the old homely sense of the word, but went out of his way to suggest that the unusual tastes which he made so much healthier than so many other people by his robust and zestful attitude were sinister or wicked. And he delighted to hint at or describe various amusements that might shock his listeners or readers. […]
Douglas’s son at the front […], Archie […] had arrived in France early in 1918. In October he was “blown up and slightly gassed” near Cambrai, and his father obtained a three-day casualty permit to visit him in hospital in Amiens. It was here that the “brief but convulsive love-episode” occurred which is alluded to in Looking Back, and amplified in a Berg annotation by William King: on the way to the hospital Douglas “encountered a Madagascan soldier who was lying dead-drunk in the gutter and who if he is still alive is unlikely to realise that he was once buggered by the writer of South Wind”.
About two months earlier, during a big advance from the Allied lines Eric had found himself in charge of two messengers who had to be sent to the front line. They were killed. Two more were sent and were also killed. Eric then refused to send any more, and took the message himself. He was lucky enough to get through, and for his bravery was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Medal. […]
Thereafter his circumstances seem to have dwindled until they were worse than they had been at any previous time in Paris. On 7th December he moved from the rue Buffault to a back room across the river in the rue Servandoni, near the Luxembourg Gardens, and it seems to have been depressing or squalid or both, at any rate cold and gloomy. “Marcel still came to see me when he was in the mood, to cheer me up. I had given up bothering about other people.”
Marcel was a plump but ragged voyou, a tough little product of the underworld, angel-faced, with a profile of “gem-like purity and thick-clustering curls”. He was amusing, unstable emotionally, and liable to fits of generosity, when he would take Douglas out to the circus or stand him drinks. Douglas never asked where his money came from nor what he and his family did; he never even asked Marcel what his surname was, being fairly certain that answers to such questions would have been lies. For Marcel was probably an “implement, a decoy, who for some reason or other took a momentary fancy to me”. There was something feline and sinister about him, which moralists would have disapproved of. Douglas found him instructive, and his society “a liberal education”.
Holloway here goes on to give without comment a detailed summary of Douglas’s own lively account of how he fell out with Marcel and left Paris for the sun of Menton. As this story can be read in full in this excerpt from his memoir Looking Back, it is not repeated here.
Chapter Nineteen. Menton 1919
He arrived at Menton on Sunday 15th December with 61 francs in his pocket. A little money might soon begin to trickle in, but very little; and he did not despair of finding work of some sort in Menton; but he was unwilling to spend any of the money in his pocket on a porter or cab, although carrying his heavy suitcase in his weakened condition was now impossible. He looked around him at the station for help, and noticed a group of schoolboys who were saying goodbye to a friend. Perhaps one of them… ?
“It took a little courage to ask an unknown schoolboy of good family to carry my bag and, what made it far worse, in front of his companions ; I was desperate. I went into the matter. I spoke of the horrible journey from Paris, of the preceding night spent on the floor of the Nice refreshment room, and how that I was too weak to carry the bag myself and too poor to pay for a porter: voila! Would he be so kind as to help me, after he had seen his companion off? This was a pretty severe test also for ‘Mr R.’. Something inspired him to say ‘Je veux bien’.”
The boy’s name was René – René Mari – and he was so obliging and helpful, finding for Douglas a cheap hotel of just the kind he needed, that he went home – he lived with his parents in Ventimiglia – with a note from Douglas to his father saying how grateful he was and regretting that he could not come over to meet the father himself. The result of this was that both parents came to see him on the following day, and his acquaintance with René developed easily and naturally from this good start.
The miserable Parisian period of deprivation had ended and an exceedingly happy relationship began that was to last a good many years. René was fourteen at this time, and was very quickly taken under Douglas’ wing. Soon, instead of commuting every day from Ventimiglia to Menton to his school, he was staying in Menton with Douglas. He:
… is with me all the time. He goes to school here and his parents live across the Italian frontier. He goes to see them every 2-3 weeks (it is only a few minutes in the train) and they come here now and then and bring me Italian cigars and other delicacies. The boy never did a stroke of work formerly; now, the headmaster says, it has been a regeneration. What it is, to have a kind heart! This is not the first miracle of its kind I have performed … I have a perfect genius for teaching and inspiring the young …
In some respects, possibly in more respects than is the case with most people, Douglas knew himself exactly; certainly, he never wrote more truly of himself than in this last sentence.
The effect of the relationship upon René’s school work had made itself manifest within three months; and its effect upon Douglas is also obvious within the same period. His letters to Straus, which are so frank and unreserved, take on a note of revived high spirits and facetiousness, of fresh attack and purpose. He was once again “indulging his genius”, and the other activities of his daily life were beginning to fall into place. His life was easier, happier, and once again held promise.
One of the good prospects was of a visit to Greece in order to write a book about the country on the lines of Old Calabria. […]At this point Douglas seems to have been undecided about accepting the offer: for one thing, he had not finished Theophilus, and for another, nothing, he wrote to Straus, would move him out of Menton: “I would sooner be cut into a million pieces.”
[…] he could not move until his novel was off his hands, because once out there, he would probably stay a long time; and it would be a terrible wrench to leave Menton, “not, I may mention, on account of the scenery or climate”. In the end, he did not leave Menton until the end of August; and did not get to Greece for nearly a year.
After receiving £300 from the Greek government as an advance for the planned book, Douglas
went with René for a short walking tour in Provence during the Easter holiday. Certainly, prospects were improving. René was a great solace; and soon after he had met him, he had found money too.
Throughout the Menton period there had been invitations to Straus and Hutton to visit him there. Straus had also been introduced, at long distance, to Eric, who had left the army. It appears that Straus got Eric his job in the Ministry of Pensions, in which both Eric and his sister Violet began to work; but Eric did not like it, although perhaps he did not discover this at once, or if he did, disguised the fact from Douglas, who wrote to Straus that Eric seemed to “relish his work, and it is awfully good of you getting that job for him”. But a month or so later Straus seemed to think that Eric was so fed up with his job that he might leave it. Douglas reassured him: “Eric will not leave his job. I will talk to him, and he always listens to what I say. The fact is, life in the army ruins a man for every other occupation.” Nevertheless, Eric had “behaved like a brick all through life, and does me the greatest credit. If I left behind me nothing but him, as a memorial, it would suffice to prove to posterity that I had not lived in vain.”
[…]and just as Straus had helped Douglas with Eric and Archie, so he had also obligingly contributed to the happiness of Douglas and René. He had been asked – it was a request that was made to various friends at intervals throughout Douglas’ life abroad – to obtain “an ordinary cricket belt of the best quality: blue by preference, though any other colour would do”. These peculiarly English articles of dress played an almost ritualistic part as tokens of Douglas’ esteem for his young friends. C. K. Scott-Moncrieff was one of those to whom Douglas applied for help in obtaining such belts. He informed his friend Vyvyan Holland that Douglas
wrote the other day asking me to get him three cricket belts, uso inglese, with snake clasps; I did so, but asked him whether it was a secret society (the shop seemed quite used to supplying my friend in Florence): I quoted the lines which you may remember:
a cricket belt was round his waist
and light and brisk his tread
but I never saw a boy who looked
so wistfully at the bed.
Chapter Twenty. Lawrence, Magnus, and Greece 1919-1920
René came to Florence on a visit, arriving on Christmas Day, and it was at once obvious that he was ill. Douglas got him to his pensione as quickly as possible, put him to bed, and sent for a doctor. Pleurisy was diagnosed, and “things were quite critical at one moment: there was talk of an operation”. He had to remain in bed for a month. “Now,” wrote Douglas to Straus on 24th January, “he has turned the corner but can’t, of course, move for a long while to come. The pension-bill is already over 600 frcs, quite apart from medicines and extra food: what the doctor’s bill is going to be I tremble to think! Nor have I the faintest idea where the money is coming from. Let me have your prayers. I ought to be on my way to Greece by this time. A fix: if ever there was one. His school began on the 3rd January: the doctor won’t hear of his going back to school for a long while, or even travelling … My only way out of it is to sell the copyright of Theophilus. Which is the most honest: Heinemann, Macmillan, or Constable? Which would be most likely to accept a book from me? Which would pay most? To which of them in other words would you advise me to apply?” Meanwhile, he had sent a typescript (of Theophilus?) to Curtis Brown in America for possible serialisation; and on the same day he wrote to Hutton to ask if he could sell Constable the copyright of Theophilus, warning Hutton that he would make the same offer to another firm and also to “Martin Secker who, blackguard as he is, may be prepared to pay fairly well with a view to not interrupting his Douglas series. Even then, he will probably succeed in letting me down somehow.” Hutton was not informed of the nature of Douglas’ predicament: Douglas could be tender and discriminating in respecting the susceptibilities of his friends, and Hutton, as an ardent Catholic, need not be thoughtlessly presented with the facts about René which would probably embarrass him and severely test his admirably liberal outlook and warm affection.
He was certainly a good deal frustrated and distracted. For a month at least, he had hardly ever got out of his room because of René’s illness, and for a further month his movements were restricted while René recuperated. And anxiety about money, and parting from René to go to Greece, and dentist’s bills, all played their part in feelings of desperation: […]
In a letter to Hutton about being back at Sant’ Agata in Campania, where he had arrived on 27 May 1920:
What a relief to come to a place, a green oasis, with views over the sea on both sides, where everybody smiles at you and where you can eat and drink till you burst, and where all the boys look like angels, and mostly are!
Chapter Twenty-one. Magnus 1920
Discussing Douglas in Florence in July 1920:
By this time, however, René had arrived, and there was an end to cursing for a couple of months while they went on an extended walking tour ending with nearly three weeks in Scanno before returning to Florence. There, rooms in which Douglas could settle and work through the winter were no easier to find, and he decided he might just as well live at Menton and be near René. He hoped he might write another novel while there, and that perhaps Straus might be persuaded to come that far, as it did not seem possible to get him to Florence, and they could work together at Straus’ novel, Volcano. He stayed there until 22nd December.
[…] Straus was thanked for interesting an African vice-consul in Eric. Eric had for a long time been fed up with his job, and Douglas hoped that this kindness of Straus’ might lead to something.
Chapter Twenty-two. Nardini 1921
On the last day of 1920 Douglas and René left Florence, where they had spent Christmas, to return to Menton. On the way they spent two days at Marseille with Eric, who was on his way to Tanganyika where he had obtained a job as Assistant Inspector of Police at a salary of £325 a year. “Not bad,” was Douglas’ comment, “and, when you consider it carefully, all my work. He will get six months’ leave in two years, and hopes to have saved about £250 by that time.”
Meanwhile René was with him for about a week, and Douglas was “delighted to be out of that blasted French hole and away from its filthy inhabitants”; Florence was very gay and full of people, and the food was much better, and cheaper, than it had been at Menton.
As soon as Alone was in the post, he and René set off for the Vorarlberg. He had been planning this visit for several months. It was a double escape – from the oppressive heat of Florence in the summer to the cool uplands of the countryside farther north, and from the “wearisome actualities” of trying to make a living to the enchanted land of childhood in which every stone and tree was an extension of his own past life. […] An additional attraction, undoubtedly was the thought (and later, the act) of showing to someone he loved all the intimate scenes and objects of his homeland.
Chapter Twenty-three. Orioli 1922-1923
He arrived in Menton on 24th May to coach René for his English exam, and stayed about a month, loathing it. For one thing, he was lonely, only being able to see René on two days of each week; […]
He had had a mild attack of erysipelas at Menton, and one of the worst attacks of stomach trouble he had ever had, shortly before. These may, or may not, have contributed to “one of the beastliest months of my life”; and he feared — rightly as it turned out – that his sacrifice had been in vain, and that René would not pass his exam as Douglas had not been able to teach him what he ought to have been taught: “Not my fault! I have done my best; and paid for it, in discomfort and loss of time and of money (everything here is 4 times as expensive as in Florence; and 10 times as bad).” He returned to Florence towards the end of June, went down to Rome for a few days, and then, in the middle of July, was joined by René in Florence. They went off to the Vorarlberg together, as in the previous year, but this time stayed for the whole visit in Thüringen.
Douglas delighted in the rain after the heat of Florence, and he took René up for “a several days’ excursion into the mountains … above the region of vegetation, among the snow, and I think it did my pupil good. He is not quite right just now, won’t sleep properly, or even work, or even eat; I fear that failure in his exam has done a good deal of harm. We shall see. Meanwhile, we take it easy.” […]
The visit certainly did René good. He put on weight. Alas! Douglas had to cut his visit short in order to get his pupil back to school again in time for another exam: […]
On the new friendship between Douglas and the Florentine bookseller Pino Orioli, “the most significant event in Douglas’ life in 1922:
[…] both were interested in the younger members of their own sex, though in Orioli’s case, less young than in Douglas’.
After three weeks on Capri, Douglas migrated to Sant’ Agata. “I am not alone,” he informed Archie, “have an infant with me who is learning to cook and will, if he behaves, be my servant in the new Florentine apartment.”[…]
Soon after Douglas’s arrival in Florence in May 1923:
He had hardly got settled in his flat before he was off again – heading for the Vorarlberg with his cook. They were held up at Milan by passport difficulties, but the boy was “½ delirious with joy at the prospect of getting out of his country”, and Douglas seems to have taken a companion for him – presumably so that he could work more easily while the boys entertained each other, or possibly he had the idea that two might seem less compromising than one. In the zoological terminology that he used with Bryher, the boys he had with him – and any others in whom he might be interested – were Crocodiles, or Crocs. “The crocodiles like the place” he wrote, “and smash something new every day”, or “The Crocodiles are out of doors all day, helping with the haymaking; I shall hang on here as long as I can.” […]
Back in Florence in September, having delivered the Crocodiles to their homes, he began flat-hunting. “Crocodiles are flourishing,” he informed Bryher. “No 1 has learned a little Austrian cookery; No 2 is at home again (round the corner here) and his people are delighted with his improved appearance.” […]
There is a legend, fostered by certain Douglas admirers, that each of his books was written while he was inspired by a particular love-affair. Like many anecdotal stories, it has an element of truth, as may be seen from his admission to Brigit Patmore when she told him she wished he was writing something: “ ‘I can only write if I have this’ “ he answered. My forearm was resting on the table and he gripped it hard. I knew he didn’t mean my arm or me, but the confiding closeness, that ardent heightening of mind and senses through love or passion.”
This confession illustrates his attitude. He needed to be in love, but not necessarily in the romantic way implied by the anecdote, devoting himself to a particular individual who would elicit from him by some obscure chemistry of the personality a distinct creative response. He simply needed to be in love, in the same sort of way that he needed reasonably good food, and drink; but even as one knows that he could do perfectly well on very simple or poor food when necessary, one suspects that the books continued to be written through gaps between love-affairs – supposing that such gaps existed. Some books, certainly, owed allegiance to several successive companions: South Wind is one of them. The Amitrano boy helped greatly with Siren Land, Old Calabria must be forever associated with Eric, but no doubt with others, unknown, as well. Some of the mellowness of Alone is due to René; and to René also, and above all, is due the leisurely and attractive ease, the wistfulness and joy, the concentrated homogeneous atmosphere of reminiscence in Together.
Together was the result of two successive visits to the Vorarlberg with René, in 1921 and 1922. It was written easily and quickly, between the end of July and the end of December of the latter year, and with three kinds of love – in the present, for his companion; for present sights and sounds and experiences; and for the past, for his childhood and its associations. The dialogue between himself and René, their happy leisured progress through the province, with good-natured mutual teasing, is just the right foil for the more serious business of examining and mentally caressing the past, or for setting down longish footnotes filled with historical or philological or zoological information. Although these two elements, the autobiographical and the observational, remain more or less separate, they combine to make a delightful whole. Here the mixture is, as it were, folded in, and not completely blended, as in Alone.
Chapter Twenty-four. Printing his own 1924
One of his boys, Mario, possibly one of the two whom he had taken to Austria, who was now his cook, had elected, or was persuaded, by Douglas, to go into the merchant navy. This required “endless formalities and documents”; but Douglas persevered. Evidently Mario had become a nuisance. When he had gone, Douglas packed up and went down to Rome and district for a week, then to Calabria for a week, and came to rest as he had so often done, at Sant’ Agata. But here, no sooner had he settled down and begun to get into
my old frame of mind, when I got a letter … from Mario, who says he missed his steamer at Constantinople (he probably got the sack) and was repatriated by the Italian consul and is now at Florence. Cook’s girl, needless to say, gave him my address and he talks of coming out here at once and joining me. If so, I shall never shake him off again! So I have written saying that I am going elsewhere, and only hope he won’t turn up before I go. This is all perfectly damnable, and of course I can’t go back to Florence, else he will catch me there. What’s to be done? I may spend a week or so in Capri or on Ischia, deciding what to do; but catch me telling Cook’s girl where I am. I shall have my letters forwarded by her to some other place, where I can just call for them: it will mean delay, but it can’t be helped … What a life, my dear! Why can’t people leave me alone?
Three weeks later, having met the Mackenzies while crossing over to Capri for the day, he was staying with them in Casa Solitaria:
I can’t go back to Florence at present, for fear of being caught by the Crocodile, and never let go again. The girl at Cook’s – damn her – told him I was at S. Agata; he promptly came there and is there still. I had left 2 days before his arrival. I wrote to him to say I could not have him or see him, and told him to get work in Rome or anywhere else and sent him money for his ticket there and said I was going back to Florence and that he could write to me there. By this means I hope to lure him out of these regions. But the whole thing is too damnable, and also too complicated to explain in a letter.
From Capri he rushed off to Scanno and then Sulmona; but there was struck down with “a kind of bloody rheumatism”. He could not move out of bed, but did not think the attack would last long, and was not unduly perturbed: “The hotel is good and I have a nice English youth, as well as a little Capri boy, to look after me.” Five days later, when he had returned to Capri to collect his luggage (“wish I had let it go to Hell”) he was “suffering torments”, and had decided to go to Rome, where he had a good friend in Victor Cunard, and get himself into a hospital. He arrived in Rome on 3 June, was overhauled by a good doctor, and ordered to take the baths at Fiuggi. The rheumatism was as bad as ever, he wrote a few days later, but Cunard, with whom he was staying, took good care of him. He was in pain all the time.
Meanwhile, a few days before the onset of this attack, he had learnt that René had
bolted from home and his school and, according to a telegram just received, should be at the Hotel Nardini in Florence. He did all this without ever consulting me. Now if his father discovers him in Florence I may be involved in very serious complications, police or otherwise. Would you [he wrote to Orioli] please find out if he is there … and point this out to him and get him out of Florence as soon as ever possible. Nardini, who is now a great enemy of mine, will do his best to stir up trouble. Tell him that if he had only consulted me before taking this step, I could have arranged everything. It is a veritable coup de folie. I cannot come back to Florence now: tell him this. Tell him also that on receipt of his previous wire and letters I wrote him at once to the Sud-bar address he gave me. Get him out of Florence or it may mean mischief for both of us … Tell him that I would have written him myself, but am afraid my letters might fall into the hands of Nardini.
This scare was dissipated a few days later when Douglas heard, presumably from René, that his father knew all about his leaving home. Douglas hoped that René might be able to wait in Florence until he could join him there, if René had money: “I have none left. Never been so hard up since the war.” What actually happened was that René joined him at Fiuggi. The only surviving letter from René reveals some of the charm which everyone who knew him remarked on:
Fiuggi le 10 juin 1924
Mon cher vieux Orioli
Je suis en ce moment-ci avec Douglas à Fiuggi (mais “acqua in bocca” n’est-ce pas?)
Norman doit suivre un régime ici. Ni vin, ni viande et ne boire que de l’eau de Fiuggi. Ça ne l’amuse pas beaucoup.
A Rome c’est très difficile de trouver du travail. Peut-être j’aurais une place de journaliste ou de secrétaire, mais il y a avant un tas de complications. Il faut par example attendre une réponse de Paris etc etc … Ça sera d’ailleurs très long et d’ici là … Vous qui avez des amis influents et qui connaissez tant de monde à Florence ne pourriez-vous pas me trouvez quelque chose. Je ferais n’importe quoi sauf “tapette” bien entendu … Voyez … je connais trois langues (à peu près … Il est vrai) Mais je crois tout de même qu’avec cela ce ne sera pas trop difficile. Voulez-vous essayer, je me contenterai de tout, même si c’est en dehors de Florence (ça ne fait rien du tout ...) Je serai toujours content. Ecrivez-moi a propos de cela et je vous remercie infiniment.
La santé de Douglas n’est pas très bonne. Il a des rheumatismes un peu de partout mais j’espère que Fiuggi lui fera du bien …
Encore une fois pensez à moi, et écrivez-moi tout de suite à propos de mon travail. Je vous serais tres reconnaissant.
Toujours à vous
By the middle of June the rheumatism was better. Douglas and René travelled up to Rome together, and the next day René left, presumably for Menton or Ventimiglia. Douglas hoped he might get a job near an old friend, Basil Leng, the botanist and landscape gardener, who lived on the Riviera, but happened to be working in Guernsey. Orioli was thanked for looking after René, and warned, repeatedly, not to let Mario know where Douglas was.
[…] He had been intending to visit Eric in Africa ever since Eric had taken the job with the Tanganyikan police. Eric now wrote that he wanted to get out of Africa and asked for letters of introduction to Australia or New Zealand or South Africa. Douglas did not know whether he would be able to go to East Africa to see him or not; but in case Eric would still be there, he decided to try to raise the fare by selling his autographed Joseph Conrad first editions, and the manuscript of South Wind.
Chapter Twenty-five. Africa 1925
On Douglas and his friend and fellow-writer D. H. Lawrence:
Lawrence’s views were so unorthodox, his behaviour was so eccentric and cantankerous, his morals were so suspect to the ignorant – above all, he was so open, so honest, so vulnerable – that everything he did and said was liable to be turned to sensational account by the press. He lived under the arc lights, on the stage, in full view of all the prurient scribblers and scandalmongers of the time; whereas Douglas, the nature of whose morals was known to few, was known, if he was known at all, only as the author of an acceptably naughty novel about la dolce vita in the Mediterranean. Douglas, whose bearing and manner were courteous and gentlemanly, and who never openly threatened the status quo, must also have seemed to be the embodiment of the voice of reason and moderation, the decent, restrained citizen with whom the average reader of the weekly review could identify safely and comfortably in opposition to the disturbing and anarchist-minded Lawrence. […]
All writers are bound to select; the trouble with Lawrence was that what he selected, he described with such vividness and accuracy that it was inclined to remain for ever photographically embedded in the memory of the reader. That obviously – and especially to a man of Douglas’ tastes – could be dangerous.
It must have been obvious to Douglas that Lawrence’s photographic eye and apparently limitless recall of conversation was the one kind of writing which could do him great damage without setting a foot anywhere near the laws of libel. Lawrence had only to take it into his head to describe Douglas in the company of Mario, or Silvio, or Alvaro, or Emilio, for the entire relationship to open itself out before the reader’s eyes. What Douglas did not realise was that Lawrence, as much as or perhaps even more than, anyone else writing at the time, had also a sense of the fitness of things. It is unlikely that he would ever have published anything that could have got Douglas into trouble.
He arrived at Mombasa on 18th May. […] From Mombasa to Voi by train, and thence up to Moshi by car. There he was met by Eric, who took him to his place at Arusha, passing immense herds of game on the way, and “some picturesque Masai shepherd boys leaning on their lances”. At Arusha, living in the Boma with Eric, a regular routine began. They met for lunch and dinner, also at teatime for whisky and soda and the discarding of sun helmets. In the morning and afternoon, while Eric was at work, Douglas explored alone and on foot. […]There were several trips across country – to and from Dodoma, where he and Eric stayed for about ten days; and to and from a coffee-plantation. Douglas stayed at an hotel kept by a Greek at Dodoma; “our chief afternoon amusement was being driven along the railway line on a trolley and shooting game for [Eric’s] table, the small dik-dik antelope for the most part, which is good eating; a silver jackal was also bagged.” […]
He left Mombasa on 6th July in a German boat. One imagines that he was not sorry to leave Africa – loyalty to Eric would have obliged him to exert more self-control than was enjoyable for an extended period – but glad to have been there.
[…] The heat in Florence was “far worse than Africa”, and he longed to get away to the Vorarlberg, but could not, or would not, because he had set his mind on going there with Mario’s brother, and Mario’s brother was not available, “not even in Florence … So Austria is off, ten to one”.
Chapter Twenty-six. Lungarno Delle Grazie 1926-1927
In a letter to his son Archie in March 1927:
“By all means get married” wrote his father, “but not an American, because you won’t get any settlement out of them: and not a divorcee, because they generally can’t fuck. To get proper fucking, one must bring them up oneself. And the same applies to the other thing. Nothing like a virgin, when all is said and done, male or female.”
Also in March 1927, Douglas, living in Florence, was overworked, tired “and perhaps bored”:
These were the sort of conditions which predisposed him to indiscretions, and sure enough, on 5th March, Archie, who was now living and working in Rome, received a telegram: come here tonight if possible. He replied impossible come unless you are ill reply urgent and was finally informed not ill but leaving tomorrow night. Not for the first time, he had judged it wisest to hop it, quickly. Not for the last time, he fled to Menton.
He pretended to Hutton that he had had to go to Menton to meet a friend who would be arriving by boat at Marseille; but told Bryher a little later, that he had fled for “crocodilean reasons”, which was true. […] He stayed in Menton nearly three weeks, keeping in touch with events in Florence through Walter Lowenfels, who was living there with his wife, and Orioli. He returned to Florence on 29th March, and on the previous day wrote from Milan: “Things all right so far, but I am terribly knocked up.” He had certainly had a bad fright, was doing no work and had bad nights and harassed days. However, he hoped the affair would end satisfactorily: “I have deserved it.”
The boy involved was called Luciano, and the trouble arose from his mother, who lived in Florence – where, of course, she may well have heard stories about Douglas. The father lived in Monza and worked in Milan. Douglas seems to have hoped to persuade the father to let Luciano be his pupil; meanwhile Hutton came to Florence, which must have been awkward and annoying in its way, though their friendship was strong enough to survive even subjects that Hutton did not want to discuss but must have known about; and shortly the air was menacing again in the Luciano business. “I am not out of the wood by any means! Things are clouding over again”; but he and Hutton were “trying to patch up that collaboration,” on Douglas’ terms: “I need the money!”
Douglas was in touch with Luciano’s father, who came to Florence towards the end of April. Douglas talked to him about Luciano, and the father “decided not to put off again the taking-away-from-Florence of his son”. He did it at once. Douglas went out to Pistoia separately, so that he need not be present at Florence Station while Luciano’s mother was saying goodbye to the boy: “I join their train… and we three go together to Milan (father, son & self) … From which I hope you will gather that the battle is won (the toughest of all my life, and I have had a good few) … a fight which lasted from 19 Feb to 27 April and which has left me financially impoverished and physically shattered.” He would stay one day in Milan, then return to Florence to get on with his work. “I shall get drunk – the occasion is worthy of it – but must keep my wits about me … Have you understood this letter? It marks an epoch.” And in his pocket diary he wrote “Treaty of Monza” so that the epoch would be truly marked; but, alas, like so many treaties, it was to prove disappointing. […]
By the first week in May he was getting ready to leave Florence again. He would be going to Monza to stay. “Florence is over, I imagine, for a year or two.” The strain of the situation had told on him: “My hand has got so shaky that I daren’t shave myself – not from drink, but worry.” He sent Archie full instructions about the Florence flat, where the keys were, and where his valuables could be found. And soon, after he had arrived in Monza and Luciano’s passport had been applied for – he meant to take him to the Vorarlberg – he sent, or began sending (for they continued for the rest of the year) instructions to Orioli, about looking after his interests at the Giuntina, where Birds and Beasts was being printed, and about numerous other matters, including Emilio, for whom he felt very tenderly and wanted to provide as well as possible.
After a long delay, he discovered that a passport could now only be obtained for Luciano if there were proof that he was going to study at a school abroad. Such proof could not be provided in a manner that would satisfy the Italian consul at Innsbruck. “A lunatic asylum, the whole business,” was Douglas’ comment. So he and Luciano went off to Sant’ Agata and then to Capri, ending up in mid-July at Pistoia, and then San Marcello near by. This was the best Douglas could do without actually returning to Florence which he dared not do on account of Luciano’s mother. He could at least go into Florence without much difficulty from these places, to attend to his business – which he did. Money was running out, and he had to pay a pound a day for himself and Luciano at San Marcello Pistoiese: “I am prepared for a catastrophe. Shall mortgage or sell the Florence flat: can’t be helped!” But somehow, as so often before, it could be helped, and he did not have to take such drastic action. […]
The first copies of Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology were sent off on 12th September. By this time he and Luciano had already moved to Prato, even nearer to Florence, so that he could commute to Florence daily to attend to all the business connected with sending out copies of the book. “Florence is taboo for me … at present,” wrote Douglas to Lytton Strachey. “I am living at Prato and only go in for an afternoon now and then, thickly veiled and wearing blue glasses and a carroty beard. This will last, I daresay, till after Christmas.” (This is just the type of confessional double-bluff from which Douglas gained much quiet pleasure – the thought that Strachey would think all that he had written was invention, whereas it was only a caricature of the truth.) Emilio had joined them for the last ten days or so at San Marcello, and occasionally came for the day to Prato, and got on well with Luciano. Orioli and his young friend Carletto, who became his servant and assistant and general factotum, as Emilio was Douglas’, also came sometimes, and there was a “family party” atmosphere which may have drawn Douglas to the other three and away from Luciano to some extent, or Luciano may have felt a little superfluous or have become sulky. It was perhaps a change in the emotional air which led Douglas to declare to Archie that he was “fairly sick of life”. He made arrangements with Archie, who was to write him an urgent letter, when necessary, telling him that his (Norman’s) brother was dying and wished to see him. “Look here,” he wrote Archie at the end of November, “L is getting quite impossible – going mad, in fact,” and instructed Archie to write the urgent letter, which his father wrote out for him. It may never have been used, for on 14th December, Douglas wrote to Archie: “Took L to Monza, having a good excuse. I leave Prato, then go to Florence for a week — unavoidable on account of book; then Menton probably, so as to be out of the country.” He was not pleased to get rid of Luciano; on the contrary – it was a wrench – but he knew he had to make that decision: “Have written to Luciano, hinting that I may not be able to keep him any longer. Very difficult and disheartening. It has quite upset me … He got unmanageable, in spite of all my prayers and efforts.”
Chapter Twenty-seven. Orioli, Publisher 1928-1930
In February 1928, in Paris, the historian Lytton Strachey met Norman Douglas (with whom he had corresponded for five years) for the first time in Paris , and described him as reminding him of
one of those odd benevolent unexpectedly broad-minded schoolmasters one sometimes comes across. […] A slight effect you know of not having been very well treated by life … One would like to surround him with every kind of comfort and admiration and innumerable boys of 14½.
[…] It took a shock to make the sincerity and feeling in him instantly recognisable.
This occurred when he was in Paris early in July. He was handed a telegram from Emilio telling him that the boy’s mother had had a serious accident. She had in fact been knocked down in the street by a truck, and the accident proved fatal. Douglas wrote at once to Orioli:
Just got a wire from Emilio, and have wired you asking for details. If she’s dead, the boys can stay with me! Please tell him that (if she’s dead). No time for more. I am expecting your reply wire. Will be in Florence Tuesday or Wednesday. Please give E this 100 frcs as soon as you can – waiting for your wire before I write to him. Got the mail from Cook this morning. Make it clear to E that I shall do all I can. Can’t write more – room full of people. Both the boys can come to me: make that clear.
Far from waiting for Tuesday or Wednesday (he had written on the Saturday), he set off for Florence the same night, and was there the following day. Anyone to whom he had given his love and affection, and who had responded in the same way, could rely on him utterly in a crisis. He saw Emilio and his younger brother Alvaro through the next difficult fortnight in Florence, and then, partly because he himself could not stand the city in the heat of July and August, but mostly no doubt to alleviate their sorrow, he took them down to Scanno for three weeks. It was typical of him that he should give the impression in a letter to a friend in America – whom he knew well enough to have been truthful with – that he was behaving naughtily: “I have fled with two kids into the Abruzzi…”
On Douglas in 1930:
The same man, meanwhile, was asserting that he was “loaded up with love-affairs, as never before! All that will be over soon, so I make hay while the sun shines. Very good hay, too.” The succession of his more enduring and nobler loves had been continued beyond Eric and René, by Emilio; but there were many others, who fulfilled humbler and less durable roles, as Orioli’s diaries of his holidays with Douglas were to make clear. […]
On Douglas’s holiday with Pino Orioli in the Voralberg in July 1930:
Here Orioli kept what seems to be the first of that series of diaries which he made of their holidays together. It is written in Italian with a few phrases in English; and it sets the uninhibited tone for all the other diaries. These impressions of their life together from the inside are highly illuminating and contain intimate details which could never have been discovered elsewhere.
A small percentage of what Orioli wrote in his diaries would certainly have been unprintable until quite recently, and sooner or later the reader of them is bound to ask why Douglas not only encouraged Orioli to keep these diaries, but also why, having read them himself, and in some cases having typed them out or corrected them, he should have allowed them to survive, especially as Orioli died before he did. In themselves and taken as a whole they do not damage Douglas’ character, and could be said to enlarge it; but in the hands of an Aldington or some other insidious vilifier they could be made harmful. Perhaps his allowing them to survive is another instance of his respect for the truth; perhaps it is another example of his sometimes “naming himself in public” (to posterity); or perhaps he simply did not care, knowing that these things were not malicious or untrue, and that anyway they could not be published during his lifetime.
This first diary shows that a good deal of time was spent with, or looking for, young companions who might or might not be admitted as regular intimates during the course of the holiday, and perhaps also of subsequent holidays in the same district. Douglas, master of the necessary languages and dialects, and born teacher and inspirer of the young, found boys with consummate ease, seemed in fact to conjure them out of the air or ground. Orioli, who was less masterful and knew no German, did not so readily find companions in Austria.
On this particular holiday Douglas’ friend was a boy called Fifo – a fairly constant companion who came regularly to the Hirschen at Thüringen, where Douglas and Orioli were staying, for what Orioli euphemistically calls his “lesson”. The nature of the lesson can hardly be doubted since when it took place in Douglas’ room it required that the windows be screened; but it often took place al fresco. […]
The holiday ended, with a crisis, earlier than planned: Douglas had gone for a night to Lech with Fifo while Orioli went to Feldkirch with someone else. At Lech there was what Orioli calls “un terrible patatrac”: the local policeman wished to see Douglas’ passport, and unfortunately chose to make this inspection while Douglas was giving Fifo a lesson. Douglas, understandably, was nervous, but more concerned for Fifo than for himself. What was to be done? Orioli advised flight. The next day they bolted.
On his stay in Paris in December 1930:
As to the dentist, he never saw him at all before going off to spend Christmas with René at Marseille.
Chapter Twenty-eight. Aldington, Prentice, Orioli 1931-1932
It was not a good year for the Douglas “children”, actual or adopted; Eric had got involved with a married woman; René was seriously ill with consumption; and Emilio had been suffering from severe eye-trouble for several months.
Chapter Twenty-nine. Moving Along 1933-1934
By early February he was at the Hotel Comte, Vevey, to which he had probably been invited by the Macphersons after all. He had one tooth taken out; but he was also expecting crocodile trouble in Florence, yet returned there in the middle of the month. In March he was again back at the Hotel Comte (“Here we are – in the usual luxury!”) because, so he wrote to Archie, “things were slightly threatening in Florence”, and he didn’t want to take any risks. He busied himself while at Vevey by compiling a catalogue of the Macphersons’ library. The Florentine threat evaporated, and he returned again in April.
All through the years since their meeting, Douglas and René had kept up a regular and frequent correspondence. René had married sometime before August 1925, when he and his wife visited Douglas at Sant’ Agata; and latterly had become a schoolmaster at Vence. He had also contracted tuberculosis. For this reason, as soon as René’s regular letter failed to arrive in December 1933 and Douglas had no reply after writing four times, he became alarmed, and wrote to his friend “Auntie” to ask if she had seen René lately and whether he was still at Vence: was he ill? Douglas may have arrived at Menton before she could reply, and was soon in no doubt as to René’s state of health:
31 Dec 1933
Went to see René yesterday. He seems to be at the last gasp; but, as I could not talk to the doctor who was away, I cannot of course say for certain. He was in a miserable hole, with a bed too short for him and a tiny dark window looking due north. I wired to his father to come at once and take him to some proper place. I shall go to Vence on Wednesday again …
René did not improve. Douglas went “nearly every second day” from Menton to Vence to see him. He could not get up, and Douglas feared it was a “very bad case”; when he had done what he could and had had René moved, and called in his father, and stayed as long as he could afford, he went back to Florence, about the middle of January. Auntie continued to visit and keep in touch with René and send news of him to Douglas.
René died on 2nd March, not in the sanatorium to which he had been moved, but in “a dingy cottage specially hired for that purpose. It is not a pretty way to treat the dying.”
René’s death cannot have been anything but painful for Douglas – René, whose close friend he had been for more than fifteen years, for whom he had done so much and had wished to do so much more, a charming and gifted young man whom everyone liked, the possessor of a natural athletic ability and a strong bent for things mechanical, whose life, according to Douglas, was ruined by his parents insisting on his preparing for the civil service. As he was unable to do what he was best fitted to do, he became apathetic and indifferent, drifted from job to job, lost his drive and energy, and cared nothing about his health. “He had suffered so continuously,” wrote Douglas, “for the last six years and so acutely during the last six months that one cannot be sorry it is now over. He told me himself he was yearning to be finished with it.”
On Douglas and Orioli’s stay in Ischia in June to August 1934:
Usually, the rest of the day was given up to pleasure – walking, idling, sitting in osterie, exploring in the mountains, talking to young and old, and looking (most of the time in vain) for privacy in which to carry their casual acquaintanceship with boys and young men a step further.
In this diary we learn much about the informal behaviour of this strange pair: the elderly white-haired magisterial man who liked playing with little boys, and his shorter, stouter, much more volatile and excitable companion who was fifteen years younger.
Chapter Thirty. India, and Other Travels 1935-1936
On Douglas and Orioli’s visit to the Vorarlberg in June 1936:
They met old friends – and old bores. “Fifo is no more the sweet boy of six years ago, is twenty now, big and lumpy, heavy and empty and rather ugly. He never stops singing and whistling, which irritates both of us.” On the whole, though, the diary is in a sunny mood:
We decided to take a taxi to Thüringen, we sent for one and in a few minutes the car was standing outside the hotel. Talking to the chauffeur there was a young boy, a very pretty creature. N. asked him if he wanted a drive, to which he answered with a lovely smile that he would love it. It was done very quickly and in a second we were driving with the boy on board towards Thüringen.
From Thüringen we walked through the wood to Schnifis with the boy. The chauffeur was sent back. N. was happy and little Louis was delighted to be with such nice people, as he said afterwards to N.
“Not every day one meets such good people …”
Darling Louis turned out to be the son of Italians, he understood a little and answered “Shi, Shi”. We all got attached to him … I thought he was a real darling, and N. in a few hours was in love.
They had another half day with Louis, who joined them at the hotel, where they were staying in Bludenz. They went for a walk all together to the cemetery in which Jakob Jehly and Vanda and Mary Douglass and Grete Gulbransson were buried and back into Bludenz, where they visited Louis’ mother, who was:
A nice, clean woman of about fifty. She received us most cordially and I could see she was pleased that her boy had met us … She has another son of 22 or 25 who works at Dalaas, quite far from Bludenz, he goes there on his bike every morning. He had just arrived from working. She called him, and we had a chat also with him. A very good-looking young man with charming manners, I should not mind at all to become a friend of his. Both the boys have good manners and are dressed properly, clean and well groomed. She has brought them up well, this poor woman …
We asked them to let Louis dine with us at the Post. The mother made him wash and put on his best jacket… Little Louis had quite good table manners …
At half past nine took Louis home after having given him some bananas, cakes, and two packets of cigarettes for his brother and some money for the mother. We went back to the Post and had a good many schnapps, which we found delicious. Had a chat with the young porter, who is as charming as the Fraulein. Gave snuff all round and made all of them sneeze.
Another happy day gone!
Friday, 17 July, 1936.
Got up at half past six. At the station we met darling Louis waiting for us. Pity we had to go, but N. has promised him to come back soon. I would go back too if I had found such a darling friend.
Before saying goodbye we gave him some chocolates and bananas and a few shillings and kissed him goodbye.
And now into the train to be gerostet in Florence.
But not for long. Before the end of the month Douglas had left for Ischia. He had “very good fun” there. Then back to Florence for three days before spending some of Emilio’s leave with him in the Italian Tirol. After that Douglas crossed the Alps via Landeck to start his second holiday of the year in the Vorarlberg. Louis, or Alois, as he seems to have signed himself, was the chief attraction. The day after he arrived, Douglas wrote: “Have just dined with him alone here. He is perfect.” And he took him away to spend two nights in the Lünersee Hut – the Douglashütte – informing Orioli on a picture postcard of it. “L. flourishing and very happy, but Bludenz is not the place. Don’t yet know how things can be arranged …” (26th August). “Last night we drove to Bürserberg … for supper, and walked home by moonlight. All very idyllic, but don’t imagine there are no difficulties! We are going away today again, but I don’t know where to, nor for how long. To some place, I hope, where the beds don’t creak, as they do everywhere except at the Lowen in Bregenz.” (2nd September.) “I think I leave on the 12 or 13 probably with L. who wants to come with me as far as the Italian frontier above Malles. Why not? If so, we shall stop a night there. Why not? He has to be back home here on the 15th … L is in a golden mood always – day and night” (8th September). “Credo che arriverd il 14. Partite stamattina da schruns …” (10th September).
On 15th September however, Archie, at his cottage in Sussex, received the following telegram from Bludenz: laid up be prepared come bludenz will wire father. On the 19th another telegram came from Chiasso, but it has not survived. On the 20th, his father wrote him a letter:
20 Sept 1936
Hope you got my wire yesterday from Chiasso. It was heart trouble at Bludenz, and I wasn’t allowed to write or do anything. My mother died of it and it may polish me off one of these days, but the later the better! Now I am feeling all right. No more mountain-climbing for me, which is a damned nuisance; have to go slow. I took a car all the way to Thalwil near Zurich where the Gothard line begins, and got into a through train to Florence where I arrived this morning at 3:45 – a ghastly hour.
Heart-trouble? Well, in a sense perhaps. Or perhaps the metaphorical “heart-trouble” brought on actual palpitations when he fell into the hands of the gendarmerie. The recorded fact is that he was arrested and detained in the district court of Bludenz from 3.45 p.m. on 11th September until 5 p.m. on 18th September. The charge was Schandung — rape. He had walked over from Schruns, where he had been staying with Alois, on the previous day, and he or they put up at the Burgstaller Gasthof for the night. Somebody must have complained to the authorities, or his behaviour in public may have been such that the authorities themselves felt they could no longer ignore it; or possibly Alois or his mother had become alarmed at the prospect of the boy going, as planned, to the Italian frontier with Douglas: what guarantee was there that he would not be taken across it?
Once again, he had gone too far; but this time it looks as though there was an element involved which had not been present on previous occasions: it looks as though he was ashamed. It looks as though no one, with the possible exception of Orioli, was told the truth of the affair; as though, having invented illness as a convenient signal of urgent distress to Archie, he clung to it as a disguise for a scandal that he was not, in this case, ready to admit even to friends. Bludenz was his home town; the name of Douglas was still honoured in the whole province, and Norman was proud of the fact. To tarnish one’s name in distant places was one thing: to let it happen on the threshold of one’s ancestral home was another. The Vorarlbergers are a tolerant and kindly people, not righteous or puritanical, especially where private affairs are concerned; in sixteen years Douglas had only missed an annual visit there on three occasions, and when he came, he was seldom alone: he had come with one or with two companions, and found others locally, and as the years passed and he grew older, the companions seemed to grow younger. And the older he grew, the less did he seem to bother about being discreet. In the end, someone presumably could stand it no longer.
It seems that he was finally released, after a week in custody, “on condition of his leaving the country within twelve hours, three local friends having stood surety for his good behaviour in the meantime”, and the whole affair — since the Vorarlbergers honour the name of Douglas – seems to have been hushed up. Did he think, at the time, of his mother, whose “heart-trouble” of the metaphorical kind (which preceded the physical kind by many years) had led her to defy family, neighbours, and public opinion, and which Norman and his brother had apparently warmly approved since it seemed to bring her such fulfilment and happiness? And, remembering it, did the phrase “heart-trouble” – of which Vanda had certainly died – seem to offer a convenient evasion in his letters to Archie and Bryher and possibly to others?
This, at any rate, was for him the end of the Vorarlberg. He never returned; and with his banishment (if that is what it was) the Douglas connection with that part of the world started by his grandfather a little more than a century earlier came to an end. The founder had built, and acquired honour and modest wealth; his son had enjoyed these privileges and earned an even greater respect for the name of Douglas; one grandson had deserted the Vorarlberg, the other, though faithful to it and possessed by it, had proved to be too unorthodox, too eccentric, and had been obliged to leave.
Chapter Thirty-one. Interval Between the Acts September 1936 – May 1937
On Douglas in Florence in February 1937:
That was not quite the same; nor was the fact that he was now entertaining a little girl in his flat. “I am … taking to girls again, as you will see when you come here,” he informed Archie rather cryptically, and wrote later on that he had gone “to Impruneta with my new girl (aged 10)”. This little girl was called Renata, and according to “Auntie”, she had at one time been left alone all day in a cold, empty house by her parents while they were at work. Douglas had suggested to the father that she should come and keep him company in his flat. If this is the truth, and it very likely is, it was an invitation that was much more generous than wise in the circumstances. The circumstances included the suspicion of foreigners, especially English people, under the Fascist regime, and the increasingly puritanical atmosphere under that regime; and the famous Italian vice of envy. It was not wise of Douglas; but it should by now be obvious that Douglas was by nature more impetuous than prudent – especially where children were concerned.
[…] As usual, there were various short trips about Italy with one or another companion. He was in Florence on 28th May: “Scanno was all right,” he wrote to Archie the next day, “Now I stay here for a while, at least, to see if and when you are coming.” Three days later Archie received a telegram AM AT VENCE NORMAN; and Orioli received a hastily pencilled note posted in Menton on the same evening: “All right so far. Tell Emilio and take care of him. Got through! N.”
Once again (at the age of sixty-eight) he had had to “hop it” – so quickly on this occasion that he had only been able to take a rucksack with him. It was the fourth country from which he had been obliged to flee knowing that he might never be able to return.
Chapter Thirty-two. South of France 1937-1941
The section reproduced here concerns allegations that Douglas was sexually involved with Renata, a little girl. It has no direct Greek love interest. It is included partly because the allegations, whether true or not, had consequences for his life and reputation similar to some of his liaisons with boys, and partly so that the reader can judge for himself what value to give to claims that Douglas had a generalised sexual interest in children rather than in boys. To give a fuller picture, it should be added that, as has been described, there is plenty of evidence from Douglas’s youth of his sexual interest in females (as is historically the case with most pederasts), some of them women, one of them known to have been 16, and some who may have been younger. However, apart from Renata, there is no other allegation of his ever being involved with a girl specified as under 16, and no evidence post-dating his first known liaison with a boy in 1897 of his being sexually involved with any female besides his wife.
The affair concerned Renata, the little girl who had been in the habit of coming to his flat, and accounts of it are various but unverifiable. The commonest account implies that when Douglas took the little girl back to her parents she did not want to return to that less friendly and comfortable house, and resisted. There was a scene, presumably observed or overheard by neighbours who had, of course, been aware of the girl’s visits to Douglas’ flat. This resistance — the girl apparently clung to Douglas – was interpreted as an effort by Douglas to keep a hold on her, or to abduct her. Envy of the family favoured by this grand gentleman, coupled with the fact that he was English at this particular period of Italian history, was enough. Letters were written, or statements made to the police. Douglas was apparently warned of the danger he was in by Renata’s elder brother. He escaped, according to his own account, with only an hour and a half to spare. Hutton said: “… however, the girl was found to be virgo intacta.” Compton Mackenzie said: “They always turn to little girls in the end” – they being sexual deviants of almost any kind. But however impersonal final judgments may have been, Douglas commanded a good deal of sympathy at the time. Bryher and Kenneth Macpherson, Reggie Turner, and of course Orioli – all of whom knew the truth or most of it – stood solidly by him. “Stood” is hardly the word to use of Orioli, who for the next ten weeks devoted himself almost ceaselessly to Douglas’ interests; nor is it true of Archie, who came out to Italy as soon as he was able to, and did what he could: nor of “Auntie” in Vence, who saw Douglas through his crisis, fed him, did for him, and protected him against nuisances. He lost no friends over this affair in 1937 as he had done over that other business twenty years earlier. On the contrary. Reggie Turner wrote with slightly sardonic humour that Douglas’ friends were “agreeably surprised” that this particular crisis involved a member of the opposite sex. […]
Douglas fled from Florence in such a hurry that he and Orioli broke open one of Douglas’ locked cupboards (he was a great locker-up) for which he couldn’t find the key, so that he could take some necessities from it. He got across the border without being stopped and went, for that one night, to the Hotel Massena at Menton. One may guess his feelings by the fact that on the following day, when he had gone up to Vence and been received by Auntie, he asked her at once if she knew whether there was a treaty of extradition between Italy and France, and asked her to find out. She packed him into the flat of a friend who was away; and according to her “he was very frightened”.
His first thoughts were for Emilio, who all through the years had been so faithful. He had a regular job as well as working in Douglas’ flat, but needed the extra money he earned as Douglas’ indispensable general factotum now that he had a wife and child to support, and Douglas was perplexed about how to get money to him. Reggie Turner seemed to be the only answer; he was an appalling gossip but it could not be helped – one would have just to ask him to keep quiet and hope for the best:
If I sent you a cheque for £100 could you get it changed … and hand the money personally to Emilio? Just say yes or no! Pino can’t cash such cheques, as you know.
I should be very glad if you say nothing about this to anybody not on account of Pino, but on account of somebody who sooner or later might (would, I may say) hear about it from Pino, and this would do Emilio harm. I am sure you don’t want to be the cause, even indirect, of doing harm to poor Emilio.
This went off to Reggie on 31st May, the day of Douglas’ flight, and Reggie of course agreed, and four days later Douglas sent him the cheque with detailed instructions of how to find Emilio, adding: “Drop me a card when you’ve done it, and tell me what he looks like. He’s been ill, you know.” And in most of the letters – almost daily letters – that he wrote to Orioli during the next two months, he begged him to “look after Emilio”. To Archie he wrote: “… But Emilio? That is what hurts me.”
When he had got over the first shock, and had learned that he could not be extradited, and had re-discovered how kind and affectionate Auntie was, and had met his friend Oscar Levy, he began to feel happier (apart from that “infernal giddiness”, which was as bad as ever, if not worse) and wrote with a hint of insouciance to Archie: “All forgotten in a month or so!” If anyone were to talk to Archie about the affair, he was to say “it has a political background, and that otherwise there is nothing in it whatever”. That was what Archie was to say, but about six days earlier Douglas had written his son an explanation of the whole affair. The envelope of this letter exists, and upon it Archie has written: “Contents destroyed 10/6/37”. The destruction of this letter leaves room for an element of doubt as to how Douglas may have conducted himself in this affair. The doubt cannot be lightly dismissed. Douglas felt passionately and tenderly and sensuously for the very young. Being genuinely in love with life, he may have thought that one who loved it as deeply and sympathetically as he did could not go wrong if he gave himself to life in whatever way a true impulse of love seemed to demand. Naturally, one would take no account whatever of conventional morality, for the morality of the Seventies and Eighties, in which he had grown up, was beneath contempt. So one adopted the morality of warum nicht, of experimentation, empiricism; if one was normally kind and considerate and averse from cruelty, it was unlikely that any real harm could come of any cheerful or tender intimacy. So – why not? If there was physical intimacy of any kind with Renata, it seems likely that it was harmless. She apparently stated that Douglas had “taken some advantage of her”, which could mean anything, including very little; however we are also told that the Examining Magistrate refused to bring a charge against Douglas on this evidence, which suggests that he was not convinced by it.
“The affair is not dangerous,” he wrote to Bryher, “because they can’t get me – at least I think they can’t – but it is very doubtful whether I shall ever be able to get into Italy again. That is bad enough, especially at my age, when one cannot strike fresh roots easily.” […]
A letter to Douglas from Orioli:
A letter from him at this time concerning Renata’s father will give some idea – a mere shadowy intimation – of what he had been doing for Douglas in Florence during the ten weeks after 31st May. It will also give a hint of some of the emotions that were at work in one of the parties most nearly concerned in the affair:
My dearest Norman,
At last I have been able to see F and have a good long talk with him. I went to O last night and made an appointment with him. We met at midnight and went to my place. F is just what I always thought. Absolutely with you and no one in the family is against you and all of them refuse to believe of what they have accused you and the girl. First he went into a fit, he cried, well you know the kind of scene an Italian can make. After I calmed him I got to know more. He is disgusted with his avvocato, who has got from him 150 lire and done nothing. I told him that he has got 850 from Carrozza under pretext of helping the family. F said he never got a penny, but that R is always asking for more money. Pretty state of affair! He told me that Renata is quite well and in a good place, all the family are allowed to visit her, but they cannot go too often as it costs about ten lire to go there, also he told me what agony they when [sic] through on that moment. He only wants the end of the affair and Renata to come out innocent… Well, the important thing is that I have made an appointment with F to come to Carrozza with me tomorrow (Tuesday at three o’clock). We have arrange that we shall liquidate R and that Carrozza will look after everything. Your and his interest. He went away very happy and kissed me and told me to tell you “quanto stima hanno di te e come gli vogliamo bene tutti in famiglia” quite happy to have met me … He is still frighten of Comissario Barone and more frighten for you than for himself. Barone seems a kind of Capolozzi. I shall get more out of F tomorrow, he was so very agitated last night that I could not get much from him about the family.
As is so often the case, it looks as though the threat to Douglas came mainly from the law or its representatives rather than from the man who might have been considered to be the injured party, or its proxy. A few days later Douglas wrote to Orioli, in reply to another letter, that he was “rather disquieted about that questore going to the Consul! I hope they won’t unearth some old story and ruin everything at the last minute? … Archie talks of staying here for good … I am frightfully sick of Vence. Endless love! N”
Orioli arrived in the south of France about 15th August to go to Corsica with Douglas. A few days later they landed at Calvi and drove by car to Bastia. Just before their departure Douglas wrote to Bryher: “My affair is over apparently …”
[…] As soon as they had decided to go to Corsica, Douglas had got in touch with René’s brother in the south of France, and learned that the parents had retired to Corsica to the family’s native village, Moltifao. His eagerness to be associated once again with any place so closely connected with René may be guessed from the fact that he and Orioli went out there to see René’s parents as soon as they had secured beds at Corte.
They stayed in Corsica just over a month, Orioli returning directly to Italy, and Douglas separately to Nice, where he had his “last wine and last Toscano”. He had now dropped “all smoke and all drink, and shall keep it up till 23 November. Then we’ll see.” November 23rd was Emilio’s birthday, and Douglas intended, as usual, to drink his health. This celebration was probably not so much a matter of sentiment as of superstitious ritual. To have omitted this annual salutation might – just might – have endangered Emilio’s life, and that chance, naturally, must not be allowed to occur.
It was actually on Emilio’s birthday that Douglas wrote to Archie with “very bad news from Florence”. The case, after being “definitely closed, is to be re-opened again. I know no details save this … An expensive lawsuit ending, inevitably, against me with a stiff sentence, which will probably get into Italian and English papers. That, at least, is the prognosis, but Carrozza writes that he is not ‘without hopes’.” Orioli, however, was pessimistic, as the re-opening of the case was against all precedent. Douglas, always ready to escape, thought he might go to “India or some such place” till the storm blew over. “Nobody here,” he added to Archie, “knows anything, and Auntie, of course, must never be told.” Must never be told what? The truth? Or the fact that the case had been re-opened? More room, alas, for an element of doubt to creep in. (Later, Douglas also wrote twice to Orioli imploring him never to mention “that last verbale” to anyone, including Archie.) A few days later, there was slightly better news from Orioli. There was “some hanky-panky going on” in Florence, evidently.
By the end of January 1938, he received assurances from Carrozza that the Florentine affair had at last come to an end. The case was definitely closed. Douglas found it hard to believe and wrote to Archie: “… of course, I shan’t go there – not likely!” He couldn’t understand why the case had been dropped after it had been re-opened. Who had stopped it, and how? Neither Orioli nor Carrozza seem to have informed him on this point: perhaps they did not know. The whole business had cost him £400 – “an expensive prank”. Three months later he heard from Carrozza that he could return to any place in Italy other than Florence and need have nothing to fear. But though he may have been tempted, he decided against returning. The political situation had made life not only unpleasant but very uncertain from day to day.
Douglas spent October and most of November at Vence, then moved to the Hotel du Siecle at Monaco where he stayed until the spring of 1939. […] Eric, on leave with his family, spent the last four months of it at Vence; they liked it so much that they decided to make a return visit when they could. They were to leave Marseille for Africa on 30th December. […] Douglas celebrated his seventieth birthday quietly, merely lunching with Eric at Vence.
Emilio continued to write with unfailing regularity – as he had done for the last two years – about twice a week; and Douglas, with unfailing regularity, continued to send him money and write to him at least once a week.
Chapter Thirty-Four. England 1942-1946
[…]and the news from Florence which eventually came through from three different sources, was not as bad as it might have been. Emilio, of whom he had heard nothing for more than two years, was all right:
… my flat has been knocked about and it looks as if some of my more valuable belongings had been looted (by the fascists): but something is left. My servant Emilio had a very bad time of it. He was imprisoned for ten months by the fascists; then let out; then put in a concentration camp, where it seems the Allies found him. His flat was also knocked about, but he is living there with wife and child, and has now got a job with Amgot in some printing Department (how lucky I taught him English ages ago) so that I am no longer anxious about him.
In the middle of October, Eric (with his wife) suddenly arrived by air for medical treatment. Douglas said he looked very bad, and had jaundice, among other things. He went into the Ross Hospital for Tropical Diseases in the East End, and Douglas went down to see him and wrote to him nearly twice a week during the six weeks he was there. He made a good recovery, and he and his wife left in December. “I don’t suppose I shall ever see him again” wrote Douglas. […]
Towards the end of January he had a long letter from Emilio, with news, none too good, of his books, which had been stored in a villa on the outskirts of Florence. The cases had been broken open by German soldiers, and the contents scattered; the gardener had told Emilio that many of the books had been used as lavatory paper; but on the whole Emilio thought Douglas had been luckier than many English people, some of whom had lost everything. Emilio had rescued many of Douglas’ possessions by taking them to his own place.
Chapter Thirty-Five. Italy 1946-1952
In June 1946, Douglas moved back to Italy, “to die there” as he told the Italian Embassy in London:
A visitor to Positano in August was Emilio, whom Douglas had seen earlier for half an hour by arrangement when his train stopped at Florence. He came down for ten days of his fortnight’s holiday “which he fully deserves, having had none for 5 years”. Douglas understood that he would be able to get his flat back in November.
In October 1946, Douglas migrated to Capri, where he was “he was determined to end his days”, and was lent a tiny house in Unghia Marina.
[…] But in April Kenneth Macpherson had arrived on Capri, determined to buy a villa in which Douglas as well as himself would be able to live. Furthermore, he had decided to take on Emilio (whom he had brought down from Florence for a visit to Douglas) as his personal servant; and by the middle of June had done so. By this time, also, he had found a suitable villa. […] the Villa Tuora. […]
Shortly before Douglas had started to live in the little house in Unghia Marina in the previous November, he had discovered in Naples a little urchin of ten whom he had set his heart upon seeing again. This he was able to arrange, and Ettore came to Unghia Marina to help Maria Grazia, Douglas’ cook, and to run messages and make himself generally useful.
When I found him in Naples he was a mere skeleton, and so pale that he seemed to be transparent, or at least translucent. I think three more months of that life would have done for him. The mother was in an air-raid shelter with him and the two smaller boys when their house was blitzed and they lost everything they possessed on earth. No compensation, of course! The father was then a prisoner in Germany and his job in Naples – electro-technician — had been given to some one else. He has now got a small one on the railway; not his line at all, but better than nothing. I have got Ettore into some kind of shape physically, but morally he is still rather dislocated and restless after two years’ starvation on the streets of Naples. He goes to school now – for the first month or so he couldn’t; in fact, I had some difficulty in making him eat – but he has a great deal to catch up.
Ettore, of whom much more was to be heard, moved with Douglas into the Villa Tuoro. […]
At about this time [September 1947] the flat in Florence at last became vacant, and Emilio went straight off to see about having it repaired and set in order so that it could be sold as soon as possible.
In October or November 1947:
[...] sixteen cases of books arrived, sent down from Florence by Emilio. [...] Other treasures came back, if not in these cases, then with Emilio. One of these was a plaster cast of George Thomas’ bust of Douglas, who was having a bronze made of it for Robin, and would send it to the USA when it was ready. The large yellow marble tortoise which Douglas had bought in 1902 from the antiquary at Pozzuoli; the lapis-lazuli dagger-hilt from Persia; and a good many other mementoes — had survived, largely owing to Emilio’s care.
In February, Emilio, who had made himself responsible for delivering Douglas’ possessions from Florence and for seeing to any business there connected with the flat, went up to Florence. Wanting to get back quickly, and never having been in an aeroplane, he announced his intention of flying back. Kenneth Macpherson advised him strongly against doing so as there was apparently a high accident rate amongst the old war-torn machines then in use … but when it came to the point, Emilio could not resist the temptation. The plane crashed. Immediate survivors were taken to hospital at Livorno, seriously injured. Within a day or two, it seemed that Emilio had passed a crisis, and was out of danger; but two or three days after that he died, quite suddenly, having been in a coma most of the time.
Douglas supposed that Emilio’s death had been due to shock and burns. He referred to six days of “intense suffering” on Emilio’s part. Nella and Elena, his wife and daughter, had been at the hospital with him; Douglas and Macpherson had planned to visit him there also, as soon as he had sufficiently recovered. Kenneth Macpherson went to his funeral; Douglas said he could not face “the journey”. His emotions, as usual, were conveyed, if at all, obliquely: “Kenneth,” he wrote three weeks later, “is terribly upset – not to speak of myself, who brought him up”; but he went so far as to admit that he missed Emilio dreadfully, and that there would never be anybody who could replace him.
Douglas lent Nella and Elena his flat in Florence for three years, so that they would not have to face the appalling emptiness of their own apartment. He felt it was the least he could do; and he would have been the first to admit that it also suited him: if there were any danger of his being obliged to have a tenant, at least his tenants would be friends, and utterly reliable. But chiefly, it was, as he wrote to Archie, unavoidable — meaning, most probably, that it was the only adequate gesture that could express the depth of his feelings.
It was a bad time. Earlier in February, Ettore’s mother had reclaimed her son and “is putting him into some school. This is, for me, the most severe blow I have had for ages.” These words were written after Emilio’s death; but sometimes it is easier to accept an irreversible catastrophe than one which can still, with improbable luck, a great deal of hard work, or the expenditure of much nervous energy, be eventually opposed and neutralised. Ettore was his only effective remedy against age and infirmity – through him he could hold on to life – and he had no idea whether he would ever see him again. […]
In September 1948, Robin, officially Douglas’s younger son, came to Capri to visit his father, who had earlier, on his request, befriended a certain Mrs. E., a close friend of some sort of Robin’s, and her son:
His friend Mrs E. and her son were still on Capri at the time, having arrived earlier. Robin had been apprehensive, in letters to his father, about such a meeting; but had been assured that it need never occur unless Robin wished. Mrs E., however, seems to have been reluctant to leave the island before seeing Robin – according to Douglas; but Douglas may have contrived the whole thing, in his or Robin’s interests. He gave the impression later that all had gone well. Certainly, the boy and his mother left in a hurry, partly because Douglas himself, incorrigible as ever, had been unwise enough to show excessive affection for the boy.
Robin stayed about ten days. When he had returned to Chicago, there was a small traffic in photographs between him and his father. The series of forty-three that Kenneth Macpherson had commissioned, of Norman Douglas at all ages from infancy onwards, was sent to Robin (it was also sent to Archie and to a number of friends); and Robin sent his father copies of snapshots he had taken while on Capri. “Islay and Kenneth,” wrote his father, “both want the one of David, and of me with the little boy. This last they must not have, as such things get shown around here and may well do me harm. Therefore will you please write to me that you have mislaid that particular negative, but are looking for it. Meanwhile they will forget about it. Anyway, they must not have that photo.” […]
In September 1949, Robin came to Capri for another visit:
Robin appears to have been upset on another account, so that his father felt constrained to excuse himself on a second occasion, about a fortnight after the first: “I am very sorry about Ettore, who could easily have come at any other time. He was anxious to see you as he said you had been so nice to him in Naples. I also thought you would like to meet him again. You wrote not long ago … as if you cared about him. Well, that’s that.”[…]
Ettore was doing well. His people had come over to Capri in January and told Douglas that he had grown tall and put on flesh, that now he was never ill, and liked his school very much. In April he came over himself during the Easter holiday; and in July, Douglas persuaded his mother to take her annual seaside holiday with Ettore and the two younger boys on Ischia while he was there himself. […]
He had two holidays this year. One was a quick tour through Siren Land, staying one night at Sant’ Agata and two at Amalfi. The second little trip was to Ischia, in the middle of June, for three weeks. The pretext was to take the baths; but it was undoubtedly partly in order to share the holiday with Ettore and his mother. His passion for Ettore was not shared by many – if any – of his friends, some of whom were becoming increasingly embarrassed by what they often thought was the foolishness with which he seemed to allow himself to be exploited by both mother and son. One close friend of Douglas’ said later quite frankly and spontaneously when the boy’s name was mentioned: “Ettore was a little tart”, and whether or not the judgment is fair, it is one that several shared, and for which there seemed to be good evidence. Douglas became more and more dependent upon the boy’s affection and presence; and in order to persuade him to come over, apparently had to send him more and more money, or provide him with increasingly expensive gifts.
One of Ettore’s parents, or perhaps both, may have exploited the situation, even to danger point. Blackmail was mentioned by several of Douglas’ friends. One, who was in a position to intervene with the police on Douglas’ behalf, asserted that Douglas was in danger of arrest by the local police, who were quite ready to believe whatever charges may have been made. Out of his limited income, Douglas lavished a good deal on Ettore and his family – sums, for instance, that would have made Archie’s life very much more comfortable than it was at that time. When other forms of self-indulgence had had to be drastically curtailed, this affair with Ettore seems to have been an outlet that was pursued à la folie, as occasionally happens when the old are ensnared in a late skirmish with love. Their friends can only stand aghast, or amazed. The fact usually forgotten by the onlookers is that the so-called victims do not mind whether they are being exploited or not; they only wish to go on feeling the compulsion of love, whether it be physical, or sentimental. In the three years between March 1948 and March 1951 Douglas sent more than £400 by post to Ettore’s mother, quite apart from money he may have given her when they met.
[…] Eric and his wife came to Capri for nearly three weeks in July; also Elizabeth David; and Ettore, for longer or shorter stays. Robin, who had not come the previous year, came in September, […].Robin was not allowed to come without a score of instructions and preparations being made or laid out for him: where he had better stay in Rome, how he would find a telegram there already written and ready to send to Ettore, who would meet him at Naples station, […].His letters to all other correspondents – Ettore and his mother excepted – became fewer and fewer and shorter and shorter […].Those who could, came to see him, as Eric had done – Eric, whom he had known for more than forty-two years and who, when all was said and done, had been the most successful of his adopted children; and Harold Acton, in whose life Douglas had played a decisive role by advising him at a moment of doubt when he was young, to go to the East, where he had found himself and had consequently been evermore grateful to Douglas:
Laboriously we set off together from the Villa Tuoro, Norman, Ettore and I; and Norman’s step became lighter when we reached La Pica’s restaurant. His exuberance returned as soon as we were seated: he offered the traditional pinches of snuff and cracked salty jokes with the waiter… . The meal was punctuated with bursts of laughter and arteriosclerosis was sent to blazes. By the time we reached the funicular Norman was almost buoyant. In the mouldy café facing Naples he offered me another drink “for the road” – in this case the sea, which he disliked. Ettore pressed on me – a shiny tin cigarette-case “come ricordo dell’amico di Signor Duglass”. As I hesitated to accept a gift more valuable to him than to me, Norman said: “Don’t refuse it. Ettore likes nothing better than giving presents.” Not to be outdone by his junior, he slipped into my pocket the reprint of an article he had written ages ago about the blue Faraglione lizard. I invited him to visit me on the mainland, to sustain the illusion that he was neither old nor infirm. “My travelling days are over,” he repeated. “I shall not leave Capri again.”
[…] Quotes from letters from Douglas to his younger son:
I am in a pretty damned bad way. Ettore still here. The others came back 2-3 days ago. Will try to write again. Love, and thinking of you.
I am in a bad way. Your dentist consoles me.
Things are no better, and I don’t know about holding on much longer. Enclosed from Ettore. Don’t forget him.
Such were the bulletins – each almost a complete letter – which he sent to Robin in the month between 9th December and 9th January. […]
Douglas’s suicide note left for Kenneth Macpherson:
21 Jan 1952
Can’t stand this damned nonsense any longer.
Can’t even wait for you!
Suffering day and night and a trouble to others.
50 grains of luminal should do the trick.
Please make sure that I am definitely dead, and if possible make out heart-trouble as the cause, for the sake of the reputation of Capri.
Ettore has my keys
 Everything here about Bull is drawn from Douglas’s memoir, Looking Back (London: Chatto & Windus, 1933) pp. 389-391.
 In Looking Back (London: Chatto & Windus, 1933) p. 52, Douglas says he was only two years older.
 Norman Douglas, Looking Back (London: Chatto & Windus, 1933) p. 202.
 The Duke of Edinburgh was the second son of Queen Victoria. Nothing is said about his having sexual escapades or mistresses in the life of him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, so perhaps Douglas was here preserving otherwise lost information.
 Elegies I.xi. 27-30.
Leave wicked Baiae as soon as you can;
Those shores will separate many lovers yet,
Shores ever hostile to the undefiled:
Perish the Baian waters, that bring reproach on love! [Author’s footnote 25]
 C. W. Allers (1857-1915). Accomplished German painter and friend of Bismarck who settled on Capri, where his villa became the centre of the German colony. In 1902 he was accused of (homosexual) immorality by an intending blackmailer and fled to Samoa where he lived down the scandal so successfully that when he returned to Europe no one could remember who he was. He died at Karlsruhe. See the biography by his friend Olinda: Freund Allers (Stuttgart, 1894). [Author’s footnote 27]
 Holloway gives limited attention to the distinction between pederasts (representing the historically dominant form of homosexuality) and androphiles or “gays” (who now dominate the popular imagination of it). The importance of the distinction was indeed rather obscured in the 19th century by all male homosexuality being equally illegal in most of the countries from which these men were drawn, so they found themselves in the same boat despite their differences. Moreover, little has been done to clarify matters since; the frequent dishonest habit adopted by 21st century writers faced with pederasts whose memory cannot be obliterated is to pretend they liked “men” when they know perfectly well that the “men” in question were adolescents. In this particular instance, most or all of those Holloway names were, unsurprisingly, like Douglas himself, pederasts, not gays. On Wilde and Fersen, see the many books on each listed on this website’s list of biographies. On Allers, see Tito Fiorani, Le dimore del mito, La Conchiglia, Capri 1996, pp. 23-24: “Allers had distinctly homosexual tendencies, and liked to surround himself with boys, whom he often used as models”. Brooks was, for example, the first lover of Somerset Maugham, when the latter was sixteen (Ted Morgan, Somerset Maugham, Jonathan Cape, 1980, p. 23). On E. F. Benson, who kept his liaisons private, see what he wrote about Capri in his novel Colin (1924). On Somerset Maugham, see his nephew Robin’s account in his memoir, Escape from the Shadows.
 Harold Edward Trower (1853-1941). First listed as Consular Agent on Capri, 1900; resigned 1916. From evidence kindly supplied by his niece, it seems that Trower was recognisable in Freddy Parker, and that ND’s caricature is not as hugely exaggerated as might have been expected. [Author’s footnote 46]
 For a traditional Italian paederastic community (in Sicily) see Hans Schoenberner’s Confessions of a European Intellectual (1948), Chapter Eighteen. [Author’s footnote 48]
 Ernest Frederick Eric Wolton (1898-1958). After the First World War he joined the Tanganyikan Police and remained in East Africa for the rest of his life. He became Chief Superintendent before retiring. [Author’s footnote 54]
 Norman Douglas, Looking Back (London: Chatto & Windus, 1933) p. 30.
 Norman Douglas, Looking Back (London: Chatto & Windus, 1933) p. 31.
 Edward Sydney Pollock Haynes (1877-1949) was a solicitor, well known in literary circles, in which he had many friends. He wrote about twenty books, mostly “belles lettres”, as a supporter of individual liberty and reform of the law, especially with regard to divorce. There is a vivid account of him in Alec Waugh’s My Brother Evelyn and other profiles (London, 1967), pp. 231-47. [Author’s footnote 79]
 Ralph Straus (1882-1950). Novelist, biographer and well-known reviewer in his day. See the memoir in Alec Waugh’s My Brother Evelyn and other profiles (London, 1967), pp. 96-104. [Author’s footnote 85]
 Edward Hutton (1875-1969) […] wrote more than forty books, mostly of travel, and most of those about Italy, and was one of the founders of the British Institute, Florence. [Author’s footnote 78]
 This translates as:
Fiuggi 10 June 1924
My dear old Orioli
At the moment, I’m with Douglas at Fiuggi (but “acqua in bocca” isn't it?)
Norman has to follow a diet here. Neither wine nor meat and only Fiuggi water to drink. It doesn't amuse him much.
In Rome it is very difficult to find work. Perhaps I would have a journalist or secretary’s position, but there are a lot of complications beforehand. It’s necessary, for example, to wait for a reply from Paris etc etc ... It will be very long and by then ... You who has influential friends and who knows so many people in Florence, couldn’t you find me something. I would do anything except whoring of course… See… I know three languages (roughly… It’s true) But I still think it won’t be too difficult with that. Would you like to try, I’ll be happy with anything, even if it's outside Florence (doesn't matter at all ...) I’ll always be happy. Write to me about this and thank you boundlessly.
Douglas’s health is not very good. He has rheumatism almost everywhere, but I hope Fiuggi will do him good ...
Once again think of me, and write to me straight away about my work. I will be very grateful to you.
 “No intervening medium, no mirage, hovered between Lawrence and what his eyes beheld. These things lay before him clear-cut, in their primordial candour, devoid of any suggestion or association.” Looking Back,p. 350. [Author’s footnote]
 Holloway’s source for everything about Douglas’s trip to East Africa is the latter’s Looking Back (1933) pp. 274-80.
 “Auntie” was the name by which Mrs Martha Harriet Gordon Crotch (1879-1967) was known to her friends. She had a pottery-and-antiques shop in Vence, above Nice, and was a well-known character on the Riviera in the Twenties and Thirties. […] ND’s letters to Auntie are at the University of California at Los Angeles. [Author’s footnote 113]
 The late Andrew Monypenny, a Douglas enthusiast, who has left an interesting unpublished essay on Douglas of about 18,000 words. Monypenny (see note 8) managed somehow to obtain information of this affair, in spite of official secrecy, and these words from his manuscript describe the conditions, as he heard of them, attached to Douglas’ release. [Author’s footnotes 8 & 115]
 Holloway mentions that Douglas sometimes cast doubt on the paternity of Robin, which he suggests was because they were so different in temperament. However, Douglas’s close friend John Davenport, the literary critic, said Douglas had told him firmly that Robin was not his, having been been fathered in his wife’s adulterous affair (postcard of 11 December 1962 from John Davenport to Michael Davidson in the present editor’s custody). In any case, Robin was recognised as his son and had recently been made equal beneficiary in his new will.
 Elizabeth David has subsequently become famous as the author of a select collection of cookery books. [Author’s footnote 116].
 Harold Acton’s More Memoirs of an Aesthete (London, 1970), pp. 331-3. [Author’s footnote]
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Sam Hall, 13 December 2021
Mark Holloway does himself great credit with this balanced portrait of an extraordinary man. But it’s interesting how he prefaces his portrait of Norman Douglas as an honorable lover of boys, with a lifelong positive influence on the lives of his loved boys, with the remark:
“One can wish, as the present writer would have wished, to keep his young sons from too great an intimacy with Douglas…”
I think Holloway is speaking honestly, without undue phobia, and it speaks to the very deep and complex and intractable problems modernity has with pederasty. For it was in Douglas's Greek love relationships of greatest intimacy where he was, as he himself said, at his creative best.
Holloway freely, almost enthusiastically, endorses Douglas’s relationship with Eric Wolton. It’s a wonderfully deft piece of psychological evaluation, where Holloway sifts the boy’s diaries to show how Douglas’s loving mentorship was inspiriting the lad’s boyish prattle, guiding and encouraging his maturation.
Perhaps Douglas was onto this modern problem in his magnificent extended essay How About Europe, where he observed, apropos England’s over-regulated society (published in 1930, mind!):
“Mr. Clive Bell, speaking of this frenzy for legislation, observes that an ordinary Englishman is, on the whole, less free than a Roman slave in the time of Hadrian. He attributes this state of affairs largely to the activities of elderly and embittered virgins; nor should I be surprised to learn that there is a correlation between sexlessness and repressive legislation, and that many of the discomforts of life in England are due to eunuchs of one kind or another.”
Lo the locked-down West. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos: the Kingdom of the Eunuchs is come.
Edmund Marlowe, 14 December 2021
Very interesting. What do you suppose were the reasons why Holloway "would have wished to keep his young sons from too great an intimacy with Douglas." What exactly did he fear would have been the adverse consequences?
A father in the last forty years, however much he realised the good a man like Douglas would be likely to do his sons through intimacy, would have a legitimate fear in the trauma and other harm that the state would inflict on them for their own supposed good if a sexual liaison were to come to its attention, but that was hardly the case when Holloway was writing, less still in Douglas's time, was it?
Sam Hall, 15 December 2021
I would take his comment as referring to his own time of the mid 70’s. Partly his comment could be pre-emptive self-defence: although clearly wrong, would you look at this! But more I think it points to the deeper level of “wrongness” that homosexuality, after centuries of demonisation, has come to occupy. The FACT that Douglas’s Greek love affairs were wholly positive in a way traceable in history does not reach down to the foundational original-sin level of homosexuality. I think Holloway betrays a Christian fear that Douglas’s undeniably fine house of pederasty is built upon shifty sand.
The 60’s began a process of tinkering with and renovating this foundational fact of life, but never altered its essence. As sex emerged into the sunlit uplands of secularity, a need for revamped foundations grew. All this fizzy, newly discovered goodness of sex needed a hellish antithesis to rest on. The final sculpting of homosex, into good androphile and evil pederastic, was a creation worthy of Michelangelo: behold the secular egalitarian masterpiece and its final crushing defeat of all that is evil in man. The public square now celebrates a new monumental beheading of Goliath, not by divine David but by a busy brotherhood of bureaucrats. Mere boyish happiness and fulfilment was never gunna so much as stub a toe on that lot.
Sam Hall, 16 December 2021
The “Holloway” I’m postulating would have rationalised it simply and easily—without thinking, as it were. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind records a bunch of fascinating clinical experiments, showing the mind’s inbuilt facility for using the fig-leaf of rationality to cover deeper emotional promptings, a process not accessible to the conscious mind. Holloway would have told himself, and his friend, that the risks—possible gayness, emotional damage, social stigma, etc—outweigh the potential benefits; that Douglas was providing care more fitly provided by a loving mother and father. Pressed far enough, he’d simply maintain that it just wasn’t right.
However, our “Holloway” could, in the right circumstances, employ the dextrous mind in the opposite direction—if, rather than assessing an abstract proposal, he's dealing with real life. Say he had a son, 12-14yo, who had shown a marked life-improvement—mood, academic achievement—under the influence of a new friend he’d made, a rather enigmatic local chap with a hat and a cane. Holloway quite likely would cautiously and watchfully approve the friendship and leave any further speculations lying quietly in an un-trafficked corner of the mind. The instinctual promptings of what’s-best-for-my-child leading the dissonant way.
Of course, as you’ve pointed out, that was possible then, all but impossible now. Parents have in recent times been roundly pilloried for such an approach. Survival of the most-phobic is today’s Darwinian imperative.
"But you know better than anyone that not one of the many boys loved by Douglas is known to have turned out gay. On the contrary, you know that all those whose later lives you have documented thoroughly (Eric, René and Emilio) were definitely heterosexual. Equally, you found no signs of emotional damage or stigma. René died rather young, but your portraits of the other two show them in middle age well-adjusted and proud of their places in Douglas's life. You may be right 'that Douglas was providing care more fitly provided by a loving mother and father', but what if the parents weren't providing it? Emilio's were dead and Ettore's father was a prisoner of war."
Something is missing here, and I think it deserves nailing.
Sam Hall, 17 December 2021
Once the friend asks “what if the parents weren’t providing it?” – isn’t he conceding Holloway’s original statement as valid? Holloway’s wish that no sons of his become intimate with Douglas is synonymous with his wish that his sons enjoy the best possible parenting—and if he’s not wishing that, he’s not the good man we’re purporting him to be.
Is the “something missing” the modern belief that good parents not only remove any need for a pederast in a boy’s life, but renders him a negative influence? I would, though, still tend to see that as a rationalisation of the deeper cultural taboo.
Or are you thinking of something altogether different?
Yes, I think you’ve got much closer to the mark now. The friend could be conceding that. Moreover, Holloway could well answer him by himself conceding that having Douglas in their lives could be wonderful for boys who were not getting the care they needed from their parents, and reminding his friend that all he had said was that he himself would have wished to keep his own sons from too great an intimacy with the great man. There would be nothing dishonest or hypocritical about this if Holloway believed he was indeed an excellent father.
However, closely related to this is a strong feeling Holloway may very well have instinctively imagined having that, if he was aware of it, he would probably have hoped not to have to explain because it sounds more discreditable than it really is, namely jealousy. I suspect the French writer Gabriel Matzneff, a highly experienced lover of boys and girls, is right in saying parents are almost always implacably opposed to their pubescent children having adult lovers because they don’t want to share their affections.
I say this is not really discreditable because I think this jealousy could only not be felt by a monstrous father, one who did not care about having his sons’ love. For a powerful and realistic depiction of the emotions involved, I would strongly recommend seeing the superlatively well-acted BBC drama, The Lost Boys (1978), about the relationship between J.M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys. There is a heart-breaking scene in which the dying father (unquestionably a loving one and a thoroughly decent man) comes briefly home from hospital: he is briefly greeted by his sons, but then their special adult friend Barrie appears on the scene and they rush off excitedly to be with him instead. At one point, the father confesses to the only one of his five sons who is not taken with Barrie: “no father likes to share his children with another man.” Though he goes on to say that he has learned to accept Barrie because he is convinced he is a good thing. I suspect most fathers would not be so noble, and many more would not like the situation to arise. It is of minor importance that Barrie did not have sex with these boys, while Douglas did have it with his. What matters is that both had the attribute of easily winning boys’ hearts through giving their own to them, as well as being splendid characters.
I would also suggest merely as a possibility an additional explanation, that Holloway was being a little disingenuous. In recent years, anyone who wrote such a fair-minded account as he did of a pederast like Douglas would be accused of condoning “pedophilia”, and probably worse. While the reaction in 1976 would not have been so venomous, Holloway may still have feared it enough to wish to protect himself with the statement under discussionas an appeasement. It also served to point out gently to the reader his own heterosexual credentials as a father.
The debauched life of a child rapist is celebrated.
The children of the poor prey for man without morals
White Noise, 5 June 2022
Should that be "prey" or "pray"? But it's not only the poor who so pray. Boys as comfortably well-off as novelist Edmund White have, from a young age, desperately sought out men with even a tenth of Douglas's qualities. Hard to find, though, in a land so thick with swarms of sterile, misanthropic gnats.