three pairs of lovers with space

LETTERS TO NORMAN DOUGLAS FROM HIS OLD BOYS, 1921-47

 

George Norman Douglas (8 December 1868 – 7 February 1952) was a once well-known writer of great interest for understanding Greek love because, for the last fifty-five years of his life, he was an active lover of boys and sufficiently bold and undaunted about it that not only was it well-known and accepted in his literary and social circles, but he was able to the forge the sort of strong life-long bonds with his boys that were usually only recorded for posterity when they arose in cultures which allowed far greater scope for Greek love to flourish than did Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

Douglas on Capri, 1912 (when he was Eric's lover)

His life and the story of his love affairs with boys were best and most thoroughly told by Mark Holloway in his definitive Norman Douglas: a Biography.[1] However, extraordinary insight into how his boys felt about him has since been provided by a primary source, Dear Doug! Letters to Norman Douglas from Eric Wolton, René Mari, Marcel Mercier and Ettore Masciandaro and a selection of letters from Emilio Papa, with annotations, elucidations, translations, and commentary by Michael Allan, published by Wolfgang Neugebauer Verlag in Graz, Austria in 2008.  All five of the correspondents named were boys who were loved by Douglas, and corresponded with him until he or they died. In every case, their letters are rich testament to their deep and abiding love for him, so much so that the whole book is strongly recommended for understanding Greek love as well as for interesting biographical details.[2]

Understandably, their letters are not explicit about the sexual character of their original bonding with him. Presented here are only the four letters that make it clearest that it was at least extraordinary, three from Eric Wolton (who did refer obliquely to the sex in one letter) and one from Emilio Papa.

 

Eric Wolton

Ernest Frederick Eric Wolton (1898-1958)  met Douglas on 5 November 1910, when they were respectively twelve-and-a-half and nearly forty-two. Besides pursuing their affair in England, they travelled together in Italy from April to July 1911, the literary result of which was Douglas’s classic travel book, Old Calabria (1915), and again in May to June 1913.

All three of these letters from Wolton which follow were sent in late 1921 from British-administered Tanganyika, where he was an Assistant Inspector of Police and was then recovering from an attack of typhoid. They are given in their entirety, for easier appreciation of the context of his remarks.

 

I

 

In hospital                                                                                                              Dar-es-Salaam
                                                                                                                                 6 – 11 – 21

KEEP 22 DEC.[3]

My great old friend Doug,   

Eric Wolton at Sant' Agata, May 1913

     You probably think that I am a lost soul or on the other hand don’t care a damn whether I write you or not. I do not mind you thinking the former but never think the latter as I always care about you.
     I am wondering if those women of mine have obeyed my instructions and written to you. I am referring to my mother and the girl.[4]
    
     Well Doug at last I strike the rocks after 9 years good health.[5] An attack of Typhoid in a mild form thank goodness but sufficient to reduce me to a bag of bones. I hope either mother or the girl wrote and told you. I wrote them a scrappy note each. Well I have had a devil of a time, besides the Typhoid I have had bleeding piles and an abcess on each cheek of my bottom, boils under the arm which I still have. I have been systematically starved this last week because I dare’nt [sic] eat much. I have already had one relapse.
     I am getting stronger now.
     I have received your letter from Austria[6] enclosing the P.C.
     Doug, I have wanted Italy and you as bad as anything last week. All the old times flash back in my memory.
     How I should love St [sic] Agata[7] now, the walks and all the happy times. Do you remember our walking tour to St Angelo[8] from St Agata. I should love to do that starting from Naples and work right down South through Calabria. Fancy if only you & I could do it. It would be great.
     Isn’t it bloody Doug being hard up always.[9] I shall be hard up very shortly. They are taking off our bonus. There is a hell of a row as cost of living is exactly the same and 30% customs on nearly everything coming in the country. After all £250 plus 25% is not much pay for this diseased ridden country. When I am home on leave I shall try and get a job in the country with a decent wage & possibly a cottage thrown in.
     I am not fed up with the job here Doug but I want a job where I can live decently and put money away in the bank each month. I am game to go through hell if I can get paid for it.
     If I had £1000 a year it would be a very small little cottage in Italy and I should not forget you.
     I have Italy in my blood fed[10]  with old remembrances therefore I am sad and rather fed up with life. I cant help it Doug, it is just me. I expect you get the same feelings so you know the damnable task of dulling those thoughts.
     Well D I had a letter from Archie[11] who is expecting to be posted to Port Soudan on the Red Sea under the Egyptian Civil Service[12] He will be damnably fed up at Port Soudan. I may see him on my way home at least I hope so. I shall see you & we will again wend our way to the Salut Restaurant in Marseilles and guzzle. I should love to get off the boat at Naples but that will mean my paying my fare to England which will be damnably expensive.
     We shall have to make it Marseilles[13] Doug and then even I shall have to catch the mail through to Paris. I hope Doug you will have sufficient money to enable you to come home to England if even only for the trip and change. Well Doug write me. All my wishes Doug & thoughts

                                                             Your ever
                                                                    Eric

[Followed by a sketch of an owl, something with which Douglas and all his young protégés liked to embellish their letters]

 

II

At present on                                                                                               Dar-es-Salaam
sick leave at                                                                                                  24 – 11 – 21
Dodoma

Photo of Wolton that he sent to Douglas ca. 1921, inscribed on the back, “To N. D. the best pal I have ever had, to our past + future. Yours Eric.”

KEEP 19 JAN[14]

My great & best pal Doug,

     You are another sufferer through this damned East African mail system. Half of my letters never reach their destination.
     I hope you received my last or probably you will think I am “Hors de combat”.
     The last three letters from you are 4/10/21 – 6 & 15 Sept.
     I received the letter dated the 15th Sept before the 6th Sept letter, damned odd.
     Well D my last letter was rather in the form of a long whine but I could’nt help it. As I was lying ill it was you and Italy. Those were the main items of my thoughts and I can tell you I was pretty fed up.
     I am still cursing my luck not being born rich but all those happy times have to be thrust out of sight to make room for the sterner realities of today, curse them.
     They were happy times too Doug were’nt they, I have no evil thoughts about them although I am different today than I was then.was then.[15]
     You were my tin god and even now you are. I do really love you as a great friend and even now I know that if I live to be a million never shall I harbour the same feeling that I have for you.
     Don’t think Doug that I am talking like a woman.
     I am just trying to express my thoughts to you. I am mad with myself to think that after the care you took with me I have turned out such a failure.  I am a failure as you know, I get that feeling that I want to do something big but I lack the power.
     I wonder if I shall ever be able to show my appreciation outwardly for our friendship.
     Probably the only appreciation will be when it is too late (may nature delay the time) & then it will bring no satisfaction.
     What a puzzle life is Doug, all upside down.
     I am afraid I have expressed myself very badly but I want you to understand Doug that you are more to me than ever you were.
     The difference now is that I am old enough to realize it.
     Well Doug my other news is varied. I am still a trifle weak on my legs but otherwise fit. This place is healthy but barren but very nice.
     I shall be back in Dar-es-Salaam by the 10th of Dec.
     The air is great and one wears underclothing in the evenings. The tribe here is filthy. Never wash.
     I have heard two of their customs i.e.
(1) When a man and a woman are fornicating they do not finish it [in] the proper hole but pull out just in time to catch the fluid which they rub over their bodies.
(2) When a man leaves his wife for 2 or 3 days, perhaps longer the wife saves all her piss in which the man washes himself on his return & then finishes off with a sexual intercourse you can imagine what these people are like.
     Really it is very interesting but not appetising. I am doing well & it is pretty cheap here. I have had curry 4 days running & have it again tonight. It is my pet dish.
     I expect you are back again in Florence working hard and ekeing out a meager existence.
     I shall have to count every cent when they take off this 25% of our pay. I am no longer going to risk my skin for £250 a year & am strongly thinking of writing to some Chief Constable in England & get on his H.Q. Staff. Do you know of anybody who could help me. What do you think about it?
     Well D I have no more news. I will write again shortly. Take care of yourself.
     Cheerio & all the best of luck and wishes for the year 1922.

 

III

Xmas day.                                                                                                               Dar-es-Salaam
                                                                                                                                 25 Dec 1921.

KEEP 2 FEB[16]

My Dear old Doug.

     Your letter of the 1st has arrived also the Swahili Dictionary and your new book “Alone”.[17] Thank you very much for all the three.
     I received your book “Alone” yesterday afternoon and sat up to mid-night last night reading it. It is glorious Doug and makes me realize how splendid you are and what a small atom of humanity I am.
     I understand the title too.
     Perhaps it is bad form but I am rather jealous of your friends who you have mentioned but the fact of being your best friend compensates me.
     I am with you all the way through the book Doug, just talking and enjoying the many walks.
     I enjoy your wit too as it coincides with many of our talks & with many of your letters.
     You are my god Doug. I told you in one of my previous letters that you were my tin God but you know what I meant.
     Thank God you are still alive, keep so as long as possible.
     Thank you Doug for saying that I am rare company.
     I am pleased I have been able to give you a little pleasure during the whole time of our friendship. Perhaps I shall be able to do more later.
     I have a[t] least just a little satisfaction now.
     Well Doug I do hope you have heard from me by this time. I have written you pretty regular since my illness.
     I am glad you[r] book is selling well. It deserves it, it should catch on as it is delightful, I have enjoyed it.
     I read a splendid review in [the] Daily Telegraph which the girl[18] sent me out.
     I am well & keeping fit. The weather is awful warm and I am just waiting for the cool season to come along.
    Mosquitoes are not very troublesome here. I always take my five grains of quinine every evening and so far have managed to prevent malaria getting into my blood.
     So sorry to hear about the cold weather. Come out here and be warm.
     I expect Archie is being baked at Port Sudan. I hope he sticks it.    
     I wish you could come along out here & write a travel book. Heaps of material and you could do it very cheaply. Think about it.[19]
    
     Fancy Mrs Mackenzie[20] being poor. These people do not know the meaning of the word.
     Will you ask Mackenzie[21] whether he wants a bailiff to look after his islands.
     Put my name down for it. Heaps of experience etc. Do not forget this.
     I remember Dr Bishop. Funny little man.
     The amount of Greeks in Dar-es-Salaam per the last censor [sic] taken this year is 30.
     If you need any more information I will get it.   
    Well Doug, over a year since I left England. Another year & a bit will see me on my way home.[22]
    
     We must meet
     Well Doug take care of yourself. Thanks ever so much for your book.
     I will write again shortly.
     With all my best wishes.

     Yours always
                                                                                         Eric

Dar-es-Salaam by Jacob Hendrik Perneef, 1926

 

Emilio Papa

Emilio Papa (1912-48) met Douglas in December 1924, when he had just reached twelve and Douglas was fifty-six. Besides being Emilio's lover, from 1927, when he was orphaned, Douglas brought him and his younger brother up, and Emilio was deeply involved in his personal affairs for ever afterwards.

The letter which follows was translated from the Italian by Michael Allan, editor of the aforementioned book from which it is taken. At the time, Papa was working for a Florentine newspaper on the night shift, probably as a printer. Like Douglas's other old boys whose correspondence is preserved, he was married, the Nella referred to in the letter being his wife, and the Elena their daughter. When Emilio was killed in a air crash the next year, a devastated Douglas lent them for years his flat in Florence .

 
                                                                                                                               Florence, January 12th 1947
                                                                                                                               2.15 a.m.

Dearest Signor Norman   

Emilio Papa in 1925 or 1926, when Douglas was his lover

     an hour ago I was still in bed and in the middle of a magnificent dream, in which it seemed to me that I was sitting in top of an old car when I saw approaching me in the distance a carriage in which you were seated. As soon as I’d seen you I began to shout with joy: “Hallo dear Norman.” When our paths crossed you smiled and called me, and then I got down from the car and, running, I reached the carriage and jumped into it and began to kiss you affectionately and was going to ask how you were and where to go? … when the cursed alarm-clock began to ring. It was exactly one o’clock on the morning of January 12th and it spoiled my marvellous and tranquil dream that I was in the middle of. Completely cross with the alarm-clock that had so suddenly ruined all this so that I should go to work, I must tell you of my peaceful dream. Now you’ll laugh and tell me that I was sleeping with my head under the bedclothes. Whatever it may have been, it was a calm and wonderful thing to be together with you.
     […] I must stop. It is 2.30 and the newspaper print rollers have begun to turn. I must go down
            Write soon.
                   Greetings warmest kisses
                         from me, Nella
                                and Elena
                                      Your affectionate Emilio[23]

                    Greeting to David[24] and Greenlees

 

[1] London: Secker & Warburg, 1976.

[2] It is usually only obtainable directly from the publisher, whose address in April 2021 was Mühleweg 134, A-6822 Düns info@wnverlag.com.

[3]  Scrawled in blue pencil across the top of the letter by Douglas. The date is probably that upon which Douglas received Eric’s letter. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[4] ‘the girl’ could refer to a domestic help employed by Mrs. Wolton. Eric may, however, have been referring contemptuously to his sister Violet. In a letter to Bryher (pseudonym of Annie Winifred Ellerman – 1894-1983; British novelist) of May 3rd 1929, Douglas remarked: “Wolton wrote that he liked your parents ever so much. Of course he don’t care about London very much; his people live there, and he don’t get on with them very well.”  [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[5] Could this be a reference to the malaria he and Douglas contracted in the summer of 1911? [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[6] Douglas was with René Mari in the Vorarlberg, Austria from August 27th until September 20th 1921.  [Footnote by Michael Allan]. Mari was a Corsican boy loved by Douglas for many years.

[7] Sant’ Agata on the Sorrentine peninsula. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[8] Eric is probably remembering a climb to the top of one of the three Sant’ Angelo peaks to the east of May 27th 1913 of which Douglas writes in Looking Back (op. cit. p.59). [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[9] Having gone through his inheritance during the first decade of the century, Douglas too was to know hard times for most of the rest of his life. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[10] Not the most obvious word in this context, but impossible to decipher otherwise. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[11]  Douglas’ elder son Louis Archibald (1899-1975). [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[12] Archie took up a position as Assistant Inspector in the Port Sudan Customs Administration late in 1921. On the way, he visited his father in Florence before taking a boat to Egypt from Naples. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[13] Douglas and René Mari spent two days in Marseilles at New Year 1921 in order to see Eric who was on his way out to Africa. There is no record of Douglas and Eric even meeting subsequently in Marseilles. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[14] It is now impossible to say whether this signifies the date of receipt or of reply. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[15] Like all the well-documented boys loved by Douglas, Wolton had no known sexual interest in men once he was a man himself. He married and had children.

[16] This could be the date upon which Douglas received Eric’s letter, but it may be the date of his reply. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[17] Published by Chapman & Hall. London in November 1921. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[18] See footnote 4 to letter of November 6th 1921. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[19] Douglas did think about it and went out to visit Eric at Arusba from mid-May until early July 1925. The only literary result was a two-page Letter About Aruba for Nancy Cunard’s Negro Anthology (Wishart & Co., London 1934). [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[20] Douglas’ great friend Faith Compton Mackenzie (1878-1960); British writer of biographies and memoirs. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[21] Faith’s husband Monty Mackenzie (1883-1972); British writer and novelist. He had just bought the Channel Islands of Herm and Jethou. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[22] In the event, Eric was to spend the rest of his life in East Africa. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[23] These five lines of farewell appear thus in Emilio’s letter: a step-like sequence of short phrases which one might like to imagine as deriving from Emilio’s subconscious reluctance to go downstairs to work. [Footnote by Michael Allan]

[24] David Gwyn Jeffreys, British Vice-Consul at Naples. Jeffreys had a holiday home at Positano where Douglas stayed for a couple of weekends in July 1946 before finding a room to rent for August and September. [Footnote by Michael Allan].

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