Monday, 17 February 2014

Diana Mosley again: The Marble Foot by Peter Quennell

published 1976









[Quennell is reminiscing about the 1930s: he is married to S, but an admirer of Diana Mitford, who at that time was married to Bryan Guinness]

[My wife] S was bitterly displeased when I formed a romantic devotion to the beautiful wife of an old Oxford friend. My affection was harmless enough. But I frequently visited her house, and passed an hour or two in her enchanting company…

Her range of friends was wide; and she greeted all her guests with a similarly appreciative but dreamy smile. Tete-a-tete, the expression she most often assumed was one of fascinated astonishment. ‘I can’t believe it!’ she would bring out, opening her large blue eyes, in which floated particularly small pupils

[At a Roman fancy dress party in 1932] D. performed the role of the Empress Poppaea, immaculately robed and coiffed. Later that evening, a group of Roman courtiers assembled round Poppaea’s throne. S was among us; but suddenly I saw her rise; and for the next few seconds I observed the whole scene in cinematic ‘slow-motion’. Near the throne stood a magnum of champagne; or perhaps it was a jereboam. Very gradually her sandalled foot lifted; slowly her right heel touched the bottle. It tilted; and a foaming flood of wine poured out over Poppaea’s silken skirts….


observations: Not getting obsessed with Diana Mosley… but after the recent entry in which I commented on how odd her eyes look in photographs, it was interesting to read this from one of her admirers. He also mentions that when he says something she doesn’t like, ‘a wave of sharp annoyance seemed to sweep beneath the surface of her eyes, which became a colder, even paler blue.’

Peter Quennell was a man of letters and man about town of the era, but is now pretty much forgotten – he produced a huge body of work, but none of it seems to be in print. He knew all the usual suspects (Evelyn Waugh is always horribly rude about him) and this autobiography is only really of interest because of the other people who pop up in it.

In fact there is more than a touch of the Pooters here – the surprise that his wife objects to his admiration for the great beauty, the insertion of ‘perhaps it was a jereboam’. (He’s lucky he wasn’t charged for the champagne, like Pooter at the Volunteers’ Ball). He is extremely snobbish, and rather pleased with himself: he congratulates himself on his writing style, but on the evidence of this book it was correct but pedestrian. He tries to be discreet: he doesn't at any point name either Diana or Bryan Guinness.

In the past year we featured a large number of entries based on Nina Hamnett’s Bohemian memoirs, The Laughing Torso – there are a lot of similarities with this book, and neither of them is particularly well-written (again, with Hamnett, you read to find out about her friends). But Hamnett’s book is a lot more fun. But we will surely be revisiting Quennell on the blog because of the breadth of his acquaintance.

The picture shows Diana Guinness (as she then was) dressed as Poppaea at the party at the Savoy, presumably before the incident described above (and while obviously it is wrong to damage a dress in this way, you can’t help admiring S). On the right is Robert Byron, another of the 1930s figures always popping up in biographies, diaries and letters.

11 comments:

  1. Moira - Not only is it just plain wrong to damage a dress like that in that way, but what about the champagne!? The more you mention Diana Mosley, the more interesting she seems to be. Certainly she got a lot of notice at the time. Some people just do have that sort of magnetism.

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    1. Excellent point about the champagne, Margot, what a waste. I think one reason I am fascinated by Diana Mosley is because there was obviously something ephemeral about her charm and beauty, people find it hard to describe exactly what it was.

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  2. There can't be any Mitford books left to cover now can there? (Fingers crossed, eh! I'm joking Moira)

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    1. I'm going to find another one now, just to annoy you. Sadly, not a murder story between them....

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    2. Peter Sussman - Decca. There I've found it for you - I read one of the guys previous books and he told me who was doing something on the Mitford's and I said "who?" This was some years ago - well he went and did it.

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    3. Very impressed! and very generous of you to share in the circs.... I'm presuming Sussman's earlier work was on some quite different topic?

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    4. Yes, he collaborated with an inmate of a correctional facility in the States. The guy, Danny Martin was contributing a column to a newspaper and the prison authorities were endeavouring to stop him. The book was called Committing Journalism - The Prison Writings of Red Hog. Danny Martin also wrote a couple of fictional crime books that were really good also - The Dishwasher and In the Hat. Just googled him and he apparently died recently, which is sad. http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Dannie-Martin-dies-bank-robber-wrote-of-prison-5105636.php

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    5. I just looked all that up - absolutely riveting. He sounds a really nice man, despite the bank robber thing. Thanks Col.

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    6. Cheers - a bit of a digression from the original Mitford subject, but Peter Sussman obviously helped Dannie along a better path and tried to fight for his rights. One of the good guys.

      Very slightly reminds me a bit of the Norman Mailer - Jack Abbott relationship, although not exactly obviously. (Maybe not at all, in fact, though it did spring to mind! My brain is working very randomly today.)

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  3. I had been discussing Diana Mosley with my husband, so when he saw you had a post on her (again), he pointed it out. I have trying to remember an espionage novel (that I read) that she was in, and it just won't come to me. It was fairly current, and she did not have a big role... It is driving me crazy.

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    1. Oh that's interesting, I don't know the book you mean, but would love to hear about it if you remember.... Col, above, is hoping there aren't any more Mitford books, but I think he won't get his wish....

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