Thursday, April 14, 2011

Literary Gossip, January 25, 1956 (Christopher Isherwood Diaries)

Christopher Isherwood

January 25*

         Today I had a drink with John Lehmann, Graham Greene and Henry Yorke.**  They told me about Evelyn Waugh's nervous breakdown.  He went into a bar in Cairo, and the bartender said, "Good afternoon, Sir," and Waugh just grunted.  And a voice said to Waugh: "You'd have spoken to him if he'd been a Lord."  Graham looked quite sleek and handsome -- much younger than in his photographs.  He said this was because he is always photographed when he has a hangover.

        Much talk about Cyril Connolly's famous marital troubles, which he broadcasts all over Europe.

Graham Greene

Henry Yorke

John Lehmann photographed at Ham Spray seated between Rosamond Lehmann (l) and Lytton Strachey (r)

Excerpt from:  Christopher Isherwood, Diaries, Volume One, 1939-1960). London, Methuen, 1996.

* According to Wikipedia, there are no other notable world events that occurred on January 25, 1956. Therefore, I believe this London meeting of three important masters of 20th century British literatrue and a key British publisher held for purposes of cutting up prominent members of their circle constitutes something of a historical "discovery." 

** Henry Yorke wrote novels under the pen name Henry Green.  To help sort out the gossip, players and scorecard, you may possibly be interested in seeing thisthis,  this, and this  for Henry Green, and here, here,  here and here for more Graham Greene.


  1. When we worked as an editor at Eyre and Spottiswode after the war, Greene (as opposed to Green) had the task of working with author Anthony Powell on the literary biography John Aubrey and His Friends.

    Publication was delayed, and when Powell finally expressed impatience Green replied, "Well it's a damn boring book anyway, isn't it?"

    Powell responded, "I suppose this means I am no longer bound by my contract with Eyre and Spottiswode?"

    Greene agreed. The publisher belatedly tried to persuade Powell that Greene had no authority to say that but the damage was done and Powell's subsequent oeuvre was published by Heinemann. (Some later reprints of Powell's 1930s novels were put out by Lehmann's imprint, as well.)

    No doubt Greene's remark was not what a publisher should say to an author (maybe GG was hung over), but as a huge Powell fan I claim standing to agree that John Aubrey and His Friends is a damn boring book.

  2. It's been a long time since I read Powell, although we have all of his books here because my mother owned them and our house is a repository of several very good libraries, which is our very good fortune. I remember really enjoying his novels and then moving on to (and permanently remaining in) Henry Green's bleaker, more abstract precinct, which I was led to in part because of reading about Powell's life. (This reminds me of the spoken part in the Move's recording of Cherry Blossom Clinic, Part 2, which goes something like, "and they gave me a kind of food fitted to me for my mind" or something like that.) Powell was extremely kind to and supportive of one of my great heroes, Julian Maclaren-Ross, who must have been a lot of work. For that and obviously for other reasons such as his writing and editing, I really admire him. Your story is wonderful, by the way. One funny thing is that Jane's godmother (a college friend of ours) is the daughter of a famous scholar of the work of this period who, as you might imagine, apparently has his own, occasionally more jaundiced view of various things I appreciate and admire less critically (in a strictly personal imposition sense) than he does. This reminds me a lot of Caroline's former occupation and the things she went through dealing with artists we both looked up to before we actually knew them. Curtis