[ilds] "East" of Athens

Wilson, Fraser Fraser.Wilson at eht.nhs.uk
Tue May 13 04:06:27 PDT 2008

Gifford, Eric

East of Athens

London. The Travel Bookclub. 1939


I was skimming through after unwrapping and look who I bumped into on Corfu !


"One of the first people we met was a young writer who lived with his wife in an isolated village on the other side of the bay. Their house was inaccessible by road during rainy weather, and when it was stormy was inaccessible altogether, but they did not seem to mind. He had persuaded his mother to come out, bringing with her his sister and two younger brothers. These all lived in a big rambling house about a mile or so from us.


Larry was short, blond and excitable. His favourite author was Rabelais, and his conversation was modelled, obviously, on that of Panurge, with sometimes startling results in mixed company. His wife was tall and slender, with handsome cats' eyes. Being an ex-Slade student, she wore her straight, fair hair cut a la Trilby. As her husband once remarked to me: "You've no idea what an arty-arty little bitch Nancy was until I knocked her into shape."


Larry was blessed, or cursed as you will, with an excess of temperament; which was, presumably, the cause of our falling out. We parted one night the best of friends, and met two days later to find that we weren't on speaking terms. I made one or two attempts to solve the mystery, but never succeeded. Although we continued to remain on the best of terms with the rest of the family, I only saw Larry once more before I left Corfu. 


On this occasion I was visiting with a friend of his, another aspiring author, when he walked in. We did not exchange a word, but both sat, trying to look dignified, and carrying on mutually independent conversations with George. I was highly amused but determined not to show it. As for George, sitting muffled up in the Albanian sheepskin coat and the skull cap he wore in the cold weather, he put on an extra special version of his usual sardonic expression. Stroking the beard with which he attempted to conceal a youthful chin, he nobly bore the brunt of the two conversations as Larry and I played the game of sitting one another out. A game which I eventually won."


Touché !


Do we see here a portrait of our artist as a young man in the grip of affectation? 


Gifford himself seems to have taken few prisoners. Witness his treatment of Rebecca West on page 21;


"I remember admiring her eyes, and her sense of humour. Lamenting too, the rather ugly mouth, which spoils what might have 

been a beautiful, as well as an interesting face." 




Best wishes




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