Thursday, April 21, 2011

Stephen Tennant - April 21 1906 - Feb. 28, 1987

Stephen Tennant was a dandy, a dilettante, aesthetic. He wanted to be a novelist but never finished Lascar, his only attempt. Or, some said, he never really started it - unless you counted the countless lavish illustrations he designed for the cover. He nevertheless made himself literarily historical for the friendships he made. Some of those whom he enter-tained with witticisms and outrageousness were the painter Rex Whistler (felled at Normandy), the photographer Cecil Beaton, all the poetic Sitwells, and the five delightful Mitford sisters. Tennant is considered to be the model for the wonderful character of Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, as well as the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh when Waugh was drawing the character of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.  Despite his lack of concrete accomplishments his friendships and character warranted a lengthy 1992 biography by Philip Hoare.

He was vain.  Once, anticipating a group picture that was to be taken of him and some friends, he wrote, "My tongue is already flickering like an adder, lest one iota of foreground is denied me."

The novelist Rosamond Lehmann reports that Stephen invited her to visit him one weekend at the seaside where he was summering.  She turned up at his home to find no one in.  She sat down on the steps and awaited Stephen's return. Soon she heard his distinct tip-tapping footsteps approaching. "Rosamond, dear! What are you doing here?" "You invited me for the weekend, Stephen, don't you remember?" "But how could you be so cruelly literal, darling?"

Along with the Hoare biography, along with the many references to him in the biographies of his contemporaries, along with his having served as inspiration for characters in the novels of great writers, Stephen Tennant also holds an especially odd niche in literary history: When he had become elderly he rented the cottage on his family estate to a novelist by the name of V.S. Naipaul; the latter immortalized Tennant as a character in The Enigma of Arrival -- a roman a clef which, for its being perfectly and simply written, happens to be one of my favorite novels. 

No comments:

Post a Comment