Katy’s hat trick

Long-term followers of this blog know that Katy George burst onto it back in March, when she came across a perfectly preserved letter of Kittie’s in a charity shop in Deal, Googled on Kittie, found us, and offered the letter to the Calderon archive. As I said at the time, it was a sensational discovery that on its own justified the whole existence of the blog since July 2014. However, another marvellous thing was that Katy became really interested in George and Kittie, and has gone to great trouble to find any further items of Calderoniana on the Net that there might be. Thus in May she spotted that an antiquarian bookshop in Tasmania had a copy of George’s satirical novel Dwala not only inscribed by Kittie to the Polynesia expert Frederick O’Brien, but containing an extremely interesting letter to him! Naturally, we snapped it up.

Katy told me that she was determined to ‘make it a hat trick’ before the blog closed, and she has. She recently came across these two items in another antiquarian bookseller’s list:

Palace Scenes Signatures of Laurence Housman and George Calderon

The book was very nicely published by Jonathan Cape in 1937, and the slip of paper with Housman’s and George’s signatures was inside it. Laurence Housman (1865-1959) was a prolific writer whose 1934 play Victoria Regina could only be staged 100 years after the Queen’s accession, i.e. in 1937. It was a great West End success, with Helen Hayes in the lead, and even went to Broadway. There have also been several stage adaptations of it since. The book that Katy found comprises twelve scenes from the life of Queen Victoria which, Housman explains in his Preface, are not so much a sequel as a ‘supplement’ to Victoria Regina. They are quite hilarious, and very well written.

Since the book contains these two signatures, I thought there might be a connection between Housman, Victoria Regina, and George. After all, Housman and he were of the same generation, both active in the London theatre, and George had a genius for collaboration. Now I am very doubtful. As a popular novelist, poet, children’s writer and illustrator, Housman was at home in the commercial theatre, whereas George’s theatrical world was that of the New Drama, Stage Society and repertory movement. Moreover, their political views could not have been more different: Housman was a committed socialist, a pacifist, and co-founder of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage (much mocked by George in his Woman and the State). It is very unlikely, then, that they were friends or collaborated in the theatre.

As you can see above, their signatures are mounted in printed rectangles and cut from a bluish page presumably ruled like this all over. On the back are two more, unidentifiable signatures, similarly mounted. My guess, then, is that this slip was cut from a two-columned collector’s album of specimen signatures and placed in the book because it featured not only Housman’s signature but another Edwardian playwright’s. One would imagine this was all done by a theatrephile who owned the book. If only this person had kept the rest of George’s letter…

But there is one known connection between George and Housman. Laurence Housman’s more famous brother was A.E. Housman, the Cambridge classicist and author of A Shropshire Lad (1896). George was a close friend of Will Rothenstein, who frequently drew portraits of the famous in his studio, and it seems that George called on him during a sitting by A.E. Housman. In his Men and Memories (1932) Rothenstein recalled:

Calderon sometimes annoyed people who didn’t understand his character, by waving, so to say, a red flag in their eyes; he annoyed Conrad; and he failed to rouse any response in A.E. Housman. I remember how Calderon, after meeting Housman at our house, remarked, as I accompanied him downstairs: ‘Well, William, so far from believing that man wrote A Shropshire Lad, I shouldn’t even have thought him capable of reading it!’

Next entry: Dialogue at a dinner


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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