De-appled

With less than a fortnight before the blog closes, I would like to tie up as many loose ends as possible. But, of course, people’s lives aren’t like that…

One end, however, that has suddenly been almost tied up is the case of Kittie’s ‘appling’ in George’s letter to her from the Orsova on 10 May 1915 (see my posts of 22 January and 15 May this year). For late followers to the blog, I am talking about five lines of George’s writing that Kittie had made as unreadable as possible by scribbling through.

Since 15 May I had been able to decipher only two more words. But these made the tantalising phrase ‘in love with’! So who was in love with whom?

By last week I had made no further progress — after many sessions poring over it with a large magnifying glass — and I cast around yet again for an expert who might be able to help me. I had tried museum staff, a pixel engineer and a high-ranking policeman, to very little effect, but why not go to a ‘graphologist’? Whatever one might think of the ‘personality-reading’ aspect of graphology, it suddenly struck me that a graphologist would very quickly identify the particular way George makes his letters, and be able to apply that to the fragments of letters visible beneath Kittie’s scribbling.

I soon found through the Web the hugely qualified and experienced Barbara Weaver, who lives locally and is in fact Principal of the Cambridge School of Graphology. Barbara has an array of microscopes, special lighting and computer programmes that she could bring to bear on George’s letter, but told me that in the end it was manipulation using the Gimp software that enabled her, over a number of hours, to decipher with confidence all but one word — a woman’s name.

[Emma?], poor girl, said she thought that

I was in love with Helen Peel. She’s a

dear kind pretty girl, but if she had been

an ugly one, it would have made no difference;

except for the pleasure of being there. She and Peel

The sentence and paragraph then legibly continue:

opened their little young happy circle to me —

and afforded every kind of refuge from the

hard and arid gaiety of the Anteroom. I am

deeply obliged to them. They gave me a colour

that, in the ordinary course of things, I never could

have got.

Obviously, the discovery that it was George who was supposedly in love with someone at Brockhurst, was sensational, even if he was making it pretty clear that he wasn’t in love with Helen Peel! But who was the mysterious [Emma?]? Was she a ‘poor girl’ because she was jealous, or because she was so deluded? And what actually does George mean by his explanation, the sentence beginning ‘She’s a dear kind pretty girl’? (He seems paradoxically to reveal that the prettiness of Helen Peel did increase his pleasure.)

In the words of Kittie’s memoirs, the Peels were ‘a young brother officer and his wife’. Syntactically, I don’t think there is much doubt that the person Helen Peel is Mrs Peel, the young officer’s wife. As followers will remember, George had the right as a married officer to live outside his barracks in Fort Brockhurst, but had resisted Kittie’s readiness to set up home with him there because, again in Kittie’s words, ‘he was firmly convinced that if he lived in rooms with me he would not learn one quarter as much of soldiering as by living in Barracks, and time at best was short’. Clearly, though, being able to get out of barracks and visit the home of an officer who had set up his family outside, was a considerable relief to George; as I suggested at the time, it probably prevented him from falling prey to depression at Brockhurst as he had at Ypres.

We have discovered that the ‘young brother officer and his wife’ were Robert Peel (1884-1935) and Helen Beatrice Mansell Peel, née Merry (1890-1990). In 1915 they had one child, a three-year-old son, who was presumably living at Brockhurst with them. When George met them, Peel, an Oxford graduate, was thirty and his wife twenty-four. George seems to be saying he wasn’t in love with Helen Peel, but young women are central characters in several of his plays (notably The Fountain), and we know that he had charming manners and wit. I simply wish I had known of Mrs Peel’s existence in 1985, when I first became interested in George Calderon and she was only ninety-five years old… Her husband, by the way, moved from the Ox & Bucks to the RAF in 1916.

Epilogue

Barbara Weaver’s specialisation is the analysis of character by the study of handwriting. She therefore volunteered some salient features of George Calderon’s state and character judging by his handwriting in this letter of 10 May 1915, without my telling her much about George beforehand.

The first conclusion Barbara had drawn from his writing was that he was tired — ‘was low on energy’, as she put it. This is exceedingly interesting, because it is exactly what Kittie says in her memoirs about George at this point (‘It frightened me’).

Further, Barbara said he was very intelligent, artistic, strong-willed but perhaps uncertain ‘who he was’, altruistic, and possibly had a homosexual side to his nature.

Intriguing.

Next entry: Flashback — and tourbillions in Time (again)

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About Patrick Miles

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