Magazine article The Spectator

Life and Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Life and Letters

Article excerpt

Where does Harold Pinter's seemingly W limitless capacity for rage and affront come from? What first, in other words, got the Pinter goat? A clue may be provided by an entrancing aside in Maureen Waller's London 1945: Life in the Debris of War. She describes the scene outside Buckingham Palace on VE Day, with huge crowds gathering in the hope of seeing the King and Queen waving from the balcony. Among those crowds was, incognito, the young Elizabeth II. Among them, too, was the playwright to be - then, apparently, a keener monarchist than he is now. Miss Waller reports: 'Harold Pinter, then 15, pinched the bottom of the girl in front, only to be knocked unconscious by her soldier boyfriend.' The source for this anecdote, incidentally: 'Harold Pinter. As recounted to the author.'

A website, www. thebigromance.com, has come up with a notion that might be called 'Book Lovers for Book Lovers'. Readers are invited to vote on which fictional character they most fancy. Each of the website's 44 suggestions (half are male, half female) comes with a portrait, usually from a film or television adaptation, and a sort of lonely-hearts introduction. So, of Manon des Sources: 'Maybe a picnic rather than a dinner date would suit.' Becky Sharp: 'Could you be the man to tame her unruly heart?' Daniel Deronda: 'Sensitive, caring and highly intelligent - Daniel's had a hard time since childhood.' Rhett Butler: 'Dashing, gallant - Rhett is the ultimate Southern gentleman.' It seems somewhat irresponsible of the proprietors of this literary dating agency, however, not to put any sort of health warning on Othello. So far, apparently, Moll Flanders leads the girls, and (inevitably) Mr Darcy tops the list of chaps.

Speaking of which, Pride and Prejudice is to be reintroduced to the world in feature-film format, the first movie version since Olivier donned the well-filled britches of Mr Darcy. Of particular interest to Janeites will be that filming of Pemberley, Darcy's home, is on location at Chatsworth, the place thought to have provided the inspiration for Austen's fictional house. I asked 'Debo' Devonshire, Chatsworth's cheerful chatelaine, whether she credited the connection. 'I know a lot of people believe that Pemberley was modelled on Chatsworth, from the description of the park as they drive through it. My mother-in-law certainly always thought so.' Is the Duchess a Pride and Prejudice enthusiast herself? 'I'm afraid not. I've read hardly any of it.'

The hardworking historian Dr A. D. Harvey writes, enclosing a fresh handful of his literary excavations from the Public Record Office. Among them is a 1941 note to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding the possibility of prosecuting Noël Coward for a transatlantic tax dodge during the second world war. The Master, the DPP is informed, failed to surrender to the Treasury the $2,380.79 sitting in his account with the New York Trust Company, as at 3 September 1939, and made a pile on further transactions and securities which he 'failed to register with the Bank of England'. 'The amounts involved here are large and it is difficult to believe that Mr Coward is not an astute business man,' the letter concludes. 'He did not leave this country until the 18 July 1940 and must have known all about the Regulations. …

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