Now That's a BOOK CLUB! Where Conan Doyle and JM Barrie Chewed the Fat, Ford Madox Ford's Love Life Came a Cropper and Oscar Went a Bit Wild

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 15, 2017 | Go to article overview

Now That's a BOOK CLUB! Where Conan Doyle and JM Barrie Chewed the Fat, Ford Madox Ford's Love Life Came a Cropper and Oscar Went a Bit Wild


Byline: KATHRYN HUGHES LITERATURE

Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies

CJ Schuler The Authors' Club PS19.99 ([euro]23)

****

Contrary to popular belief, authors are far from being solitary beasts. But in the days before baristas and flat whites, where did wordsmiths go to pen their prose and gossip with fellow scribes? The answer is the Authors' Club, a shabby-chic, membership-only hangout in central London, complete with cosy fireplaces, squishy sofas and permanently topped-up glasses.

It was here, 125 years ago, that such titans of literature as Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and J M Barrie met to chew the fat, pursue literary feuds and squabble over the correct use of the comma.

Still, it would be a huge mistake to write off the Authors' Club as nothing more than a charming outpost of Edwardian gentility. In this fascinating book, C J Schuler, the first person to have access to the relevant archives, reveals how the club frequently found itself at the heart of the 20th Century's most crucial political and cultural events.

In 1916, for instance, Lloyd George's spin doctor used its convenient Whitehall premises as the venue for a secret 'kitchen cabinet', tasked with reversing the punishing defeat of Britain on the killing fields of Flanders and France.

Jump forward 25 years and MI5's spymaster, Maxwell Knight, is discreetly summoning promising young men to the club in the hope of recruiting them as secret agents.

Even in peacetime the club was capable of surprises. In 1967, guest speaker Brigid Brophy gave a sharp, satirical speech that led to it being the first major London club to admit women. It's a proud radical tradition that carries on to this day: in 2015, Sunny Singh was elected as chair.

This goes some way towards making up for the fact that, earlier in the century, the club was explicit in not allowing Jews, men of colour or even people of German origin to become members, no matter how distinguished their record as writers or publishers. …

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