The greatest pleasure to have come out of the hair-tearing ordeal of obtaining permission to publish quotations from scores of letters to George and Kittie written a hundred years ago (see 17 April 2017) has been to correspond with Mrs Lowe, the copyright-holder for the works of the American novelist Anne Douglas Sedgwick (1873-1935). Sedgwick wrote a long, relaxed, sparkling letter to George on 14 November 1914 when he was in a London hospital recovering from the leg wound he had received at Ypres. Not only did she try to cajole him into not returning to the Front (which must have pleased Kittie), but she said that George’s letter about her latest work, The Encounter, was ‘altogether the most delightful thing that The Encounter has brought me’.
Sedgwick’s own letter was headed ‘Far End, Kingham, Chipping Norton’. I had assumed that she and her husband, the literary critic Basil de Sélincourt (1877-1966), were London literati, possibly even living in Hampstead like the Calderons, and that Far End, which sounds far out indeed, was their country bolthole. Far from it! Far End was a house built by de Sélincourt in 1907, the couple lived there after their marriage in 1908, and it became, in Mrs Lowe’s words, ‘a literary hub’, ‘a magical ivory tower’, which was visited by such eminent Edwardians as Bruce Richmond (editor of the TLS), Hugh Walpole, Victoria Cholmondeley, Laurence Binyon, Sir Edward Grey, Lady Ottoline Morrell…and the Calderons. Here is the entry in Far End’s Guest Book for George and Kittie’s visit of 1913:
How intriguing that George has written in Greek below his name ‘the barbarian’ (or: ‘the foreigner’). Why? What does it tell us about his relation to Anne Sedgwick, whom Mrs Lowe describes as ‘lovely as well as gifted’ and who I have the impression was very much the hostess at Far End? The Calderons were invited for the first time to Far End in December 1912. It may have been because that year George had become famous for his translations of Chekhov’s plays and both Anne Sedgwick and Basil de Sélincourt were enamoured of Russian literature. The couple read the Russian classics in French translation and had doubtless heard that the Goncourts called Turgenev ‘l’aimable barbare’. Perhaps, then, Anne Sedgwick joked that as a Russian-speaker George was a ‘barbarian’ himself? Or was ‘foreigner’ a reference to George’s Spanish heritage? Or ‘barbarian’ a dig at his anti-suffragism? Whatever, the friendship between the Calderons and the de Sélincourts appears to have been deep. In 1919, the year that George’s death at Gallipoli was officially confirmed, they invited Kittie to stay with them, and again in 1921 and 1922. After that, of course, Kittie broke with London and moved to Petersfield.
Alas, physically Far End no longer exists, and I have not yet seen a photograph of it. After Christmas Alison and I visited Kingham (voted ‘England’s favourite village’ by Country Life in 2004) and found where the house had been. Words fail me to describe what has taken its place. However, as Mrs Lowe has said, Far End still exists in her mind, since she was brought up there by her grandmother, Basil de Sélincourt’s third wife, and indeed by Basil himself; she left it in 1986 and has a collection of material about it. I have nothing at the moment about Far End in my biography, yet it seems to me that it was almost as important to George and Kittie as Foxwold in Kent (see passim) or the Corbets’ home in Shropshire. I am very much hoping to meet Anne Sedgwick’s copyright holder in a month’s time, therefore, and feel sure that this will enable me to squeeze a well-informed paragraph or two into a late chapter before the typesetter gets there. I cannot thank Mrs Lowe warmly enough for her sustained interest and generosity with her time.