Thursday 11 November 2010

Brenan-Woolsey-Budleigh connection

I just love what you can do with the Internet these days. I mentioned earlier - Budleigh ... and WB Yeats? - correspondence with Angela Williams, who is researching local connections with writers for her new photo-weblog Literary Places (a project that looks worth following).

Currently she's researching the writer Gerald Brenan, and mentioned looking for the address of the Budleigh home where Brenan's father lived from 1941.
... my father sold his Cheltenham house and bought a modern villa at Budleigh Salterton in Devon. Here he and his wife Mabel lived quietly, without any of those scenes that had punctuated his life with my mother.
- Gerald Brenan, Personal record, 1920-1972, page 337.
It proved straightforward to cross-correlate various sources to find the location. The Times Digital Archive  obituary finds the probable house name:
BRENAN - On July 13, 1947, at Braeside, Budleigh Salterton, Major Hugh Gerald Brenan, late Royal Irish Rifles, in his 77th year.
- The Times, Tuesday, Jul 15, 1947
Then Googling Braeside Budleigh finds an estate agent's listing with street address and location description, and finally Google Maps takes us there.

View Larger Map

Gerard Brenan and his wife, the American poet Gamel Woolsey, visited fairly regularly (I admit I'd never heard of either). He was an associate of the Bloomsbury Group, she the consumptive niece of "Susan Coolidge" (author of the Katy series). They met when she was in a messy friendship/relationship with the Powys family (having an affair with Llewellyn Powys, the husband of her best friend Alyse Gregory and the brother of John Cooper Powys) when the Powyses were staying at White Nothe, Dorset - and Brenan (on the rebound from an affair with Dora Carrington) essentially rescued her from these complications.

Personally I find the train wreck lives of the English literary set of this period deeply tiresome, but Gamel Woolsey definitely deserves more recognition.  As a number of accounts describe - see, for instance, Gamel Woolsey: Thwarted Ambitions - she was airbrushed out of Llewelyn Powys' biography, and her work largely unrecognised during her lifetime. Her novel One Way of Love was rejected as too sexually explicit (nearly lost, it was only published by Virago in 1987); a second, Patterns in the Sand, remains unpublished; and her meditation on the Spanish Civil War, Death's Other Kingdom, came out too late for relevance, and not helped by its demeaning John Cooper Powys introduction as "a tender and wistful threnody over 'Old Spain' by a daughter of the 'Old South'". For further biography, see Gamel Woolsey ("A writer who, like her books, fought not to fade", Emma Garman, Lost magazine, Nov 2007, No.19).

- Ray

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