Category Archives: Dashing for the Post

The Chiddingstone Castle literary festival

The festival season is rapidly approaching, and as a Kentish Man, I was interested in this one. Held in a very beautiful setting, the second Chiddingstone Castle literary festival runs over the first May bank holiday weekend, from Sunday, April 30 to Tuesday, May 2, with 22 authors appearing over three days.

The line-up is headed by Terry Waite. Joining him will be Artemis Cooper and Adam Sisman, discussing the life and writings of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Radio 4 presenter of Saturday Live, Rev Richard Coles will give a reflective account of life as a parish priest and broadcaster.

Further details can be found here.

Advertisements

A lifelong search for erotic, alcoholic, intellectual and courageous diversion

Paddy at Baleni, Romania 1938

Paddy at Baleni, Romania 1938

Alerted to this by blog correspondent Brent McCunn, he asks “How can one, considering age, standing, and a lower consumption of booze incorporate this quote into ones mission statement? …he was on a lifelong search for erotic, alcoholic, intellectual and courageous diversion..

By Harry Mount

First published in the Literary Review

Anthony Powell said that John Betjeman had ‘a whim of iron’. To judge by these compulsive letters, Patrick Leigh Fermor had a pleasure-loving streak of purest titanium. From the first letter, written in 1940, soon after he joined the Irish Guards, until the last in 2010, sent when he was ninety-four, he was on a lifelong search for erotic, alcoholic, intellectual and courageous diversion. One moment he’s in Crete, meeting the partisans who helped him kidnap the Nazi general Heinrich Kreipe, his most dashing escapade. The next he’s at Chatsworth, sitting next to Camilla Parker Bowles – ‘immensely nice, non-show-off, full of charm and very funny’.

In between, it’s back to the Mani peninsula and the enchanting seaside home he and his wife, Joan, built in the mid-1960s. It was only there, in Greece, and then, in his fifties, that Leigh Fermor had a real adult home and reined in the wanderlust – and the lust. Until then, he’d continued the manic travels that began with his walk as a teenager across Europe in the 1930s. In the letters we follow him as he flits from borrowed Italian castello to French abbey to Irish castle, taking the edge off his ‘high-level cadging’ by making jokes about it. In 1949, he wrote to Joan: ‘Darling, look out for some hospitable Duca or Marchesa with a vast castle, and try and get off with him, so that he could have us both to stay.’

Leigh Fermor was less in search of luxury than entertainment. A 1954 letter to Ann Fleming skewers the super-rich aboard Stavros Niarchos’s gin palace: ‘it’s pretty good hell aboard: no sort of connecting link between all the guests, disjointed conversation, heavy banter, sumptuous but straggling meals at all hours … Why the hell don’t they have more fun with their money?’ After each of his gilded weekends, there arrives the perfectly weighted and amusing thank-you letter for the relevant duchess or Schloss-proprietor. For those in search of the model of the perfect bread-and-butter letter, look no further.

Reading these letters is like gobbling down a tray of exotically filled chocolates, with no horrible orange creams to put you off. What prevents Leigh Fermor’s eternal pleasure hunt from getting a bit sickly are two things: the undeniable bravery – and seriousness – of his war record, and his intellect. Unlike most playboys, he was an addicted reader of high-minded obscurities, among them John of Ruusbroec, a 14th-century Flemish mystic, and St Angela of Foligno, a 13th-century founder of a religious order. Hardly light holiday reading. His literary gifts were considerable and are on display in a pitch-perfect Betjeman pastiche from 1954, reprinted here: ‘Beadles and bell ropes! Pulpits and pews! … And patum peperium under the yews!’ Moreover, Leigh Fermor’s appetite for socialising extended beyond dukes and Cretan war heroes. In a coffee house in Macedonia, his interest in other people and countries is so great that he recognises all the languages being spoken: Greek, Pontian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Ladino, Russian, Georgian and Gheg, an Albanian dialect.

Unlike most writers – a narcissistic bunch, largely – Leigh Fermor had a longing to amuse. His letters are illustrated with little drawings of maps, castles and his half-built Mani house. The letters explain what propelled this desire: ‘whorish anxieties about being liked’. Underneath the titanium, pleasure-seeking exterior and the intellect lay melancholy, sparked by the failure to complete books on time – or at all, in the case of the third volume of his self-styled ‘Great Trudge’ memoir of his 1930s walk. Ever self-aware, he refers to himself as ‘L’Escargot des Carpathes’, a nickname first coined by Le Monde. He acknowledges, too, the inevitable ‘inaccuracies of memory’, which meant that journeys that had taken place half a century earlier were sexed up in his travel writing.

He is also aware of the selfishness of the affairs he conducted with the knowledge of his future wife, Joan, even as she subsidised him from her private income. The letters to his mistresses include grippingly salacious, easily decoded euphemisms. When he thinks he might have given crabs to Ricki Huston, wife of the film director John, he writes of ‘the beginnings of troop-movements in the fork’. And here’s an entry for the 1959 Bad Sex Award: ‘Woke up at midday, longing for ping-pong, and sentimentally stroked the handle of your cast-down bat.’

You get the impression that, after he was kicked out of King’s, Canterbury for holding hands with a greengrocer’s daughter, Leigh Fermor never really grew up; that he started walking across Europe, aged eighteen, and never properly stopped. References to his mother – ‘so terrifying and destructive … so full of odd delusions and manias’ – might explain why.

Adam Sisman is a model editor. He is prepared to admit faults in his subject, not least the baroque style of Leigh Fermor’s books, ‘which can seem convoluted and overworked’. Not so the letters, aimed more precisely at amusing rather than dazzling their recipients, albeit with the odd bit of purple prose – ‘Their horses are caparisoned to the fetlocks.’

Leigh Fermor was charm personified. It isn’t evanescent British charm, as described by Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited: ‘Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art.’ Leigh Fermor’s charm was of a healthier, more worthwhile variety, because underneath lay intellect and, ultimately, love and art.

Buy Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

How can one live as a sponger?

Yes indeed. How can one live as a sponger? Quite well apparently if Paddy’s letters are to be believed. Sara Wheeler was clearly not that impressed by Paddy the man but she does like the book.

An extract from a Guardian book review by Sara Wheeler

The late Patrick Leigh Fermor was born 11 years before Morris, and the pair have long shone among the brightest stars in the travel writing firmament. Besides Artemis Cooper’s biography, we have recently had a selection of letters between PLF and Deborah Devonshire (In Tearing Haste). This new offering, Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor, contains 174 letters spanning 70 years, from 1940 to 2010. What does it add?

When the volume opens our man is a 24-year-old officer cadet. Besides the chronological spread, the book has a geographical one, ranging from what is now Cameroon to Panama via Cyprus (Leigh Fermor devotes many fascinating pages to the 1956 Cyprus crisis). Much was written in the house the Leigh Fermors built in the 1960s in the Greek Mani.

Many characters and episodes are new. Lady Wentworth emerges wearing “a gigantic and very dishevelled auburn wig that looked as though it was made of strands from her stallions’ tails gathered off brambles”. Errol Flynn is “a tremendous shit but a very funny one”, and Leigh Fermor reports from his own groin, where he notes “troop movements in the fork” and has to tell an adulterous girlfriend that he has pubic lice. The references to Mt Athos are topical, given that Putin is buying up the holy mountain.

Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor is hugely entertaining, funny and occasionally moving. Leigh Fermor was a prodigious and discerning reader and his literary comments are a joy. He quotes in French, Greek, Latin, Romanian and Russian. As a counterweight, in almost every letter he conjures a scene, whether “a square pool of icy starlight in the cloisters” or Greece in autumn, “suddenly clean deep earth and vegetation colours after the rain, lighter veils of shadow cast by solids, evening air the colour of hock, pale magnesium shadows, clarity of vision … all the way to Mars”. Diana Cooper is one of his most regular correspondents. PLF describes her letter-writing as “dazzling hell-for-leather style” – the phrase applies to his own style just as well.

One tires of the endless references to titled friends. It undignifies the writer, almost irretrievably
Adam Sisman has edited the book brilliantly and meticulously. At times he is wittier than Leigh Fermor. The great man, the reader learns from Sisman’s note, has been commissioned to contribute a chapter to a book “with the arresting title Memorable Balls”.

Great fun it might all be, but the reader balks at the man who emerges from these pages. First, how can one live as a sponger? PLF spent most of the years covered here cadging opulent dwellings from rich friends. If the accommodation isn’t up to scratch, he complains, describing a “scribbling stopgap” on the Greek island of Evia as “hellish”. I’ve spent many weeks in that particular house. It’s lovely. But it’s small, plain and simple, so not to his maj’s liking. Second, one tires of the endless references to titled friends. It demeans the writer, almost irretrievably. The people he lives among in his Greek village, on the other hand, “are so backward they don’t know the difference between nice and nasty”.

… one is left wondering about the inner life. Leigh Fermor talks of “whorish anxieties about being liked”, as if everyone doesn’t have them, and bouts of “melancholia”. Who knows? As Morris wrote: “Is that how it was?”

Buy Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Dashing for the book: A lifetime of letters from Paddy Leigh Fermor

dashing for postWell. It is here. Almost. Coming soon!!. Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor is published on 6 October, but you can pre-order now. The long awaited anthology of Paddy’s letters to a wide circle of friends and correspondents to complement the wonderful In Tearing Haste, a volume of letters between himself and Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Something for the Christmas list perhaps?

by Justin Marozzi

First published in the Spectator

Here is a veritable feast for fans of Paddy Leigh Fermor. This is the story of a well-lived life through letters. The first is from a 24-year-old recruit eager to do battle with the enemy in 1940. The last is by a tottering nonagenarian of 2010, still hoping, 75 years after his ‘Great Trudge’ across Europe, that he might just finish the final volume that had eluded him for decades.

The anthology offers the most vivid explanation yet for why he didn’t. Letters were flying to and from all corners of the world — Adam Sisman reckons that Paddy wrote a whopping 5,000 to 10,000. There were parties to attend, cocktails to drink, countries and castles to visit, mountains to climb, literary-historical-geographical-anthropological quests to pursue, digressions to indulge, other books and articles to write along the way.

His wide array of correspondents reflected his interest in high society, literature and the arts, history, adventure, beautiful women and Greece, as well as an enduring gift for friendship. Apart from his beloved wife Joan, Deborah Devonshire, Ann Fleming and Diana Cooper were foremost among them. Then there was George Seferis, the poet, diplomat and Nobel laureate; the artist and sculptor Niko Ghika; George Katsimbalis, the ‘Colossus’ of letters; Lawrence Durrell; wartime brother in arms Xan Fielding; his lovers Princess Balasha Cantacuzène, Lyndall Birch and Ricki Huston. A regular recipient was his long-suffering publisher Jock Murray, a man of saintly patience.

Letters to Murray typically blend jaunty descriptions of place and adventures (the summer of 1959 found him playing lord of the manor in the castle of Passerano outside Rome, preparing to fly a ‘vast heraldic banner several yards square’ from the highest tower) with anguish and apologies for the endless tarrying and non-arrival of finished manuscripts. (‘No please don’t come here yet because I simply can’t face you till I hand over the completed vol., for shame, confusion etc.’) He agreed to write a foreword to the memoirs of Prince Michel Cantacuzène-Spéranski, kinsman of his first great love Balasha from his arrival in Athens in 1935 (he was 20, she was 36). In 2007, more than a decade later, he was still writing ruefully of his inability to get it done. ‘I am deeply sorry and penitent about behaving so hopelessly.’

Portrait of a youthful Patrick Leigh Fermor in Cretan costume, by Adrian Daintrey (oil on canvas), Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Portrait of a youthful Patrick Leigh Fermor in Cretan costume, by Adrian Daintrey (oil on canvas), Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Generally impecunious, he charmed his way into borrowing houses from friends, from Diana Cooper’s farmhouse in Bognor to Sir Walter and Lady Smart’s manor-house in the Eure. The plan was always to write, the irresistible counterweighing temptation was for amusement and company. In 1954, he was inviting Lawrence Durrell to come and stay with him on Hydra, where he was staying in Niko Ghika’s mansion: ‘It’s the best bit of high-level cadging I’ve done for years, a real haul.’

Philhellene to the core, he was never keen on the Turks. One suspects he had never forgiven them for taking Constantinople (he couldn’t bear to call it Istanbul) in 1453. ‘I admire their undoubted stirring qualities — honesty, courage and so on — but have never managed to like them or be amused by them,’ he wrote to Freya Stark in 1953.

Luigi Barzini once likened reading Norman Lewis’s prose to ‘eating cherries’. Readers of this collection may feel the same thing. The prose is simultaneously poised and effervescent, polymathic in its dazzling range of references but never pompous. The funeral of the Duke of Devonshire in 2003, he wrote to his lifelong friend John Julius Norwich, was ‘a mixture of a vicarage garden party and the Field of the Cloth of Gold’. Hydriot girls in plastic high-heeled shoes and ‘blinding satin dresses of apple green, scarlet, royal blue and petunia… look exactly like boiled sweets’.

Though there are a few bleak times, including a letter to Colin Thubron in which he confesses to feeling ‘rather gloomy’ about not being included in a Times list of the 50 greatest writers since 1945, mostly they are banished by high spirits. He pokes fun at John Betjeman with an excruciating parody. The first verse sets the tone.

Eagle-borne spread of the Authorised Version!
Beadles and bell ropes! Pulpits and pews!
Sandwiches spread for a new excursion
And patum peperium under the yews!

And how about the impromptu limerick about a dubious cleric.

The Archbishop of Spetsai & Hydra
Condemned bestial vice ex-cathedra.
(But he rogered a bay-horse
Outside the pronaos
And a skewbald inside the exedra.)

For all his love of the great and the good, outright wealth on the grandest scale bored him. ‘There is something colossally depressing about contact with the very rich,’ he wrote after rubbing shoulders with Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos in the Aegean. ‘What I want to know is: why the hell don’t they have more fun with their money?’

Sisman has done a tremendous job selecting and editing this treasure-trove of letters. The guide to the dramatis personae and footnotes double up as a concise version of Debrett’s and pick up on literary references that would escape a lesser writer and reader.

In the last letter here, from 2010, Paddy expresses the by now familiar worry and apprehension about finishing that elusive third volume to complete the trilogy with A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, perhaps his most admired titles. He closes with the hope that ‘perhaps it will all be OK in the end’. It was.

Buy Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Dashing for the Post

dashing for postJohn Murray continues to offer us new insights into Paddy’s life and times. They will publish a collection of letters penned by Paddy on 6 October 2016.

The collection entitled Dashing for the Post was announced on 11th February on what would have been Leigh Fermor’s 101st birthday.

John Murray says the letters will exhibit many of his “endearing characteristics”, including “his zest for life, his unending curiosity, his keen sense of place, his lyrical descriptive powers, his love of words, his fluency in a remarkable range of languages, his boyish exuberance, and his sense of fun”.

Many of the letters are written to friends and family, but the collection also includes correspondence with Ian Fleming, Nancy Mitford, Lawrence Durrell, Diana Cooper and Deborah Devonshire.

Exclusive material will be taken from the National Library of Scotland, as well as letters drawn from private collections in the UK and abroad.

Adam Sisman, the book’s editor, is an honorary fellow of the University of St Andrews and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Dashing for the Post will be published in hardback and e-book on 6th October 2016. John Murray publisher Roland Philipps bought world rights from the Leigh Fermor estate.

Philipps said: “Paddy Leigh Fermor was one of the greatest prose stylists of the twentieth century. His letters have his hallmark high spirits, marvellous humour, magpie-like mind for the telling fact, erudition, linguistic mastery and sheer brilliance. Eight years ago In Tearing Haste (John Murray) Paddy’s letters to and from the Duchess of Devonshire, was a major bestseller. Dashing for the Post has his full range of correspondents, and is even more of a joy than that first book.”

You can pre-order Dashing for the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor by clicking here.