SOFKA ZINOVIEFF ON LORD BERNERS & SELINA HASTINGS ON THE RED EARL
Sofka Zinovieff on her book – The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother & Me
Faringdon House in Oxfordshire was the home of Lord Berners, composer, writer, painter, friend of Stravinsky and Gertrude Stein, a man renowned for his eccentricity – masks, practical jokes, a flock of multi-coloured doves – and his homosexuality. Before the war he made Faringdon an aesthete’s paradise, where exquisite food was served to many of the great minds, beauties and wits of the day.
Since the early thirties his companion there was Robert Heber-Percy, twenty-eight years his junior, wildly physical, unscholarly, a hothead who rode naked through the grounds, loved cocktails and nightclubs, and was known to all as the Mad Boy. If the two men made an unlikely couple, at a time when homosexuality was illegal, the addition to the household in 1942 of a pregnant Jennifer Fry, a high society girl known to be ‘fast’, as Robert’s wife was simply astounding.
After Victoria was born the marriage soon foundered (Jennifer later married Alan Ross). Berners died in 1950, leaving Robert in charge of Faringdon, aided by a ferocious Austrian housekeeper who strove to keep the same culinary standards in a more austere age. This was the world Sofka Zinovieff, Victoria’s daughter, a typical child of the sixties, first encountered at the age of seventeen. Eight years later, to her astonishment, Robert told her he was leaving her Faringdon House.
Her book about Faringdon and its people is marvellously witty and full of insight, bringing to life a vanished world and the almost fantastical people who lived in it.
Selina Hastings on
In The Red Earl Selina Hastings tells the extraordinary story of her father, Jack Hastings, 16th Earl of Huntingdon. In 1925, Hastings infuriated his ultra-conservative parents by turning his back on centuries of tradition to make a scandalous run-away marriage. With his beautiful Italian wife he then left England for the other side of the world, further enraging his family by determining on a career as a painter.
The couple settled first in Australia, then on the island of Moorea in the South Pacific. Here, they led an idyllic existence until a bizarre accident forced them to leave the tropics forever. En route back to England, they stopped for a year in California, where Hastings continued to paint while enjoying a glamorous social life with actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.
While in San Francisco, Hastings met the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and persuaded him to take him on as an assistant. For the next nearly four years he lived at close quarters with Rivera and with his wife, Frida Kahlo, first in San Francisco, then Detroit, and finally Mexico City. When eventually Hastings returned home it was to be faced with fighting on all fronts: in Spain during the Civil War; in England with his parents; and lastly with his wife, determined to keep him locked into a marriage from which by now he was desperate to escape.
This enthralling story, superbly well written, not only gives a new perspective on two of the 20th-century s greatest artists, Rivera and Kahlo, but also reveals in fascinating detail the private life of an aristocratic family of 100 years ago.