[Quennell is reminiscing about the 1930s: he is married to S, but an admirer of Diana Mitford, who at that time was married to Bryan Guinness]
[My wife] S was bitterly displeased when I formed a romantic devotion to the beautiful wife of an old Oxford friend. My affection was harmless enough. But I frequently visited her house, and passed an hour or two in her enchanting company…
Her range of friends was wide; and she greeted all her guests with a similarly appreciative but dreamy smile. Tete-a-tete, the expression she most often assumed was one of fascinated astonishment. ‘I can’t believe it!’ she would bring out, opening her large blue eyes, in which floated particularly small pupils…
[At a Roman fancy dress party in 1932] D. performed the role of the Empress Poppaea, immaculately robed and coiffed. Later that evening, a group of Roman courtiers assembled round Poppaea’s throne. S was among us; but suddenly I saw her rise; and for the next few seconds I observed the whole scene in cinematic ‘slow-motion’. Near the throne stood a magnum of champagne; or perhaps it was a jereboam. Very gradually her sandalled foot lifted; slowly her right heel touched the bottle. It tilted; and a foaming flood of wine poured out over Poppaea’s silken skirts….
observations: Not getting obsessed with Diana Mosley… but after the recent entry in which I commented on how odd her eyes look in photographs, it was interesting to read this from one of her admirers. He also mentions that when he says something she doesn’t like, ‘a wave of sharp annoyance seemed to sweep beneath the surface of her eyes, which became a colder, even paler blue.’
Peter Quennell was a man of letters and man about town of the era, but is now pretty much forgotten – he produced a huge body of work, but none of it seems to be in print. He knew all the usual suspects (Evelyn Waugh is always horribly rude about him) and this autobiography is only really of interest because of the other people who pop up in it.
In fact there is more than a touch of the Pooters here – the surprise that his wife objects to his admiration for the great beauty, the insertion of ‘perhaps it was a jereboam’. (He’s lucky he wasn’t charged for the champagne, like Pooter at the Volunteers’ Ball). He is extremely snobbish, and rather pleased with himself: he congratulates himself on his writing style, but on the evidence of this book it was correct but pedestrian. He tries to be discreet: he doesn't at any point name either Diana or Bryan Guinness.
In the past year we featured a large number of entries based on Nina Hamnett’s Bohemian memoirs, The Laughing Torso – there are a lot of similarities with this book, and neither of them is particularly well-written (again, with Hamnett, you read to find out about her friends). But Hamnett’s book is a lot more fun. But we will surely be revisiting Quennell on the blog because of the breadth of his acquaintance.
The picture shows Diana Guinness (as she then was) dressed as Poppaea at the party at the Savoy, presumably before the incident described above (and while obviously it is wrong to damage a dress in this way, you can’t help admiring S). On the right is Robert Byron, another of the 1930s figures always popping up in biographies, diaries and letters.