Monday, 2 September 2013

Jocelyn Brooke and Peter Warlock

     So, what is the link between Jocelyn Brooke, Peter Warlock and Geoffrey Poynton? And was Poynton the young friend of Brooke's who, moreover, may have been considering writing a biography of Warlock?
The Goose Cathedral dustwrapper biography

     The original post which had caught my eye was posted by John Mitchell of the Peter Warlock Society and I got in touch. John has the benefit of living in the area Brooke writes about and he had written an article for the Society Journal (Spring 2009) entitled:

Peter Warlock and The Scapegoat 


The article explores Brooke's relationship with Warlock and why he used as an epigraph to The Scapegoat the last nine bars of the first of Warlock's Folk-song Preludes for piano. It is an excellent article and concludes that the field where the novel's denoument takes place (called California) was where Brooke had a very unsettling experience when a boy and he uses that sense of a malevolent place at the novel's end. And Brooke's choice of the final bars was probably because it:

     has a certain eerie, brooding quality about it (the tune here is concealed within the harmonic texture above and around it).

Brooke was asked whether the character in The Scapegoat was based upon Warlock. Brooke replied:

     There is no correlation at all, at least, not conciously intended, between the boy in 'The Scapegoat' and Heseltine. I have always found Heseltine a fascinating character, and had certainly read Cecil Gray's biography when I wrote the novel, but the reason for the musical quotation was purely personal: I had been playing that Prelude a lot while I was writing the book, and it became closely associated for me with the story, and with the landscapes (in the neighbourhood of this village) which form its background.

      All this seems to be quite plain, now: Brooke knew of Warlock and in playing the Folk-song Preludes at the time he composed The Scapegoat he felt the text and music had a malevolent resonence. 
     So where does Poynton come into this? One of the poems in December Spring (published 1946) is dedicated to Poynton. So at some stage in the gestation of this book, and certainly at the time of its publication, Brooke was close to Poynton. This fits with my copy of Ronal Firbank's Cardinal Pirelli with Brooke's dedication to Poynton dated July 1946.
     When I enquired further about why Poynton was thought to be young (at the time) it appears that the real Geoffrey Poynton, who we know so little about, has been conflated with an unnamed man mentioned in some of Brooke's letters to Nina Hamnett in 1947. I am grateful to John Mitchell for this background which is the result of research into Brooke carried out by Jonathan Hunt. Again, thanks are due to him. In the first of these letters in July 1947, Brooke relates:

        I am meeting a young friend of mine (from these parts) who contemplates
        writing a life of Peter Warlock


and in October of the same year:

      I’ll tell my young man about Moeran and Cecil Gray [friends of Warlock] –  though I haven’t seen him lately:  I  think  he  has  a  schoolmastering  job  somewhere  and  last  time  I saw him (he) disgraced me by getting helplessly tight at Bertorelli’s.


I think that equating this 'young man' (who Brooke fails to name twice in the latter part of 1947) with Geoffrey Poynton, who we not only know that Brooke was close to in the middle of 1946 (from the dedication in Cardinal Pirelli) but was sufficiently open about to publicly dedicate a poem to him in the same year, is perhaps a step too far. Brooke is not even certain about what and where his job is: I  think  he  has  a  schoolmastering  job  somewhere. Surely this cannot be Poynton who at this time he might have known well for up to two years?
     The conclusion I draw, then, is that Brooke did know a young man in 1947 who was contemplating a biography of Warlock but this was not Poynton. Brooke was a renowned drinker, particularly in the heavy-drinking Fitzrovia social scene, so his young friend's helplessly tightness in a Fitzrovia eaterie may have spelled the end of their friendship. The Warlock biography may well have been a suggestion of Brooke's which then died, the Peter Warlock Society is not aware of any such work.
     So we are left with Geoffrey Poynton in 1946, a man who falls within a rather large set of men who were not thinking of writing a biography of Peter Warlock. Apart from this negative knowledge, we know nothing.

     It is worth just sketching out a timeline for the publication of Brooke's earlier, relevant works here:

     December Spring                  1946 
     The Scapegoat                      1948 
     The Military Orchid                1948     

     A Mine of Serpents                1949     

     The Goose Cathedral             1950     
 
Jonathan Hunt, writing in 2002, gives an accurate timeline for the creation of some of these works:

     On his return to England in November 1945 he resumed novel writing, and   by March 1946 had completed 'The Scapegoat' ... The Bodley Head had already accepted 'December Spring', a collection of his poems, in January... In this flurry of literary activity, Brooke also resumed work on a botanical monograph, 'The Wild Orchids of Britain'...'The Military Orchid', which Brooke also completed at speed, finishing it in August 1946
 
     Rather than being an elitist pursuit, reading Brooke's first editions was a revelation to me. Of course, all three volumes of the Orchid Trilogy have dustwrappers of interest and the first two are illustrated, something my King Penguin had omitted.  
     A Mine of Serpents is astonishing. There are many photographic plates of old etchings, mostly of Dover, a frontispiece view of Sandgate from the sailing-ship-infested sea, plus pictures - mostly of fireworks - which begin and end each of the six parts of the novel. In fact, the King Penguin edition omits this final half sentence of the Author's Note:

    and the pictures of fireworks are from the (pre-war) catalogue of Messrs. C. T. Brock's 'Crystal Palace' Fireworks, Ltd., who most kindly allowed me to use them.

No mention is made of where the photographic plates are taken from and there is no listing of the illustrations. Whilst the 'suppressed' section of the Author's Note speaks of pictures of fireworks there are three images which end three sections of the novel which have a more oceanographic theme:

     The Watertower ends with a giant squid/octopus
     Bouquet of Gerbs ends with a triple tornado at sea, and
     Nanny Defeated ends with an almost organic ancient submarine (I think!)

The Submarine?
As I write, I cannot see (sea?) the relevance of these three images. Admittedly, near the beginning of The Watertower there is a reference to:

     like de Lautreamont before his octopus, I was thrilled by a sense of romantic evil.
The Squid/Octopus
These images - and the fireworks - do have a surreal quality and, combined with the old etchings, have the feel of a series of emerging surrealist collages along the lines of Ernst or, indeed, Brooke himself in his outstandingly different book of text and images, The Crisis in Bulgaria Or Ibsen to the Rescue! published in 1956.

     The Author's Note reworks the information in the other two Orchid Trilogy novels by saying:

     None of the characters is entirely fictitious; none, on the other hand,  attempts to be a 'truthful' portrait...(they) are all composite characters.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that all fiction writers are liars - that is what they do for a job - and really their job isn't to pick over their own work and tell us what it 'means.' In doing so they can become, at best, mild misdirectors, or, at their worst, deliberate smokescreen creators. And, in these three novels, Brooke has several stabs at it.
     So, returning to my sheep; my previous supposition that Geoffrey Poynton could be the 'real' Eric Anquetil of The Goose Cathedral. Maybe it is too strong a claim but, looking more closely now at this character, the narrator's only friend from his year at Oxford, he is not a constant feature of the three novels. From a quick re-reading, he (or, at any rate, a character with that name) does not occur in The Military Orchid at all but, in A Mine of Serpents, when Brooke is developing a taste for 'low life', he goes to Dover:

     One night my brother, my friend Eric and myself were sitting over drinks in the bar of the Grand Hotel...

Thereafter Eric appears many times and, when they return to London, and go to the Fitzroy, it is revealed:

     At last we escaped; Eric and I were staying in Chelsea...

together, I presume. Whilst this character is not given a surname, he must be the same Eric as Anquetil, the drinking and low life vouch for that. As his friend from Oxford, that places the beginning of their friendship in 1927 and lasting until, at least, the Sandgate beach immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II in 1939 (from The Goose Cathedral.) If he indeed is an, at least, partial fictionalisation of Poynton, then this friendship is far more than a passing relationship.
     Not conclusive, I know, but I'm just about to go the Greece, so am curtailing my investigations.
 




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