Monday, June 13, 2011

PLF 2: Letters from Geoffrey Household

Sadly, I never corresponded with Patrick Leigh Fermor, but I did for many years with the adventurous old "suspense" story writer Geoffrey Household (as so many perceptive critics wrote, he was so much more than that, including a naturalist, a regionalist, and a chronicler of the same old lost Europe that Leigh Fermor also celebrated). Some of his best works are still or at least recently in print, though they were written from the thirties into the eighties: Rogue Male, in which an English big game hunter with a secret stalks a Hitler figure until he becomes the prey; 1965's Dance of the Dwarfs, a cryptozoological novel with several twists; and the one I read first, 1960's Watcher in the Shadows, still another tale of being stalked. Household's knowledge of nature and animals gave him an intuition and sympathy for prey that many writers of such novels lacked.*

I will write about Geoffrey's own work, but that must wait. Suffice to say that in the winter of 86-87, having been recently widowed, I wrote to him asking if he had known PLF, whose Woods & Water I had just finished. I figured with his background-- among other things, he had lived in Bucharest and Greece for many years before the war, and been in British Intelligence-- he might have. I just wanted to do something new-- walk across Europe, perhaps?

Geoffrey wrote back with enthusiasm; we had written to each other for some time, and I think he was worried for me. Of course, he HAD known "Paddy" during the war.

(I'll follow each letter with a blown- up text of the relevant part, as the handwriting of an 87- year- old- man can be as bad as that of a 61- year old with Parkinson's-- click twice and they are more legible than the originals!)

He apparently thought the matter over, then, perhaps forgetting his previous note, wrote what may have been his last letter to me in the fall before his death the next year at 88. His handwriting had deteriorated, but he could still command a phrase.

Desperados indeed. As David Pryce- Jones said this morning: "Could there be men like that again? In these thin days I doubt it..."

*Geoffrey's short story collections are not "suspense" and are much harder to find but worth the effort. Start with Sabres on the Sand or The Europe that Was.

UPDATE: In the introductory essay to the NYTBR ed of Rogue Male, linked above (click on "See Inside"), Virginia Nelson writes "...One can't help but wondering if his path crossed that of the notable English picaro Patrick Leigh Fermor..."

UPDATE 2: The wonderful Patrick Leigh Fermor blog is now on our blogroll (right). More to come I'm sure...

1 comment:

HTTrainer said...

Re: "Could there be men like that again? In these thin days I doubt it..."

Wow, since you first posted about Leigh-Fermor I have struggled to write something that captures him and others like him.
These are thin times, indeed.