Tag Archive: Napper Dean Paul


Brenda Dean Paul

This is a guest post from Chris Hallam. Chris is working on a major project, examining British drug sub-cultures and the authorities’ responses to them from the 1920s to the 1950s. This work will shed light on a hitherto neglected history, taking us from the era covered by Marek Kohn in “Dope Girls” up to the much more extensively documented Sixties’ drug “explosion”. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to contribute this piece about the iconic Miss Dean Paul, whose exploits have hovered around the edges of this Blog since day one.

Tony de Gandarillas,“Napper” Dean Paul, Marjorie Firminger, Brenda Dean Paul and Jane Carlys – Chelsea 1929

 

“Saint Brenda


On Brenda Dean Paul- for ‘Cocktails with Elvira’


Brenda Dean Paul, baronet’s daughter and Bright Young Person, was born in Kensington, West London in 1907, three years after her brother Napier (‘Napper’ Dean Paul). She would become (in)famous as the ‘society drug addict’ whose court cases blazed a trail of aristocratic decadence across the 1930s, 40s and 50s, dying in 1959 from- improbably enough- natural causes. Her drug using career, which was followed with avid interest by the national press, linked the aristocratic Bohemias of the 1930s- the sort of ‘set’ explored throughout these pages- to the jazz scene and beat subcultures of the 50s, when post-war affluence brought forth a flourish of new youth cultures.


Brenda’s drug use probably began with the regular use of alcohol and those ‘pick-me-ups’ available over the counter at pharmacies; she first used heroin in Paris in the late 1920s at a party held at an artist’s studio. This artist may or may not have been Jean Cocteau, enfant terrible of French culture, who came to be regarded as second only to Thomas de Quincey as drugs-corrupter-in-chief of gilded English youth. In her autobiography, Brenda tells us that a round of dissipation in the night clubs of Paris led to a collapse in her health, and that she acquired her celebrated habit while undergoing treatment with morphine in a Parisian clinic. Either way, whether by medicine or pleasure, Brenda appears to have been one of those individuals for whom opiate drugs represent a vocation, a kind of calling. Once called, Brenda never looked back. In the early years, there were many attempts at cures, it is true; countless times she would suffer the agonies of withdrawal in a string of nursing homes across London and the shires. But the cures did not take, and she always returned to her syringe and her drugs.

Brenda and Napper


It’s important to understand that the use of hypodermic morphine was prevalent in parts of the elite classes of England in the early twentieth century. Historian Virginia Berridge reminds us of the case of Lady Diana Cooper who, together with Katharine Asquith (the prime minister’s daughter-in-law), lay ‘in ecstatic stillness through too short a night, drugged in very deed by my hand with morphia’. Although the police cracked down on the street trade in cocaine in the capital during the Great War and the 1920s, they left the aristocracy alone. If the upper classes got into trouble with their drug use, they attended one of a number of private nursing homes that would treat their withdrawal symptoms with gentle reduction cures, bed rest and champagne. Lady Diana, though, was an occasional user. ‘I hope she won’t become a morphineuse’, wrote her husband Duff Cooper, soon to be Britain’s ambassador to Paris: ‘It would spoil her looks.’

Brenda in the 1950s

It did not spoil Brenda’s looks, though- she remained in possession of a singular beauty throughout her life; but her existence was to become difficult as the British state, which had hurriedly criminalised drug use under the ubiquitous Defence of the Realm Acts (and formalised this status in the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act), began a remorseless pursuit of Brenda Dean Paul and her small circle of associates. This pursuit did not really begin until the early 1930s, when that circle included her brother Napier, her close friend and lover Anthea Carew, and various other members of a network which came and went, while Brenda sailed on, steadfast in her narcotic orbit.
As early as 1931 the Metropolitan police had her under almost continual surveillance. Brenda’s first drug prosecution occurred in late 1931, after her father had visited Scotland Yard to beg the police to stop his daughter obtaining drugs. By this time, a warrant had already been issued for her arrest on seven counts of receiving dual supplies of morphine (addicts could be supplied with heroin, cocaine or morphine by their doctors, but Brenda had gone to several doctors at once, which was frowned upon).

Detective Sergeant Griffey of Scotland Yard was tasked with arresting Brenda, but discovered that she had vanished from London. Enquiries traced her to Devon, where she had spent her childhood. On a cold November night, as Brenda waited in her motor car outside the local doctor’s surgery while her maid collected her morphine script (that’s how it was done in those days), a torch flashed in Brenda’s face. ‘Are you Miss Brenda Dean Paul?’ asked a harsh voice. ‘I am an Inspector Sergeant from Scotland Yard and I would like to speak to you…’ The detective issued her with seven summons to appear at Marlborough Street Police Court (as magistrates’ courts were then known) under the Dangerous Drugs Act. Later that night, Anthea Carew drove her back to Chelsea through the pouring rain as they frantically tried to prepare for the case, which might easily result in a prison sentence.

Brenda outside court 1933


In the event, she was bound over by the magistrate and ordered to stay at a London nursing home, and later at the home of her doctor, Dr Fleming, the latest in a long list of medical men (the term was current) to oversee her treatment. While she was unhappily incarcerated at Fleming’s Regents Park house, she was visited by Anthea Carew and other drug using friends. It was Fleming who informed the Home Office that he believed Anthea was smuggling drugs and syringes in for Brenda, and a warrant was in turn issued for her arrest. She left immediately for Devon; like Brenda, she had grown up there, her father being the Dean of Exeter cathedral. She sped off in a hired Daimler, for which the cheque later bounced. These women liked to travel in style.
The two had stayed together in the Park Lane Hotel, but the hotel management did not take kindly to hedonistic goings on within its hallowed interiors. The night porter was called to Anthea’s room and found the pair in a state of advanced intoxication, one in bed, the other sitting on the bed ‘in an almost nude condition’. The women were told that they were ‘not regarded as suitable guests and were informed that…their room was required’. They promptly shifted their base of operations to the Dorchester. While the years between the wars saw a growing acceptance of contraception and of the value of sex within marriage, marginal forms of sexuality remained tightly policed.


It is notable that authorities such as hotel managers and pharmacists were keen to collaborate with the Met in their surveillance of Brenda’s network; their drug taking and erotic practices transgressed cultural norms and created an ongoing scandal in interwar Britain. A series of inter-related court cases in the summer of 1932 saw both feature heavily in national and even international newspapers; in the US, Brenda was viewed as an example of the ‘Decaying Aristocracy’, those blue-bloods who ‘had drunk too deeply of life’s pleasures’ and now cut pathetic figures.

Brenda and Anthea Carew leaving court


Both Brenda and Anthea Carew served sentences in Holloway prison. For a tiny band of cultural subversives, they drew an amazing amount of attention from Britain’s authorities- from the Home Office, the police and courts, and the newspapers, largely because, as Marek Kohn has pointed out, drugs came to stand as a symbol for those aspects of social change which the conservative order found threatening and alarming.”

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Clubs – Smokey Joe’s

On the day of her acquittal Elvira apparently held a “celebration” party at the Berkeley Hotel. Some time after midnight, along with two friends -one male,  one female, she turned up at Smokey Joe’s, a basement drinking club in Gerrard Street. There she invited another customer, in fact her future biographer, Peter Cotes,  to dance. They shuffled around to a “blues” played by “a solitary jazz pianist”. Elvira then asked Cotes to join her party, but he declined. Unsurprisingly, his description of her is deeply unflattering – she “staggered” and had “a heaviness about the jowl”. He ends by saying that Elvira “danced no better than she shot”.

I was inclined to be a little suspicious of this anecdote, the chance encounter is a little too fortuitous. But Cotes was acting in the West End at the time and that Elvira would have gone on from the party to a late-night club hardly strains credibility.

The fictional sounding Smokey Joe’s was a real place and features in a number of autobiographical memoirs.

Variously spelt (Smokie,Smoky,Smokey), it had a pretty bad reputation but is fondly remembered by a number of very different characters from very different backgrounds. Safecracker (and Double Agent) Eddie Chapman lists it, along with the Nest, Hell, the Shim Sham and the Gaucho, as a regular haunt. The Irish aristocrat and humorist, Patrick Campbell recalls a late-night session there and for Gerwyn Lewis, shortly to leave England to become a teacher in Malaya and later a P.O.W.  working on the infamous Burma “Death Railway”, it was his “very favourite” night spot.

Lewis, a naive young man at the time, liked the fact that the place was always full of women. He later realised that this was because it was largely a Lesbian club. Violet Powell, the wife of Anthony Powell, took a less relaxed view, describing Smokey Joe’s as the bottom rung of Soho’s ladder of vice – not least because women danced openly with each other. I’m not quite sure why the Powells ever ventured into any arena less salubrious than a country house  weekend, as their respective memoirs consist of a series of well-articulated exercises in holding the nose when it comes to London clubs. Violet , after a couple of evenings slumming it at the Nest on Kingly Street, felt the need to have her coat destroyed ( I assume she was unfamiliar with the smell of marijuana – the Nest being reputedly the first club where “reefers” were openly smoked).

Joe Deniz, guitarist at The Nest, The Shim Sham Club, The Cuba Club and the Cafe De Paris

Most of these tales come from the late thirties. Whether the club catered to the same clientele in 1932, I can’t say. It definitely already had a reputation for ignoring the licencing laws and was popular with “theatrical” types. That it lasted throughout the decade is something of a marvel.

The most peculiar story concerning Smokey Joe’s is that Napper Dean Paul worked there, around 1939, as an” impersonation act”, presumably a drag act. Famously, his sister was reduced to being a waitress around the same time, albeit at the far more respectable Lansdowne Club in Mayfair. Given the amount of chicanery and petty larceny that Napper is accused of in the period, one can only assume that the wages weren’t great.

Brenda Dean Paul 1941

Gerrard Street was awash with clubs, many of which have achieved mythical status. Most were basement premises, a few were on the top floor. The best known is, of course, the 43, presided over by the “Queen of the West End”, Kate Meyrick.  Despite its appearance in many a Bright Young novel, its drug connections and patronage by the likes of Brilliant Chang and Darby Sabini, the 43 was relatively mainstream. More interesting are the “black” club Cuba ( later the site of Ronnie Scott’s), the mysteriously named and long lasting White Monkey, Bee Vee’s  ( possibly a gay club), the charmingly (and apparently appropriately) entitled Hell and the first venture into club-land by Muriel Belcher, The Sphinx. Belcher, in partnership with Dolly Mayers opened that venue in the mid-thirties before moving on to the Music Box in Leicester Square. Early members of which included Brian Howard and Sandy Baird. Belcher was to achieve lasting fame with the Colony drinking club after WW2 but it is often forgotten that her roots lay in the “raffish” 1930s.

Muriel Belcher with the Colony club’s most famous resident drunk, Francis Bacon. (Brian Howard first introduced Bacon to the place)

All in all, Elvira could have hardly chose a more fitting environment to round off her first night of freedom.

Napper at the Fitzroy Tavern

In my post on Anna Wickham, I was a little skeptical of Peter Cotes’ claim that she spent a lot of time with Elvira, post-trial ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/anna-wickham/) .What I may have missed is the fact that Anna Wickham knew Napper Dean Paul, the two having met in the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street. If there was a relationship between the two women, Napper may well be the link.

Fitzroy Tavern

The Fitzroy was the pub that bequeathed the name to the geographical and ideological space that was previously known as “North Soho”.  Although there were plenty of artists knocking around,It was predominantly a literary pub and drinking club culture, very different to Chelsea or the “raffish pseudo-smart Bohemia” of Elvira’s friends. Its most famous resident figure was Dylan Thomas, the most representative female denizens were Betty May and Nina Hamnett, its great chronicler was Julian MacLaren Ross and its highpoint was probably the years of the Second World War. Like many sub-cultural spaces, it was not hermetically sealed and the overlaps between Cafe Royal Bohemia,Fitzrovia, Soho Proper, Chelsea, Bloomsbury and the remnants of the Bright Young People are many and various.

According to Hugh David, in The Fitzrovians, the impulse which created “Fitzrovia” (the name came later; ironically it was coined by Tom Driberg , a prominent Bright Young Person) was the the invasion, by Smart Society, of previous Bohemian haunts such as the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Soho. Genuine Bohemians, principally Augustus John and Nina Hamnett, turned to certain pubs which they thought would not appeal to the fashionable and frivolous. This may well be true but the example David gives is unfortunate.

He states “By 1927 the Eiffel had become just another place to eat.” and then proceeds to illustrate this by quoting Nina Hamnett’s listing of some of those “ordinary” diners.Included in this list are some of Elvira’s cocktail guests,

“At the Eiffel Tower one evening I met Ruth Baldwin, whom I had known sometime before. She shared a house with Jo Carstairs, the motor-boat racing girl.”

Now, if Hugh David thinks that Ruth and Jo represent mainstream smart society , then he just hasn’t done his homework. To me, the quote actually illustrates an even more complex relationship between the different strands of “alternative” London in the period than generally assumed. Nonetheless, it is true that a section of (largely male) artists and writers deliberately distanced themselves ( publicly at least) from the more “Mayfair” aspects of the High Bohemia of the twenties.

William Roberts’s portrait of the Eiffel Tower in its Vorticist heyday

Part  of impulse for this move was down to an overt rejection of  the decidedly upper-class ambience of both Bloomsbury and Mayfair, part of it was simply a shift in cultural mood between the 1920s and 1930s. In some cases, it was purely economic, pub life being somewhat cheaper than the life on the salon and night-club circuit. For Napper, it was probably the latter, as these were very lean years for him.

Brenda and Brian

Although the newspapers of the 1930s focussed on Brenda’s exploits, Brian Dean Paul’s tribulations were every bit as dramatic and his decline every bit as steep.Never in possession of much money, he was now reduced to borrowing from his dwindling band of friends, shoplifting and stealing objects from the homes of anyone foolish enough to let him stay with them.Many found him an unsavoury figure some were sorry for him (the phrase “poor Napper” crops up frequently) . One or two people do appear to have genuinely liked him.

Brenda and Brian Dean Paul

One of those, improbable as it may seem, was Dylan Thomas, another associate of Anna Wickham and himself not always the most gracious of house guests. The following anecdote, from Andrew Lycett’s biography of Thomas, illustrates something of the chaos of Dylan and Napper’s existence. It takes place at the beginning of the War in the London home of the South African writer, Lorna Wilmot.

“Having unfettered access to a handsome mansion block property went to Dylan’s head. Unhinged by drink and depression he invited two low-life friends to join him. The upshot was that several of Wilmot’s prized possessions, including silver, furs, a gramophone and a typewriter, went missing. When she returned home, she was incensed to find not only had these items disappeared, but also her flat was strewn with half-eaten meals, and with love-letters belonging to one of Dylan’s friends, a Fitzroy denizen known as Mab Farrogate, and the clothing and make-up of another, the cross-dressing Brian Dean Paul.”

Brian and Brenda in more opulent times

Lycett continues

“Over the previous three years there had been strong indications that Dylan had been taking drugs. His paranoia following his trip to London in December 1938 strongly suggests a reaction to a bad drug experience. His association with Napper Dean Paul confirms his involvement with London’s prevalent drug sub-culture.”  – which was news to me but does make sense.

All this took place after Elvira’s death but if Napper, Anna and Dylan had all met prior to 1936 (which is likely) then Elvira might also have been around. I still can’t see her sitting comfortably in the Wheatsheaf or the Fitzroy but their clientele included familiar faces such as John Banting, Barbara Ker-Seymer and, occasionally, Brian Howard, which might have made her feel more at home.Remember, Elvira post-trial was something of an outcast herself and the louche and the liquor-fuelled were never exactly anathema to her.

Dylan Thomas

Curiously, during his Fitzrovia period Napper married (disastrously, I imagine) Muriel Lillie. Muriel was the elder sister of comedienne and cabaret star Beatrice Lillie, who though now Lady Peel, had her own history of association with drug scandals. Early in her career she had been a close friend of Billie Carleton, whose death by overdose after the 1918 Victory Ball had triggered the first great “moral panic” over women and cocaine use. The ghost of Billie Carleton hovered over the whole inter-war drug scene, the scandal inspired Coward’s play “The Vortex” and her name cropped up in many a discussion about the presumed imminent demise of the wayward Brenda.

Billie Carleton

 

A Spirit Message for Napper

I have been trawling around for anecdotes relating to Elvira’s and Billy Milton’s friend, Napper Dean Paul – the disreputable but rather engaging brother of the much better known Brenda. I’ll post some of these shortly but this snippet (which, I freely admit, has nothing really to do with Elvira) struck me as so singular and downright odd that I thought I’d share it.

It comes from “The Wisdom of the Gods” by H.Dennis Bradley, which is an account of his researches into the spirit world. Spiritualism was very popular in the aftermath of the First world War and, along with Theosophy, had quite a following in artistic and alternative circles. The book  consists largely of supposedly verbatim reports of seances, most of which took place in Chelsea, in the years 1924 and 1925.

H. Dennis Bradley

“Mr. John De Forest has a dramatic experience: Theodora giving him a message to “Napper “—The spirit of T. W. H. Crosland tries to speak and fails—The author is satisfied

January 12, 1925

AFTER the failure of my first experiment on my resumption of personal mediumship, I had no intention of holding a further séance until a full week had elapsed. On this day, however, a friend of Anthony’s, Mr. John De Forest, a younger son of Baron De Forest, was dining with us. Mr. De Forest had no knowledge of spiritualism, but having heard of certain of my experiences, introduced the subject and discussed it with avidity. After dinner he was extremely desirous that we should make an experiment. I was not at all anxious to go, but eventually, as my son was also keen, and as he was returning to Cambridge the next day, I agreed.

“The circle therefore consisted of my wife and myself, Anthony, and Mr. John De Forest.

Anthony asked me if I would mind the jazz instruments being placed in the middle of the circle. I told him that he could do exactly as he pleased. The luminous trumpet was, as usual, also placed in the centre of the room. Lights were turned off and the gramophone turned on. Within five or six minutes after the second record had been played, the luminous trumpet was taken up, moved quickly all round the circle and taken up towards the ceiling. On a jazz record being played, the drum and cymbals were played in syncopated time. When Galli-Curci and Battistini records were played, the trumpet was lifted and the songs were conducted. I asked the question : “Was that Palastrina conducting?” and a very loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative.”

Palastrina ( probably not pondering about the arrival of jazz)

“After about twenty minutes the trumpet was lifted and a feminine voice spoke to Mr. De Forest in a somewhat excited manner.

MR. DE FOREST (apparently recognizing the voice) Are you Theodora speaking to me?

THE VOICE: Yes.

THE VOICE: Will you tell “Napper” about this?

As I had no knowledge as to the identity of “Theodora,” or as to whom the name “Napper” referred, I said to Mr. De Forest : “Do you know who ‘Napper’ is? ”

MR. DEFOREST: Yes, it is the name by which we call Dean Paul.

HDB: Did you notice that the “spirit” volunteered this name ?

Immediately I made this remark the luminous trumpet switched away from Mr. De Forest and came straight over close to me, saying: “Yes, I did.”

The trumpet then went back again to Mr. De Forest, and a further conversation was carried on between them.

Mr. De Forest informed me afterwards that Theodora was a young lady friend of his who had died a fortnight previously of typhoid fever. He was greatly impressed by the phenomenon, saying : “It is simply marvelous.”

Annie spoke to Anthony, to my wife, and also to me. I asked her if it were quite all right for us to resume our sittings, and she replied that it was.

The power did not appear to be very strong, and the conversations could be maintained for only a very little time.

After a short interval, another spirit came through in an extremely agitated manner, speaking in a very hoarse whisper which it was most difficult to interpret. All we could get from him was “Crosland “—the name was repeated twice. I tried to encourage the voice, and to get some information, but it was quite impossible, and the luminous trumpet fell clattering to the ground.

I lifted it and then asked: “Was the last voice that spoke T. W. H. Crosland?” and a loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative. We sat for another ten minutes, but nothing occurred, whereon the sitting, which had lasted for about one hour, was closed.”

T.W.H.Crosland

“Neither the power nor the strength of the voices seemed to be nearly as strong as on occasions of the last experiments in October. At the same time, I was quite satisfied with the results of this second experiment after the resumption, and the point of evidence given through by the volunteering of the name “Napper” was of distinct value.”

If you so wish , you can read the entire book here  The Wisdom of the Gods

As far as I know, this is the first appearance in print of the wayward Brian Dean Paul. Given the date, it looks like his nickname predated his career as an opium smoker and morphine addict – I had assumed “Napper” referred to “nodding out”. Whether his friend John De Forest( or  Bradley’s son,”Anthony”) became part of his and Brenda’s circle I can’t say. My guess is not, as De Forest became a top amateur golfer (Walker Cup) in the 1930s. He was part of the “respectable” upper-echelons of smart society and gets a mention in Barbara Cartland’s memoirs. His father, Baron De Forest ( Maurice Arnold De Forest – later Baron Bendern) was a wealthy Liberal MP, a keen promoter of sport and an early motor-racing enthusiast. John was the father of Caroline De Bendern, who became the icon of a later generation of rebellious youth when she was photographed in the May 68 Paris demonstrations. She was, like some of her Jazz Age counterparts, disinherited for her act of defiance.

“Marianne 68”

T.W.H.Crosland was a poet, polemicist and an editor of The Academy who was known for his fierce opposition to homosexuality (he’d have loved Napper). He co-wrote Lord Alfred Douglas’ autobiography – where Douglas recanted his wayward youth and launched a lifetime of venom on his former lover Oscar Wilde.  Robbie Ross, something of a patron saint to the more aesthetically inclined of the Bright Young People, was a particular target of their bile. It is also claimed that Crosland plagiarised the work of two of Ross’s proteges, Wilfred Owen and Sieggfried Sassoon ( later the lover of Bright Young Aesthete Incarnate – Stephen Tennant). Crosland had died just before the seance took place.

What I really like about the seance is the unlikely arrival of jazz into the world of the supernatural. Daft as this particular instance is, it does indicate how much it had permeated the culture to become, by the mid-twenties, an established idiom and a recognised marker of youth.Of the other musical fare on offer, Battistini was a noted Italian baritone and Amelita Galli-Curci was a soprano whose records sold in vast quantities. In keeping with the mysticism of the evening, she was an early Western advocate of Yoga.

As to the author of Wisdom of The Gods, bizarrely but rather neatly as far is this blog is concerned, he was the man chosen, in 1932, to adapt Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies for the stage. He made quite a success of it. Whether he had any help from Theodora, or others from her realm, is not recorded.

Anna Wickham

“During the last years she changed her name: she wanted to forget, she sa id, that she was the notorious Mrs.Barney.But she did little to change her mode of life – In Corfu, Majorca or Paris, or wherever else she went with the Bairds, the Dean Pauls, Anna Wickham, and others who moved in her set. The same company, the same hobbies, all around the clock.” (Peter Cotes)

That Napper and Brenda Dean Paul were around during what remained of Elvira’s life is no surprise. Napper had a long association with Elvira (including the inevitable car crash) and both were friends of Billy Milton. Brenda Dean Paul’s own notoriety – as the most famous drug-addict in England – may actually have been of some comfort to the, by now, disgraced “Mrs. Barney”. The “Bairds” would include Sandy Baird, as dissolute as he was flamboyant, a lover of Brian Howard and a strong contender for one of the unnamed guests at the cocktail party at William Mews. Other Bairds might possibly be the “Miss Baird” who was Brenda Dean Paul’s companion and fellow-addict during the 1950s and William Baird who appears on passenger lists with Brenda  in the early thirties.

The odd name is Anna Wickham (1883-1947).If it is the poet Anna Wickham, which I think it is, then this raises a number of questions.

Born in Wimbledon as Edith Harper and raised in Australia, she had a varied but troubled life, due in part to her monster of a husband and partly to her failure to establish herself among the first ranks of English poets (she has undergone something of a revival in recent years). Her world, in the early 1930s, revolved around the Fitzrovian set, the pubs in Charlotte Street and her house in Hampstead. Her acquaintances at the time included DylanThomas (very rude about her), Malcolm Lowry  (very fond of her) and the eccentric Sohemian and future “King of Redonda”, John Gawsworth, one of the few to unreservedly  champion her work..

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Anna Wickham

Some of the Bright Young elite knew Wickham and were not taken with her. Anthony Powell describes her thus, ” When she strode into the saloon bar, her severe air, Roundhead cast of feature, broad-brimmed hat, short skirt, grey worsted stockings, suggested Oliver Cromwell dissolving parliament.”  Aesthete Harold Acton found her very much not the right sort of person and  described her as (allegedly)  “a hefty lady obviously well-fortified with wine and garlic”. To at least some of the the next generation of writers she seems to have been better-liked and was a tolerant landlady to more than a few aspiring but penniless authors.

However, I can’t see her and Elvira as close.  She was much older, rather serious-minded and totally immersed in the world of literature. True, she was as hard-drinking as any of the Barney circle and was undoubtedly, though not particularly happily, a lesbian.

I wonder if there has not been a mix-up with the French saloniste Natalie Barney, towards whom Wickham had developed an (unrequited) passion , and whose literary lunches she had attended in the 1920s. Then again, Dolly Wilde, Olivia Wyndham, Nancy Cunard and Joe Carstairs all were, at some time, associated with Natalie Barney and Elvira knew every one of these women. So it may even be that  Elvira met Wickham through one of these figures.  These possible associative links can get quite complex, but if there is an intermediary then Dolly Wilde or Nancy Cunard would best fit the bill as Wyndham and Carstairs were far away by this time.

Nathalie Barney by Romaine Brooks 1920

If Anna Wickham was a soul-mate then the thought of Elvira rubbing shoulders with John Gawsworth and Malcolm Lowry is quite enticing. In Lowry’s case, at least , this is not unfeasible. As well as being part of the Charlotte Street entourage, Lowry spent time in Paris. He was married there in 1934.  Elvira was by then staying in France more than in England.The Bohemian expatriate circle was small and, wealthy or poor, they shared the same clubs and cafes.

In Paris, Lowry’s  wife quickly tired of his drinking and the fact that  he seemed irresistible to young gay men. We can be sure that Elvira would not have objected to either facet of Lowry’s character.