I read excellent reviews of Sally Phipps’s biography of her mother, Molly Keane. The best was in The Oldie but they left me pretty sure that I didn’t need to read her book. However, fate intervened.
I popped into Oxfam on Kensington High Street and came out with Scum of the Earth (Arthur Koestler, 1941) and Sally’s biog; a strange pairing, I admit. They cost me £5.98. I remember my grandfather telling me that he cried with laughter when he saw Molly Keane’s play Spring Meeting in the West End. It was put on by Binkie Beaumont, directed by John Gielgud and was Margaret Rutherford’s first success. It is an extremely well-written biography and I wonder that Sally did not follow her mother as an author. She writes about her mother and herself, capturing the Ireland of the Protestant landed gentry in the 20th century with insight and, sometimes, sensitivity. Her mother’s childhood was spent living between the nursery and grooms, maids and farm workers. “The space between two worlds was often where real life happened for an Anglo-Irish child.” The book lays out from whence Molly received inspiration.
I am now on the fifth year of correspondence between Rupert Hart-Davis and George Lyttelton. RH-D’s first wife was Peggy Ashcroft and he often sees her on the stage and dines with her and John Gielgud. She makes two cameo appearances in Sally’s book, staying with the Keanes on the Blackwater. James Agate reviews one of Molly’s plays in The Sunday Times. Strange how there are often links connecting books.
Molly Keane’s genre is not dead. I have been lent Uncle Jack by Peter Somerville-Large, published last year. I haven’t had time to read it yet. The Sunday Times opines; “an unsettling backwards look at late-Ascendancy living, tinged with rural macabre, this should entertain readers across generations”.