It’s New Years Eve as I write, we’ve had a lovely time together over Christmas and I’m sitting down ready to contemplate things that happened this year- and hopes and dreams for the next- and it occurs to me to tell you a bit of a strange story. Strange in how it came about- and stranger that it’s hitherto not come to light.
It concerns some World War One Poets, my Bookshop, an Academic and a previously un-performed play...
First stop- My Bookshop, and a delivery of books for me to price up. One volume of Poetry entitled
Marlborough and Other Poems by Sorley- I was unable to price, possibly because it had been a long day of pricing books and I had put it aside. I had noticed a rather striking bookplate with an illustration of a chap who looked rather Aubrey Beardsley-esque in the characterisation. The more books I get in to price, and the more books I load up on my Abe Books account seem to win the constant daily war I have on a tidy shop- and this volume sat in one of the many book towers around me. Further deliveries, sales and book-listings took over, and the little volume got forgotten.
However, several of my more canny Collectors, have tumbled my ‘method’ and drop by nonchalantly.
They nonchalantly chat, nonchalantly drink coffee, and nonchalantly scour the book towers, messing up my system.
And so it was one day recently when one particular nonchalanteer, exclaimed for the umpteenth time
“How do you do it? How do you find such interesting books?” as he scurried off into the corner, removing Winston my shop mascot who sits in the comfy chair in the window and setting him on the floor, and he in the chair with his chosen spoils.
I continued with my pricing, he, drank tea- and then spluttered (moving the book out of the way of his spluttering.)
“Price this one up for me please?”
“Oh, yes, will do. I did try to before but hadn’t really got anywhere.”
All was unusually quiet in the comfy corner for quite some time- and as he left he nonchalantly asked if he could borrow the book for research purposes.
The next day, he returned without the book, asking if I had priced it yet, and telling me that the Author was commended by Robert Graves as being one of the three most important World War One poets- Graves, Wilfred Owen and Sorley- whose ‘Marlborough and Other Poems’
was the volume of desire.
“Oh, I’d say £35 then I expect- bring it back and I’ll check it out for you”.
We chatted and I remarked that I’d remembered a striking bookplate inside.
A few days later he returned exclaiming that it was indeed an interesting plate- and had I seen the inscription- which was to the previous owner from the bookplate owner...
My nonchalant detective had deduced that the bookplate owner/giver of Sorley volume- was also
a Poet. Geoffrey Phibbs.
But here- the six degrees of separation theory goes haywire.
Geoffrey Phibbs, was a friend of Robert Graves. A close friend. In fact he was involved in a ‘ménage a quatre’ with his Wife/Graves and Mrs Graves. Mr and Mrs Graves had jumped out of a window over it- leaving Mrs Graves dead.
At this moment, I remembered something and went to a corner of my shop where I had stacked up some Graves following going to see Aunty Charlotte in a fringe premiere of a play by Graves last summer- ‘But it Still Goes On’. The play was entertaining and farcical, but the ending had bothered me- which I’d questioned to Aunty Charlotte- who had told me that the Director has to choose from several possible endings as the previously unperformed play was in manuscript form and had several possibilities.
I shan’t spoil those possibilities Em, this is for further research- but, the point about today’s blog to you is that it turns out that the play was not performed before because Graves had been warned that it was too libellous.
This little play, Em- was too libellous because it was essentially about the characters that made up the ménage a quatre that led to Graves’ Wife’s death. The ending ‘bothered me’. My nonchalant Academic turned up with the book. The book- has the ending that made the title make sense.
There’s more to be done on this little detective story on dead people- and for now- just look at the similarity between Graves’ Wife and her ‘counterpart’ in the play that had no idea what it was depicting!
Spooky- these Bookshops!
Happy New Year to you, Bel and Fizz,
Your ever-loving Grandmother,