Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Delicate and Sensitive Nature

While leafing through Rupert Hart-Davis's edition of Siegfried Sassoon's letter for the years 1923-1925, I came across an entry that reproduces a letter Siegfried had received from Delphine Turner.  It concerns the conduct of her husband Walter.
 
Siegfried had been sharing a house with the Turners at Tufton Street in Westminster, but was not happy with the arrangement.  Although he had been very friendly with Walter Turner at one time, living in close proximity to the couple had proved difficult (as indeed often happens when friends try to share accommodation, however fond they may be of one another).  Siegfried had become particularly fond of Delphine, as is evident from the diary entry, where he mentions how much he appreciates her "direct and honest" approach.
 
Those of us who know a little about Siegfried himself may suspect that there was another side to him, a side that did not always want others to be honest and direct, because he was - as Delphine puts it in the letter - of a "delicate and sensitive nature".  Appealing to his kindness of heart (which she had cause to value, since without his assistance she and her husband might have been homeless), she suggests that Walter is going through a "period of apparent disintegration", and that she expects Siegfried to remember his friend's good side when he misbehaves, just as she is forced to do herself.  Delphine admits that she has considered leaving Turner, something that would have been very difficult for a woman of her time if she wished to continue to live in polite society, but stays because of an awareness of his finer qualities.
 
The blame for Siegfried's falling out with Walter Turner is put squarely on the shoulders of - who else? - Robert Graves, a mutual friend.  Siegfried had recognised, almost as soon as he met Graves during the war, that he was a difficult man who tended to make himself disliked.  Delphine suggests that Graves had deliberately tried to break up the friendship between Siegfried and the Turners by repeating, out of context, remarks made by her husband.  Among other things, Turner had accused Siegfried of meanness and said that he found his company annoying.
 
Siegfried received the letter on the day before his 39th birthday.  He was travelling in the West Country, and had just visited his great friends Thomas and Florence Hardy. The time spent in their welcoming company may have shown up, by contrast, his discomfort with the Turners.  Nevertheless, he wrote back to Delphine, promising to try to put his quarrel with Walter Turner behind him.
 
It was not to be.  On his return to London, Siegfried heard another third-hand account of unkind things Turner was supposed to have said about him, this time from Robert Ross's old landlady Nellie Burton.  Between them, Nellie and Ottoline Morrell (who was already upset by Turner's behaviour towards her personally) persuaded them to look at other accommodation.  Eventually he took rooms at 23 Campden Hill Square, a house once owned by Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her family, and often visited by J M Barrie.  Siegfried was embarking on a happier time of life, at the root of which was a fulfilling relationship with the young actor Glen Byam Shaw.  I believe his only regret, as he left Tufton Street, was having to say goodbye to his beloved Delphine.
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