The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 12, 2016

March 12, 1914

John Symonds (March 12, 1914, to October 21, 2006) is recalled as the author of children's books. Here is the cover art for his book Isle of Cats (1955)

Symonds was prolific, and published biographies, and novels also. We quote below from a post on the obituaries that appeared after Symonds' death; this gives a sense of his range and talents.

John Symonds[']... father, Robert Wemyss Symonds, was an eminent architect and an expert on antique furniture and clocks. His mother was a woman of Lithuanian origin with whom his father had had an affair. Because of his illegitimacy, John had a difficult childhood. His father, who later married "respectably", refused to acknowledge him as his son [in the early years] and he was raised by his mother, who kept a boarding house in Margate.

Aged 16 John moved to London, where he set about educating himself at the British Museum Library. He then became a journalist working for Hulton Press on the Picture Post, writing reviews, poetry and short stories, and working as an editor on Hulton's literary magazine Lilliput. He got to know George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Spender and Bill Naughton, and became the confidant of Peggy Ramsay, Joe Orton's literary agent....

[Symonds' novels include].... A Girl Among Poets (1957), set in bohemian London, [which] won praise from John Betjeman, who noted its author's "gift for describing farcical situations"....

[wrote biographies such as]... Madame Blavatsky, Medium and Magician,[1959] an entertaining account of the life of the founder of Theosophy, a sharp-tongued medium who is said to have levitated her 17-stone self to a chandelier to light her cigarette. Thomas Brown and the Angels (1961) concerned a Methodist who, in 1798, was attracted to the Shakers, a prophetic celibate sect, hovering on their edge and making converts while never quite managing to convince himself.... [Other of his novels include]

Bezill (1962), a gothic fantasy,...followed by Light Over Water (1963), about a young journalist who delves into the world of magic and the occult. In With a View on the Palace (1966), a Russian highbrow film director suffering from basilicomania (fascination with the Royal Family) rents a flat overlooking Buckingham Palace, from where he can observe King George V from the window of his lavatory.
Prophesy and the Parasites (1973), a wealthy and still-attractive widow waits for prospective suitors to come and tap her wealth. The Shaven Head (1974) concerns a dysfunctional household riddled with Freudian complexes. In Letters from England (1975) a humble German veteran of Stalingrad answers an advertisement to work as an au pair for a London doctor — who turns out to be female and a sado-masochist. In The Child (1976) a young girl founds her own religion.

[John Symonds also wrote plays, though they were rarely performed]
....His last play, The Poison Maker, about incest and occultism, was performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington,... and produced by his son Tom.

Symonds was the literary executor and biographer also, of Aleister Crowley 

The Great Beast: the life of Aleister Crowley.... appeared on 20 November 1951....

Symonds met Crowley a year before his death, at a Hastings boarding house ....eking out his squalid final months ... on a diet of gin and heroin. Crowley's will, which he apparently concocted himself, vested the copyright of his works in Symonds and made him his literary executor....

While he made no secret of his own disapproval [of Crowley], he enlivened his accounts of Crowley's life with humorous anecdotes, recalling, for example, how, after his move to Boleskine House overlooking Loch Ness, Crowley had written to the local Vigilance Society complaining that "prostitution is most unpleasantly conspicuous" in the area. The society sent round an observer who found no evidence. Crowley wrote back: "Conspicuous by its absence, you fools!"....

John Symonds is considered by some to have kept Crowley's life in the public memory.

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