Tuesday 7 March 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old author called Nicholas Mosley, who finally completed the long voyage around his Father, Oswald.

Nicholas, who has died aged 93, spent his life coming to terms with the legacy left him by his father, the 1930s Fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley and part of that coming to terms can be found in his extensive bibliography which contained nineteen novels and eleven non-fiction titles.

Nicholas was born in born in the summer of 1923, the son of Cynthia and Oswald, whose high society wedding in 1920, had been attended by King George V and Queen Mary. He was a sickly baby, possibly as a result of his Mother being greatly upset by one of Oswald's many infidelities and was left in the care of a doctor who prescribed 'sherry whey' and a wet nurse who kept a crate of gin bottles under her bed. When he was born, his charming and charismatic father, who had been the Member of Parliament for Harrow for five years, had a reputation as an ambitious politician with fluid party allegiance, having been a Conservative, Independent then Labourite. Nicholas later observed that he was he was : "Always something of a one man party band."

Nicholas and his sister and brother were raised largely by 'Nanny Hislop' who "represented everything steadfast, trustworthy and down to earth in our childhood." He recalled : "We very rarely ever saw my father and mother, except my father used to turn up every now and then and come up to our bedroom to say goodnight and make jokes. He called us porkers so he’d come in and sort of grunt and ask, "How are the porkers tonight?" In that way he was a very good father who was hardly ever there. By 1927 my mother became a Labour MP too. We hardly ever saw them, so I read a lot."

Packed off, at an early age, to Abinger Hall Boarding School in Surrey, by the time he was seven years old he had developed the stammer, which despite therapy from Lionel Logue, would stay with him for the rest of his life. Although Logue, who famously treated King George VI, did not cure him, he recorded that : "He gave me confidence, he gave me hope."

He himself saw the origin of his stammer in his family life and years later said that it : "Seems to me now that my stammer was some sort of reaction against the power of words that existed in my family. There's not only my father; all my family were very articulate, There was this tremendous reliance on the power of words for people to gain their ends or to have an argy-bargy, to fight, do battle or protect themselves there always this sort of war going on with words and it seems to me I had some desire not to become involved in it."

Although he said his stammer could be "a terrible nuisance, it's a curse"  the result of "always trying to say two or more things at once in order to get at the truth. I then got stuck. I then got paralysed," he also thought "at the same time it seems to me to be representative of something not too bad : the recognition of the complexity of words that most people do not wish to recognise, because they can just pour it out with a quick dollop of gab." 

When he was 11 years old in 1932, his father, frustrated at what he saw as the Establishment's disregard of the economic crisis and despite the fact that he was being spoken of as a possible future Prime Minister, formed the British Union of Fascists. His public style and the conduct of the large rallies of black-shirted followers encouraged an association with the militarism and anti semitism of European Fascist parties. At boarding school, Nicholas was for a time known as "Baby Blackshirt" and, a little over-dramatically, later said : "I had to make some virtue of this or die."

When he did see his larger than life father, who enjoyed walking naked in the rose garden and might silence the barking of a family dog by loosing off a shotgun, he displayed all the hallmarks of being a 'hands on dad' and young Nicholas clearly adored him. He recalled : "He was a man of enormous energy and talent and gift of the gab, of course. He was bubbling over with ideas and interest and curiosity about everything and I greatly admired all this." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVH1n73ZG3o&t=8m41s

At the age of nine in 1933, Nicholas was called into Headmaster's study to be told by Nanny Hislop that his Mother had died from blood poisoning following an appendicitis, but since he barely knew her he was barely upset and later said that he preserved few memories of her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpgDKPptf0

Two years later he spent a Mediterranean holiday with his father in the company Mrs Diana Guinness the third of the six Mitford sisters, the celebrity daughters of Lord Redesdale and was 14 and in his first year at Eton, when he read in a newspaper that in the year of the holiday his father had secretly married Diana in Berlin in a small ceremony attended by Diana and her sister Unity's friend, the German Chancellor and Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. Upset by the secrecy, he wrote to his father : 'I am longing to have a talk with you about what you feel about Mummy and Diana' and later recorded his father as saying that his second marriage was "very good", but his first marriage had been "perfect."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpgDKPptf0&t=2m53s

In his teens Nicholas recalled : "My father never tried to influence any of us about politics, absolutely not at all. He was the most marvellous person to talk with when I became about 15, 16 - about history, literature, ideas."

A year after the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1940, when he was 17, his father was interned under Defence Regulation 18B and perceived links with Hitler and Diana joined him shortly after the birth of Nicholas' step brother, Max and they were allowed to live together in a house in the grounds of Holloway Prison. At the time Oswald had been expounding his belief that, if left alone, Hitler would ignore Britain and concentrate on defeating the Soviet Union. When the news of the internment broke at Eton, he recalled : “None of my friends turned a hair” and he told them that the stories that Hitler had served as best man and the wedding had taken place in the house of Joseph Goebbels, were inventions of the press.

Having left Eton, at the age 19 in 1942, he joined the Army and recalled : "I had doubts about the validity of the War, but at the same time I thought : 'Well hell. Hitler's a pretty obvious baddie and all my fiends were joining the Army. I don't want to be a dropout. No, I'll join the Army.' There was always part of me that had a semi-comic idea that I'd had at the back of my mind : much the best thing in this bloody war, would be to get taken prisoner as soon as it was decently possible. Then one would have gone through the motions of doing one's duty : get taken prisoner and spend the rest of the war in some prisoner of war camp learning how to write novels or something like this. I had this idea in my mind which was half joke, to a certain extent perhaps not."

In the event, Nicholas found himself, an inexperienced officer, near the front line in the mountains of Central Italy in the winter of 1943, attached to the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles, in charge of a platoon of 30 men who were exhausted after fighting Germans in North Africa. On his second day in deep snow near Monte Belvedere they were attacked by mortar fire and all taken prisoner. He attempted and succeeded in escape because imprisonment would have meant : "suicide to me. I would have never got out of the groove of being a hopeless, little creature, the stammering son of my powerful father or something." 

By this time, on being introduced, as Lieutenant Nick Mosley, he was used to being greeted by : “Not any relation of that bastard?” At the same time he adored the camaraderie and egalitarianism of being a soldier and for the first time, he felt he was being judged on his own merit and this set him free. When home on leave he would visit his father in prison : "we used to talk about everything except politics : about ideas, philosophy, literature. I did try to sort things out by talking to him."

Nicholas proved his qualities as a soldier and was wounded at the start of the Battle at Casa Sinagoga in May 1944 and after being hospitalised rejoined his Battalion and in September led his platoon on the storming of a heavily fortified farmhouse and a key German strong point at Casa Spinello and for his action was awarded the Military Cross.

He was demobbed early as he had a scholarship awaiting him from Balliol College, Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, but was disappointed to find that in Oxford in the 1940s Philosophy was confined to Descartes, Hume and Kant and left after a year, but not without courting Rosemary Salmond, who was : “Someone who seemed to be in tune with my feeling that it was the world that was half over the edge, but that she and I might be able to hang on by my fingertips."

He married Rosemary at the age of 24 in 1947 and, supported by an income from his maternal great-grandfather who was a Chicago property tycoon, Levi Zebedee Leiter, was able to devote himself to writing while they bought and tried to run a small hill farm in Wales. He later said : "Daddy said that he had researched whether Levi was a Jew and said it was clear to him he wasn't, but I am not so sure with a name like that. Really though, it doesn't matter to me one way or another."

His first novel, 'Spaces in the Dark' was published in 1951 when he was 27 and after he had been asked : 'Did he want to publish under his own name ? ' Coloured by the new threat of a nuclear war and a pessimistic study of isolated individuals, it was written in dense, overblown prose that owed a debt to William Faulkner and did not attract a wide readership. He didn't discuss his work with his father who had no time for novels and considered them to be a waste of an effort, which might more gainfully be used in rhetoric and said : “It is like entering a horse for the pony races at Northolt instead of the Derby.” 

Nicholas recalled a conversation where his Father said : "Novelists tell fairy-stories, nothing to do with anything. Why don’t you write serious stuff? Why don’t you write about facts?" I said, "Facts? You can write about anything. Nobody knows what facts are. Writing about facts is all ‘Ya, boo, sucks!’ A novel ought to be a work of art, and a work of art isn’t saying ‘Ya, boo, sucks!’ It’s trying to say all in one, ‘Ya, sucks, boo!’ " My Father rolled his eyes, I don't think he read any of my novels, Well, he probably did, but he certainly didn't talk about them with."

Having given up the farm, his second novel, 'Corruption' was published when he was 34 in 1957, followed by his subsequent decision to quit writing because : " I couldn't see any point in going on writing these crazy stories about loony characters all burbling on, because the human beings that I knew or loved or was interested in weren't like this. Even from my first novel I think there was this idea that characters were not really human, they were a terrible travesty of what a human being might be." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzKBeVwN2EY&t=4m13s

In 1948 Oswald had returned to politics and had formed the Union Party. He claimed the main issue of the day was unemployment, but focused on racism. Nicholas lamented : "By the end of the 1940s he started going back into politics and all the talks that I’d had with him seemed to be being thrown away." He recalled : "I used to write to him saying, ‘Dear dad, what are you all doing? This is just the same as in the ’30s!’ He would write me back, very charmingly, saying, ‘Thanks very much for your most interesting letter, but you’re a novelist, you don’t really understand all the implications.’"

This was a time when Nicholas was increasingly attracted to Christianity and had come under the influence of Father Raymond Raynes, Superior of the 'Anglican Community of the Resurrection.' He recalled : "He was a very authentic holy man and he had an enormous effect on me. I was saying things like, "I think this world is such a mad place. It’s so evil and I can’t understand what you mean by God" and he would just say to me : "If you think this world is totally evil, you better get out of it quick."

The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 led his father to stand as a Union party candidate at the 1959 General Election, determined to attract the 'Keep Britain White' vote and deter immigration from the Caribbean. After hearing one of his speeches Nicholas confronted him and later recalled that he told him : "I want to tell you that I heard what you said and all I can say is that you’re making exactly the same mistakes that ruined you in the 1930s with your anti-Semitism. To make this mistake once might just mean that you’re deluded and wicked, but to make the same mistake twice within twenty years means that you’re not only wicked but you’re also a lunatic." He just said, ‘I will never speak to you again.’ And he didn’t. The end of this story is, he didn’t. I didn’t see him for six or seven years."

Between 1958 and 1960, he  edited a theological magazine, 'Prism' and became involved in the anti-Apartheid activities of the Community of Resurrection in South Africa and Britain, trying to expose the public to the evils Apartheid, he wrote many articles analysing its nature and pointing out its dangers. Through the Community he became involved in looking after political refugees. In this way he met Desmond Tutu on his way to study at King's College London and helped Thabo Mbeki get into Sussex University in 1962 and in his Sussex country house, outfitted him with a wardrobe of a country squire complete with tweed cap and introduced him to the pleasures of a pipe.

In 1961, after Raymond Raynes' death he undertook his biography and followed it with 'Experience and Religion : A Lay Essay in Theology' in 1964. In this he saw marriage family and faith not in terms of dogma, but of what humans know about themselves and the ways in which relationships actually worked. It was "Then, I wanted to write novels again I suddenly saw a whole new way of writing novels about people who were not stuck, people who didn't duck the complexities and contradictions and paradoxes of life."

His novel 'Accident', published in 1964, was filmed by Joseph Losey three years later and based on Harold Pinter’s screenplay, with Dirk Bogarde as the don who had to make choices about responsibility and battled for his better nature : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzKBeVwN2EY&t=6m45s  On request from Nicholas, Pinter wrote in a silent cameo role for him as 'Don Hedges' : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCh_YvswVWw7t=14m35s

Next came a brief spell in politics when, in 1966, he succeeded to the Ravensdale Barony on the death of his Aunt Irene. He admitted : "I was a very bad lord as far as the House of Lords was concerned. I found to be a politician you have to argue on one side or the other. You have to put a case. You have to be a lawyer, blot out one side of the case ....all my writing I'd done up to that point was trying to say one must hold all complexities, see all sides of the question." In fact, took his seat as a Liberal and served briefly on the 'Arts Committee', before deciding he had little aptitude for politics and obtained 'Leave of Absence' from the House. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0Npkc1t4-Q&t=4m14s

By the late 1960s, Nicholas was in his late 40s and : "went out on my own on a great journey. I went all the way across America and down to Mexico and then all the way through Mexico. I was on my own for months and months and months. In the evenings I used to sit in a cafĂ© or a bar wherever I was staying and write." 

His next work, in 1968, was inspired by "The extraordinary drawing that Escher used to do, The staircase that goes on going up and up and up and up forever,.. I became very interested in this and I saw really what I had been trying to say, that life is an impossible object and love is an impossible object, because one loves and it’s very true, but then you’re going on the staircase and all of a sudden you realise that you’re going down. The only way you can possibly think that it’s all one is by making a work of art. So I had to write a book called 'Impossible Object'" It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize the following year and was filmed by John Frankenheimer as 'Story of a Love Story' in 1973.
https://www.youtube.com/watchv=60GWbbR59zk&t=6m39s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0Npkc1t4-Q&t=5m13s

The 1970s brought him physical and psychological trauma : a car crash in 1970 broke much of one side of his body and forced him to walk with a stick and, unrelated to his injuries, in the early 70s Nicholas sought and received psychoanalysis, but he kept busy. He published 'The Assassination of Trotsky' in 1972, which Losey directed Richard Burton the following year.'

In 1976 he produced his second biography based on his wife’s uncle, the soldier poet Julian Grenfell, but his biggest commission, the biography of his father had to wait until 1980. By this time Nicholas was reconciled with Oswald, who had Parkinson’s Disease and had finally quit politics. He visited him in Paris : "He was very old and mellow by then and we talked about old times. I said, "Look, Dad, someone must write a book about you: not to justify your politics but because you're such an interesting human being." The next day he recalled : "The last time I ever saw him he banged on the table so that everyone would listen, and he said, "When I die, I want Nicholas to have all my papers so he can write about me." "It was such an extraordinary thing because I had told him that he was a bloody lunatic. He came around. Good and bad sorted themselves out at just the right moment. This was only about a week before he died."

With access to all the Mosley papers. Nicholas knew that his father believed he would tell the truth as he saw it and the two volumes of biography, preceded by exploratory trips to India and Spain, were published as 'The Rules of the Game' in 1982 and 'Beyond the Pale' in 1983. They were well received by the critics and seen for what they were : a loyally affectionate portrait of a perfectly sane father capable of hateful ideas and, at the same time, an act of scrupulous understanding of the most complex of men.

'I had always intended to write about my father because I felt I had something to say which would take him out of the myth of being either a monster or a hero. I wanted to describe this immensely interesting human being with a life-giving force which sometimes tipped over into a demonic exultation in his own powers and talents.'

His 'Hopeful Monsters', the fifth part of the 'Catastrophe Practice' series, which became the 'Whitbread Book of the Year' in 1990, was an epic spanning some 550 pages, which examined the competing ideological confusions of the 1930s through the love story of a Jewish-German anthropologist and an English physicist working on the atomic bomb. He took its title from a biological term denoting mutations that can prompt change in a species and the critic, A N Wilson called it : 'the best English novel to have been written since the Second World War.'

In 1994, Nicholas published 'Efforts at Truth : An Autobiography' of which he said : "I wouldn't be able to suggest there might be any good things about my life, unless I was honest about the bad things..and people did say "Wow, this is a very honest book, quite alarmingly self-exposing" and the good things make no sense unless they are in the context of so-called bad things." His honesty encompassed the fact that he had inherited his father’s own philandering impulses and that, on one occasion in the 1950s, the two of them ran into each other, accompanied by other people’s wives, in a night club in London. he also recorded that his Stepmother had not been impressed by his biography of his Father and thought that it was 'the degraded work of a very little man.'

His last works included : his memoirs : 'Time at War' in 2006 about his Army service while his father and stepmother were interned in Holloway prison and 'Paradoxes of Peace' in 2009 which examined at length his attempts in his first marriage to reconcile his spiritual and physical desires. In addition came 'God’s Hazard' which he produced at the age of 86 in 2009 and which re-imagined the Almighty as a 'good' rather than 'stern Father' and 'Metamorphosis' in 2014, which debated how the human race might evolve.

Nicholas said :

"My father thought once he'd solved the problem in words, he'd solved the problem and I had some kind of instinct that life was more complicated than this."

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