Thursday, May 4, 2017

Unhinting the Cochon

The poet Hugo Williams’ step-grandfather was Mordaunt Shairp and he wrote a reminiscence of him that appeared in the TLS  of 14 May 1993. Shairp and Stepen Spender taught at the University College School in Hampstead contemporaneously. Did Spender think Shairp was gay? “Oh yes, we all assumed he was gay. We thought his getting married was something to do with your father [Hugh Williams] and that The Green Bay Tree was semi-autobiographical. I know Forster and J. R. Ackerley thought it was a gay play.” Although Hugo’s father was tutored by Shairp at the USC and soon thereafter married Hugo’s grandmother, Hugo writes “the more I think about it, the more I see the wolf under the old lady’s bonnet: the wicked sybarite was none other than my granny” (whom he describes as “a large, powerful woman in the Edwardian dowager mould”). Hugh, Shairp’s stepson, played Julian in the first production. The reminiscence concludes:

… the play’s true content was abundantly clear to contemporary audiences. “Not for years have I observed such an outbreak of horrified protestation at any play", wrote the Sunday Referee. “The association between the man and his adopted son is such as to fill normal-minded people with abhorrence”, wailed the Evening Standard. “Only Shairp’s tactful handling of a very unsavoury theme can have got this play past the censor", said The Times. Or, as James Agate put it: “perhaps one cannot expect a playwright to go the whole hog when too obvious a hint of the cochon might suppress the animal altogether.”

The TLS Historical Archive (back to 1902) has only become available today! I am unsure whether I can link to it. But for any who have access to Gale databases, the document number is EX1200470024.

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