Saturday, 22 May 2010

Diaries and Letters of Marie Belloc Lowndes, 1911-1947

Marie Belloc Lowndes was a novelist, playwright and (auto)biographer and the sister of Hilaire Belloc; both children spent their early years in France and Marie retained a slight French accent throughout her life.  Their mother, Bessie Parkes Belloc, was also a writer and friend of such literary figures as George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.   She married F S A Lowndes, a journalist on the staff of The Times, and was acquainted with a great many of the artistic, literary and political figures of her time.  This is evidenced by a photograph in the book of her autograph fan, signed by dozens of celebrated people including Oscar Wilde, Edmond de Goncourt, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill.

This book, edited by her daughter Susan Lowndes Marques, comprises a selection of letters and autobiographical pieces.  The diary sections are often, in fact, extended reminiscences of experiences some time in the past, rather than a record of events as they occur, although these also form part of the text, as do letters to Marie Belloc Lowndes from her correspondents.  The autograph fan does not overstate her network of connections: she seems to have known, and usually lunched with, pretty much everybody of significance in early 20th century French and English history.  A prolonged reading of the book, I found, led to a great desire not to see any more names dropped.  But for any student of this period, her reflections and commentary on the politicians and writers of the time are illuminating; there is also a good deal about the characters of the 19th century that she had known personally or through her mother.

A devout Catholic, Marie had a rather sweet if naive tendency to believe that people were usually good at heart. The long section on the Abdication, in which she gives her view of Mrs Simpson as a virtuous woman in love with Mr Simpson, is idiosyncratic to say the least.  This hopeful approach to human nature does not, however, leave her as frequently disappointed with her fellow beings as you might expect, and her letters and diary writings are good-humoured and amusing; even the privations of the Second World War fail to daunt her spirit.  Marie Belloc Lowndes is probably best known now as the author of The Lodger, a crime novel which inspired the silent Hitchcock film of the same name.  Both are worth a look.

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