I recently read Antonia Fraser's memoir of her life with Harold Pinter, Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter. Reading it was an experience filled with literary anecdotes and references on almost every page while their relationship was presented through an aura (or haze if you prefer) resulting from the perspective of Lady Antonia. In a review in The New York Times Dwight Garner wrote: “a book of glowing fragments, moments culled from Ms. Fraser’s diaries. The prose is not overly winsome. “My Diary: it’s not about great writing,” she admits. “It’s my friend, my record, and sometimes my consolation.” The result presents a light literary romance with some of the heavy-weight literati.
That there might be other perspectives on the relationship between Lady Antonia and Harold was brought home delightfully yesterday as I was reading Stephen Fry's latest installment of his autobiography, The Fry Chronicles. Picking up where he left off with Moab is my Washpot Fry continues his story in this often comedic and sometimes skewed take on his life and loves. One of the many aspects of his eclectic life is acting and some of his early experience was with another of the great twentieth-century playwrights, Simon Gray. Apparently the friendship between Gray and Harold Pinter was volatile and Fry shares his experience of this volatility with the following episode from the late 80s:
“I remember once John (Sessions) and I were sitting in the back of the brassarie of the Groucho Club. Harold, his wife, Lady Antonia, Beryl and Simon had a corner table. Suddenly Harold's booming voice burst out. 'If you are capable of saying such a thing as that, Simon Gray, it is perfectly clear that there is no further basis for our friendship. We are leaving.' . . . He turned and barked across the room, 'Antonia!'
Lady Magnesia Fridge-Freezer, as Richard Ingrams liked to call her, jerked herself awake (her defence against the madness of Harold's tantrums was always to fall asleep. She would do this in the middle of a meal or sentence, a kind of traumatic symplegia, a condition known only to cats in P. G. Wodehouse, but which I think refers to what we would now call narcolepsy) and softly gathered up her coat. By this time the whole back brasserie was watching the scene unfold and greatly enjoying the embarrassed lacunae, charged glances and menacing exchanges that one associates with the authentically Pinteresque. Antonia smiled seraphically at the Grays and went to join her husband. As she passed our table she stopped and gathered the loose wool at the should of my pullover.
'Oh, what a lovely jumper,' she sighed, fingering it for a second.
And she drifted away. I can almost bring myself to believe that the room burst into applause, but I think that would be an instance of the wish being father of the thought.” (pp 46-47)
Merely an reminder that different perspectives bring can pierce the aura of perfect, and sometimes imagined, romance.
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry. The Overlook Press, New York 2012
Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry. Soho Press, 2011 (1997)