Saturday, November 26, 2011

The First Lady Bonkers at the Dorchester

Lord Bonkers (new readers begin here and particularly here) lives, of course, at Bonkers Hall in Rutland. And we have seen that most literary scholars now accept that the model for Bonkers Hall is Nevill Holt, even though it stands just over the border in Leicestershire.

And we have seen that, before it was a prep school and then the home of Carphone Warehouse tycoon David Ross, was the home of the Cunard family. And in the Edwardian era it was the home of Sir Bache Cunard, which means that Sir Bache's wife Maud (often known as Emerald) is arguably the model for the first Lady Bonkers.

All of which makes Matthew Sweet's new book The West End Front - which has already been previewed on this blog - of great interest.

Because Emerald Cunard, by then a widow, spent the wartime years at the Dorchester, her suite crammed with "Brobdingnagian" furniture retrieved from her bomb-struck house in Grosvenor Square. There she held court, and her dinner guests included Cecil Beaton, Ernest Hemmingway, Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly and Isaiah Berlin.

Sweet writes:
Most accounts of Emerald Cunard's social gatherings celebrate them as colourful bursts of eccentricity in the gloom of the wartime blackout. A litany of her enjoyably outrageous remarks has survived on the public record, and many are rightly retold. ("What do you think about incest?" she once asked a dull American businessman, before serenading him with the Finale to Act One of Die Walk├╝re, in which Siegmund and Sieglinde declare their forbidden love.) 
Isaiah Berlin, a regular at the same table, said that the most malicious game an Englishman could play was to speculate who would have collaborated if the Nazis had invaded. I find it difficult, however, not to suspect that a German victory would have left the conversation in Cunard's suite relatively unchanged.
I have never been able to discover what became of the first Lady Bonkers - I have a sneaking feeling she is still somewhere in the attics at the Hall - but I cannot imagine her as a collaborator. She was more the sort to take on a Panzer single handed.

No comments: