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Alan Pryce-Jones: “Will no one give me £1,000 a year? Surely not much to ask?” (photo courtesy of Criterion Books)

Why does a fabulously wealthy heiress marry an impecunious, if upper-crust, rampantly gay chancer who has more than a hint of the gold-digger about him?  That is perhaps the central mystery that unfolds in David Pryce-Jones’s family memoir, Fault Lines. The heiress is David’s mother, Thérèse Fould-Springer, known by family and friends as Poppy; the chancer is David’s father, Alan Pryce-Jones, who later — through the 1950s — served as editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

Perhaps part of the explanation is that Poppy was only 18 when they married in 1934. The couple had been introduced and the marriage promoted by Poppy’s step-father, Frank Wooster, a man who was himself gay. Indeed, Wooster had seemingly been the lover of Poppy’s father, Baron Eugene Fould.  When the Baron died in 1929 Poppy’s mother, Mitzi, in many ways the dominant character in the memoir, took her deceased husband’s constant companion as her second husband. Mitzi was of the opinion that homosexuals made the best husbands.

Alan had been introduced to the pleasures of male flesh at Eton by Cyril Connolly, the future editor of Horizon, then a few years above him at school. In the early 1930s, Alan already thought of himself as a writer, but primarily enjoyed a sybaritic life travelling around Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America, often with an older, richer, gay — or, in the parlance of the time, “musical” — companion, Bobby Pratt-Barlow. “Musical” or its corollary “artistic” is a euphemism which lives on in some circles: a friend of mine, an elderly lady of somewhat Edwardian demeanour who spent many years working at a smart Mayfair interior designer, still describes many of her former colleagues to me as “artistic”. She is not talking of their flair for furnishings.

Alan recounts in his diaries of the time his own dabblings with drugs: “A first experiment with morphine in Maddox Street . . . Of all, heroin seems to work best on me. By mixing it with opium, pernod, cocaine and pâté de foie gras, however, I made myself ill.”   Clearly it was the foie gras which was the problem. As David notes, “To wear make-up and take drugs was to be free from the arduous discipline of being a writer.”

But Alan’s constant worry was financial. He wrote in his diary, “Money! Money! Money! Will no one give me £1,000 a year? Surely not much to ask?” When he encountered the Fould-Springers, he saw his chance. Although protesting that he would still want to marry Poppy if she only had £100 per year, in letters he quotes Mitzi as saying “I’m so stupidly rich.” More unpleasantly, he writes, “The Springers are, I’m sorry to say, Jews, and cousins of the Rothschilds, Goldsmids, Goldsmid-Rothschilds etc, but really very, very, very nice.”

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