- The Neo-Pagans: Friendship and Love in the Rupert Brooke Circle by Paul Delany
Macmillan, 270 pp, £14.95, August 1987, ISBN 0 333 44572 4
Bloomsbury on the left, Neo-Pagans on the right, these columns represent, more or less, Paul Delany’s relative definition of the two Edwardian intellectual groups. The first two pairs of adjectives are quoted from his Introduction. Of course, Bloomsbury and the Neo-Pagans had much in common: an educated upper middle-class background; Cambridge – almost all the men went there, and some of the women; at Cambridge, the Bloomsbury men mostly belonged to the Apostles, and so did Rupert Brooke and Ferenc Bekassy, a fringe Neo-Pagan; nervous breakdowns were common in both groups and treated by the same doctors with the same regime – called ‘stuffing’ – in the sense of fattening up; members of both sets recognised one another in the audience at the opera and Diaghilev’s London seasons. If they did not all know one another, at least they knew of one another – in l911, there was a partial, temporary and gingerly link-up, initiated by Virginia Woolf; and all along James Strachey, born to be Bloomsbury but in love with Rupert Brooke, functioned as a sort of inter-coterie courier.
Vol. 9 No. 18 · 15 October 1987
SIR: How did Ka Cox pronounce her first name?
As in ‘car’
Editor, ‘London Review’
SIR: Several reviewers of the recent book about the Neo-Pagans have remarked upon Rupert Brooke’s notorious party trick. The poet would apparently dive into the river, naked but flaccid, and emerge moments later sporting a fully-fledged erection. Only one reviewer – John Bayley in the Guardian – proffered an explanation: he suggested that the sudden coldness of the water was the transmogrifying factor. Me and my mates have tried to emulate Rupert on several occasions but with nary an inch of success. Cold water, indeed, and pace Professor Bayley, has had the opposite effect from that desired. Is there something wrong with us? Has industrial effluent deprived England’s waterways of some conjuring micro-organism? Or could it have been, as one of our number sourly observed as he rose from the waves for the umpteenth time with no more than an acorn to show for his endeavours, that there was artifice involved in the original event? Had Brooke been wearing some cunningly concealed prosthesis – which was perhaps triggered by the impact of striking the surface of the water – it seems more than possible that those innocent neo-Pagans might well have been deceived. Can any of your readers offer a solution, be it literary, aquatic or psycho-sexual?
Vol. 9 No. 19 · 29 October 1987
SIR: Bruno Nightingale (Letters, 15 October) raises a fascinating point: students of the literary life are in debt to him and his friends for their researches, however negative these may have been. In my Guardian review, which he mentions, I was clearly at fault in diagnosing Brooke’s erection as the result of cold water – why indeed should it have any but the contrary effect? However, sex works by the association of ideas, as Locke comes close to suggesting in his Essay concerning Human Understanding (Sterne makes it explicit), and where Brooke’s sex life was concerned water was clearly the equivalent of what used to be known in the Forces as Helen of Troy in black silk knickers. Clearly with each bathe Brooke entered a water nymph, penetrated an episode in Classical mythology. A cerebral process, but then – pace D.H. Lawrence – where else does sex start but in the head? (Was this one of the reasons why Lawrence so much disliked Brooke and his friends?)
St Catherine’s College, Oxford
SIR: One answer to Bruno Nightingale’s penetrating enquiry is that it is possible to experience ‘a fully-fledged erection’ under cold water, provided you are as young and randy as Rupert. The one essential trigger is a vivid erotic stimulus, conceivably in fantasy. Bruno and his mates appear to have attempted to emulate this phenomenon in a spirit of enquiry, but without such a powerful incentive. But nil desperandum: just think of the numerous aquatically-inclined lovers who have enjoyed copulating under water.
Vol. 10 No. 3 · 4 February 1988
SIR: Me and the lads have been wintering down here in Morocco, and can thoroughly recommend the kebabs. More to the point, we have been trying out the Rupert Brooke rope-trick (Letters, 15 October 1987) in more propitious circumstances. We are obliged to inform John Bayley that even diving into warm water before a bevy of Club Med stunners while dreaming of nuns in naughty nickers has zero effect on the cut of the jib. If, as Professor Bayley observed, sex is mostly in the head, then our conclusion must be that Rupert Brooke had a pretty funny old head.
Hotel Palais Jamai, Fez
SIR: Bruno Nightingale raises (sic) a question which has troubled us in this hemisphere, despite its warmer waters. It does seem from our studies that Brooke must have enjoyed some submarine assistance during the performance of his most remarkable party trick. Could it be that Wilfrid Gibson may have been near to a discovery of the hidden element when he recalled Brooke in the following terms?
I do not understand
I only know
That, as he turned to go
And waved his hand,
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone.
We can only wish Mr Nightingale all the best in his search for the secret.