Friday, 1 December 2017

December: Dinner with Emerald at the Dorchester

Friday, 1st December  1944

"Joan Moore lunched with me at Wilton's.  She brought a huge sack which the waiters filled with oyster-shells for her hens.  It was so heavy that we had to wait for a taxi to pull up at the door.  [Joan Moore, the pianist, now Countess of Drogheda]

Emerald, Lady Cunard  (1872-1948)

It was with much reluctance that I dined with Emerald again tonight, but I had promised to do so earlier in the week.  I had a hot bath and set forth in the worst form, taking three books for her to read.  Met Peter Quennell downstairs in the Dorchester*.  We drank whisky and soda together and went up.  As so often when one least  expects it,  the dinner was hugely enjoyable.  There were the two Chaplins, and Alice Harding and Peter.  Anthony Chaplin told us what it felt like in the rear of a bomber with a gun.  He said the cold was quite appalling.  You were numb all the time, and sick. But the spirit of loyalty and camaraderie among the crew was such that it could only be described as pure love.  He said that in 1940 many of our planes were destroyed by bombs dropped from above by our own planes.

We talked of George Moore.  Emerald showed us a letter from him to her, beginning 'Dearest Maud', comparing her to Christ and Sophocles, and acclaiming her genius.  She was very modest about it.  Then she brought from her bedroom a large cardboard box, shook it and said, 'These are all letters to me from George Moore.  I cannot tell you what they are about.'  Peter tried to persuade her to let him go through them with her, but she was reluctant, not wanting them published.  Then she talked of Paris before 1914 and the affectation of Robert de Montesquiou -- who Peter said was the prototype of Charlus - and how he loved to be pressed to recite his own poems, leaning against a marble pedestalled bust in an absurd posture.  While she was telling this story I realised wherein her genius lay, for she has a prodigious memory, and a wonderful gift of narrative, spiced with a frivolity and humour which are unique, and totally irresistible.  It was an enjoyable evening because conversation was not a denigration of contemporary socialites whom I did not know, but about the recent historic past."

Prophesying Peace  James Lees-Milne, 1944

*American-born Maud 'Emerald' Cunard, the  famous society hostess, moved into a suite at London's Dorchester Hotel in her seventies, where she continued to entertain.  Lees-Milne frequently visited her or escorted her to social occasions, and became friendly with the Chaplins.   He later married Alvilde Chaplin, who became famous for her gardening books in the 1950s, even designing Mick Jagger's garden at his home in Amboise, France.

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