At home with Ronald Firbank

The Sitwells take Siegfried Sassoon along to visit novelist Ronald Firbank:

None of us had met him before, but his impressionist novels had led us to expect a somewhat peculiar person, so we weren’t surprised when he received us in a closely-curtained room lighted by numerous candles and filled with a profusion of exotic flowers. A large table was elaborately set out with a banquet of rich confectionery and hothouse fruits. Firbank, whose appearance was as orchidaceous as his fictional fantasies, behaved so strangely that all attempts at ordinary conversation became farcical. His murmured remarks were almost inaudible, and he was too nervous to sit still for more than half a minute at a time. The only coherent information he gave me was when I heavily enquired where his wonderful fruit came from. ‘Blenheim,’ he exclaimed with an hysterical giggle, and then darted away to put a picture-frame straight, leaving me wondering how peaches were grown at Blenheim in mid-winter. The Sitwells were more successful in mitigating his helpless discomposure, but even Osbert’s suavely reassuring manner failed to elicit anything except the disconnected utterances which were his method of evading direct explanations. For instance, when Sacheverell spoke appreciatively of his latest novel, Caprice, he turned his head away, and remarked, in a choking voice, ‘I can’t bear calceolarias! Can you?’ Could this have any bearing on the book, I speculated, from the other side of the table, where I was now a mere cake and fruit consumer. There was an enormous fire, and the warmth of the flower-scented room made me drowsy while Firbank, who was shedding some of his agonised shyness and its attendant affectations, confided in the Sitwells that he had no servants in the house and lived almost entirely on cold chicken. Watching him through the jungle of orchids, I found it hard to believe that this strange being could have any relationship with the outer world. He was as unreal and anomalous as his writings, and the room – with its exquisite refinements and virtuosities of taste – seemed a pathetically contrived refuge. I afterwards discovered that he had travelled widely, and was much more business-like than he made himself out to be. But when I once ventured to ask what was his favourite country, he could only answer ‘Lotus land, of course!’

– from Ronald Firbank: Memoirs and Critiques, ed. Mervyn Horder

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11 comments

  1. babylonbaroque

    Thank you, one never hears enough about Firbank, I recently picked up Prancing Nigger to re-read, unfortunately I dropped off, my lost, need to pick up once more.
    I enjoy your blog, I hope you don’t mind, but I was awarded one of those blog awards, and must select 5 others I enjoy, I of course thought of Strangeflowers. it all seems a bit like a high school chain letter, but I try to be a sport.
    Take care and thanks for the interesting posts,
    Leonard @ babylonbaroque

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