Obituary: Sir Anthony Glyn Bt
Tuesday 10 February 1998
Anthony Glyn was a writer of great charm and brilliance. Writing was in his blood. He was born Geoffrey Davson, but his maternal grandmother was Elinor Glyn, and it was under the pen-name of Anthony Glyn that he published his first novel in 1953. He subsequently took the name by deed poll.
Born in 1922, he was educated at Eton, where he founded the Eton Literary Society. Commissioned into the Welsh Guards in 1941, he became an intelligence officer and was a year in the field after D-Day, from the Arromanches beaches to the Rhine crossings. When his own unit was not the spearhead of the advance, he would be sent ahead in a scout car to get news of the battle in front and report back. This could be hazardous. On one occasion he was sent into a town to "go and see whether the Sappers have been in yet to clear mines and booby-traps". "How do I do that, Sir?" "Just drive down the main street and then round and round the town and see if you get blown up."
After demobilisation he joined the family firm in the West Indies where his father, Sir Edward Davson, whom he succeeded as second Baronet in 1937, had built up interests in sugar, cattle, and timber. But he wanted to write. His first novel, Romanza, published in 1953, was followed the next year by a second, The Jungle of Eden, and, in 1955, by a biography of his grandmother, Elinor Glyn. This book, and others, was written in the Jane Austen village of Chawton, where the family owned a thatched cottage. His daughter Caroline, who died of heart trouble in Australia in 1981 and was herself a novelist of note, was brought up in the village. His younger daughter became a barrister.
In 1946 Glyn had married Susan, daughter of Sir Rhys Rhys Williams Bt. They were a devoted couple, and when one day he announced that he was going to become a Bohemian and throw away his suits she took it in good part. They moved to Paris and acquired second and third homes in Spain and Austria, finally, in the 1980s, retiring to the South of France.
A prolific author, Anthony Glyn combined the qualities of humour and sadness. His 1969 novel The Dragon Variation won him fame in the chess world; equally appreciated were The Ram in the Thicket (1957) and The Terminal (1965). In 1985 he wrote The Companion Guide to Paris. In his enchanting guide The Seine, 19 years earlier, he mentions so many different cheeses that the reader of the book for the Oxford English Dictionary had to give up recording them all.
Glyn's interests ranged widely into mountaineering, skiing, and music. Once he composed a spoof account of the discovery of "Wagner's last opera", Der Nacht Morgen ("The Morning After"). Some people were taken in, by it and as a result the Musical Times asked him to review an entire Wagner season. He was also interested in making tapestries, and was a considerable linguist, being fluent in English, French, German and Spanish, with passable Italian, and a smattering of Russian.
Imagination was, for him, "truer than reality". He had studied Existentialism, but preferred Heidegger to Sartre, regretting Existentialism's descent into politics. He would remark, "Are you an authentic Dasein?" He himself was a "free spirit", though not in the bad sense of being amoral or regarding all conventional morality as unreasonably trammelling. Indeed he never gave up his religion and died listening to Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor.
He was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris, two weeks ago, considerably nearer to the chapel than Oscar Wilde.
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