Obituary: Allanah Harper

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The Independent Online
IT WAS on the occasion of Lura Howard's funeral in Nice in 1965, organised by her executor the late Mona Macdonell, that I first met Allanah Harper, writes Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (further to the obituary by Hugo Vickers, 16 November). At the cemetery Mona explained that Allanah could not leave her car because of her boxer. I don't quite know why but I envisaged a large, muscled pugilist, possibly black, who was perhaps unused to the solemnities of provincial French interments. Once the short ceremony was over, we found the missing mourner, then aged 60 and to my eyes a statuesque, even staid, figure with her beloved boxer dog sitting upright beside her.

For the next two years we enjoyed the ideal biographer's correspondence - me gently prodding her, she holding me at bay with tempting anecdotes about her friend Brian Howard (whose biography I was compiling). She managed to fit more words on a postcard than most people do on a double sheet of writing paper.

'The trouble with you and Brian,' Mrs Howard told me when we were both in our twenties (Allanah Harper wrote), 'is that you both have such flair that neither of you have ever really worked hard at anything, facility has made you both lazy and unconcentrated' . . .

In our world in the early Twenties, to be 'Avant Garde' was considered strange and Bolshie; to like contemporary art estranged one from one's friends and made one feel oneself to be a superior person. I remember returning from Paris full of enthusiasm about the 'Soirees de Paris', in which Parade and Salade were given and other ballets, and recitals of modern poetry, and the music of Les Six. It was the first time I had come in contact with the contemporary movement in the arts and it was a revelation to me. These manifestations had the same reception as the Sitwells' Facade, they were greeted with howls of vulgar laughter, tomatoes and eggs were hurled at the artists, instead of the bouquets they should have received . . .

I brought back several books by Andre Gide including the first edition of Les Caves du Vatican in its orange jacket. I showed them to Brian who said he must have these books at once . . .: 'You are an intellectual, I see, one of us.' At that period I thought I was, humility came in middle age, when one was no longer a member of a small group who was interested in living art, but one of many, and knowing much less than they.

Trouble loomed in late 1967 after she had by chance seen an advance cover proof of my book when she took offence at the jacket blurb's implied reference to Brian's homosexuality. Her postcard to me read:

Why underline B's homosexuality to the public. I may be old-fashioned, it is a form of illness, frustrated mother love, or glandular imbalance, and it is not a thing to publicise. Also I think (and Sybille Bedford agrees with me) that it is very unkind to put 'Portrait of a Failure' on the cover (a feeling shared by both Cyril Connolly and Maurice Richardson at the time). It is not for us to judge who is a failure and who is not. We do not know enough of the workings of the inner being, what inner development has taken place at the end of a life.