Obituary: Lady Glendevon

Philip Hoare
Saturday 30 January 1999 01:02

AS THE only child of William Somerset Maugham, perhaps the century's grumpiest writer, and Syrie, his wife turned society decorator, Liza Glendevon's life was complicated even before its conception. As the First World War was declared and Maugham left England for France (where he would meet and fall in love with the disastrous Gerald Haxton), Syrie, then still married to Henry Wellcome, became pregnant and Maugham accepted responsibility. In the event, Syrie Wellcome miscarried; a second pregnancy quickly followed, and produced their daughter, Elizabeth Mary, by emergency Caesarean, on 5 May 1915.

Maugham married her mother two years later, in Jersey City. As Bryan Connon notes in Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), Maugham's attitude to his daughter would ever be complex: his wife would later accuse him, "When you asked me to have a child, you said you wanted a child but you lied; you didn't want a child, you only wanted to be a father." His daughter's birth seemed to underline the threat Maugham felt from women. He wrote to a friend, congratulating him on the birth of his son. "We can all write books, but it is given to but few to produce a male child. I have never been able to manage more than a daughter."

The Maughams' doomed match soon came apart. Separated in 1925, the couple divorced four years later; Syrie Maugham was given pounds 600 per annum to bring up their daughter. She tried to ignore her ex- husband's vindictiveness, according to David Herbert's Second Son (1972), for Liza's sake: "Syrie was determined to show him she could earn her own living and support both herself and their beloved daughter . . ."

Her mother's strange state - somewhere between hostess and businesswoman - introduced Liza, as she became known (after her father's best-selling novel Liza of Lambeth), to the glitterati of the day, potential customers for Syrie & Co's trademark limed Louis Quinze chairs and plush lambskin carpets. This was the environment in which Liza Maugham grew up: Noel Coward (who called her Liza Boo) composing songs in her mother's house, Cecil Beaton photographing her, and Beverly Nichols gossiping about her. "Liza is a perfect darling," effused Beaton of the 13-year-old. "I adore her. She is unique, wise, sophisticated and yet very childish." David Herbert declared unequivocally that Syrie's "adoration of Liza was touching and her whole life revolved around her".

Photographed in a characteristically Surreal pose by Madame Yevonde in 1935 - displaying her ivory skin and bright blue eyes - Liza Maugham remained firmly in the fashion spotlight. She dressed with such outre designers of the day as Charles James, gave numerous interviews, and, when on one occasion she drove in a sports car through London, it was reported in a newspaper under the headline "Hatless in Berkeley Square" as a daring fashion gesture.

In 1936 she married Vincent Paravicini, son of the Swiss Minister to the Court of St James, at St Margaret's, Westminster. "Is it a C.B. Cochran first night?" mused the Express's "William Hickey". "No, it's an issue of Vogue come to life." Dressed by Schiaparelli, she was "bride of the month", surrounded by royalty, aristocracy, Osbert Sitwell, Elsie de Wolfe and Marie Tempest. At the reception at the Swiss Legation, a cake designed by Oliver Messel was the centrepiece. Maugham's wedding present was a portfolio of shares, a house near Henley, and the lease of 15 Wilton Street - which had been decorated by Syrie.

The couple honeymooned in the Villa Mauresque, lent to them by Maugham for the occasion. He appeared to approve of the match: Paravicini was considered one of the best-looking men in London and, as Ted Morgan records in his biography of the writer, Maugham pronounced him "a most beautiful young man".

A son was born in October 1937: "Liza thinks herself very clever to have produced a son and she wants to call him Nicholas Somerset," noted her father. While her husband, now a naturalised British subject, served in the Pacific and Italy, she spent the war in the US (like her father), staying with the Doubledays on Long Island where she contacted measles, pneumonia and chicken-pox whilst pregnant with her second child. (Resentful relatives of the Doubledays would knock on her bedroom door and say, "Don't you know you are going to die? Of course you are. I heard the doctor say so.") She survived, gave birth to a daughter, Camilla, in March 1941, and went to work in the British Library of Information in New York.

She also visited Hollywood, where she was taken out by Errol Flynn, who dined her on wild boar killed with a bow and arrow, while a bulging-eyed Bette Davis cornered her at a cocktail party and told her, "Please do thank your daddy for Mildred; it was like having an acting textbook to guide me" - Davis's appearance in the film version of Maugham's Of Human Bondage had established her as a star.

Liza and her son and daughter returned to England in 1944. Paravicini, now a lieutenant-colonel in an armoured-car unit serving in New Guinea, had proved a gambler and a drinker when he returned to the US in 1943, suffering from malaria. After Liza and her children returned to England the following year, the couple divorced. In 1948 she married Lord John Hope, the 36-year-old son of the second Marquess of Linlithgow, a stolid Conservative politician who would take the title of Baron Glendevon in 1964 after service in the Commonwealth and Scottish Offices. A son, Julian (the present Lord Glendevon), was born in 1950; another, Jonathan, in 1952.

Syrie Maugham died in July 1955, nursed by her daughter; her death "heralded Willie's decline into senility" as Connon writes. The year before Maugham had formed a company to take over the Villa Mauresque and given Liza the shares. This legal ruse now became, in his mind, a means by which he would be thrown out of his own home. It was just one example "of a childish illogicality influenced and encouraged by Alan Searle [WSM's secretary and lover, whom he would adopt as a son] who saw Liza as a rival and feared for his financial future after Willie's death . . ." According to Searle, Willie wrote a new will each week.

Relations reached a nadir in 1962 with the imminent publication of Maugham's memoirs, Looking Back, in which it was rumoured he denied - "in a characteristically reptilian statement" as Rebecca West saw it - paternity of Liza. He did not, but he did declare her to be illegitimate. Scarcely had this furore died down when, insisting he was near penury, Maugham sold 35 paintings at Sotheby's; unfortunately, nine of them had been assigned to Liza in return for her signing away rights to his royalties.

She could not understand what had turned her father against her. "Dearest Daddy, you are making me quite miserable by refusing to see me . . . How can you suddenly turn on me when I have done absolutely nothing?" The situation may have been explained by a bitter comment made by Maugham to Alan Searle: "The trouble with those two [the John Hopes] is that they're too damned happy"; and by the fact that Maugham was already suffering the effects of Alzheimer's.

Partly persuaded by her husband, Liza Hope sued Sotheby's for the proceeds of the paintings belonging to her. Peter Wilson, the auctioneer, informed the press that this was "a family dispute. It has nothing to do with us." The publication of Looking Back did little to help matters.

In 1962 began the extraordinary legal action in which Maugham's lawyers issued a statement announcing their client's decision to sue to deny legal recognition of Lady John Hope, saying she was the legal daughter of Henry Wellcome, and proposing to revoke all gifts to her, including shares in the Villa Mauresque company under Article 950 of the French civil code. In a perverse inversion, he further stated that his daughter had never taken care of him, "and that her claim to the paintings constituted ingratitude". The Daily Telegraph reported that Lady John Hope was "shocked, surprised and absolutely mystified", adding, "When people get very old they become a little strange sometimes."

In February 1963 Liza Hope appealed against Alan Searle's adoption - an act which Maugham intended to disinherit her. The case was heard in Nice in June, and the court declared her to be Maugham's legitimate daughter, and ordered the adoption of Searle to be annulled. Maugham appealed, and lost. A joint statement was issued: "Mr W.S. Maugham and his daughter, Lady John Hope, are happy to state that all differences between them have been settled."

Maugham died on 15 December 1965, although it took Alan Searle 24 hours to inform Lady Glendevon (as she had become) of the fact. She finally inherited the Villa Mauresque. The house was subsequently sold for development.

Liza Glendevon's life with her second husband was indeed a happy one. She was not, however, a typical Tory wife, but always maintained her own spin on the events in her extraordinary life. David Herbert thought her "a kind and thoughtful wife, and an understanding and gentle mother". It is evident she inherited few of her irascible father's genes. Living on the Wilton estate, and in Guernsey, the couple "enjoyed the friendship", in Hugo Vickers's words, of senior members of the Royal Family. Lord Glendevon died in 1996; his widow returned to London to live in Eaton Square.

Philip Hoare

Elizabeth Mary Maugham: born Rome 1 September 1915; married 1936 Vincent Paravicini (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1948 Lord John Hope (created 1964 Baron Glendevon, died 1996; two sons); died Hopetoun, Lothian 27 December 1998.

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