The Common Good

In The Guardian of 3.4.2010, Ian Sansom wrote under the title “Great dynasties of the world: The Day-Lewises”:

“On 9 May 1972, a headline appeared in the London Evening Standard: “Poet laureate recuperates at the Amis’ home.” The poet laureate in question was the great Cecil Day-Lewis, laureate since 1968. The Amises’ home was a house called Lemmons, on Hadley Common in Hertfordshire, off at the end of the Northern line near High Barnet.

Already living at Lemmons were Kingsley Amis; his wife, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard; Howard’s mother, Kit, a former ballerina; Howard’s brother; and the painter Sargy Mann. Day-Lewis had arrived to stay at the house in April 1972 with his wife, the actor Jill Balcon, and their two teenage children, Tamasin and Daniel. Amis’s children from his first marriage – Philip, Martin and Sally – were also frequent visitors. It seems likely that for a brief period in 1972, Lemmons was the most brilliantly creative household in Britain. It was also one of the most unlikely.

Day-Lewis was dying of cancer, and Elizabeth Jane Howard had invited Jill and the family to stay despite the fact – or perhaps because – she had had a brief affair with Day-Lewis in the 1950s, when she and Balcon were good friends. “Perhaps it was guilt,” Howard has remarked of her decision to invite her dying ex-lover and his wife into her home. Whatever her motives, it worked: Lemmons became a kind of scratch Utopia. Day-Lewis wrote a poem, At Lemmons, in which he described “A climate of acceptance” where “Very well/I accept my weakness with my friends’/Good natures sweetening each day my sick room.”…

…In a pioneering study published in 1967, the anthropologist Donald R Bender questioned the usefulness of the term “family” and suggested instead the importance of the concept of the “household”, defined as a “residence group that carries out domestic functions”. As good a definition as any of life at Lemmons…”

In Somewhere for Me – A Biography of Richard Rodgers (2002), Meryle Secrest summed up the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I (1951):

The King and I is really a celebration of love in all its guises, from the love of Anna for her dead husband; the love of the King’s official wife, Lady Thiang, for a man she knows is flawed and also unfaithful; the desperation of forbidden love; and a love that is barely recognized and can never be acted upon.

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