Swann’s Way*

*(Du côté de chez Swann, sometimes translated as The Way by Swann’s) (1913): Volume I of À la recherche du temps perdu, by Marcel Proust.

A further contribution to the website Notable Abodes may be in order. Its current helpful note records that 1, Swan Walk, Chelsea, was the home in 1916 of:

“Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943).Feminist English poet and author whose best known work is the female homosexual themed The Well of Loneliness, that caused controversy when it was released.”.

However, Jolyon50, on his blog “Fluff on the Needle – Records made before I was around to care”, provides a wider context. His post of 3.11.13 was entitled “Complicated lives”. Its subject was Robert Coningsby Clarke’s Desert Love Songs, a song cycle comprising: 1) I will await thee  2) My heart’s desire  3) The burning hours 4) The dove  5) The hawk  6) Yellow slippers.

Jolyon tells his readers:

“Robert Coningsby Langton Clarke has almost sunk without trace as a composer. He was born in 1879 at Old Charlton in Kent, now a suburb engulfed in South-East London.  His father was Col. F.C.H. Clarke, Surveyor General of Ceylon (1842-1894) and a writer of military books etc. Educated first Marlborough, Clark became a pupil of Sir Frederick Bridge at Westminster Abbey in 1898 and then went up to Trinity College, Oxford where I think he studied the organ. As a back up to his musical proclivities he also took a BA in jurisprudence, which may account for his becoming a partner in the Carron Iron Works. He enlisted in 28th County of London Regt. (Artists’ Rifles), in 1914; was Lieut the Worcestershire Regt, 1915; and then with the Salonika Field Force, 1916–17. After the war he continued writing music but really by this time his output started to decline until his death in 1934…

As far as I can judge Clarke composed these songs containing the text of Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall’s poems because, together with his wife Dolly, they all lived at the same house at No. 1 Swan Walk, Chelsea, opposite Chelsea Physic Gardens. 

Clerke’s wife, Dorothy Diehl, was Radclyffe Hall’s Pennsylvanian cousin. Dorothy, or Dolly as she was called, arrived in the UK about 1906 aged 18 and swiftly became Radclyffe-Hall’s lesbian lover. However Radclyffe-Hall’s affection then turned to Mabel Batten, a well-known amateur lieder singer. It was Batten who introduced Radclyffe-Hall to Coningsby Clarke as a composer to help set some of her poems.Mabel gave Radclyffe-Hall the nickname ‘John’ a name she was generally known by and so I will use this symbolic re-christening hereafter.

Dolly was dependent on John financially, John had inherited £100,000 from her father so could do pretty well what she liked. When John and Dolly broke up Dolly first returned to the USA but was back by July 1909 and quickly decided to marry Clarke. The marriage took place at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on 19th October 1909 with John as their witness. That they were all living in the same house seems to indicate some sort of interesting arraignment (sic). Who’s Who lists Clarke’s hobbies as croquet, bridge, fishing, reading, sea-bathing, and travelling…Anyway it seems to have been an unconventional life as Dolly occasionally became John’s lover from time to time. R. Coningsby Clarke, as he preferred to be called on his musical compositions, also wrote many songs set to poems by John Masefield and W.E. Henley but the only song he is remembered today by is The Blind Ploughman.Something I can’t quite fathom is why John continued to pay Dolly after her marriage, she had a couple of children by Clarke…”

From Wikipedia:

Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge (born Margot Elena Gertrude Taylor; 8 March 1887 – 24 September 1963) was a British sculptor and translator. She is best known as the long-time lesbian partner of Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, author of The Well of Loneliness.”

Lady Troubridge published in 1945 a biography, The Life and Death of Radclyffe Hall, in which she says rather pointedly of Dorothy Diehl:

“At the time I came to know her she had an immensely fat baby and had been married for a number of years to the composer Robert Coningsby Clarke.”

Of the children so casually referred to, one was Jacqueline Clarke, born on February 26, 1916. She became an actor, known for her films Blithe Spirit (1945), The Way to the Stars (1945) and Escape (1948).

Euryale writes on Britmovie.co.uk:

“Jacqueline graduated RADA in 1934 and for the next 15 years or so pursued an acting career on stage and screen, usually playing maids it seems! In 1941 she was appearing in Blithe Spirit on Broadway. Jacqueline returned to England and married the stage actor, Anthony Compton, in Sept. 1942…Anthony Compton had left RADA in 1935 and during the War joined the R.A.F. Unfortuately, he was killed when his plane crashed in 1944…

(From peerage.com: Jacqueline Compton Coningsby-Clarke is the daughter of Robert Coningsby-Clarke. She married James Gordon Dawson Stannus, son of Lt.-Col. Thomas Robert Alexander Stannus and Elizabeth Graydon Smith, on 17 September 1945. She and James Gordon Dawson Stannus were divorced in 1946.)

…Jacqueline married the photographer Gordon Anthony. He specialised in ballet and theatre subject matter, and in fact was the brother of Ninette de Valois. Jacqueline then married Jonathan Glennon-Anderson in 1949…he died in Clare, Suffolk in 1985, where Jacqueline herself died on June 30, 1994.”

In David Leans film of Noel Coward‘s Blithe Spirit, Clarke reprised her part as Edith, the maid. In response to cross-questioning by Madame Arcati, an eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Edith bursts into tears, saying: “Let me go – I haven’t done nothing nor seen nobody – let me go back to bed.”.

One stage direction reads:

“Madame Arcati rushes to the door and switches off the lights. In the dark Edith is singing Always in a very high cockney voice.”

K. Donnelly notes in British Film Music and Film Musicals that in David Lean’s film of Blithe Spirit:

“…the popular song-waltz Always functioned as a portal to the “Other Side”,”

and Melanie Williams writes in David Lean of “…the genuinely poignant moment in which Charles and Elvira pledge their continuing love while Irving Berlin’s haunting song Always plays in the background…”.

(Not for just an hour

Not for just a day

Not for just a year

But Always)

Don Tyler tells us:

“When Irving and Ellin MacKay were married in early ’26, he turned over all the rights to Always to her as a wedding gift…Irving and Ellin lived together as husband and wife for over 60 years until her death.”

And breathe…


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