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Serious Pleasures: Life of Stephen Tennant Paperback – 7 Jan 1992
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Stephen Tennant could be disarmingly charismatic and with his painted face, his gold-tinted hair and his flamboyant clothes, the 1920s and 1930s were his halcyon days (it has generally been thought that Stephen was the model for Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's 'Brideshead Revisited' [although his biographer comments that though Waugh satirized Stephen and his friends in other books, there is no evidence that he drew directly from Stephen for 'Brideshead'] and he was certainly the inspiration for Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's 'Love in a Cold Climate'). In 1927 Tennant met and became romantically involved with the poet Siegfried Sassoon, a relationship that proved cataclysmic for both of them, and one that ended very unhappily due to Tennant's totally self-centred behaviour and his cruelly dismissive attitude towards the devoted Sassoon. Decadent, vain, mercurial and wilfully eccentric, Tennant (apart from his travels abroad) spent a large part of his life supine, writing letters, painting, writing poems (which he self-published) and constantly working on (but never finishing) his novel 'Lascar'. As his looks faded, his weight ballooned and he underwent periods of deep depression, Tennant became practically a recluse, although he could still 'turn on the charm' when it suited him and he managed to retain a coterie of loyal and glamorous friends, despite being inconsiderate and casually dismissive towards many of them at times - including Cecil Beaton (who eventually felt compelled to write in complaint) and at one time even turning Princess Margaret away from the door when she called at Wilsford to see him.
Philip Hoare's biography is both entertaining and informative (although I was surprised, on page 144, to see the artist Dora Carrington referred to as Dorothy Carrington) and the author writes with perception and empathy for his subject; however Mr Hoare does not shy away from the less attractive aspects of Stephen Tennant's personality and behaviour and it was interesting to learn of various people's different opinions of him - for instance, the artist Lucian Freud greatly admired him and was able to quote from his verse by heart, but Freud's one-time wife, the writer Caroline Blackwood, thought him merely an exhibitionist, describing him as highly narcissistic and "just an eccentric gay who didn't really do anything". Having learnt a little about Stephen Tennant from biographies I have read of other individuals who frequented the same social circle as he did, I was pleased to have the opportunity to learn a lot more about him, and this accessible and very entertaining biography, which is filled with a whole host of interesting characters, is one I find easy to recommend.
Stephen Tennant was a fascinating and unique personality living an enchanted life with connections to many icons of the age. One of those rare books that you want never to end and worth it's weight in gold.
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