At The Pines; Swinburne and Watts-Dunton in Putney

by Mollie Panter-Downes

Hardcover, 1971




Boston, Gambit, 1971.

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I knew nothing about the poet Swinburne when I started this book; this did not stop it being a fascinating read, covering his middle and old age in suburban Putney. Despite coming from genteel stock, Swinburne had yielded to various 'imprudences' in his earlier years, notably alcohol and flagellation. With his anguished mother wringing her hands in the wings, it must have seemed like a dream come true when Theodore Watts-Dunton - a fellow writer and critic - set up home with him and kept him, largely, on the straight and narrow. Although as the author observes:
'Though he could soothe and adroitly suggest a train of ideas that Swinburne, nine times out of ten, would follow with childlike docility, Watts knew perfectly well that when the child was bent on some headstrong course, no voice on earth could stop him.'
Consequently we read of his mother surreptitiously communicating with Watts: ' "as it is a short journey, only an hour and a half from London to Bentley, our station, you might think that Algernon might do it alone". He was then fifty-five'
In old age Watts marries a much younger woman and their twenty-six year long menage-a-deux expands...
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