Barbara Pym and Rupert Gleadow

Presented by Yvonne Cocking

at the Conference of the Barbara Pym Society in North America

12-13 April 2008

The early days of the friendship between Barbara Pym and Rupert Gleadow have been recorded by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym in A Very Private Eye, and by Hazel Holt in A Lot to Ask, so I shall not cover the same ground in any detail. In this paper I should like to concentrate on Rupert’s life after he and Barbara ceased to be potential lovers, but remained friends.

Barbara Pym met Rupert Gleadow in her first term at Oxford, through their friend Bill Thacker, but it was not until May 1932 that he was sufficiently aware of her to ask her to tea.  He had come up to Trinity College in 1928 and was working for his imminent final examinations in Classics and Egyptology.  Although Barbara had already attracted a lot of attention from her male co-students, she had not yet set her sights on any particular one of them. 

It is clear that Rupert and Barbara were immediately very taken with one another.  Her diary entries testify to her attraction to Rupert, who was rather good-looking, and he wrote:

“Did you intend a flattering suggestion when you said you had done no work since you saw me in the Bod?  I’ve been trying to work too, but it’s no good – no good at all.  The Egyptian sage whom I was reading kept on putting [here he gives the Egyptian hieroglyphs for ‘Barbara’] in the most ungrammatical places in sentences, and finally…I gave it up.”

Rupert shared rooms with George Steer (Christ Church) at 47 Wellington Square, so time to be indoors alone together was limited, and indeed frowned upon by the University authorities.  After Barbara had had her first tea date with Rupert, sitting on the leopard skin sofa in George’s sitting room, Rupert was very keen to see her again, but his work schedule was such that it was difficult to find a window of opportunity.  He wrote to her a few days later, on 28th May:

“Dear Barbara
It was so nice having tea with you on Thursday.  As George’s Schools begin on 2nd, a week before mine, and he will be out till after 5, I’m hoping you may come again that week – only it’ll have to be at 3 o/clock!   I gather from Bill Thacker that you sometimes drop in and pay a friendly call – I wish I could encourage you to do the same, but I’m so often out – 5 to 2 [i.e. 1.55] is the only time of day I’m really likely to be in, apart from the morning, and sometimes between 6.30 and 7.15.  I suppose the University would not allow me merely to come and call on you, otherwise they’d have all sorts of Don Juans getting in. Yesterday every street I came out of I looked carefully round to see if you weren’t in sight!  Today I am going to look for you in the Bod at 12.45 and 6.30…

            Hoping to see you soon, Your [sic] Rupert”

However, he did find time to take her to see the film Frankenstein on the 2nd June, her 19th birthday, and bought her ‘a heavenly scarf – Royal blue and orange’.  The next day he wrote:

“Barbara Darling
I just can’t face any work just now so I’m writing to you instead … it’s a comfort to think we shall meet tomorrow at 10.15…Trevor Wylie saw us walking down the High together yesterday – I just saw him out of the corner of my eye; and then found a note in my rooms “How are you?”  I haven’t been able to tell him that the answer is HAPPY … Goodbye darling for the present.  Yesterday and you were a marvellous pair, and so will you be tomorrow.  With lots of all my love, Rupert.”

And the next letter a few days later is in similar vein

“Barbara Darling
It’s been the most marvellous day, and I haven’t stopped thinking about you the whole time … Darling, my memory is going to take special care of today, and never forget how lovely you have been, and how kind –… Today must be very happy for always at having seen so much happiness of ours.  Goodnight – and now to dream about you.  My love to you always, Rupert.”

On 1st June Barbara was introduced to Miles Macadam, Rupert’s close friend and fellow Egyptologist from Worcester College.  They started their final exams, on 9th June and on 16th Rupert wrote ecstatically:

“Barbara my Darling
            All is well - and we have both got FIRSTS!  Hoorah, hoorah!”

Barbara and Miles spent most of the time together while Rupert was entertaining his mother and brother Edmund, who had come to congratulate him on the examination results, and then the three students spent much of the last week of term together.

“My darling Barbara
If I’d been told five weeks ago how happy we should be three together I should not have believed it.  I think Miles finds it a great comfort to have our company.  I think you don’t mind two at once.  This I suppose is my last letter to you from Oxford.  With lots and lots of love and kisses, Rupert.”

They wrote to each other frequently during the long vacation, though whether they would ever meet again now that Rupert had left Oxford was in doubt.  His letters are very romantic, recalling the happy days they had spent together.  But he is also preoccupied with his future career about which he vacillates endlessly, undecided whether to return to Oxford to do a D.Phil., or whether, because of his interest in flying, to join the Royal Air Force.

On Sunday 26th June 1932, he writes from his mother’s flat in Queen’s Court, West London, where he says he is bored, though he has only been there a few days:

“I’m alone in the new flat with my mother.”

I should mention here that the Gleadows must have recently moved from the family home, Bakeham House, set on a 51 acre site in Englefield Green, Surrey – not far from Virginia Water, the scene of Humphrey’s first improper advances to Leonora in The Sweet Dove Died.  Possibly Rupert’s father had recently passed away.

“Oh, what a change from Oxford.  Miles stayed with us two nights, and went to the air display with us … I can give you as yet no better idea of my plans for next year than before; I may still go into the Air Force.

I spend my spare time wondering what parts of that last week I shall remember best: those lovely nakedish times by the Cher, and Miles with his trousers on a paddle, and you upside down: or Charlbury and Great Tew; or Thames; or Goodnight Vienna, and certain hours, particularly one Monday, one 21st June, on a leopard-skinned sofa in Wellington Square.  ‘But what has been is past forgetting’.  It’s all been very marvellous, and for an end to one’s last term uniquely and most appropriately charming.” 

All these events are chronicled in Barbara’s diary.  As we do not have any of Barbara’s letters to Rupert, we have to deduce their contents from his replies, but she seems always to have answered promptly, and with enthusiasm:

“Thank you for your lovely long letter, and the photographs … the one I am most glad to have is the one of you.  Your letter I got on Thursday evening on coming in rather late, and when I got rid of my tiresome family I took it to bed and read it straight through twice … When I am alone, and have got free from the depressing keeping up of appearances that the company of my mother always entails, then I always seem more, and more naturally, happy than I used to before; and I think that must be the result of all the happy times we had in Oxford and I do miss you, you know, and I don’t envy you a bit at Oswestry if there really are no young men for you to console yourself with.  If absence makes the heart much fonder, I shall be in love!  Fancy that! ... I’ll tell you in my next letter why the arguments are so strong that I should go into the Air Force …”

For some time Rupert had been complaining of problems with his eyesight, particularly when he was studying.

“As the oculist may make all sorts of differences to my thoughts about flying, I’ll not write you now about the Air Force… I somehow think the D.Phil is more probable, though I’m rather afraid of not being able to get through the subject in the time (2 years).

A couple of weeks later he wrote:

“Barbara Darling
…so many things have happened since I last wrote.  On Friday July 8 I made up my mind; on Saturday July 9th I bought an aeroplane!!!!.

Till last Friday I was occupied in getting my licence out of the Air Ministry, and yesterday I flew it myself for the first time.  Of course, I am broke henceforward.  The machine is very old and 2nd hand, a special Moth with a racing fuselage whereby it goes faster than the ordinary of its kind … and by the way my eyes are much better: I had no difficulty in landing an aeroplane! …I’m still as vague as ever about my plans: yesterday the D.Phil took a turn for the worse … There being no aerodrome anywhere near Oswestry, I suppose I shan’t have a chance to take you up at present, but let me know if you go and stay in Liverpool again.  I could do it from there…Being bored so much in London…makes me think I must be very susceptible to it; and as I’m very much afraid I should be bored in the Air Force I’ve more or less decided not to go in to it.”

On 26t h July, Bakeham House was put up for auction, but no one bid for it.

“God knows when we shall get rid of it.”

Meanwhile another career possibility had presented itself:

“As far as going in to His Majesty’s service in the Levant, that means learning languages for a year, and after that I’m very much afraid there’s an examination, which is unthinkable.  As for Egyptology, all the intrigues about the Readership at Oxford have shown me what to expect there, and what sort of people academic people are.  So that’s not very attractive either…I don’t want to take up Egyptology professionally, so to come to Oxford and take a D.Phil. for 2 years would be a sheer swank and probably a waste of time.  Abroad every MA is a Doctor.  So I’ve decided probably not to do that – certainly not if I don’t get the Derby Scholarship.”

The Derby Scholarship was awarded by the University for two years to a candidate of sufficient merit offering a subject connected with the languages and literatures of ancient Greece and Rome:

“So we have now gone all the way round the circle and come back to the Air Force, which is the quickest way of getting paid (one begins at about £350 a year), and where I should have to amuse myself by writing in my spare time – which would be plentiful…”

And then, another volte face!

“Stop Press!  I may come to Oxford to learn modern Greek from Professor Dawkins concurrently with, or instead of, the D.Phil., with a view to becoming a Professor of modern Greek! (a much more humane and less competed-for study than all this squabbling Egyptology.)… I think the Air Force idea is now as good as definitely done for, so I am expecting that I shall be at Oxford next term.”

He is also learning Arabic because:

“anywhere from Algeria to Persia I may want to speak it…I am now definitely going to go in for the Derby Scholarship and so unless something else turns up I shall be in Oxford next term from the beginning of term until the award is announced.  Then if the award is not to me, I shall go away again…”

After spending some days cruising on a sailing vessel around the Scottish islands, Rupert is now continuing a lone holiday in Wales, and has apparently received an invitation from Barbara to visit her.  He writes from Fishguard on 3 September:

“I haven’t yet made my arrangements for when I leave here, but I am at present expecting not only to be at Oxford on Oct 10 but to try to get to Oswestry about Sept 16.

From the Post Office at Bala on 7th Sept, as usual his plans are indefinite:

“I propose at present to arrive on Thursday 15th.  I can’t say exactly yet, because it rather depends on the state of the weather around Snowdon when I’m there.  From Bala I’ll write and let you know what time I propose to arrive … I’ve asked Miles to come to the Lakes with me, and if he is able to we shall probably want to start on 20th

I think, after my D.Phil. (if any) I shall give up being called an Egyptologist…and be called a linguist.  After all, I ought to know by then Arabic, Greek (ancient and modern), German and/or French, Egyptian and Coptic, besides Latin and English, possibly some Italian or Spanish – preferably the latter…”

Rupert arrived on 15th September; after he left on 22nd he wrote:

“My darling, I never realized what it was going to be like parting from you.  As soon as you were out of sight I very nearly wept … it was awful….I’ve called Miles ‘Darling’ several times … and told him I wished he was you, which he didn’t take very kindly … Darling, what can a man say in a case like this? ‘Thank you for making me fall in love with anyone so charming as you?  Or, for making me realize that I have?’...Oh for a kiss!!...I shall be glad when I can see you again.”

Barbara felt much the same, as she confided to her diary.  “We had such a heavenly week together.  I’d never imagined it would be so good.  I actually wept a bit!”

Many letters passed between the two while Rupert and Miles were in the Lake District – Rupert’s all very loving, Barbara’s, too, by inference.

Rupert returned to Oxford in early October looking for digs “with a complaisant and inexpensive landlady” - ‘complaisant’ because he hoped to entertain Barbara there – and found some in 90 St. Mary’s Road.  Then they met Miles, who had a Senior Scholarship at New College, and had lunch at Stewarts. “A happy reunion,” Barbara recalls. “It was marvelous.”

In another letter about this time, Rupert first mentions astrology:

“I’ve just been lent some books on Astrology, which are very interesting, though here and there one of them is absurd ; but on the whole amazingly true; you should read what it says about Gemini people (I’m Gemini, and so to some extent are you).  What time of the day were you born? Do let me know …”

On 13th October Barbara records: “Met Rupert in a dark suit and white tie – he persuaded me to have lunch at the Randolph with his mother and Edmund…I was of course terrified but my fur coat gave me confidence … we all adjourned to Fullers for tea with Mrs Macadam and Miles.”

From now on Rupert’s letters show signs of an increasing emphasis on sex, but at the same time Barbara seems to be, to some extent anyway, distancing herself from his attentions, perhaps regretting some of her earlier confessions to him. “My intentions are strictly dishonourable,” Rupert declared to her, and he is confident that Barbara will finally succumb to his pleas and go to bed with him.  Now back living in College, he tries to persuade her to visit him in his rooms.  In spite of the University’s strictures against such unchaperoned visits, Rupert was prepared to take a chance: 

“Miles says he’d never dare take a girl in to his bedroom at Oxford for fear of being disgraced – but these things admittedly always do go wrong with him just as they always go right with me.” 

Early in November Rupert heard that he was not to receive the Derby award:

“They gave no reason for their decision, but I think it was because they didn’t consider the subject classical enough …However, I merely went and saw Prof. Griffith to ask him about ancient Egyptian astronomy and astrology in case of doing that for a D.Phil.”

But in fact in turned out that there was a Don who had already adequately covered those subjects:

“I’m feeling rather tired through lying awake half the night thinking out my future.  It’s no good.  I’ve got to go down.  There’s no point in staying on fatuously up here and taking a fatuous D.Phil.  I’m too old for the entrance to the consular and other services, but I’m not too old for the diplomatic and foreign office, and I’m damned if I see why I shouldn’t try to go into that if there’s an examination next August.  I ought to be able to learn lots of French and German before then.”

And he added, prophetically, ”No doubt in the end I shall find Astrology is the only profession left.” During the winter vacation he was at St. Albans, flying.  He writes from there on 9th Dec: “…I’m sending the horoscope.” A horoscope is a map or diagram of the skies from a given place at a given time.  The positions of the stars and planets in a horoscope is supposed by astrologists to influence human and terrestrial affairs.

“I don’t know whether it is really very good, seeing as how it’s the first horoscope I ever did.  Really, I think your marriage prospects are quite excellent (so are mine! But I will tell you about my wife one day.)  I think it’s an extremely fine horoscope and I wish you luck with it.”

On 17 January 1933, back after the winter vacation, Barbara says, “Rupert called in the afternoon and I found myself remarkably glad to see him … went on to his rooms in Trinity…we indulged in some very pleasant caresses both before and after tea – but I stuck out against having a real necking party.  But really he is charming, and I couldn’t be cross with him.”

I think it was on this same day that Barbara had caught sight of Henry Harvey for the first time.  Perhaps that is why she was so coy with Rupert.  From this time on her thoughts were increasingly on “Lorenzo,” and she detached herself gradually from her relationship with Rupert, encouraging him not to think of her as his exclusive girl friend.

He replied:

“You’ll be glad to hear that at last I’ve stopped wasting my time; at last I’ve found someone with whom I can fulfill my promise to you not to be strictly faithful; but as I only made the discovery 2 days before coming here it’s only two days kissing I’ve been able to have – and I did need it…By the way did you see that in America a man was sent to prison for ‘from 1 to 3 years’ for seduction!  I shall have to look out, if ever I go there!

On 23rd February 1933, he wrote inviting her to lunch - then said: “After inspecting Harvey, Miles and I decided that various other people look like that …in other words the face did not seem altogether strange.  Well, well.”

So Barbara must have told him of her interest in Henry.  Rupert finally had to accept that Barbara was not for him.  As Hazel says in A Lot to Ask, “He tactfully made a comfortable joke of the whole affair”, and he bowed to the inevitable with good grace.  However, they continued to correspond and remained friends throughout their remaining time together in Oxford, though perhaps there was a touch of bitterness in one letter where he suggests that this is what Barbara would say of him in the future:

“There was that poor dear Rupert Gleadow – quite mad about me he was, but my dear he really was terribly trying, so lascivious – never would leave me alone!  What did I like him for?  Oh, I don’t know, I suppose he was rather pathetic – of course an awful poseur – he would make you think he was acutely miserable when all the time the man was devoured by a positive flame of sexual excitement.  It was most indecent.” 

I think that tells us quite a lot about Rupert himself.

On 29 Mar 1933 he wrote from Queen’s Court, London (his mother’s flat):

“I am going to take a ticket in the next 2 or 3 Irish Sweeps for astrological reasons.  I will, as I said, do your fiance’s horoscope, but NOT of course until you are engaged to someone, and for any one else my fee is now 1 guinea…

and by 20 Apr 33 the romance was over.

“Barbara dearest,  Who have you fallen in love with this time? …I have not led an entirely unsexual vac, have you?  I hope and think perhaps you’d have written if you had…I have got myself all mixed up in Astrology again with several people expecting horoscopes and all my aunts panting for golden prophecies of their futures.”

That is the last of the letters from Oxford.  Rupert obviously completed the academic year; but I don’t think it he went back again in October 1933.

Eighteen months later, in October 1934, Rupert wrote from NW3 asking Barbara about her exam results, which of course she had had the previous June, and tells her:

“You’ll be surprised to hear that I have taken up music and am energetically studying the laws of harmony, such of them as are left in these days.  But the writing still continues and I am now settled on Primrose Hill trying to finish a novel by the end of the year.  After that I shall probably go abroad again…No, I am not married, nor anything like it.  I think it would be surprising if I were, seeing what my views on the subject are.  But at the moment my heart is fairly free.  I had a couple of love affairs early in the year, neither very satisfactory.  How is your own heart? Pining, I suppose, for some beautiful man, as usual.  Yours ever, Rupert”

Later that month

“It was very nice to get your letter, particularly coming so soon.  I was sure you’d reply at once, which none of my other friends ever do…Don’t you find it an awful strain, writing a novel?  I do.  However, I’ve written about 70,000 words already, so it’s getting on.  I can’t tell you what it’s all about, it’s too strange and mixed.  Probably some people will find it shocking but it’s not intended to be; only, my hero and heroine show the most awful tendency to go to bed together every time they meet!  I can’t help it, can I? … Very glad to hear that things are going so well with you; surely you must be unique in being able brazenly to say ‘No!’ when people ask you if you are looking for a job?”

Barbara had been twice to Germany in 1934, and had obviously told Rupert about Friedbert Gluck, whom she had first met in Cologne at Easter that year:

“It’s good that you have been to Germany and can talk about it.  Oh, but please don’t admire those filthy Nazis in their beautiful uniforms: you won’t get a chance much longer, because 1936 will just about see the end of Hitler…I suppose you are still as chaste as ever?  I’m rather lonely just now, not having had a mistress since the Spring … Yes, I shall always remember that lovely summer of ours, which was so fine … this morning when I was in my bath the wireless played Goodnight, Vienna!  I wonder how long we shall go on being able to hear that.  It always pleases me.  There is also Wien du Stadt meiner Träume which was also a theme of that summer… Will it surprise you to know that I’ve still got the complete collection of your love letters?  A month or two ago I began reading them through, to see if I shouldn’t reduce the number, and save space, but I only got half way and so there they are still.  They seemed to me to have stood the test of time very well.  Mine on the other hand were a little shocking occasionally and I feel they might well be destroyed!  You know the saying: ‘Do right and fear no man; don’t write and fear no women!’  However, I shall have to trust you.  Best wishes to you and love from Rupert.”

Ten months later his next letter was written from the Sesame Imperial Club in London, clearly in response to one from Barbara:

“Yes, the Astrology still flourishes; in fact I can answer any reasonably serious question, and collect horoscopes on all sides.  My stay in Paris this time has yielded 2 dozen, including Nijinsky and Toscanini and D’Annuncio.  Also I have met the best astrologers in England, and in fact have been getting on the ‘inside’ of that profession.  But that is not my real job.  My real job – which I could see written in my horoscope and tried to avoid – is political.  The principle is this: In lots of countries valuable goods are being destroyed and yet there are people starving.  This is unnecessary because we know there is enough to go round.  The only thing needful is to distribute it.  No orthodox party has any solution for the problem, in fact the only known solution so far is Social Credit – and we have started an ingenious electoral campaign which is already producing results.  People will tell you it won’t work, but how do they know?  And how can they pretend the present system works when food people need is thrown in to the sea to keep up prices?  However, you won’t want a sermon on politics.  Only that is the cause I am working for, and in the present state of the world it seems a pretty desperate one.  We need to work hard, but we shall get there…”

Social Credit was a political theory originated by a Scot, Major Clifford Hugh Douglas (1879-1952), which argued that “economic reform would prevent the destruction of soils and food for the sake of profit and ensure that the whole population would be guaranteed sufficient income to enable them to buy fresh, protective foods.”  (Agricultural History Review, 46, 1998, 200)

“Mother is still at Queen’s Court … since going round South America she’s been to Baghdad and is now seriously trying to get married again.  From her horoscope it looks as though she might succeed and regret it; …

As for my novel, well I wrote two and didn’t like either of them.  They were too much the distillation of the superfluous bile of a thoroughly discontented person.  That’s because I was not working hard enough and was trying to evade my miserable destiny … and my sex life was unsatisfactory.  I wrote a number of short stories too, and some of them I did try to publish, but the form did not come easy to me.  They were too strained, and so naturally they didn’t succeed.  Short stories being a technique nowadays rather then an art, it is easy to get too self-conscious about them …

No, I’m not married … As for you, I know you’ll marry all right, though not for a year or two, and to a very nice and rather original man.  The horoscope is at home, and I remember most of it – Mars in Aries, Moon and Venus in Taurus, Sun, Mercury and Saturn in Gemini, Ascendant 2 degrees Leo, and Uranus very strong in the House of Marriage. 

I’m afraid I never realized your attraction for Henry Harvey was really so serious as to be still among the emotional possibilities.  I always imagined him a rather painted god, not real.  However, he seems to have made an impression on a poor maiden heart.”

And, again, obviously in reply to a question from her:

“Yes it is possible to love more than one person, perhaps more than two, for that is the case with me at the moment.  I will admit, after your own candour,”

This will be when she told him that she was in love with both Henry and Friedbert:

“that I have one mistress in France, and another in Russia, and what should be a third in England.  The only thing is that in a case like that one is always conscious that it is the other person who loves best, for one cannot give one’s own heart to more than one person.  And it is rarely enough that one can give it to one.  And of course one cannot, under any circumstances love a real Nazi … Yes, no doubt we have changed.  This letter will tell you a good deal for it is written quite spontaneously and very fast … but I don’t think any of it will surprise you, either on the sexual or political plane.  Your own sounded, as you suggest, a bit colder and more disillusioned, but I am sure that you only find it a bit hard to write really naturally, because it is such a long time that is due to the conjunction of Saturn and the Sun … Do you remember George Steer, who was in digs with me in Wellington Square, but lent me his room to have you to tea in once or twice?”

He of the leopard skin sofa!

“He is now The Times Special Correspondent in Addis Ababa, so if you read about Abyssinia in The Times, it’s him.

I’m beginning to realize that one day it will be convenient to be married and have a woman to look after me, but at present I still feel very much the wanderer – 1934 I had the misfortune to spend all in England, with three unsuccessful love affairs, so I was very glad, when Christmas came, to flee to Munich – and now I’m devoured by the desire to see Hungary and the Balkans … I took the MA in June, Miles is finishing his D.Phil. and will take his degree in October and after that he is going out to excavate in Nubia for the winter …” 

Next communication is a postcard from Bregenz, postmarked 25th August 1935:

“After an idyllic month in the north Tirol at 3000ft…I go to Dusseldorf to represent England (probably not officially) at the International Astrological Congress, and am continuing to write two books in the time.”

At the end of August, when Barbara was in Budapest she received another postcard from Rupert suggesting that she visit him in London on her way back. “I’d love 2CU,” he says, using the abbreviation for “to see you” that kids use today when texting.

But Barbara did not take up the invitation, for Rupert wrote in October:

“I had hoped that you would reply to my letter inviting you to see me in London … but since you did not I am full of curiosity to know whether it was because you thought your reply would not arrive in time … or because after the confessions in my letter you felt it would not be safe! … As an astrologer, I feel now exempted from the effort of writing further novels.  I have discovered the political cause that is going to make most headway and propose to devote my energies to it – viz. Social Credit.  Why don’t you start a group in Oswestry? Or order it…”

The Newsletter, presumably:

“Tuppence weekly, from your newsagent.  As we are going to win our battle I’m naturally keen to do so as quickly as possible and get it over, after which I shall retire under a pseudonym to Cornwall and predict disasters for the Sunday Dispatch.  Perhaps! …Yours politically and pertinaciously, if somewhat intermittently, and with love, Rupert.”

Late in October he writes:

“Thanks so much for your great letter complete with photograph: I think you look fiendishly intelligent but very agreeable … Your account of Budapest was very intriguing … I think I may go there for a Xmas holiday.”

The next item in the archives is a newspaper cutting with a surprising announcement:

“The marriage will take place on December 7th, in Paris, between Rupert Seeley Gleadow of 6 rue de Belloy, Paris 16e, son of the late Frank Gleadow of Bakeham   House, Englefield Green, Surrey, and of Mrs. Harold Bompas of Flat 10, 24 Palace Court, London, W 2, and Mlle. Marguérite Rendu, daughter of the late Eugène Rendu and of Mme. Rendu of Paris”

So Mrs Gleadow did marry again. There is a Harold Bompas who donated a sculpture in 1937 and three paintings in 1941 to the Ashmolean Museum.  Perhaps this was Rupert’s step-father?  There was a Marguérite Rendu who translated detective fiction from English into French between 1930 and 1937.   This could have been his fiancée.  The provenance of this cutting is uncertain.  In the light of later communication I think the wedding date must have been 1937.

After the newspaper cutting is a letter from Palace Ct. dated 5th December 1938:

“Dear Barbara

I had intended to write to you long ago for I did not think you could have seen the announcement in The Times at the beginning of August.  But I’ve been full of work and terribly weak in health.  I shall be here until January 2nd and if you like to see me you have only to ring up or drop a line.

One learns to love, you know, and I began learning in 1932.  It seems incredible to realize that in those lovely days none of the tragedies of life had yet happened.  But if we had not had those wonderful times together probably I should not have known those sublime heights of love which Marguérite and I together achieved and which will always remain a light to my life.

So you see you have made a difference to my life which I shall not forget.  With love, Rupert.”

Sadly, I think the announcement in August must have been of Marguérite’s death. Rupert’s first book, Astrology in Everyday Life, published in 1940, was dedicated “in memory of Marguérite…”

Then, almost another year later there is a letter from Bettiscombe by Bridport in Dorset, a few weeks after the outbreak of war:

“Dear Barbara

It is a long time since you heard from me, but for some reason that interval is now at an end – I thought you might like to see the enclosed…”

There is no enclosure in the Archive.

“The last year has naturally been pretty unpleasant for me, but I am now staying with some people who are very nice and are willing to bring up my daughter with their own children, so it looks as though that problem were solved.  At present she is in France with my old mother-in-law.”

This is our first inkling that he had a child.  Probably the missing enclosure was a newspaper cutting, or some other evidence of the death of his wife, possibly in childbirth.

“When war began I was near St. Tropez having a lovely holiday with sea bathing…the journey back across France in mid-September took a very long time…How are your literary ventures going?  I’ve just written a novel which Raymond Savage…”

A well-known literary and theatrical agent, biographer of Lord Allenby and the desert campaign of 1922, and advisor on the film Laurence of Arabia:

“ has agreed to handle…I heard about six months ago that Miles was hoping to get married in September…I have no intention of doing any war work until forced to; it is a waste of time for an intelligent person.  Hitler is doomed anyway …I hope there are still 57 pubs in Oswestry and that you are in love with some beautiful person as usual.  With love, Rupert.”

Bettiscombe  20th January 1940:

“My dear Barbara

Your letter of 8th Dec was a very nice one … you are quite right about my daughter having large black eyes, but in other ways she takes after the mother, being fair, fearless and fond of animals.  She was christened Sylvia Marguérite …”

It is very sad that we hear no more of Sylvia – whether she ever got back to England before the Germans occupied Paris, or whether the Dorset family took her in.  There is no evidence that her father took her back after his second marriage.

“It is impossible to describe my book so you will have to wait till you read it.  I am also writing poetry, though with a compete disregard of the modern movement …

Miles got married on Sept 2nd, thinking it best not to give the war a chance to separate them.  I saw him the other day on a flying visit to Oxford, but not her, as three months of connubial bliss with so vast a man (he weighs about 14 or 15 stone!!) had necessitated an operation below the belt somewhere, and she was in the Radcliffe [Oxford’s main Hospital].  He reported that Tom Thacker is now Reader in Semitics at Durham and engaged to a very nice girl – Tom’s horoscope suggested marriage to a widow with children!!  Miles has a flat in Oakthorpe Mansions on the Banbury Rd and is still after 4 years working on the publication of the diggings at Kawa.

I am really very happy here, for I don’t think I told you that a few months ago I met a painter named Helen and we were both utterly taken with each other at first sight and still are.  It is hard to believe that anyone who loved so well as I did can begin again, but strange to say it has happened.  We suit each other to perfection, and after living together in the south of France we are now doing it here … she is a beautiful blonde … I think we bring it off so well because we are both experienced and interested in human relationships.

Our days are as blissful as our nights.

            With love, Rupert”

The last Gleadow entry in the Archive is the horoscope he drew of Barbara some years before, to which he added, “This being the first horoscope I ever did is rather liable to contain a few mistakes or inaccuracies.  RSG”

Although there are no more letters among Barbara’s papers, more must have been exchanged.   She records in her diary on 24th July 1941: “Had a lovely letter from Rupert Gleadow and a copy of his new book Magic and Divination.  How lovely it is to be remembered by one’s friends.”

Letters must also have passed between them to arrange the visit Barbara paid to the Gleadows in April 1943, shortly before she went in to the WRNS, after which she wrote, “I really feel it did me good going away and being with Rupert and Helen, who are so blissfully happy together they hardly seem to be real.”

Apart from her noting his death in 1974, I could find no other mention of him among Barbara’s papers.

I have now regretfully to tell you that despite my best efforts I was unable to find out much more about Rupert and his subsequent career, between 1943 and his death in 1974.

I tried the Internet, but almost all that turned up concerned his published works. He wrote eight or so books on astrology and religion, the best known, perhaps, being Astrology in Everyday Life (1940), and The Origin of the Zodiac (1968).  An article entitled “Magic Does Happen” in Lilliput Magazine in February 1944 was illustrated by Mervyn Peake.  He also contributed many articles to American Astrology, one of which was summarized in Time magazine, 20th October 1952, about the time of the US Presidential election:

“Writing in American Astrology (which has called Adlai Stevenson the ‘Man of Destiny’) astrologist Rupert Gleadow last week revealed how the stars stand.  It is easy as pie to tell who will win, said Gleadow, but tough to write about it, because he does not want to discourage anybody.  His news: at the time of the election ‘General Eisenhower suffers the transit of Neptune and Saturn over his Sun’ and that is really bad.  His conclusion: Stevenson, like a shooting star.”

He does not feature in any biographical dictionaries, like DNB, Who Was Who, or even in Astrology encyclopaedias.  The only obituary I found was in the English Astrological Journal for Winter 1974/75, which contained nothing that I didn’t already know.  However, - and this is where some extraordinary coincidences occurred - I did find an entry for Helen Gleadow, as illustrator of a book of 12 sonnets, by Shirley Toulson, each devoted to a sign of the zodiac. It is called The Fault, Dear Brutus, (you will remember that the rest of the quotation from Julius Caesar is “…is in ourselves, not in our stars”) and was published by the Keepsake Press.  I knew of this private press because it was owned and operated by the late Roy Lewis, with whom I had collaborated on The British in Africa, and I remembered too that he had introduced me to Shirley Toulson in the late 1960s.  Shirley is a writer and poet, her books usually dealing with country matters.  I searched the Internet for her, and found, as well as her published works, an entry in a newsletter devoted to keeping Oxfordshire’s footpaths open, which gave her telephone number as contact for a new branch to be formed in Chipping Norton.  I also found a reference to the Pym Archive!  This proved to be three letters from Shirley to Barbara concerning a lunch they had had with Elizabeth Barnicot in Henley-on-Thames, as a result of which Barbara had sent Shirley a signed copy of Quartet in Autumn.  I telephoned Shirley in some trepidation, but she was delighted to hear from the Pym Society, and a few weeks later we met for lunch in Oxford, and later she invited me to lunch at her house.

She told me that she thought Rupert and Roy Lewis had been great friends, but that she had never met Rupert, whom she remembered as being very ill about the time she knew Helen.  (He died two years after the publication of The Fault, dear Brutus.)  Presumably Roy suggested Helen as illustrator of The Fault, dear Brutus, and Shirley was very pleased with the collaboration.  Through Shirley I made contact with Liz Lewis, Roy’s daughter, and visited her at her flat, formerly her father’s, in Richmond.  We spent a few hours reminiscing about her father, but unhappily she had no personal recollections of Rupert.  She gave me a letter from Helen, and a 1986 Christmas card which Helen had made from a linocut.  Since the Gleadows were crossed off the Lewises’ Christmas card list for 1987, I assume that Helen died that year.

Shirley also told me that the University of Reading holds an archive on private presses, so I went there to read the four boxes of correspondence concerning the Keepsake Press.  I hoped to find letters from Roy to Shirley suggesting Helen as illustrator, and perhaps letters from Rupert himself.

To my disappointment I found only one from Rupert.  It was dated 2nd December 1961, from 33 Cheyne Walk, where Barbara had visited him 16 or 17 years earlier.  The letter is about What WeDdid to Father, a science fiction book written by Roy Lewis and commercially published in 1960.

“Dear Roy

I have been studying WHAT WE DID TO FATHER in order to see if it could be arranged as a radio entertainment: if so it would be of some extra use and value to you, and I think it could be done.  If you have already tried to do this, would you be kind enough to let me know what the result was; and if you have not, would you like to try it or would you have any objection if I were to make an arrangement and offer it to the BBC?  It is still my favourite book (except perhaps Elsa the Lioness) and certainly should be better known.”

This letter is signed “Helen and Rupert,” but it is definitely Rupert’s handwriting.. There is nothing more on this subject.  What we did to father, described as “a very funny comedy about a family of ape-men headed by an ambitious father who is hell-bent on ascending the evolutionary ladder” was reprinted in 1963 under the title The Evolution Man, and in 1968 as Once Upon an Ice Age.  Copies on abebooks are expensive, so presumably it is becoming a collector’s item.

There are at least two British academic institutions which study astrology, The Research Group for Critical Study of Astrology at Southampton University, and The Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, part of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Wales, Lampeter.  The Director of the Sophia Centre told me that a couple of years ago someone was trying to sell Gleadow’s papers, but he had no record of any correspondence on, or any other recollection of, the subject.  At least this suggested that there was still someone about who had known Rupert, so my next move was to get a copy of his Will – in England all wills are in the public domain.  Disappointment again!  Effectively Rupert left everything to his wife.  However, it was pleasing to find that he included a legacy to his daughter, now in her mid-twenties, living at Asnieres, a suburb of Paris.

With this my search had to end.  I was really disappointed that all the good leads I found reached dead ends.  Although Rupert Gleadow was a man of considerable ability, and one, I think,  with a social conscience, his talents were never brought to bear on any really serious study, and I can only assume that whatever he achieved in his life was not sufficient to attract high public regard – Astrology is considered a pseudo-science, and not generally highly rated.  A pity – he seemed to start with so much going for him.

One last thought: as far as predictive astrology goes, whether it was Barbara’s marriage prospects, the early downfall of Hitler, the fate of the Social Credit party, or the outcome of the 1952 US Presidential Election, Rupert got it spectacularly wrong!



Holt, Hazel & Pym, Hilary (eds.) A Very Private Eye.  Grafton Books, 1985

Holt, Hazel.  A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym.  Abacus Books, 1990.

MSPym149, MSPym150.  Bodleian Library, Oxford

The author wishes to thank Hazel Holt for permission to publish this paper, and acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Shirley Toulson; Elizabeth Lewis; Dr. Nick Campion, Director of the Sophia Centre; Clare Hopkins, Archivist of Trinity College, Oxford; and Colin Harris and staff of Special Collections, Bodleian Library.

Yvonne Cocking is the archivist of the Barbara Pym Society.