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At The Pines: Swinburne and Watts-Dunton in…
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At The Pines: Swinburne and Watts-Dunton in Putney (1971)

by Mollie Panter-Downes

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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... ( )
  starbox | Feb 5, 2013 |
"At the Pines" first appeared, serialized in the New Yorker in early 1971. The author, Mollie Panter-Downe was not a academic but a journalist/correspondent who first came to the attention of readers of The New Yorker with her "Letters from London",the first one of which appeared the day that WWII was declared. " At the Pines" is the story of the last thirty years of the English poet, Algernon Swinburne's life. The year is 1879, Swinburne is forty-two and he has brought himself to the edge of a complete mental and physical collapse by the excesses of his bohemian life-style, the enfant terrible is taken by friends and family far away from the temptation of the flesh-pots of London to then almost rural Putney, here to live in a drab middle-class villa called the Pines under the watchful eye of Theodore Watts-Dunton, provincial solicitor, would be poet, novelist, and critic and nursemaid to fallen bohemian artists (Rossetti died in his arms). A Victorian odd-couple. Ms.Panter-Downes tells the story with wit and panache. This is not an academic work although the research is impeccable,neither is it journalistic hack work but a work of art that reads like a novel from page one; there was for me not a dull moment. Four stars. ( )
2 vote lapassionata | Oct 26, 2010 |
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One spring day in 1899 a slight and, one may be sure, elegantly dressed young man emerged, an unlikely butterfly, from the drab brick edifice of the South Western Railway Station at Putney, which normally traffics in more grub-like characters, and drifted slowly across the Upper Richmond Road to where the slope of Putney Hill begins to climb towards the Heath.
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