A Twitch upon the Thread 2

252 the hanging
i.e. of the pictures in the gallery, always a fraught period

253 Lord Copper … Daily Beast
This newspaper makes a number of appearances in EW’s novels, as does its hands-on proprietor Lord Copper. Perhaps the most famous of EW quotations occurs in Scoop in relation to him : his minions dare not tell Copper that he is wrong and instead use the phrase ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’. So Yokohama is up to a point the capital of Japan.

253 “Brideshead set” … a nest of party mutiny
The middle to late 30’s was a period of some frustration for many Conservatives. Quite apart from those few who clustered around Winston Churchill in fear of the growing might of Nazi Germany, there were three other disaffected groups : those who did not approve of the national government though it was dominated by the Conservative party; a few liberal Conservatives who regretted the lack of a generous social policy; and rather more who had some admiration for the apparent successes of Nazism and Fascism in Europe.
The mention of the ‘Brideshead set’ recalls the tendency of disaffected politicians in the 1930’s, a time when one party had a firm grip on power, to form cabals which took their name from a place where they met, e.g. the Cliveden set.

253 Teresa Marchmain
i.e. Lady Marchmain, who has been dead about ten years

253 The Clarences
In the 20th century there was no royal family called Clarence. (The last Duke of Clarence, who would have become king in 1910 if he had survived, died in 1892.) There has been some speculation as to which royal duke EW means this to be. It is of no importance : the point is that we witness the pleasant inconsequentialities attendant on royal position in the 20th century.

253 “human story”
Even then a concern which newspaper reporters placed above truth, as can be seen in the paragraph that appears the following morning : the reporter writes that Charles went to ‘equatorial Africa’.

254 Margot
almost certainly a reference to Margot Metroland (previously Margot Beste-Chetwynde, pronounced “Beast Cheatin’”), another character who appears in several of EW’s novels from Decline and Fall onwards. She is an ornament of high society despite deriving her fortune from dubious activities including the white slave trade.

255 Mrs Simpson
i.e. Wallis Warfield Simpson, the inamorata of the King, Edward VIII. This is the summer of 1936 when the affair was building up to a great constitutional crisis. Mrs Simpson was an American who was in the process of being divorced from her second husband in order, it was suspected, to marry the King as her third. The King was adamant about marrying her, the establishment determined he should not do so as king. Quite apart from the appalling prospect of admitting an American divorcée to the throne, there was the fact that the King was head of the Church of England, a body which does not easily countenance remarriage of divorced people. The King’s supporters floated the idea of a morganatic marriage, but the Cabinet was unwilling to accept this compromise since there was no provision for it in the constitution : the King’s wife must be Queen. On 11th December 1936 the king abdicated in favour of his brother, the Duke of York, who became George VI. Edward received the title Duke of Windsor, married Mrs Simpson in June 1937, and lived abroad.
The recent waves caused by the marriage of Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles to the Prince of Wales (2005) show that the British constitution is a robust and malleable organism. A little willingness is all that is necessary to get things changed. To mollify a section of British people perceived to be devoted to the memory of the late Princess of Wales, Mrs Parker-Bowles stated her preference for the title Duchess of Cornwall (the Prince's second title is Duke of Cornwall). She also wishes to have the title Princess Consort when and if her husband becomes king. Such arrangements could have been created for Mrs Simpson too, though in her time the political and religious opposition was very strong indeed. Of course constitutional experts are arguing now about whether the Duchess of Cornwall is in fact the Princess of Wales, whatever she calls herself, and so will be Queen de jure and de facto.

255 Tate Gallery and the National Art Collections Fund
important purchasers in the arts world in Britain who had access to large amounts of money

257 T-t-trent or T-t-tring
Trent Park was the name of the large estate of the extremely rich Member of Parliament Sir Philip Sassoon (1888-1939), cousin of the poet Siegfried. It lay on the edge of North London. Sir Philip liked to keep exotic wildlife like muntjak, penguins and flamingoes, and he certainly had extensive conservatories and hothouses where tropical greenery was abundant. Today Trent Park is a campus of the University of Middlesex.
Tring is a dormitory town in Hertfordshire, a bastion of the middle class. It possessed a fashionable health farm which many of EW’s friends patronised, in fact the first one established in Britain, in 1925. It appears that the owners attempted to make up for exiguous cuisine by excessive decor.

257 louche
i.e. shady, disreputable

257 Blue Grotto Club
As Anthony Blanche explains, there were many such clubs opening and closing in London all the time. Parliament had imposed strict licensing laws, and the Home Office and the police had periodic fits of puritanism which resulted in clubs being forcefully closed down. The answer for the owners was simply to open them again under a new name.

257 Boeuf sur le Toit
a nightclub in Paris. In 1920 Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) had written a ballet called Le boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof), a title which he had taken from a Brazilian popular song. The music was full of exotic rhythms and orchestration, though the success of the venture was ensured by Jean Cocteau’s organisational skills and his scenario, which sets the scene in New York among varied low-life characters. A club opening up soon afterwards cashed in on the acclaim by using the title for its name; it soon became a centre of literary and artistic activity, and especially of jazz-playing. Jazz musicians who played in other Parisian venues often went to Le Boeuf sur le Toit to have a jam session after they had finished their gigs. To this day, to have a jam session in France is called faire le Boeuf or taper le Boeuf.

258 cobalt
a deep blue

258 Ruskin-Gothic
The kind of Venetian Gothic favoured by John Ruskin. Charles is remembering looking out over Christ Church Meadow from Sebastian’s rooms in Meadow Buildings, which were designed in that style. Christ Church Meadow is a justly celebrated expanse of parkland.

259 not Jane Austen
perhaps the writer considered to be the most English in her writings and attitudes. Modern criticism and films have, however, discovered previously unsuspected depths of perverse and revolutionary longings and obscenity.

259 not M-m-miss M-m-mitford
i.e. Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1855), the author of Our Village (1824)a series of sketches of English rural life which preserve a long-departed mode of living. Certainly Blanche would bracket her with Jane Austen as being ornaments of prim English propriety, however undeserved that categorisation might be.

259 d-d-dago
an insulting term for a person of Hispanic descent (it is an English rendering of the common Spanish name Diego) which Blanche turns to comic use to express a contrast between himself and Charles

259 Gauguin
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), French artist famous for his paintings with flat perspectives and striking colours. In 1891 he went to live in the simpler societies of the Pacific where he perfected his art.

259 Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), French symbolist poet of immense significance (even though he did not write any poetry after the age of 19) who also escaped from France. He resided in several countries but mainly in Africa.

260 pansy bar
i.e. a bar that caters for homosexuals considered effeminate. In Britain such men have been nicknamed pansies since at least the 1920’s.
The conversational titbits from Rex’s friends which follow illustrate the concerns of the day. They more or less demonstrate how far the company is divorced from reality.

262 ‘Of course, he can marry her …’
the King and Mrs Simpson

262 ‘We had our chance in October … Mare Nostrum … Spezia … Pantelleria’
This is a reference to the Anglo-Italian crisis of 1935 which accompanied Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia. The League of Nations, urged on by Britain, imposed sanctions on Italy; but these sanctions were so ineptly applied that they did nothing to stop the invasion. The inevitable victory of Italy followed; the Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, was forced into exile for five years until the British captured the country during World War II.
EW blamed the policy of the British government for ensuring maximum suffering, firstly by giving false hope to Abyssinia, and secondly by fostering a sense of betrayal in Italy, a country which up to that point had considered itself a friend of Britain’s.
‘Mare Nostrum’ means Our Sea and was a favourite phrase both of ancient Romans and modern Italians for the Mediterranean Sea. La Spezia is the city housing the chief Italian naval base. It consists of an immense natural harbour and lies midway between Genoa and Leghorn. Pantelleria is an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea north-west of Malta.

262 ‘Franco’s simply a German agent … That bluff has been called, anyway.’
a reference to the Spanish Civil War. Francisco Franco (1892-1975) was the general in charge of the Nationalist (Fascist) forces, and soon to become the ruler of all Spain. He had built up his forces in Morocco and then invaded Spain. Franco had not-so-clandestine German (and Italian) support. Quite how the Germans’ bluff had been called is not clear. They certainly continued helping Franco until the end of the civil war.

262 ‘It would make the monarchy stronger …’
This delusion refers to the marriage of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson.

262 show-down with the old gang
The ‘old gang’ here refers to the leaders who took a more conventional moral view of the King’s case than did the King and his supporters. Rex’s friends are over-estimating the power and support that the King had in the country. His self-serving, idle and slovenly ways had not recommended him to the establishment, and the country as a whole, as things turned out, did not appreciate a man who would neglect and then cast aside his duty for a woman.

262 Why didn’t we close the canal?
i.e. the Suez Canal, in order to make difficult the passage of Italian troops to Abyssinia.

262 Fort Belvedere
King Edward’s own home near Windsor. He preferred it to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Sandringham even when he was king.

262 Palazzo Venezia
Originally a Renaissance palace, it was built in 1445 on the Via del Corso in Rome by the Venetian pope Paul II when he was a cardinal (Pietro Barbo, 1417-1471, pope from 1464). Thereafter its joint residents were always a Venetian cardinal and the Venetian ambassador. Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator, took the palace over as his headquarters and liked to address the crowds from the balcony. The palace is now an art museum.

262 Baldwin
the Prime Minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947), who, as his last great service for the country before he resigned in 1937, was busy trying to get the king either to reject Mrs Simpson or to abdicate.

262 Clive and Nelson
two great British heroes. Robert, Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774) was a soldier and colonial administrator who helped to establish British rule in India. Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) was the admiral who defeated the Spanish and French fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar though he himself was killed during the battle.

262 Hawkins and Drake
two English pirates honoured for their successes in wars, legal or otherwise, against Spain, especially in the struggle against the Armada (1588). Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) was initially a slave-trader but as a member of the government later helped to reform England’s navy. Sir Francis Drake (1540?-1596) was the first English commander (and only the second of any nationality after Ferdinand Magellan [recte Fernão de Magalhães] and Juan Sebastian Del Cano in 1519-1522) to circumnavigate the globe. Both Englishmen served in the fleet which followed the Armada (Hawkins was second-in-command and Drake third) and both died on a plundering expedition to Spanish America.

263 Palmerston
This odd choice of hero attests to the speaker’s wish for bold and independent foreign policy. Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), nicknamed ‘Pam’, was for fifteen years Foreign Secretary and for nine years Prime Minister (1855-1858; 1859-1865). He was noted for his robust defence of British interests.


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