Life of a British aesthete and Bright Young Thing of the Twenties, of whom the Daily Express said, ""And should he favor you...


SERIOUS PLEASURES: The Life of Stephen Tennant

Life of a British aesthete and Bright Young Thing of the Twenties, of whom the Daily Express said, ""And should he favor you with speech, with an epigram, perhaps, that reveals an intuition as searching as a woman's, you will feel that condescension, indeed, can go no further."" Some readers of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited who knew Stephen Tennant, as did Waugh, have suggested that Tennant was the original for the ethereal and aristocratic Sebastian Flyte, who habitually carries his teddy bear about with him, as did Tennant. He was easily spotted as well in Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, a book about Bright Young Things of the Twenties. As a child, Tennant was raised in skirts by his mother, who wanted him to be an outstanding artist. He also took up maquillage at a very early age, loved to talk makeup with girls, wear gold-dust in his hair: he wore rouge and blue eyeshadow until his death at 80, along with a vile Max Factor scent. He was vain of his legs and had been, perhaps, the most stunningly beautiful child and youth in England, a comment often made. His father died when Tennant was 11, and he later inherited the huge family manse, Wildord Manor, which he gradually turned into a peacock paradise with gold-star wallpaper, leopard and polar-bear skin rugs, and riotously showy ostrich feathers, satin curtains, and a bust of himself by Jacob Epstein. Despite his seeming hermaphroditism, it was said that Tennant was too delicate ever to have sex with anyone. Even so, his greatest male friendships were with practicing homosexuals, such as society photographer Cecil Beaton and war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Truman Capote, when invited to Wilford Manor, was incredulous: ""He gave me a meal with candy violets in the soup."" Tennant never worked but wrote several slim, privately printed books, published one commerical book (""a hilariously drawn adult comic book,"" says Hoare), worked for half his life writing 500,000 words on seven drafts of an unfinished, never published Proustian/Firbankian novel. He spent his last 40 years as a palatial recluse. Well done, without one note of condescension.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton/ Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1990