The NYRB Classics Tumblr has alerted me to the news that Patrick Leigh Fermor has died. The death of a ninety-six-year-old tends to bring more appreciation than sadness, at least to those of us who knew the man only through his words. I've written about Fermor here quite a bit before; his travel writings are among the best of the genre, and for an unapologetic Anglophile like myself, Fermor epitomized a certain attractive strand of English upper-class intrepidity, a more benignly globetrotting twentieth-century version of the Victorian imperialist adventurer. If you've not read him, now's the time: as I wrote over at the Annex: Start with A Time of Gifts, the first leg of his lifelong journey, or In Tearing Haste, the collection of his correspondence with Deborah Mitford. And then don’t stop. When you’re done with it all, you can read W. Stanley Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight, an account of the time the author and Fermor kidnapped a German general.
A Fermor fan site is gathering links to obituaries, which will be plentiful and full of incident. For my remembrance, I'll turn to an unforgettable party scene that Fermor, a splendid raconteur and light-hearted enjoyer of good company, described in a letter of thanks to the host, his good friend Deborah Mitford, in a letter of July 26, 1990, collected in In Tearing Haste:
It was a marvelous and grand arrival there--the expanse of empty black-and-white check flor, then the great swoop of scarlet stairs, with your solitary triumvirate welcomingly halted half way up. . . . It was as if the whole house had transformed into a different element, half familiar and half unknown, like a fair, or an aquarium full of resplendent creatures and any number of friendly faces, starting with Henry's. The tented acreage--those steps and the normally outdoors reclining statue and dog being indoors gave a real through-the-looking-glass feeling. The whole thing, that array of people looking after us, everything being marvellous and on time, as though being painlessly managed with a magic wand--there were so many openings for things being held up, or going wrong. None did and, for me, the whole thing dissolved into one of those golden Turner radiances. . . . The great thing was that you and Andrew spread such a feeling of enjoyment and warmth and fun, that it seemed to affect everything else. It was only later that it occurred to me that I had told my entire life story to Madame de Vogue last time, the only one, I'd sat next to her, but it didn't seem to matter. Part of the previously golden Turneresque mist was that I lost touch with all nearest and dearest--couldn't find you or Robert, sat and had long chats with Coote and Billa. What was strange was that it seemed simultaneously to last for ever and to be over almost at once. Like Wellington's battle comparison. It all looked fantastic, driving away, looking back on bridge and river, the big tent, the full moon high up, a few decorative alabaster clouds floating discreetly, some people strolling under oak trees, and dawn beginning to break. It was still total glory. I'll never see anything like it again, nor will anyone, and many many thanks to you and Andrew.If there's an afterlife, I hope that a Turneresque mist and some alabaster clouds, plentiful fine drinks and good company, and perhaps a little-noted footpath disappearing off into the woods, are what greet Fermor tonight. Rest in peace.
And tons of love from