Who are we to believe about Stephen ‘Tommy’ Tomlin? The daughter of a Dorset publican thought he ‘could lure the birds off the elm on the village green’. Virginia Woolf, meanwhile, observed, ‘I cannot see the physical charm of that little woodpecker man.’
According to this biography by Michael Bloch and Susan Fox, plenty could. Tomlin was primarily a sculptor, perhaps best known for his striking, characterful bust of Woolf that sits in Tavistock Square opposite her former home. Tomlin also possessed some literary talent: the authors reproduce in full ‘The Sluggard’s Quadrille’, his lengthy, allusion-rich riff on Isaac Watts’s moralistic poem ‘The Sluggard’, which Bloomsbury novelist David ‘Bunny’ Garnett published in the New Statesman, heralding it as ‘one of the most tragic poems of despair in the English language’.
But like so much in Tomlin’s ‘rackety’ life, fledgling promise was never given a chance fully to take flight, for he was no mere bird-lurer but a man of protean sexual abilities, driven by erotomania. The writer Gerald Brenan described him as an ‘ambisexual’ who ‘went to bed with anyone