When asked to name the living writers he admired, the intolerable hero of Cyril Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool replied, ‘Eliot, Joyce and Norman Douglas.’ Douglas was indeed much admired between the wars, especially for his Capri novel, South Wind. Now I suppose he is little read and when mentioned in the press has the word ‘paedophile’ attached to his name, though ‘pederast’ might be more accurate. When I was young myself, in my early twenties, I aspired to write his biography. A foolish notion, for I was unqualified to do so on account of my immaturity. Two writers better equipped than me – Constantine FitzGibbon and John Davenport – had already embarked on a biography and given up.
I failed, of course, to write the book, but I don’t regret the enterprise. Anything but! Research, or the pretence of research, took me to the south of Italy for three months in the spring and early summer of 1964. Old Calabria, the fruit of several visits to that wild and impoverished region, with its distant and seductive echoes of antiquity, was Douglas’s best book, published in 1915. It’s astonishing and melancholy to reflect that more years have passed