Tarantula’s Web: John Hayward, T S Eliot and Their Circle by John Smart - review by Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines

Lodging with Old Possum

Tarantula’s Web: John Hayward, T S Eliot and Their Circle


Michael Russell 343pp £19.95

Who was John Hayward, and does he deserve a full-length biography, readers may ask? The first answer is that Hayward, who died in 1965 at the age of sixty, was a disabled bookman who created a South Kensington salon centred on T S Eliot in the 1930s, and shared a Chelsea flat with Eliot from 1946 until the poet’s second marriage 11 years later. The second response is that John Smart has written a biography of grace and charm, without any padding, but invoking a metropolitan literary London in which sumptuously well-read and mentally disciplined men and women wrote first-rate and enduring books. Smart does not flinch from the unpleasant aspects of Hayward’s temperament, but he is a generous and gentle biographer who, one imagines, wrote this book with a worldly smile.

The son of a Wimbledon physician, Hayward attended a Surrey preparatory school that was depicted by a former pupil, Aldous Huxley, in Eyeless in Gaza. His closest friend there was John Gielgud, with whom he ate cherries, lazed on rugs at cricket matches and acted in school plays. His Edwardian

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