Richard Davenport-Hines

Lodging with Old Possum

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

By

Michael Russell 343pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

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.

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