Sunday, November 29, 2009
A Particular Friendship
I was a bit teary when I finished reading A Particular Friendship. How is it possible that one can come to "know" people after reading about them, so that their loss makes one sorrowful?
There were some very funny passages in the book -- even writing letters, DB had a gift for words -- but overall it left me a little sad. Both DB and Mrs X are dead, and I'd grown fond of them. Of course, my own griefs have made me more easily moved to tears than I used to be. All the same.
I found it chilling that Bogarde never once says 'we' in his letters. He lived with his lover -- his husband -- Tony Forwood (he's the bloke on the right in the picture) for well over 20 years, and yet he felt the need to be so discreet that even with someone he became as close to as Mrs X, he never (or at least in the letters we have) discusses or even mentions his man. For most of their time together, gay sex was illegal (extraordinary, not so?) but by the time he was writing to her, Britain had legalised homosexual acts "between consenting adults". Ironically, Bogarde's film Victim, about a married lawyer blackmailed because he has a gay affair, which he made in I think 1963, helped change opinions in the UK, leading directly to the change in the law in 1967.
The extraordinary evils of the closet! Even though he was married, to all intents and purposes, he had to lie and deceive about his life. There are occasional bitter and acidic touches to his writing, in this book and his autobiographies and novels, and I wonder whether it comes from the contempt he must have felt for the "normals", the heterosexual world he was shut out of. Actors are, or perhaps were (so I'm told) easier about gayness that the rest of us. Yet acting is a kind of lying and deceit, which must make it harder to believe in people. Or perhaps the startling touches of wormwood come from his formidable intelligence which made him see the grubby and mean aspects of life without illusions.
The other thing that interested me was how the friendship between Mrs X and DB cooled. Maybe this is inevitable with 'non-physical' friendships, those conducted by letter and postcard and email. Maybe without 'body' it's too easy to let a friendship drop or wither. Maybe after all the skeptics are right. Bit sad.