Worship, hidden letters exchanged between the Cider with Rosie Author Laurie Lee and painter Yasmin David, her secret daughter from an illicit affair with a prominent member of the Bloomsbury group, have been unearthed in the confinement.
The emotional correspondence, found hidden in an old chest in the David family home in Devon, is filled with the couple’s pleasure at meeting and contains poignant details about their efforts to build a relationship.
The invisible letters date from the 1960s, when they first met as adults, until Lee’s death in 1996. They came to light when Yasmin’s daughter, Clio, was going through her late mother’s possessions last year. .
“They were all in a drawer inside the dresser… When I opened it, I was surprised by how many letters there were; just because of how much they had written to each other, ”said Clio David, a London-based filmmaker.
“In the first few letters they talk about meeting at the Queen Anne pub in Fulham, London, which Laurie liked. My mother was initially gone, after seeing him inside, but he followed her. Laurie admits that he also once covertly visited her art school in Worthing, and stayed outside just to see her, ”David told the Observer.
Yasmin was 19 when she discovered the identity of her real father, and many of the letters are “tinged with sadness,” according to her daughter. Typical of the tone of the first correspondence are the author’s lines to his daughter written from Germany just after Christmas 1960.
“Don’t abandon me whatever you do. You are the only spark in my dark life and I am not complaining ” Lee writes. “The stable’s clock just struck six, and there is snow all over the landscape and the moon is shining, and the birds in the aviary (which include several peacocks and golden pheasants) are making tropical nocturnal noises despite the winter chill. Honey, I have thoughts about you every day and dreams of you. “
Your daughter’s emotional response is just as lyrical:
“Do not forget me! I’ve missed you so much this last fortnight, even though I’ve been too busy, with all the meals and things to do. But two weeks after meeting again is too long, maybe it sounds comical to you after twenty-one years. Sitting here on the living room floor, I can see the seagulls diving back and forth over the willows, such a light winter snow, menacing, the only time the ground and trees feel more fragile than the sky.“
Stored with the letters was a stash of David’s own nature observations and poetry notebooks, along with unknown paintings and drawings that clearly show his inherited joy at observing plants and wildlife. These are now exhibited together in the New Walsall Art Gallery in a show that opens this weekend and runs through December.
“They both wrote similarly about birds and landscapes and had a similar feeling for nature,” said David, 49.
Yasmin, who died in 2009, was the result of a passionate six-year romance between the writer and Lorna Garman Wishart, a wealthy married bohemian who eventually left him to become the lover and muse of the painter Lucian Freud. Impulsive and surprising, Lee’s biographer Valerie Grove has characterized her as a combination of the fictional figures of Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary and Becky Sharp, all “into one captivating and maddening creature.” Lee had met her while playing the violin on a Cornish beach in 1937, just after her first trips to Spain, portrayed in her memoirs. While going out one summer morning.
The diaries discovered after her death revealed an affair with an anonymous married woman “rich and demandingly beautiful, extravagantly generous with her emotions but fanatically jealous.”
Growing up in the David family home on Luscombe Farm, near Dartmoor, Clio had been told that she was actually the famous writer’s granddaughter. After all, Lee had dedicated his first book of war poetry, The sun my monument, Lorna and Y. Like her mother, Clio occasionally met her grandfather in the “clandestine way” that he preferred.
“It really was a secret,” David said this weekend. “That’s the right word because it wasn’t just ‘private’, and we accept it. Some people in school knew about it, because we had studied Cider with RosieBut it came out nationally when more documents were found. “
The identity of the daughter became public in 1997, after further biographical investigation into Lee’s life. Yasmin was called the author’s “son of love” in the media coverage of another fascinating chapter in the tale of the talented Garman family. Lorna’s older sister was Kathleen Garman, who became the second wife of sculptor Jacob Epstein, whose art collection was built to house the New Art Gallery Walsall. What’s more, Epstein and Kathleen’s daughter Kitty later became Lucian Freud’s first wife, after Lorna introduced her once her own adventure was over. Stranger still, Laurie Lee would marry another of Lorna’s nieces.
Yasmin David’s half-brother, Michael Wishart, Lorna’s son with her husband, was also an acclaimed painter and friend of Francis Bacon, but his sister’s work was not exhibited during her lifetime. His daughter Clio and the gallery in Walsall now plan to fix this by showing some of the newly discovered works along with passages from his notebooks and poetry. “His paintings and writings are now being contextualized by academics, and that is exactly what I wanted for my mother’s work,” David said.