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A.L.Rowse and Lady Cynthia Asquith —a ghostly company

This two page letter from professional Cornishman, popular historian and alleged poet, Alfred Leslie Rowse, to ghost story compiler Lady Cynthia Asquith, came to light when I was sorting out a bunch of old letters recently. Dated March 29th and written with a ball point pen on All Souls College notepaper, its date would be 1951 or not long after. This is because in the letter Rowse thanks Lady Cynthia for remembering that he enjoyed ghost stories, by sending him a copy of her 1951 anthology, What Dreams May Come (though the book is not mentioned by name).This collection contained a number of her own stories, some of which Rowse singles out for special praise, as being not particularly ‘ghoulish‘, but instead ‘far too delicate and subtle and so beautifully written‘.

…I greatly appreciated the ‘ Olivia’ -like theme and atmosphere of ‘ The Lovely Voice’, the ‘Jane Eyre’-like ending of ‘The Playfellow’ , the conjured-up  Dickensian atmosphere of ‘ The Corner Shop ‘. But the masterpiece, I thought, was the last. ‘God grante that she lye stille’ —a perfect story bewitchingly evoked. ( I think my choice betrays too my especial response to the historical & nostalgic ).

Rowse also mentions that on one occasion he took another prolific writer of ghost stories, Elizabeth Bowen, to Ireland with him and that he felt that her novel, The Last September (made into a film starring Michael Gambon 1999), was ‘ the best of her books in some ways’. With the letter Rowse sent Lady Cynthia a second hand copy of one of his own collections of ghostly tales —probably West Country Stories (1945).

Incidentally, Rowse once replied to a letter I sent him about fellow Cornishman Geoffrey Grigson by arguing that the latter, though a native of the county, was not a true Cornishman because his father came from Norfolk. I considered responding with an invitation for him to apply his theory to people born in Yorkshire, but I decided against it. [RMH]

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