Yet another book of literary lists

Jon Wynne-Tyson

Henry Eliot—a sort of PR man for Penguin Books—does literary tours based on the work of Chaucer and the Lake Poets. He is also the compiler of The Alternative A – Z of London and Eliot’s Book of Bookish Lists, which we found to be a rather entertaining compendium of off-beat facts about authors. Here are some extracts from it:

The Kingdom of Redonda.

Redonda is an uninhabited rock between Antigua and Montserrat in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. The Montserratian novelist M.P.Shiel claimed that, at the age of fifteen, he was crowned ‘King Felipe of Redonda ‘ by an Antiguan bishop, inheriting the title from his father, who had successfully requested the island from Queen Victoria in 1865. Before he died, Shiell named the poet John Gawsworth his successor, but thereafter the line f succession becomes confused. There are at least three seemingly legitimate claimants, all of whom have granted Redondian duchies.

                                        King Matthew  1865 – 80 

                          Matthew Dowdy Shiel, merchant and preacher 


                                        King Felipe 1880 – 1947 

                                  Matthew Phipps Shiell, novelist


                                         King Juan I 1947 -70

                                   John Gawsworth, poet and editor



          L                                                                                                     I

           King Juan II 1967 – 1989                             King Juan II 1970 -1997

        Arthur John Roberts, publican                      John Wynne-Tyson, publisher 

                             I                                    I                                               I              

                   King Leo                         King Xavier__________   King Bob the Bald       

                            I                               1997 –                                2000- 2009

                 1989 – 2019                      Javier Marias,                     Bob Williamson, 

      William Leonard Gates,              novelist                              artist and sailor


                           I I                                                                                     I

      Queen Josephine                                                                    King Michael the

      2019 –                                                                                    Grey

      Josephine Gates,                                                                     2009 –

      King Leo’s widow                                                                  Michael J Howarth,

                                                                                                      yachting writer. 

*The monarchs of Redonda have tended to grant titles and duties liberally. The following authors have been Redondan peers: William Boyd, Ray Bradbury, A. S. Byatt, J.M.Coetzee, Gerald Durrell, Lawrence Durrell, Umberto Eco, Arthur Machen, Julian Maclaren Ross, Henry Miller, Alice Munro, Edna O’Brien, J.B Priestley, Philip Pullman, Arthur Ransome, Dorothy L. Sayers, W.G. Sebald, Julian Symons, Dylan Thomas , John Wain and Rebecca West.

** ‘ John Gawsworth’ was the pseudonym of Terence Armstrong, an Archduke of Redonda before inheriting the crown. He wrote a biography of the author Arthur Machen, a friend of M.P.Shiel. Machen’s house features in Shiell’s novel, The Purple Cloud.

*** Since becoming King Xavier, Javier Marias has established a small publishing press called Reino de Redonda, which produces Spanish language editions of classiuc texts. He writes about his succession and the history of Redonda in his self-styled ‘ false novel’ Dark Back of Time.

It should be added that Terence Fytton Armstrong ( aka John Gawsworth, 1912 – 70 ) was a poet, editor and short story writer whose dogmatic stance in opposing modernism in poetry alienated a number of his contemporaries, including Dylan Thomas. He was the  literary executor of M.P.Shiell, whose ashes, according to John Sutherland, were kept by Gawsworth in a biscuit tin on his mantelpiece and distributed on the food of honoured guests. He was an habitual drinker and Sohoite who in some respects resembled Paul Potts, the permanently indigent bohemian poet of Soho in the forties and fifties. Your Jotter recalls a TV documentary on Gawsworth in the seventies which showed him shuffling along the pavements of London retrieving fag ends from the gutter and muttering ‘ Damn you, poetry’. One of Potts’ favourite declarations was ‘I should have been a doctor or an architect and could have had a family and a comfortable life, but I am a poet…’ Gawsworth died a physical wreck at the age of 58 ( see portrait in NPG).

In great contrast was Jon Wynne-Tyson ( 1924 – 2020), Gawsworth’s successor as King of Redonda. A Quaker and pacifist from his youth, he later embraced vegetarianism and was also an animal rights activist. In 1954 he founded the Centaur Press, principally as a way of publishing manuscripts that no commercial publish would touch, such as books on letters boxes and chimney pots, but also highly regarded, but uncommercial, texts. I interviewed him on Geoffrey Grigson in 1994, as Wynne-Tyson had published Grigson’s edition of the Diary of William Allingham, the Victorian poet. Wynne-Tyson was a one-man publisher who ran his operation from a bungalow in Fontwell, West Sussex, employed no staff and wheeled the Centaur Press catalogues to the Post Office in a converted pram.

He was also a close friend of Noel Coward (through his mother – actress Esme Wynee-Tyson) and visited him in the Caribbean. He died aged 95. That’s vegetarianism for you.

To be continued….

R. M. Healey    

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