It was nice having my sister in Oxford, but I began to worry this year for my father seemed determined to send my brother there too, and it seemed to me that that would not be so easy. His results had not been as good as hers or mine, and I thought it unlikely that he would be accepted for graduate work without personal inputs. However my father was determined and though, as my mother later put it, it caused enormous problems for all of us, my father to the end of his days rejoiced in the fact that all his three children had been to Oxford.
I was resident once more this year in a College, Corpus Christi, which was responsible for the E K Chambers Studentship which I had been awarded. It was for those who had read Classics to do further work in English, which I think meant I had little competition, but it was still prestigious enough to have this award.
Being in a College meant more socializing than in the previous year, but I still managed to work to schedule. One fairly large undertaking was the International Film Festival, which was almost entirely the work of Phillip Bergson, who became a film critic and is still active in the field. He set up something called the Oxford and Cambridge Festival Arts Society, and roped in several friends he hoped would help to put it socially on the map. But I was also asked to visit distributors in Paris, and was fascinated by the very small offices through which they functioned. This also allowed me to be on my own, though I did help my sister and our friend Saku Kadirgamar, as needed – and she still claims she much enjoyed that first experience of international travel
19th October 1976
I enclose the past papers as required – I believe these are the right ones, let me know if it’s not the lot Chanaka’s doing. I should think, given the PPE tutors at Univ, that General Paper III would be important. I’m not sure from your letter whether he’s already made his choice. If not, though, the type of thing he’s interested in is probably better than tutors’ preferences. Leslie said he’d do his best, but don’t be too optimistic as PPE’s quite hard to get in for.
Could you let me know at once whether any of my Byron stuff has been published by the society – notably the paper on ‘Don Juan’ Mum took back last April, which you typed and sent back?
Anila seems to have settled in very well, Margery Fry being a small and, hence, friendly place. She’s probably sent accounts of all her, and my, doings over the past few weeks, and I feel my own efforts would be slightly redundant – besides which I am trying to keep to a very tight schedule of work, hence my past silence. This doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to letters as eagerly as before – tell Mum it was the Chinese Restaurant I took her to, and Aachchi that Corpus is next to Merton and Christ Church, and looks over the meadows, so that my room has a splendid view. Ano’s probably told you already about my degree celebrations – and the Don next door she dislikes, who discovered incursions on the roof but was very understanding about the whole business.
Tell Aachchi Corpus Chapel is very low, and the priest runs about the place shaking people’s hands during communion, which is very frightening – I am nearly tempted to move permanently to Christ Church. Ano had lunch on Saturday with the Lucases, and they seem to have given her a lovely time. Corpus and Somerville have both been very good about entertaining Freshmen Graduates, last Friday being Mrs Craig’s party – she and the Treasurer – my old friend the bat – claimed we looked alike which shows a marked lack of discrimination. I think, however, that a compliment was intended.
The main reason I haven’t written for ages (apart from Anila being a much better source of news) is that I’m not doing as much work as I ought and hence feel any spare 5 minutes should be devoted to Froude and other 19th century figures. To my astonishment, my last paper was considered ‘well-written and forceful’, but this can’t last – what with a Dinham speech and dotty parties and an old friend coming up from Exeter this week.
Activities which Anila wouldn’t have communicated over the past 2 (or is it 3?) weeks include a dotty Vile Bodies dinner of which you’ll see photographs in time, Mrs Burgess for dinner in a wonderfully bouncy mood, a dramatic resignation as a Deputy Returning Officer at the Union Elections (the President, a former protégé, seems to be unsound and may well vote for Bhutto!), the aftermath of the Keats dinner with highly righteous demands for apologies, heaps on invitation preparation and issue for the OCFAS party (a great coup, as Social Secretary, to have got the Examinations Schools for the first party in them ever – great fear that we won’t have enough people to fill so large a hall) and sundry other absurdities, all of which have caused a fall in my reading – and writing – rate. Still, I’ve blithely applied for another Schol!
This will probably be late but the phone call should make up for that!. It would, of course, have to be arranged during my only class of the week, but shall try to get away in time – Anila’s coming for lunch today to meet David and the old College Asst Secretary whm I think you met in ’73. She seems to be enjoying herself thoroughly – I’m glad she had the experience if somewhat startling of the Keats – and also working despite the claims of her correspondence!
24th November 1976
You remember, of course, what Thomas More said to Cromwell when he was about to take ever as Henry VIII’s Chief Advisor – ‘Ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do.’ The point of this is that you mustn’t, like Henry VIII, keep trying to find out what you can do – you must realize by now that you are getting obsessed by what should be a game in which defeat ought to be taken with good grace. Certainly, this is not valid if, from Sanjiva’s point of view, he feels he must come over as soon as possible – but an objective glance at the business must make it clear that there are few powerful reasons for this. The situation is simply not the same as Anila’s – her rather touching letter did, I think, make the very valid point that he won’t be coming to Oxford qua Oxford. Chitra’s letters indicate that she is not too anxious to come herself, and it would be exceedingly selfish to upset her relations with the Ceylon Medical Service simply to get him here a few years before he otherwise might – and the alternative of separating them is monstrous. To advance him too quickly too far in front of his contemporaries can, as you must see, be of no use except in terms of providing vicarious satisfaction.
My advice then is that you desist for the moment – I know this means refusing Gough’s offer, but I cannot see him not sympathizing when the official position is explained, and, in any case, I can’t see other opportunities not arising, if necessary from other sources.
Continued late the same night – Vivien’s running for the Union Presidency again and I’ve just spent the best part of the last week helping her with her speech – that is, the time not spent at the OCFAS party about which Anila will doubtless have told you. Contrary to my forebodings it turned out quite well, due primarily to Anila’s excellent cheese toast, apart from the very end when a young lady from LMH was sick – very mortifying, but I suppose it’s good for the soul. I feel I shall collapse into bed on Friday evening for 24 hours – except that an essay has to be in by the weekend and I’ve only done half of it so far. Apart from that, work’s going rather well and, perhaps foolishly, I feel fairly optimistic about a senior scholarship. Of course it’s possible that even the acceptance for the DPhil may not prove routine – that comes up next February, and I believe it will be on ‘Marriage in the Early Victorian Novel’, Galsworthy having proved too far afield. At the moment, though, the Historiography and Biography paper is fascinating me.
I am not sure yet about the Vac. – NUS Travel has collapsed which may make Spain difficult, but I will try something for Anila. I have almost certainly got the old Univ Reading Party House in Cornwall for the 1st week of the Vac., which should be interesting. Anyway I shall certainly be here for Christmas though I think Anila may like a familiar one – will let you know.
11th January 1977
I gather from your letter that, predictably, your plans go on apace, regardless of circumstances, other people’s opinions et al. Is the fact that neither Sanjiva nor Chitra refers to applications and so on in their letters because either, or both, is not particularly keen to come as yet? Corpus Christi will doubtless convey their decision as soon as they have arrived at it, and as it is clearly more than information you are seeking, I should reiterate that my influence here is nil. Dr Harrison has given up being Dean of Graduates, and I do not know the new one who, I am sure, has only to be asked by Chitra herself to send on her references. I should think interference by anyone else would be resented. I am still not sure whether you are yet aware that from this October Graduate fees are going up by about 500 pounds each (at least 2000 pounds would be required per person for next year, and I suppose you would still like Anila to stay on). It would be interesting to know why Sanjiva wishes to register at Corpus if he intends to work for the FRCS by virtue of a House Officer’s appointment; whether the Commonwealth Schol. was a necessity to live on, or whether it would simply have provided an excuse to leave this year; why there is any desire to come this October; whether you think you will have to retire before 1981 – say after the election; whether Chitra really desires further qualifications or whether they are simply an excuse again for her to get out; whether Sanjivia and Chitra intend to live in Ceylon or not; and whether you have any secret causes of anxiety that might make the whole situation explicable.
My excuse for not writing is the same as yours, though even more so as you. Mum writes entirely different types of letters on very much different things (could you expand on the ‘breach of privilege’ case, of which Mum offered such a tantalizing and incoherent account?) whereas my life here would seem either dull or repetitive. For instance, between my last letter and the day I left, I had four or five days when work was constantly interrupted by the friends still up, occasionally with the excuse of a Film Festival to be plotted (a dotty undertaking that but it seems to be coming together now), usually ineffectual but pleasant conversation (my last drink with Firth in the Eastgate before he left Univ the only memorable occasion, perhaps, and that not very much so objectively); and then five splendid days over Christmas on 3 of which I was almost entirely solitary (and read enormous amounts), Christmas itself in the Cathedral with Leslie and the evening with George, and Boxing Day dinner at the freshman’s who lived opposite when I was JCR Pres, just back from France after 3 months working for a wine firm, whose parents are both dons; and a lengthy walk with Leslie round the meadows on the 29th, before I left for Paris, the first time I’d ever been round them while they were covered with snow (it’s the deepest snow since I came). A lovely time, but not interesting to anyone else.
The trip abroad I had not looked forward to, but, despite the delights of Oxford in the Vac, I suppose Anila ought to see as much of the Continent as she can. It wasn’t too bad, and I think she enjoyed it, though we were squabbling terribly by the last two days. Luckily, Saku Kadirgamar came too, so I didn’t have to stay with Anila all the time, and could arrange a programme for them to follow while pottering about by myself (and doing pretentious International Film Festival work). I did take them round my more favourite walking haunts in Paris, though, as also to the Opera House there (it was a ballet, but most enjoyable, and a very good view for the cheapest seats) and the Folies Bergeres; and some of the museums, particularly in Amsterdam, which I didn’t enjoy as much as before, possibly because the weather was ghastly and the city filthy. Paris I liked more than before principally because I stuck to the natural parts I enjoy there; and one evening with the Tuileries under snow and the sun setting beside the Eiffel Tower (not, monstrous artifice, seen too close to) was absolutely enchanting.
We lived cheaply (though Saku got to eat snails, and indeed we ate fairly well in Paris) and even uncomfortably, one night in Amsterdam. I stayed on when the other two left as I had to be in London on the 8th, moved to a Dormitory in our second hotel which, though far cheaper, was astonishingly bleak to say the least – but saw the ballet, the Netherlands Dance Theatre which has the best choreographers in the world at the moment though occasionally (as in 1of the 3 pieces, the others being splendid) they produce monstrosities. I spent the 7th at the Hague, visited a Museum I recalled from 3 years back and had a powerful and fascinating sense of déjà vu; and got back on the 8th morning to a much needed bath at a friend’s, whose party I was going to that evening; a must, though I’d turned down other parties over the Vac, as it was a place to meet lots of my contemporaries (I got 10 cards from Univ ones at Christmas, which was very nice).
I called on the Mendis’ that day, mainly to apologise for having failed to get to a Ladies’ College Reunion there, and had lunch and a pleasant chat; and also on Kshanika & Jivaka, who seem to be very happily settled. Despite an inebriating party, which trailed off into extraordinary bridge and people dropping off in the sitting room and vanishing at intervals in the early morning (so I was told – I had the sofa and a most comfortable night) I got to lunch at Aruna’s the next day, met both Pam and Tilak (who had brought Mum’s letter over from Brussels – we hadn’t stopped over) & Janaki, Ranjith & the baby and got back that evening, finding the Univ Asst College Secretary opposite me in the train. Incidentally Leslie’d told me before my last letter that Chanaka’d got in but it wasn’t official yet – and I gathered later that, not wanting to take 3 people without interview, they’d rejected a boy from Singapore who’d got better marks in his papers. Vanessa (Asst Sec) referred to Chanaka as ‘one of your father’s boys’ which presumably did the trick. George was delighted with his Christmas present, as was David (I’d kept the wedding present, though made it clear what it was mainly for). Do tell Hope we dropped in on the Sarachchandras in Paris, and it was fun seeing them again.