These letters are a microcosm of life at Oxford when academic work had to trump social life, though without allowing that too to lapse. They also refer to various themes that were to recur in my life, family relations as well as trying, whilst appreciating the efforts my father made on behalf of his children (and indeed anyone who appealed to him, for he was brilliant at focusing youngsters on useful education), to avoid any special treatment.
My sister did go to Cornell in the end, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Rutgers would not have suited, nor Carnegie Mellon which I told her sounded like a pretentious type of ice-cream. Though she disapproved of what she saw as Oxford snootiness, I think she too did better at a traditional university – and much enjoyed later working at Harvard for a couple of years after she got her doctorate.
The Film Festival was a triumph, due entirely to the genius of Phillip Bergson, who became a critic for various London papers later but never quite achieved the prominence he deserved.
14th March 1977
This letter has been long overdue, but there are good reasons – and I did get 2 off in 2 weeks last time. Since then there was the Film Festival – a hectic confused week, at the end of which champagne was running from our eyes, and celluloid through our brains. It was, nevertheless, a great success – ie far from losing 1000 pounds as I’d thought, we made nearly 500. Franco Nero & Vanessa Redgrave arrived though no one else very famous, which didn’t inhibit celebratory parties – the Directorate grew very self- indulgent towards the end, and would sit in the balcony consuming the remains of the parties (alas, no one gave us any brandy) during the late night shows making blasé remarks about the old favourites on screen. I shall keep a programme for when you come.
Brandy would have been nice the next week, for I came down the day after the festival ended with the most appalling cold that came very near to flu. To make matters worse, I’d just got the 2 BPhil papers I have to do over the Vac. One was scheduled for completion by the end of term – and, despite the cold, and the lack of suitable questions (4000 words on George Eliots’ humour – she wasn’t at all funny) which necessitated a great deal of further research, I did finish, by dint of locking my door and not answering it, not leaving college (except to check on Festival Accounts, the cinema staff being as exhausted by the end as we were), not drinking and eating, if at all, only in college. The last paragraph was the hardest, as there were end of term events, including dinner for Anila & 2 friends as I’d promised, who came in trousers and jackets, to vie with the pseudo friends she insisted I asked as well. Poor Gaj, who had to dress them and bring them down to Corpus, was quite embarrassed but even agreed in the end to take them to Vincent’s. I nobly went and drank coke, and gave up the party they were going to, and finished my last 200 words. None too soon, because the next day, after alcoholic breakfast and tea parties, which obviated the need for lunch, we came down to Clara’s new house – a new area, near to Wallington though, a 2nd sitting room beautifully fitted on to the back of the house, lots of plate glass, and a large garden, with a railway cutting behind. A good move, I think.
We shall almost certainly be going to Spain on the 7th of April, returning in time to get you to Oxford. Could you let me know time of arrival please, so I could try to arrange a car. If you have room, could you bring (a) my camera, cleaned and with the strap repaired (b) shoes, size 8½, denim and 1 black laced, (c) trousers – GIL, light shades. Could you also let me know when you expect to leave, as I think Anila and I should have a Mummy party. Could you thank Seelia very much for the Byron news, letters, but say, much as I’d like to go to Lisbon, I shall have to be back for term and exams. I did love the Lakdasa and Mrs B vs T B Subasinghe anecdotes in her note. Incidentally, I am living in College and do collect mail every day. Thatha now writes which is very welcome, but you don’t.
10th May 1977
As I have actually said before, I shall be here next year, on condition I do well in the BPhil, in which case the Schol is also assured, for my DPhil. I will not require any additional exchange so please don’t send it, especially as I would spend it were it here. Thank you very much for the Foreign Service forms which arrived today, I shall decide over the next few days. Of course, I am grateful, the more so as it shows sympathy with my own desires. The Law Business was quite different, and you shouldn’t really complain about it still as it makes more serious complaints less impressive.
It was a pity about Anila & Rutgers. The second letter she sent after my departure, having been excited by various friends here; I suppose coming on top of the financial correspondence from there it was a mistake, but she can’t really be blamed. Fulbright ought to be much clearer about the alterations they have made in their programme. Is there any more information about Cornell? Could you send on what there is, she will certainly accept it if it’s reasonable. I don’t actually blame myself, but I regret not having been here to see exactly what she wrote. By the way, she doesn’t ignore what you say at all. She does worry about her capacity for doing things by herself. Incidentally, her writing style is just like yours – you may point that out to Punch when he next suggests it was inherited from the Moonemalle Goonewardenes.
Re Sanjiva, Chitra, Mum & you – the eternal parallelogram or is it trapezium [no prizes for guessing which is the longest side] – I have written to Sanjiva and there’s very little to add. Just, and perhaps not very relevantly, that while it’s obviously a good thing that your children should go ahead, it shouldn’t be by pushing other people behind – or, at least, if you disagree, not by being seen to push other people behind. After all, there are lots of other parents with the same desires, if not the same capacities; and people’s blocking capacities are always much better than their progressive ones.
For the rest – I have handed in my BPhil Thesis and Extended Essays, about which I’m relatively happy. The exams about which I worry dreadfully, on inductive and all other grounds, are on June 2nd & 3rd, same as Anila’s, my viva being on June 14th. I shall know the results very soon after. I’m not yet sure of my own plans for the vacation (assuming I do not return home in disgrace without a BPhil), let me know yours early, so I can plan to be here when you’re on your way to Canada; also news about elections and so on which is always fascinating. Why incidentally, has Phyllis Dissanayake got into the act? Does Jingle still lead the police? Not that – for I too can complain – you ever answer any of my questions.
Had what I hope was a very nice party for Mum on Sunday, George, David, Leslie et al, served by the dear old couple who used to look after me in ’72-3. Mum and Ano made patties which were excellent, and I also had my novelist whom you must be very good to when he comes home next January. Finn was here yesterday, and we gave him a guided tour by twilight and had a good dinner – I think Anila should go there in July for a few days, so do send back her passport as soon as possible. She and Mum have just gone out for lunch with Jenny and Mrs Ward, who drove up from Surrey – there’s a plan to go punting, but it’s a bit chilly and I hope Mum will be back soon for more gossip.
Corpus Christi College
14th May 1977
Enclosure as desired. If I fail to be able to go on, I shall return home in time to sit for the exam. Please don’t make any arrangements for it to be held here. Keep me informed if there’s any change of date – I will phone you as soon as I get my results, in case I want to be withdrawn as I said before in the letter sent through Mum when I wasn’t quite sure. Thanks very much for being so thoughtful. I think I still do want to do the D.Phil here, but I suppose I really ought to start being serious about settling down.
I hope the telegram Anila sent about Cornell before consulting me doesn’t muck things up. It’s a pity about the full Rutgers Schol. – but possibly the prestige attaching to Cornell could compensate. She is actually very confused and confusing – perhaps you’re right that she requires to be married!
I’ve just had a letter from L.W. ending in a paean of triumph about Anandanayagam’s retirement – ‘prevarication and a partiality for sinister conduct’ – perhaps not entirely fair, but certainly well written. Incidentally, I’ve been re-reading my Byron Don Juan Essay – it is very good.
I’ll hang on to the Gazette notification.
8th June 1977
Life, as you can imagine, has been fairly hectic over the last few weeks – the fortnight after you left being an amalgam of exceedingly hard work and an attempt to imbibe the air of an Oxford summer (properly after three years due to Standlake and finals over the last two) in case it’s never going to occur again. I thought 3 weeks ago (hence the application) I was ready or ought to grow up and be serious. I can think of nothing less appealing at the moment! Eights week, four days of absolute slog, and three of hazy absurdity, was splendid – there were moments when I almost recaptured the sensations of my first summer here. The Vile Bodies had dined the previous week, a cheap meal, that succeeded remarkably well, since we had a photograph again after ages – another triumphant success, I am glad to say, though what was meant to be the base of twenties’ dance positions went sadly astray.
After Eights, there was an incredible amount of self-denial (almost a whole week without a drop of alcohol, two meals a day to give me strength! – even though I usually felt almost sick after them (Corpus Hall) – and what seemed very much like burial in the Bodleian).
The exams – the second of which I failed to get up in time for, perhaps because I’d been awake half the night worrying – were inchoate, extraordinary, neither comforting nor worrying. I shall know in a week the results. Immediately after them I went to Cambridge for the weekend (You remember Adrian, from ‘Dear Friends’, the other person there I gather is now leading Jehovah’s Witnesses prayer meetings in return for a very cheap flat) which was passed in a haze of compensatory gin, interspersed with lunch with extremely traditionalist clergymen, and totally dotty Jubilee Communion services (‘God save the Queen’, most unChristian of hymns, being belted out by an excessively patriotic congregation), and also a party which, uncharacteristically, I crashed and spent telling the wife of the master of Emmanuel (a Swede called Lady Sutherland) how much better than Cambridge Oxford was. Got back here on Sunday, went on Monday to London to the Opera (Covent Garden after 8 months, I am saving money with a vengeance) missed the last train, and was trapped by Jubilee crowds yesterday in Trafalgar Square – but am back now working for vivas!
Hope you got the telegram. We tried to phone on the 16th, but couldn’t get through. Barring a very perverse decision by the Board, I shall be here next year for the DPhil. It would have been amusing to come home for the Va, but I think Anila would have a fit were she left here so long alone – I shall spend quite a lt of time working here, with I hope two brief holidays, the first of which I’d like this week; and exhausting and nerve-wracking term this, I was nearly sick before my viva – but am not sure if I can.
Anila’s marks seem most satisfactory as doubtless she’s told you. Gaji’s results are out tomorrow, and I’ll get him to send a telegram at once. I think he’s planning to anyway. Uncle Sathi et al were here yesterday, but I only saw them for a few minutes as I hadn’t checked my pigeon-hole for a message – Anila gave them an exhaustive tour. There might be a case for us all coming back for Christmas – shall I ask George (Cawkwell) whether he’s like a holiday too – having been to him for Christmas for the last 5 years. On the other hand, it may be more sensible for Anila to see as much of Europe as she can.
I shall doubtless need more sheets and stuff, but will let you know in time. What exactly is the programme for September? I shall want to hear lots about elections etc – you haven’t written to me for aeons.
PS – Hope it’s all right not being there for the FS exams – please withdraw if necessary.
10th July 1977
A quick note before I potter away for a week – tried to get back to work, not too successfully, so decided to have another break, in Germany. Will be back when Anila is. Got my marks – 3 a- – – (thesis included) ab and ba – quite good.