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Tag archive: 1929

Discordant Note

Caricature of William Somerset Maugham

1955: William Somerset Maugham’s affair with Syrie Wellcome and their subsequent marriage produced one child but little happiness. When they divorced in 1929, Maugham was obliged to agree to a costly settlement to secure Syrie’s silence regarding his homosexuality. As the years passed, Maugham deeply resented the misery of their marriage and the continuing financial burden of the settlement.

Syrie died in London on 25 July 1955. Maugham heard of her death while playing cards at the Villa Mauresque, his home in the south of France. He put down the pack and drummed his fingers triumphantly on the table. “Tra-la-la-la,” he sang. “No more alimony. Tra-la, tra-la.”

Source: Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (1966), p. 208

Slap Down

1946: During the first half of the 20th century, travelling from Britain to India entailed a lengthy, rather monotonous journey by sea. Radclyffe Sidebottom, who served in the Bengal Pilot Service from 1929 until 1946, remembered one voyage where a female passenger – a governor’s daughter, in fact – grew tired of the stuffed shirts in first class and took a liking to a handsome young steward in second class. At the fancy-dress ball, the high point of the voyage out, they danced together all night. Next morning, though, when he approached her with a little too much familiarity, she informed him: “In the circle in which I move, sleeping with a woman does not constitute an introduction.”

Source: Charles Allen, Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (1977), p. 49

Murder Incorporated

1911: On 11 January, Takács Rozália succeeded in murdering her husband, Takács Lajos. It wasn’t from want of trying; she had already made several attempts. According to his wife, Lajos was a good-for-nothing “alcoholic beast” who regularly mistreated her. His death was the first of a string of murders in the Hungarian village of Nagyrév. The killings were the work not of individuals acting in isolation, but of groups of villagers sharing their murderous expertise. Almost all of the murderers and their accomplices were women. Their victims – four-fifths of them – were men: abusive husbands, unfaithful lovers, elderly and frail fathers-in-law. The preferred means of murder was poisoning with arsenic, which was easily dissolved out of flypapers. Between 1911 and 1929, when the authorities eventually cottoned on that something was amiss, forty or more villagers were poisoned.

Source: Béla Bodó, Tiszazug: A Social History of a Murder Epidemic (2002), chap. 5

Women At War

1929: A distinctive feature of the so-called Igbo women’s war was the way the women shoved the men aside to lead resistance to British rule in Nigeria.

The principal cause of the disturbances (“war” is an overstatement) was a clumsy attempt to conduct a census of women in the southeast of the country, provoking fears that the colonial authorities planned to impose a poll tax. “We women are like trees which bear fruit,” protested one woman. “You should tell us the reason why women who bear seeds should be counted.”

Women orchestrated and took a leading part in protest marches, the harassment of local officials, the burning of court buildings and the looting of European factories. They thought troops wouldn’t fire at them, but they were wrong; about 50 women were killed and a similar number wounded.

Source: Harry A. Gailey, The Road to Aba: A Study of British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria (1971), chaps. 4–6

Hairy Lady

1929: A story from the diplomat Bruce Lockhart’s diary, recounted by the Countess of Rosslyn:
“Lady Theo Acheson had wonderful hair of which she was very proud. In her passport form under the sub-heading ‘any peculiarities’ she put in ‘hair below the knees’. In the passport this was abbreviated by the passport officer to ‘hairy legs’!”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 91

“But Your Mother Never Called Me!”

Vladimir Lenin with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, photographed in 1922 by Lenin’s sister, Maria Ulyanova

Vladimir Lenin with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, photographed in 1922 by Lenin’s sister, Maria Ulyanova

1929: The diplomat Bruce Lockhart heard what he described as a “priceless story of Lenin and the death of his mother-in-law”. Without naming the source, Lockhart wrote in his diary: “Krupskaya tired of watching at death-bed asked Lenin to sit by her mother while she slept. He was to call her if her mother wanted anything. Lenin took a book and began to read. Two hours later Krupskaya came back. Her mother was dead. Lenin was still reading. Krupskaya blamed him: ‘Why did you not let me know?’ Lenin replied: ‘But your mother never called me!’ ”

Source: Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, I: 1915–1938, ed. Kenneth Young (1973), p. 82