from Vaughan Williams, Ursula, 1911-2007 to Kennedy, Michael (George Michael Sinclair), 1926-2014

Letter No. VWL3459

Letter from Ursula Vaughan Williams to Michael and Eslyn Kennedy

Letter No.: VWL3459

From R. Vaughan Williams,
10, Hanover Terrace,
Regents Park,
London, N.W.1.


January 15th [1957]

Dearest Michael & Eslyn,

Lovely to hear from you. We have been here,1 (except for one night at home when we had to go to the EFDS & sit with the princess2 [Eslyn – she wore dark blue velvet – a very nice plain diamond necklace of square stones & an eighteenth century spray brooch with a trembler – also white & mink stole] and then returned.)
Ralph seemed to need a change of view, table, & climate, & he has worked valiantly & concentratedly all the time, and seems to have done very good work.3 We are here till Friday, though I’m going up for a night tonight to go to Under Milk Wood4 with Jean.5 We’ve both had colds, but Joy6 has a sunray lamp, & its helped to clear it up very fast.  I always dread these next two months & the Passions.  Last year almost finished me for the M.P.7 I had it whirling round in my mind for months.  I do both hope and dread that R. won’t do it after this year.  Its such a strain, & yet such a glory. Quite the most difficult thing in my life as a wife.  All my instincts are for him doing what he wants to do, & all my common sense is against it!
I had met your TSE poem, – & forgotten it.8 You are right, & I daresay its the answer to all – the girl with the armful of flowers being all he has rejected in life.  As you say, now perhaps everything will be different. What fun, & what a dismayed revolution will follow, if he starts writing lyrical & happy poems!
I have been re-reading lots of Sylvia Townsend Warner here.  What a lovely writer she is.  The only one not up to it was the Flint Anchor.  All the others are witty, touching, vivid, & most limpidly written.  I have written to Anthony Asquith to ask if he knows ‘The True Heart’  because I think it would make a most ravishing film.9
Ralph & I went to War & Peace.  If you can screw yourself up to sit for 4 hours its well worth seeing, & lovely visualy. The duel in the snow is one of the best colour-films – colour I’ve seen.  It is also rather wonderful to take part in the battle, as one does.  It is so like all those dreary Waterloo’s, and other relief maps in the war museum ( which I used to be taken to see) coming to life – as the Russian’s Romeo & Juliet had  Gozzoli 10 crowd scenes coming to life.11 Ralph & I took sandwiches, & went to the morning showing of the film, before we went to the rehearsal of the Casals concert.  So what with this that, & the concert itself, it was rather a day!  We are going to hear Reizenstein’s Voices of the Night  on Sunday,12 madrigal party on Monday, & so back into home life.
Here there is a black east wind, its bitterly cold, though the house is warm.  But, in spite of its beauty, I don’t like the country in this weather.  We had soft, damp, sweet smelling weather last week, which I adore.
Ralph is well, in spite of his cold – and has been reading Humphrey Clinker  with pleasure.13
We are so glad that you are so deep in Trollope.  You must get on to the Glencora ones next – related to Eustace Diamonds.  Lizzie is great fun, isn’t she?14
No further news. There are 7 charming cats here.  They usually sit on the things one is trying to do – Button helps Ralph most faithfully, with muddy paws on the music paper, & we get assorted bed fellows.  I had 4 last night, so there was little room for me!
Very much love from us both,


1. Church Farm, Ashmansworth, the home of Joy Finzi.
2. Princess Margaret, Patron of the English Folk Dance Society.
3. VW was working on the Ninth Symphony.
4. The play by Dylan Thomas.
5. Jean Stewart, violist with the Menges String Quartet.
6. Joy Finzi.
7. i.e. the Matthew Passion.
8. The poem in question is probably T. S. Eliot’s ‘La figlia che piange’ from Prufrock and other observations, 1917: ‘She turned away, but with the autumn weather / Compelled my imagination many days / Many days and many hours: / Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.’ Eliot had just re-married.
9. Sylvia Townsend Warner, The True Heart (Chatto & Windus, London, 1929).
10. UVW is thinking of Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in the Medici palace at Florence.
11. The 1956 film version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, starring Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer and Henry Fonda directed by King Vidor  and Mario Soldati.
12. Franz Reizenstein’s 1951 setting of texts by Christopher Hassall for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra..
13. The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, Tobias Smollett’s last novel published in 1771.
14. Phineas Redux, The Prime Minister and The Duke’s Children – the novels in Trollope’s Palliser sequence which follow The Eustace Diamonds (whose heroine was Lizzie Eustace).