It was Henry who forged the friendship between Carmen Callil and me.
As I began researching the book I am writing on Henry and her sister Lil, I knew it would add a valuable insight if I could interview Carmen Callil. Why, I wanted to know, had she declared Maurice Guest her favourite book, and chosen to publish it – an Australian book by an author unknown in the UK – in the Modern Classics section of her British Virago feminist publishing company?
It was odds-on I thought, that she would not have time or inclination to talk with me, but it seems she was intrigued by my blood link to Henry. Carmen invited me for lunch and was a glorious host serving up delicious food and feeding me succulent chunks of gossip and the latest shenanigans in the publishing world.
As well, we talked about politics. characters we knew in common, jokes we could scream with laughter over. And of course, why Maurice Guest was so important for her.
“Darling – She called everyone Darling – in my years when passionately in love with men I hated being in love…. I was always miserable…the masochist in me, chose men who made me suffer. That is why Maurice Guest rang a bell with me. It was so like my own experience. It resonated for me. It was the book that helped me make sense of my love life.”
She explained how the writer Antonia White had given her the book in 1978. Then, rushing from the room to an enormous bookshelf, she returned with a large dusty volume of Maurice Guest explaining this was the one Antonia White had given to her, telling Carmen it needed to be better known. Carmen read Maurice Guest and was captivated.