During his life, Gerald Tyrwhitt, the 14th Baron Berners, made his reputation as a composer of ballet and opera scores, but he was also an entertaining memoirist and a crafter of sly and funny tales. In First Childhood
and A Distant Prospect
, he depicted the realities of growing up Victorian; in Collected Tales and Fantasies
, he examines his privileged world through a medium that is no less true for being fiction. Berners relies on humor to make his points, but there's nothing remotely gentle in his mockery. Take, for example, "The Camel," an absurd tale of an ecclesiastical couple whose life is undone by a dromedary's mysterious appearance on their doorstep. Or "Percy Wallingford," in which the title character, a young man entirely without fault, begins to crumble when he discovers his wife has amazing night vision and can see him at his most defenseless: while he is asleep. In the world of Berners's making, even the most innocuous or ridiculous of events can lead to serious consequences indeed, and each of the six tales included in this volume has its dark side. Misdirected love letters, antique embroidery, little dogs that are loved and loathed in equal measure--from such off-kilter seeds, full-blown satire blooms, and readers who like their humor spiced with just a dash of arsenic will embrace this underappreciated writer. --Margaret Prior
From Publishers Weekly
A flamboyant, wealthy aesthete, the 14th Baron Berners (1883-1950) was, in no particular order, a composer, writer, painter, musical collaborator with Sacheverell Sitwell and Gertrude Stein, and friend of John Betjeman, Rosamond Lehmann and Nancy Mitford. This omnibus of six of his arch, epigrammatic stories and short novels recalls H.H. "Saki" Munro in their light comedy, displayed in such disparate situations as that of a disruptive camel who adopts a village vicar's wife; palace intrigue set in a late-Ptolemaic kingdom; an inheritance-sabotaging lapdog; or academic life during wartime. The most amusing of these, "The Romance of a Nose," features a young Cleopatra seeking proto-plastic surgery to alter her profile and change the face of the Roman world. There is always an air of pastiche in Berners's style, and his characters are often parodic studies of British high society; in "Count Omega," the mercurial title character's hapless prot?g?, Emanuel Smith, is a lightly fictionalized version of Sitwell-crony and composer William Walton. Berners lances (and not without homoerotic tension) the masculine anxiety in and around one "Percy Wallingford," an exasperatingly perfect young man of whom a worshipful classmate says, "The Greek God had descended from Olympus but had lost nothing in his transition to earth." As the aesthete-at-loose-ends, Lord FitzCricket in the WWII academic soft-satire "Far from the Madding War," confesses, "I'm... fundamentally superficial. I am also private spirited." Readers may find this also applies to the eccentric aristocrat Berners's writings, but for those who like their short fiction light, the sugary surreality of these whimsies may provide amusement. (May) FYI: Berners's two-volume autobiography, First Childhood and A Distant Prospect, was released in 1998 by Turtle Point Press and Helen Marx Books.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.