Blue Feet and Smarty Boots

This week’s issue of Standpoint magazine reviews a autobiographical book by artist Nicky Loutit. The book is entitled New Year’s Day is Black. The review, by Jessica Douglas-Home, begins with this reference to the book’s preface, in which Evelyn Waugh plays a part:

D.J. Taylor’s somewhat insensitive and inaccurate preface to New Year’s Day is Black by the artist Nicky Loutit gives us the backdrop to London’s left-wing literary elite of the 1940s and ’50s, at a time when its protagonists — including Cyril Connolly, Robert Kee and George Orwell — were making their mark. Taylor describes Nicky’s mother, Janetta, who was a part of this world, by using snide remarks from Evelyn Waugh’s letters, so reducing her to some sort of acolyte secretary. As a mother, it is true, she had her faults. But Janetta was also a clever and artistic woman and, to Nicky’s cost, the femme fatale within this milieu.

Nicky Loutit’s mother Janetta (nee Wooley) was an artist who was a co-tenant in a house in Sussex Place with Cyril Connolly in the postwar years. She is mentioned in several of Waugh’s letters to both Connolly and Nancy Mitford. She seems to have stuck in Waugh’s mind because, when he once came to visit Connolly in the Sussex Place house, Janetta  came barefoot to open the door to him. She is referred to variously as “Blue Feet”, “bare-footed landlady” and at one point is said to have acquired a new look: “silk stockings, high heel shoes, diamond clips.” In a 1961 letter, Waugh jokingly confuses her with Lys Lubbock and Sonia Brownell, both of whom were admired by Connolly. Waugh also refers dismissively to Janetta’s second husband, Robert Kee, as a “rival doodler” and, after breakup of their marriage, as a “Mr Somebody” still living in Cyril’s digs (Letters, pp. 271, 276, 348, 399, 578). While the reviewer defends Janetta against Taylor’s use of Waugh’s “snide” comments to belittle her, the review goes on to describe Janetta as a rather nasty piece of work as Nicky’s mother. In any event, it seems only fair to mention that Waugh more likely intended his comments to be directed at Connolly than at Janetta herself.  Whether Taylor also makes that point cannot be determined from the information available.

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