Discovering Angus Stewart (1936 - 1998)

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Discovering Angus Stewart (1936 – 1998)

“a love which truly exists and is not despicable” by C. L. DuBarton

In recent months, a Wikipedia entry on Angus Stewart appeared, and the buzz began, especially in the US, where many people who should have known this writer did not, including myself. The conversation magnified with blogs, like Callum James’ Front Free Endpaper, and corrections or updates to the Wiki entry. The author’s four books began to increase in value on the antiquarian bookseller markets. Personally, I could not afford to purchase the book said to be of primary interest to the gay community, Stewart’s first novel Sandel (Hutchinson, 1968). This one book has been described as a gay cult classic. A novel about an Oxford student of nineteen years falling in love with a thirteen year old Oxford choirboy, indeed the head boy of the fictional St. Cecilia’s Choir, a traditional English boychoir such as those of New College, Christ Church or Magdalen. The passion the young man feels is reciprocated by the boy in his own unique and boyish way, and an unspoken understanding, indeed a love, grows between them. The novel Sandel is often described as Stewart’s only work of gay interest.

I feel this is an error, to consider Sandel the only gay work by Angus Stewart. He published four books. Second after Sandel was Snow In Harvest (Hutchinson, 1969), another novel with considerable gay interest, especially as here, like in Sandel, the main protagonist is a thinly veiled Angus Stewart. Snow In Harvest contains a denser plot, with many characters, and elements reminiscent of Graham Greene espionage intrigue, but the protagonist always has a boy living with him, a boy with whom he is in love. In the third book by Angus Stewart, his slender nonsense poetry book Sense & Inconsequence (Michael de Hartington, 1972), with introduction by W. H. Auden, he not only names the primary boy with whom he lived in Tangier, Hamed Sigidhli (known more familiarly as Meti), but admits he deeply loves this boy who was twelve years old when he moved in with Stewart. Indeed, there are two rather accomplished illustrations by Meti in this book of light verse, done when the boy was twelve. This book contains all the verse directed to Antony Sandel in that first novel, as well as verse referencing Meti and other boys: Rachid ben Ahmed Aloussi, and one Norodine. Meti lived with Stewart for at least six years, and offered carnal consummation to Stewart, which Stewart declined, as he felt that was not only illegal, but against his concept of religion. But no mistake, all these boys, and probably the real English boy that was the model for Antony Sandel, passionately hugged, kissed and shared a bed in various stages of undress with Angus Stewart. For his part, Stewart, unusually for the sixties or even for today, insisted that he did love these boys, and that it was right, and his right and the boy’s right, to voluntarily do so.

Despite the pro-gay Wolfenden Report, Stewart knew that if and when the recommendations therein were adopted, they would not extend to his deep-rooted passion for boys. So he formed his own ethos, keeping within the law, but adamant in the beauty, honour and rightness of loving boys, especially boys who so desperately wanted to be loved in exactly this way.

Eventually, I was able to afford the paperback of Sandel (Panther, a division of Hutchinson, 1970), as well as the hardcovers of the other three, plus a first publication collection (Stories By New Writers, Faber, 1964) of short fiction by several authors that includes three short stories by Stewart (his short fiction here, particularly The Stile won awards), and a book (Underdogs, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1961), edited by Philip Toynbee, that includes the first, and stated to be factual account of his actual relationship with Tony (called Antony, Tony and Ant in the novel Sandel), but which was written in 1961 under a pen name, John Davis. In that telling, he was seventeen to the thirteen of Tony. By extension from his own birthdate (1936), the relationship took place in 1953, or shortly thereafter.

As an aside, I might note that Sandel contains considerable veracity in depicting the choirboy career of Antony Sandel, including reference to the fact (deplored by the boy) that Vienna Sangerknaben boys of that period were made to wear lipstick in performance. Indeed, Sandel and Underdogs lead me to wonder if there is not an lp recording, circa 1953, of the real life model for Tony, Ant or Antony Sandel, since the recording is made and released in the novel (on a major label, perhaps Decca, Philips, or EMI), and the cover photo of Tony is one made by “David Rogers,” the Angus Stewart character in the novel. Indeed, the photo session is one of the high points of the novel, as the boy insists that the session include a full nude of himself. Stewart also had a considerable career as a photographer, mostly portraits and mostly (but not exclusively) after 1979, when he moved back permanently to England from his last sojourn to Tangier, following the death of his mother.

Sandel was something of a hit in 1968 England, and well reviewed. Snow In Harvest got great reviews, too, a year later. The Times said of Sandel “The writing is always intelligent, its sensual quality surprisingly beautiful.” Of the same book, the Sunday Telegraph review claimed “Mr. Stewart has really succeeded with this young character, and in depicting a love which truly exists and is not despicable.” The publisher Hutchinson & Co. then brought out 1970 paperback editions in their Panther line of both novels. The Sandel paperback was reprinted at least twice (1971 and 1972). I have seen all three Sandel paperbacks and the hardcover, too. I have never seen the Snow In Harvest paperback, or even seen it listed for sale on the antiquarian market. The Sandel paperback cover is the same on all Panther editions [a bare shouldered boy that appears to me to be closer in age to the actual 17 years of Stewart during the factual relationship, than to the thirteen of Tony, who is, after all, the title character]. The hardcover has an entirely different dust jacket illustration, two differing arms from each side mutually hold a central ceremonial flame bearing candle, the arms – one in surplice – offering the flame of love for and with the other. It would be interesting to see how the publisher’s illustrator characterized the cover concept for the Snow In Harvest paperback.

The final Angus Stewart book, Tangier: A Writer’s Notebook (Hutchinson, 1977), does away with the fiction conceit with the subtitle, thereby making the book clearly not a travelogue or travel journal, but rather more personal. While without most of the more involved Cold War spy intrigue in the fictional Snow In Harvest, Tangier is very much the successor to the earlier Moroccan set book. Here we meet the real Meti, twelve years old, and an assortment of friends and acquaintances both local and fellow expatriates, like Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bowles,William S. Burroughs and a sweet and kindly Tennessee Williams. It is also illustrated with several Angus Stewart black & white photographs, which include “local color” images of costumed people and settings both in Tangier and on side trips to Moroccan points of interest, as well as some boys (including a dancing boy) which may be much more personal.

Coincidentally, Stewart mentions throughout the text of Tangier that he is working on another novel. Since there is no pretense of Tangier being fiction, I tend to believe that there was, and hopefully still exists, this further work of fiction as yet unpublished. Stewart frequently returned to England, as he did at the end of Tangier, resulting in the publication of that book in 1977. Since his bio states that he returned permanently to England in 1979 (most likely from Tangier again, although he had traveled widely elsewhere, such as the USA) upon the death of his mother, one hopes that this further novel still exists and may even be complete. His father, J. I. M. Stewart (1906 – 1994), who was much more widely published both under his own name and as Michael Innes, detective fiction author, had set up a trust before his death to handle royalties for his estate (Angus Stewart had one brother and one sister who survived both him and their parents – another sister predeceased them). Perhaps this final Angus Stewart book still exists in a similar (or the same) trust or archive.

In conclusion, whether another Angus Stewart novel exists or not, his entire opus should be of interest to the gay community, not just the age of consent protesters or man/boy rights community. All his books and stories, poems and photography, speak eloquently and interestingly from the heart, a heart the world would best hear if we are to understand one another in a better world of true diversity and if not acceptance, at least being open minded enough to try walking in another man’s shoes. With this body of work, Angus Stewart has left some large shoes to fill, but the reader’s journey toward understanding any otherness will reward those steps in comprehension and true worth.

Bibliography (in chronological order)

Toynbee, Philip, ed., (Angus Stewart writing as John Davis, et al) Underdogs, 1961, London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

No editor, (Francis Hope, Sheila MacLeod, Angus Stewart, Tom Stoppard, Garth St Omer), Stories By New Writers, 1964, London, Faber & Faber.

Stewart, Angus, Sandel, 1968, London, Hutchinson.

Stewart, Angus, Snow In Harvest, 1969, London, Hutchinson.

Stewart, Angus, Sense & Inconsequence, 1972, London, Michael de Hartington.

Stewart, Angus, Tangier: A Writer’s Notebook, 1977, London, Hutchinson.

Stewart, Angus, (unpublished novel, c.1975 – 1980?)

A Letter from Piers Dudgeon Regarding Angus Stewart

Dear Professor Percy,

I hope this is still your email address. A few years ago I ran down Angus Stewart’s brother, Michael, and persuaded him to let me publish a new edition of Sandel in both paperback and ebook. I now have the rights in Snow In Harvest and Tangier, and have read Angus’s final (unpublished) novel, The Wind Cries All Ways, though at this stage - perhaps for good reason - the family is not happy to release that upon the world.

I am writing to you having read your article, 'Discovering Angus Stewart (1936-1998)’.

Being in 1971 an assistant editor at Panther and having read Sandel in its first paperback edition, it occurred to me that the novel deserved a reissue because a. novels about homosexual love are thin on the ground, b. novels of any sexual persuasion that express the idea that the essence of love is to set the other person free are even more rare, c. Sandel was written as the tide against homosexual love was turning in the UK and as such has a place in history, and d. there is no clear reason why such a classic should have been allowed to go out of print.

Your article appeared as I was commissioning a play based on Sandel from Glenn Chandler and it has taken me this long to get around to writing to you. Now, with Tangier about to be published as an ebook and with Snow In Harvest to appear this year as a paperback, I felt I had to try to make contact.

The sexuality of the author is my main reason. In Tangier Angus states, ‘I don’t do adult homosexuality’. He also tells us that he has been married and clearly becomes excited by women, while his 'particular predilection' for boys is also clear from this book and others, and its rightness in the scheme of things. The feeling I have about him is that he has an unusual and clear sense of what love means, which is rather different to the majority view, and you clinch things by writing that Meti ‘offered carnal consummation to Stewart, while Stewart declined, as he felt that was not only illegal but against his concept of religion’.

I have read the Davis article about pederasty and Sense & Inconsequence, as well as much else of his writing and agree that Angus has indeed ‘left some large shoes to fill’. But I cannot trace anything about his religious beliefs or his declining an offer from Meti for sex. Can you elucidate? It is important because, as you will appreciate, his reading of love is the key to publishing him.

The Wind Cries All Ways is, as ever, autobiographical, but a difficult book partly because it is a very sad one - he tells of his incarceration in a Tangier mental asylum, for example - and partly because it isn’t written as well as the earlier books. His agent couldn’t see it at all and declined it before any publisher. I have no idea whether it was offered even. But I do believe it should be published, along with more about what became of Angus between writing Snow and his incarceration, over which questions arise. It would have been very easy to misunderstand such beliefs as we are led to believe were his, given the kind of situation he describes at the end of Tangier when the gang of boys regularly visit his apartment.

I may be better placed to know what to expect from you - assuming you get this and indeed wish to respond - after March 17 when I have booked into the British Library to read Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. I look forward to it!

With best wishes, Piers Dudgeon

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