Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Liza Glendevon was a QueerSpawn

 Born Mary Elizabeth Maugham (full name was Mary Elizabeth Maugham Paravicini Hope, Baroness Glendevon) was the only child of William Somerset Maugham, perhaps the century's grumpiest writer, and Syrie, his wife turned society decorator. Her parents married in 1917, after her mother's divorce from the British pharmaceuticals magnate Henry Wellcome. Her mother was a daughter of orphanage founder Thomas John Barnardo. She was known as Liza, after her father's first successful novel, Liza of Lambeth.

Liza grew up in a unique environment: Noel Coward (who called her Liza Boo) composing songs in her mother's house, Cecil Beaton photographing her, and Beverly Nichols gossiping about her. "Liza is a perfect darling," effused Beaton of the 13-year-old. "I adore her. She is unique, wise, sophisticated and yet very childish." David Herbert declared unequivocally that Syrie's "adoration of Liza was touching and her whole life revolved around her".

Liza also was the plaintiff in one of the most celebrated family-law trials of the early 1960s, when she fought her celebrated father's unsuccessful attempt to prove that she was not his child. She could not understand what had turned her father against her. "Dearest Daddy, you are making me quite miserable by refusing to see me . . . How can you suddenly turn on me when I have done absolutely nothing?" The situation may have been explained by a bitter comment made by Maugham to Alan Searle: "The trouble with those two [the John Hopes] is that they're too damned happy"; and by the fact that Maugham was already suffering the effects of Alzheimer's.

In his memoir Looking Back (1962) Somerset Maugham denied paternity of Liza. Around the same time, he attempted to have her disinherited in order to adopt his male secretary, suggesting that she was actually the child of Syrie Maugham and Henry Wellcome. The subsequent 21-month court case, fought in British and French courts, determined that Maugham was her biological father, and the author was legally barred from his adoption plans.

Elizabeth Mary Maugham: born Rome 1 September 1915; married 1936 Vincent Paravicini (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1948 Lord John Hope (created 1964 Baron Glendevon, died 1996; two sons); died Hopetoun, Lothian 27 December 1998.

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