The Irish Pasha

By Louise Foxcroft

The astonishing private and public lives of a maverick Edwardian Egyptologist

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A new cache of letters has turned up!

I'd thought that the first draft of The Irish Pasha was pretty much complete but this new material throws more light on Pum and those around him - it is astonishing, reading these exchanges between friends and family, and finding them all becoming increasingly substantial. As though we might know them. 

This is one of the episodes touched on in the letters:

Pum so badly wanted a son that he almost got married in 1914. It was such a close shave - ‘a life sentence of marriage with its frightening possibilities’ – that he opted instead for an arrangement with a fellow officer: Pum would take on this man’s unwanted wife and two children and in return she, Evelyn Wynn, would bear him a child. John was born in 1924. He was actually Pum’s second child - the first, a girl, was not wanted and had been sent away to South Africa. There is no getting away from rejection in this story. Humphrey Spender told me that, ‘as with many homosexuals, he wanted to carry on his family name but that he disliked ladies so much that he didn’t want to be involved in the physical act’.

The new family lived in Lavenham, Suffolk, though Pum spent most of his time in Cairo. The set-up was deeply unconventional: their easy lifestyle, the odd visitors, the naked sunbathing, all of the goings-on fascinated and appalled the villagers. Evelyn endured social ostracism and the ‘fluctuating eye-brows of the Vicar’s wife’.

After eight years of being alone and peripheral she began an affair with the Swedish artist Henning Nyberg, but then she made the mistake of telling Pum and discovered that all his high-flown ideas about free love, his arguments against the blind stupidity of provincial English life, meant nothing when it came to down to it. Their arrangement, their understanding as she had imagined it, was neither rational nor romantic: ‘the intimacy of love was not knowledge, not even friendship, but an animal truce between two age old enemies, the man and the woman, and at any moment the truce might be broken, the bugle sound the alarm, and a fight bitter to death be resumed … Oh Christ! the pity of it all, the infinite heartbreaking pity’.

Evelyn was forced to pack up and leave for London, to leave her child behind. She had no means of support and nowhere to live, and had paid, she wrote, not only in her body, but in her good name and the sacrifice of her reputation in ‘society’. Pum had paid for the child in money alone.


Evelyn wrote an unpublished roman à clef, Love Is Not Love, and this along with her diaries and letters tells one of the later chapters in The Irish Pasha - a terrible story of illegitimacy, idealism, betrayal, double standards, and a very bitter custody battle fought out in the 1930s. 

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