Once In A Blue Moon: Suwanni Sukhontha’s Stories

Suwanni Sukhonthiang was born in Phitsanulok, a province of Northern Thailand, on 1st March 1932. After leaving school, she travelled to the capital Bangkok, where she spent the next two years studying at the Pohchang Academy of Arts; she completed her education by taking a course in fine art at Silpakorn University, graduating in 1951. Taking a job as a teacher, she worked at the Bangkok School of Arts before lecturing at her alma mater. At the same time, she began penning short stories under the pen name Suwanni Sukontha; her first published story being Chot Mai Thueng Puk for the Siam Rath Weekly. Encouraged the positive reaction to her writing, Sukhontha decided to devote herself full-time to it, and produced her debut novel Sai Bo Yut Sane Hai in 1965.

Noted for her masterful character development, and powerful imagery, Sukhontha won the SEATO literature award in 1971 for her novel Khao Chue Kan, a gritty tale about an idealistic young doctor and his dissatisfied wife, dealing with the corruption and dishonesty of those around them and its catastrophic impact upon their own relationship. By 1973, the story had taken on a greater significance with the student uprisings in Thailand, and the ensuing transition of the previous military dictatorship into a more pro-democratic political system.

A year after she was given the prestigious award, Sukhontha founded and edited the female-orientated literature journal Lalana and used the publication as a platform for her progressive ideas about women and their involvement in Thai society. Sukhontha also received the National Book Week’s Award for Duai Pik Khong Rak in 1973. Continue reading

So Far And Beyond: The Style Of Til Brugman

Mathilda Maria Petronella Brugman, known as ‘Til,’ was born on 16th September 1888 in Amsterdam, the eldest of nine children. The Brugman family were strict Roman Catholics and their first-born daughter’s assertiveness and sexuality would become a source of domestic conflict. At the age of 11, Brugman was sent to a Catholic girl’s boarding school, having already shown an aptitude for languages, encouraged by her mother. In 1911, Brugman found her own apartment in Amsterdam, taking a job as translator.

Always acknowledging that she was attracted to her own sex, Brugman fell in love with the opera singer Sienna Masthoff in 1917, and the couple moved to The Hague, where Brugman worked as a foreign languages tutor. At the same time, Brugman started to write poetry, inspired by her friendship with the avant-garde painter Piet Mondrian.

By 1917, Modrian had become affiliated with the recently formed collective of artists and architects, known as De Stijl. Founded by the designer and painter Theo van Doesburg, the group considered that art should be stripped down to the bare essentials, favouring simple bold lines and mainly black and white colour schemes. Others associated with the movement included the Hungarian painter, Vilmos Huszár and architect and furniture designer, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Additionally, a journal of the same name was produced in order to publicise De Stijl’s abstract notions and concepts, with the first edition proclaiming, ‘There is an old and a new awareness of art. The former focuses on the individual. The new focus on the universal.’ Continue reading

Faith, Hope And Charity: The Plays Of Ödön von Horváth

‘It just has so often a yearning within – 
but then you go back with broken wings 
and life goes on, 
as if you’d never been there.’

– Karoline in Kasimir und Karoline by Ödön von Horváth (1932)

Born in Fiume in Hungary (now Croatia and known as Rijeka since 1945) on 9th December 1901, Edmund Josef Horvát was the son of Dr Edmund Josef Horvát, a Hungarian diplomat, and his Hungarian-German wife, Mary Hermione Prehnal. The following year, the family moved to Belgrade and another son, Lajos, arrived in 1903. In 1908, they moved again to Budapest, where Edmund and Lajos were schooled in Hungarian. As a reward for his diplomatic service, Dr Horvát was ennobled and sent to Munich. The Horvát children remained at school in Hungary, but changed their name to reflect their father’s new-found status; this meant the addition of ‘von’ in German and another ‘h’ added to their surname in Hungarian.

A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Edmund and his brother moved to Munich, before going to live in Bratislava, and then with an uncle in Vienna. The frequent relocations of his childhood would leave von Horváth without a fixed sense of national identity as he later revealed, ‘If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria-Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.’ In fact, von Horváth only learnt his ‘mother tongue’  during his teens in Munich, but it was the only language he wrote in thereafter.

Enrolling as a student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1919, von Horváth studied German literature and drama, which prompted him to begin writing his own plays; early titles included Das Buch der Tänze (1920). After abandoning his studies in 1922, he divided his time between Berlin and Salzburg and began calling himself Ödön, the Hungarian spelling of his name. From 1924, he was also a frequent visitor to his parents’ new home in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. Continue reading

Noblesse Oblige: The Last Of The Mitfords

‘I had letters from you & the Lady (Nancy) & Henderson (Jessica) today, wouldn’t it be dread if one had a) no sisters b) sisters who didn’t write.’        

– Deborah Cavendish to her sister Diana Mosley, July 1965

‘Debo’ as she was known to her loved ones, was always willing to correspond with those wanting to talk to her about her remarkable relatives, and her extraordinary life as the Duchess of Devonshire. With the laying to rest today of Her Grace, in the ducal churchyard at Edensor, the iconic Mitford sisters who came to occupy an almost mythical space in British culture are no more.

In reading the host of obituaries following the death last Wednesday of Deborah Freeman-Mitford, at the age of 94, a more genuine picture of the bonds that united the Mitfords in the face of Fascism, Communism, war and death, emerges from their own personal recollections. The sisters resist any contemporary comparison, because of their background and upbringing within a uniquely select world, one evolving for a thousand years then finding itself undergoing a period of rapid decline.

It was to be a process of radical political change in England, with which history will always associate the Mitford name. As was common in those of their class, the sisters wrote to each other for the duration of their lives, on occasion penning correspondence to their siblings several times a day. Offering a unique record of an age gone by 12,000 letters survive, presenting a profound insight into how their experiences of life in their childhood homes, would shape destinies subject to public notoriety and historical fascination ever since. What also emerges from their letters is the constant role of Debo as peacemaker, the preserver of a pastoral idyll tarnished and faded by crisis. In the life ahead of her she would need all the compassion and tact for which she would become renowned.

The Honourable Deborah Vivien was born on 31st March 1920, the youngest child of what were by then Lord and Lady Redesdale, of Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire. David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford and his wife Sydney Bowles. Debo’s elder siblings were Nancy, Pamela, Tom, Diana, Unity and Jessica. Known as Decca, Jessica had been born three years earlier at the sprawling Batsford House estate in Gloucestershire. Batsford was the home of Algernon Bertram ‘Barty’ Freeman-Mitford, David’s father with whom Sydney and their children lived after David joined up in 1914, the family having previously moved around various parts of London and Wiltshire. Continue reading