elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Harold Acton (July 5, 1904 - February 27, 1994)

Sir Harold Mario Mitchell Acton CBE (5 July 1904 – 27 February 1994) was a British writer, scholar and dilettante perhaps most famous for being wrongly believed to have inspired the character of "Anthony Blanche" in Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (1945).
Waugh himself wrote, "The characters in my novels often wrongly identified with Harold Acton were to a great extent drawn from Brian Howard".
Acton was born into a prominent Anglo-Italian family at Villa La Pietra, his parents' house one mile outside the walls of Florence, Italy. He claimed that his great-great-grandfather was Commodore Sir John Acton, who was prime minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV, and grandfather of the Roman Catholic historian John Acton. However, the basis of this has been disputed.

Harold was in fact the great-great grandson of Sir John's younger brother Joseph Acton (1 Oct 1737-12 Jan 1830) via his eldest son Charles.

His father was the art collector and dealer Arthur Acton (1873–1953), his mother Hortense Mitchell (1871–1962), heiress to a prominent Chicago banking family. The Mitchell fortune allowed Arthur to buy the remarkable Villa La Pietra on the hills of Florence, where Harold lived for much of his life. The only modern furniture in the villa was in the nurseries, and that was disposed of when the children got older (Harold's younger brother William was born in 1906).

His early schooling was at Miss Penrose's private school in Florence. In 1913 his parents sent him to Wixenford preparatory school near Reading in southern England, where Kenneth Clark was a fellow-pupil. By 1916 submarine attacks on shipping had made the journey to England unsafe and so Harold and his brother were sent in September to Chateau de Lancy, an international school near Geneva. In the autumn of 1917 he went to a 'crammer' at Ashlawn in Kent, in order to be prepared for Eton, which he entered on 1 May 1918. Among his contemporaries at Eton were Eric Blair (the writer George Orwell), Cyril Connolly, Robert Byron, Alec Douglas-Home, Ian Fleming, Brian Howard, Oliver Messel, Anthony Powell, Henry Yorke (the novelist Henry Green). In his final years at school Harold became a founding member of the Eton Arts Society, and eleven of his poems appeared in The Eton Candle, edited by his friend Brian Howard.

@sailko. Villa La Pietra
Villa La Pietra is a villa outside Florence, Italy in Italy. The villa is now owned by New York University, after it was bequeathed by Sir Harold Acton. It is used by the university for academic undergraduate programs as well of outside conferences and tours. The villa houses an eclectic collection of art from all around the world gathered and put together by the family who previously owned the property. A long cypress avenue connects the entrance of the estate to the house itself.

In October 1923 Harold went up to Oxford to read Modern Greats at Christ Church. It was from the balcony of his rooms in Meadow Buildings that he declaimed passages from The Waste Land through a megaphone, an episode recalled in Brideshead Revisited which Waugh gives to the character of Anthony Blanche. While at Oxford he co-founded the avant garde magazine The Oxford Broom, and published his first book of poems, Aquarium (1923). In 1926 he acted as a special constable during the General Strike, apolitical as he was, and took his Degree. In October he took an apartment in Paris, at 29 Quai de Bourbon, and had his portrait painted by Pavel Tchelitcheff. Moving between Paris and London in the next few years, Harold sought to find his voice as a writer. In 1927 he began work on a novel, and a third book of poems, Five Saints and an Appendix, came out early the following year. This was followed by a prose fable, Cornelian, in March. In July Harold acted as Best Man at the wedding of Evelyn Waugh to the Honourable Evelyn Gardner. Waugh’s Decline and Fall bore a dedication to Harold ‘in Homage and Affection’, but when Harold’s own novel – disastrously entitled Humdrum – appeared in October 1928, it was slated in comparison with Decline and Fall by critics such as Cyril Connolly.

In the later 1920s Harold frequented the London salon of Lady Cunard, where at various times he encountered Ezra Pound, Joseph Duveen and the Irish novelist George Moore. On visits to Florence he cemented his friendship with Norman Douglas, who wrote an introduction to Harold’s translation of a lubricious 18th-century memoir of Giangastone de’ Medici, The Last of the Medici, privately printed in Florence in 1930 as part of the Lungarno Series. A fourth collection of poems, This Chaos, was published in Paris by Harold’s friend Nancy Cunard, though the Giangastone translation pointed in a more promising direction. History was indeed to prove far more congenial to Harold than poetry. His The Last Medici (not to be confused with the earlier book of similar title) was published by Faber in 1932, the first of a series of distinguished contributions to Italian historical studies.

Acton's non- historical works include four volumes of poetry, three novels, two novellas, two volumes of short stories, two volumes of autobiography and a memoir of his friend Nancy Mitford, who was his exact contemporary. His historical works include The Last Medici, a study of the later Medici Grand Dukes, and two large volumes on the House of Bourbon, rulers of the Kingdom of Naples in the 18th and earlier 19th century, which together may be said to constitute his magnum opus.

In 1974 he was named a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE). When he died he left Villa La Pietra to New York University.

Following his death, DNA testing confirmed the existence of an illegitimate half-sister, whose heirs have gone to court to challenge Acton's $500 million bequest to New York University.

Acton was buried beside his parents and brother in the Roman Catholic section of the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in the southern suburb of Florence, Galluzzo (Italy).

Burial: Cimitero Accatolico, Florence, Toscana, Italy

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Acton

Further Readings:

Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey by Harold Norse
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Press (March 26, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1560253851
ISBN-13: 978-1560253853
Amazon: Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey

Harold Norse has spent half a century simultaneously at the center and in the vanguard of literary and homosexual subcultures. His career began in 1939, when W. H. Auden seduced and “married” Norse’s college lover, Chester Kallman. In Greenwich Village Norse became an intimate of James Baldwin (then working on his first novel) and in Provincetown lived with Tennessee Williams, who was completing The Glass Menagerie. In 1952, William Carlos Williams presented Norse at his reading debut calling Norse “the best poet of your generation.” Other admirers included Anais Nin, Dylan Thomas, Christopher Isherwood, and e.e. Cummings. In the 1960s in Paris, Norse codeveloped the innovative Cut-up method while living in the Beat Hotel with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso. In North Africa, Greece, and Spain Norse befriended Robert Graves, Leonard Cohen, and Paul and Jane Bowles. Repatriating to Venice, California, in 1968, Norse formed a literary alliance with Charles Bukowski (who called him “one of the great ones”) and lifted weights with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Under any circumstances this book would be a major social document, but because he is a superb, evocative stylist, Harold Norse’s candid autobiography is an engrossing classic of its kind. “Harold Norse’s beautiful Memoirs (are) going to be right by my bedside with Flaubert and Marquez. It’s an exalted work!”—Andrei Codrescu, “All Things Considered,” National Public Radio “Magically evocative and visual, Memoirs of a Bastard Angel literally reads itself. ”—William Burroughs “Harold Norse has lived a life beyond my powers of imagination.”—Armistead Maupin

Palimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal
Reading level: Ages 18 and up
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (September 1, 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140260897
ISBN-13: 978-0140260892
Amazon: Palimpsest: A Memoir

This explosively entertaining memoir abounds in gossip, satire, historical apercus, and trenchant observations. Vidal's compelling narrative weaves back and forth in time, providing a whole view of the author's celebrated life, from his birth in 1925 to today, and features a cast of memorable characters—including the Kennedy family, Marlon Brando, Anais Nin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eddy: The Life of Edward Sackville-West by Michael De-la-Noy
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Arcadia Books (January 1, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1900850206
ISBN-13: 978-1900850209
Amazon: Eddy: The Life of Edward Sackville-West

A newly discovered Bloomsbury Group talent. This biography throws light on the cousin of Vita Sackville-West and friend of Virginia Woolf Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. Eddy was a novelist, New Statesman music critic and patron of the arts, as well as being heir to Knole and a Peerage.

Florence, A Delicate Case (The Writer and the City) by David Leavitt
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury; First edition. edition (June 1, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1582342393
ISBN-13: 978-1582342399
Amazon: Florence, A Delicate Case (The Writer and the City)

David Leavitt brings the wonders and mysteries of Florence alive, illuminating why it is, and always has been, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

The third in the critically-acclaimed Writer and the City Series-in which some of the world's finest novelists reveal the secrets of the cities they know best-Florence is a lively account of expatriate life in the 'city of the lily'.

Why has Florence always drawn so many English and American visitors? (At the turn of the century, the Anglo-American population numbered more than thirty thousand.) Why have men and women fleeing sex scandals traditionally settled here? What is it about Florence that has made it so fascinating-and so repellent-to artists and writers over the years?

Moving fleetly between present and past and exploring characters both real and fictional, Leavitt's narrative limns the history of the foreign colony from its origins in the middle of the nineteenth century until its demise under Mussolini, and considers the appeal of Florence to figures as diverse as Tchaikovsky, E.M. Forster, Ronald Firbank, and Mary McCarthy. Lesser-known episodes in Florentine history-the moving of Michelangelo's David, and the construction of temporary bridges by black American soldiers in the wake of the Second World War-are contrasted with images of Florence today (its vast pizza parlors and tourist culture). Leavitt also examines the city's portrayal in such novels and films as A Room with a View, The Portrait of a Lady and Tea with Mussolini.

A Queer History of the Ballet by Peter Stoneley
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Routledge; New edition edition (January 7, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0415972809
ISBN-13: 978-0415972802
Amazon: A Queer History of the Ballet

Designed for students, scholars and general readers with an interest in dance and queer history, A Queer History of the Ballet focuses on how, as makers and as audiences, queer men and women have helped to develop many of the texts, images, and legends of ballet.

Presenting a series of historical case studies, the book explores the ways in which, from the nineteenth century into the twentieth, ballet has been a means of conjuring homosexuality – of enabling some degree of expression and visibility for people who were otherwise declared illegal and obscene.

More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics

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Tags: author: harold acton, gay classics

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