Norman Douglas


Biography of Norman Douglas

George Norman Douglas (8 December 1868 – 7 February 1952) was a British writer, now best known for his 1917 novel South Wind.

Norman Douglas was born in Thüringen, Austria (his surname was registered at birth as Douglass). His mother was Vanda von Poellnitz. His father was John Sholto Douglas (1845–1874), manager of a cotton mill, who died in a climbing accident when Norman was about six. He spent the first years of his life on the family estate, Villa Falkenhorst, in Thüringen.

Norman was brought up mainly at Tilquhillie, Deeside, his paternal home. He was educated at Yarlet Hall and Uppingham School in England, and then at a grammar school in Karlsruhe. Norman's paternal grandfather was the 14th Laird of Tilquhillie. Norman's maternal great-grandfather was General James Ochoncar Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes.

He started in the diplomatic service in 1894 and from then until 1896 was based in St. Petersburg, but was placed on leave in unclear circumstances (probably relating to sexual scandal). In 1897 he bought a villa (Villa Maya) in Posillipo, a maritime suburb of Naples. The next year he married a cousin Elizabeth Louisa Theobaldina FitzGibbon (their mothers were sisters, daughters of Baron Ernst von Poellnitz). They had two children, Louis Archibald (Archie) and Robert Sholto (Robin), but divorced in 1903 on grounds of Elizabeth's infidelity. Norman's first book publication, (Unprofessional Tales (1901)) was written under the pseudonym Normyx, in collaboration with Elizabeth.

He moved to Capri, spending time there (at the Villa Daphne) and in London, and became a more committed writer. Nepenthe, the fictional island setting of South Wind, is Capri in light disguise. In 1912–1914 he worked for The English Review. He met D. H. Lawrence through this connection. This led to a feud, after Lawrence in his 1922 novel, Aaron's Rod based a character on Douglas.[5] In late 1916 he jumped bail in London on a charge of indecent assault on a sixteen year old boy, and effectively then lived in exile. He himself wrote of this in self-exculpation: 'Norman Douglas of Capri, and of Naples and Florence, was formerly of England, which he fled during the war to avoid persecution for kissing a boy and giving him some cakes and a shilling'. (The boy in fact complained to the police).

During Douglas's years in Florence, he was associated with the publisher and bookseller Pino Orioli, who published in Italy in his 'Lungarno' series a number of Douglas's books and also works by other English authors, many of which (such as the first edition of Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover), would have been prosecuted for obscenity if published in London. Douglas probably had a major hand in writing Orioli's autobiography, Memoirs of a Bookseller.

Further scandals led to Douglas leaving Italy for the south of France in 1937. During World War II Douglas left France, and on a circuitous journey to London, where he lived from 1942 to 1946, he published the first edition of his 'Almanac' in a tiny edition in Lisbon. He returned to Capri in 1946 and was made a citizen of the island. His circle of acquaintances included the writer Graham Greene and the food writer Elizabeth David. He died in Capri, apparently deliberately overdosing himself on drugs after a long illness. (see Impossible Woman: Memoirs of Dottoressa Moore, ed. by Greene). The Latin inscription on his tombstone is from an ode by Horace and reads: Omnes eodem cogimur, "We are all driven to the same end" (i.e., death).

His last words: "Get these fucking nuns away from me."

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