12-08-1868

Norman Douglas

NORMAN DOUGLAS, born (d: 1952); British writer, now best known for his 1917 novel South Wind. Douglas was one of the liveliest, wittiest and most original writers of his generation. His novel, South Wind (1917) exerted a strong influence on almost every modern writer who came out of the 1920s. Douglas had discovered the joys of Capri in 1888 when he journeyed there in pursuit of a rare species of blue lizard. What he discovered there was a rare species of something else altogether. He fell in love with the island and decided to make it his “soul’s operating base.”

South Wind, in part, recounts the story of how he made up his mind to leave his wife and settle in Capri to enjoy the Gay life, openly and without shame. The setting of the novel is an island, like Capri, called Nepenthe, inhabited by an extraordinary group of eccentrics who, seen through the eyes of an English bishop, represent the contrast between the cultures of Northern and Southern Europe. In this satiric novel, Northern (English) hypocrisy gets it between the eyes.

Douglas died, broke on Capri, but not before he had compiled an anthology of graffiti collected in several languages from the walls of public toilets throughout Europe. Roger Williams’s Lunch With Elizabeth David (Little, Brown, 1999) is a novel about Douglas’s relationship with Eric Walton, the boy he took to Calabria.