‘The only time something I’ve written has attracted the law was when I reviewed a novel of Sartre’s for the Times Literary Supplement. Have you ever had the misfortune to read any of his novels? In this book, I can’t remember which one it was, he dealt with the Munich Agreement and a lot of it was a blow-by-blow account of the real people written in a so-called modernistic style. Anyway somebody called Ashton-Gwatkin, who was part of Chamberlain’s staff, was in it and there was a suggestion of involvement with a Russian girl called Suevitch or something and I quoted – in not total innocence – the sentence in which this sentence arose as a very outdated example of so-called modernistic writing. This brought the roof down because Ashton-Gwatkin had just retired from the Foreign Office and was alleged to have a very jealous wife and immediately writs flew. The Times and Hamish Hamilton were absolutely craven about it and agreed to pay any sum, though Sartre wanted to come to London to defend the book.’
‘Quite obviously Sartre thought it was all ludicrously funny,’ says Violet.
‘But the curious thing was Ashton-Gwatkin himself. It later transpired that he had written a slightly near-the-knuckle paperback called Kimono about brothels in Japan. He was also the only person who’d ever been called Ashton-Gwatkin; he’d taken the the name on himself. And by an extraordinary coincidence we’d been in the same house at Eton. And he won the Newdigate prize at Oxford – for a poem on the subject of Michelangelo”