The Fairy Garden
by Katherine Ann Wynne
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How this book of fantasy was born: While traveling through England with a friend, we visited Stephen Tennant at his home, Wilsford Manor, in the Wiltshire countryside.
Stephen was sitting in a daybed and clutching a large stuffed toy monkey. When our host politely asked what I did, I told him of the economic situation in New York that was bringing my small fine art company to its demise. Sympathizing, he reached into a jewelry box that lay open on his bed and handed me a great wad of costume jewelry to fondle as consolation. He also gave us each a scarf richly scented with attar of rose.
At lunch my friend and I were seated at a magnificent oval mahogany table around which a number of stone busts on pedestals had been drawn up, providing the additional guests: a genial assortment of ancient Greek athletes, philosophers and gods. Behind a drapery was another bust, a bearded and hooded Zeus with his head cocked as though he were eavesdropping through the curtain. On the walls and propped upon the floor were our host’s framed and coloured pen and ink drawings, their subjects ranging from Shirley Temple to rough sailors, all with a semblance of Stephen’s face.
My memorable host prompted an idea for the hero of this book: a man who has the bravery to dwell in his own world apart. Though unlike Stephen Tennant in every other way, the Stephen of these pages also is a man who departs from the norm, choosing to embrace the beautiful and let it fill his life with both its sweetness and its challenges. The Fairy Garden is pure fantasy.
I didn’t know, when I found inspiration in Stephen Tennant, that he’d already served as muse for other writings, major ones at that. In his childhood his parents, patrons of the arts and literature, often had authors as guests. Frances Hodgson Burnett fashioned from her hosts’ delicate little seventh son the character of Colin and The Secret Garden took shape in her mind.
In his youth, Stephen befriended Evelyn Waugh who was both entranced and cautious, deriving from Stephen his Sebastian for Brideshead Revisited even to the ever-present stuffed toy pet.