I could almost hear him scrabbling about in his brain for a deft, light opening. His Oscar Wilde touch. Martland has only two personalities — Wilde and Eeyore. Your bedroom window, I think. Why do people build houses to keep the climate out, then cut holes in the walls to let it in again? I shall never understand.
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Save Story Save this story for later. In he pranced, all silent and catlike and absurd, buttocks swaying noiselessly. A score to me already, for I had filled it with Invalid Port of an unbelievable nastiness. This is the quintessential Mortdecai voice: arch and insufferably, authoritatively snobbish.
Briefly, Mortdecai arranges the theft of the Goya for an American oil tycoon who has also become involved in blackmailing someone high up in the British government. Pretty soon, the secret services of Britain and America, and maybe even the associates of the tycoon, want Mortdecai dead, for various reasons. Though Bonfiglioli has a knack for cliffhangers, the plots are little more than excuses for displaying Mortdecai in all his dandyish glory.
Mortdecai, the son of a peer, never tires of describing the splendors of his cellar, his table, and his tailoring. The novels hark back to a time when everything a gentleman needed could be obtained within a square mile of St.
Wodehouse and Ian Fleming. There is also a distinct debt to Raffles, the iconic gentleman thief created by the Edwardian writer E. If you are too tired to have intercourse except in bed you are probably too tired anyway and should be husbanding your strength. Women are the great advocates of sex in bed because they have bad figures to hide usually and cold feet to warm always. Boys are different, of course. But you probably knew that. I need not tell you what the other two are.
Unlike Mortdecai, he was perpetually broke—he seems to have spent his entire adult life in debt—and struggled to support a large family, eventually abandoning both struggle and family. Bonfiglioli, who was fourteen, should have been in the shelter himself but was playing in the street; the incident apparently left him with the conviction that the good perish and the mischievous survive.
He married, but his wife died shortly after the birth of their second child. Two years later, a twenty-seven-year-old father of two, and largely an autodidact, he went to study English at Balliol College. Oxford, the town where he lived for the next decade and a half, is well endowed with eccentrics, but even today, nearly forty years after he left, mention of Bonfiglioli—known to one and all as Bon—brings forth anecdotes.
After graduation, he worked at the Ashmolean Museum as an assistant to the art historian Edgar Wind, a job in which he manifested an astonishing visual memory; around the same time, he started dealing art, and, in , he set up his own company, Bonfiglioli Limited. His wife recalls the extraordinary shifting contents of a home in which everything was potential stock—antique firearms, Dutch marquetry, Chinese porcelain, and dozens of stuffed birds in a questionable state of preservation, which Bon had bought from a Welsh natural-history museum, convinced that they were a bargain.
As a dealer, Bon was resourceful. One day, he saw someone clearing out empty bottles from the cellars of All Souls College and offered to take them off his hands, having noticed that they were highly salable eighteenth-century bottles bearing the college arms in molded glass.
The highlight of his career came in , when he managed to buy a Tintoretto at a country auction for forty pounds. He delights in revealing art-world tricks of the trade, as when Mortdecai explains the work of a liner who can remove a painting from one canvas and transfer it to another , or goes to the auction of one of his own pictures, bids it up to the amount he paid for it, and rejoices when it is sold at a much higher price to someone he dislikes.
Behind all this gamesmanship hovers the suggestion that the art business, for all its vaunted sophistication, is never more than one step away from outright fraud. God bless Berenson, I say. In the mid-sixties, when Bonfiglioli Limited was at its height, he was the editor of a couple of small science-fiction magazines for which he wrote occasional items. He was a master of impromptu parties, games, and practical jokes. Yet behind this aura of manic festivity—Falstaff played at 45 r.
Sociability also masked an incipient drinking problem, not to mention a fair bit of philandering. Bon did a certain amount of casual dealing, but his art career was essentially finished; the next years were given over to the novel.
By the time it was published, in , the relationship with Todd, too, had ended. The dozen years remaining before his death were a calvary of alcoholism, depression, and poverty. He lived variously in Jersey and in Ireland which had a policy of tax exemption for writers , sometimes alone, sometimes supported by friends, at times in utter penury. He seems to have recognized this misery as the cost of the freedom he required in order to write.
Minus the opium, this family history is based on that of the famous art dealer Joseph Duveen; Bonfiglioli even snags a couple of anecdotes from S. None of these exist. Drinking may have destroyed the novelist, but it always played well in his novels. Hunted down by those who want to kill him, Mortdecai flees across a darkened moor near his boyhood home in Lancashire, alone and with death an apparent certainty: Above me and to my right shone the lights of the honest bungalow dwellers of Silverdale: I found myself envying them bitterly.
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