PERSONAL: Son of Purcell (an architect) and Diana (Tennant) Blow.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hodder Headline, 338 Euston Rd., London NW1 3BH, England.
Fields Elysian: A Portrait of Hunting Society, Dent (London, England), 1983.
Broken Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Tennant Family, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1987.
No Time to Grow: A Shattered Childhood, John Murray (London, England), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: British author Simon Blow's first book, Fields Elysian: A Portrait of Hunting Society, is a tribute to one of his favorite pastimes: fox hunting. A natural horseman, hunting complemented his boyhood passion for riding. His second, Broken Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Tennant Family, is a history of his own family, one that, from its humble beginnings in the seventeenth century with farmer John Tennant, by the eighteenth century had become prominent and successful. John's great-grandson, Charles Tennant, patented the first chemical bleach and built the St. Rollox chemical works. Charles became one of the richest men in Great Britain, yet holding to his background as the liberal son of working-class Scots, he turned down a knighthood when it was offered.
In his book, Blow documents the family's fortunes, including the world monopoly of chemical production headed by Charles's grandson, also Charles, and the acquisition of railroads in Scotland, sulphur mines in Spain, and gold mines in India. Charles did accept the title of baronet, and his daughter, Margot, who moved in the highest circles of society, married H. H. Asquith. Her brother, Edward, the author's great-grandfather, did not have an interest in business, but rather preferred fishing and shooting at Glen, the family palace. He married blue-blood Pamela Wyndham, and Blow contends that from this point, the family lost its edge.
Before World War II, Edward and Pamela's son, David, married an actress and opened a nightclub called the Gargoyle. The youngest son, Stephen, inherited Wilsford, the family's manor house in the south of England. House & Garden reviewer Caroline Moorehead found Stephen to be the most interesting Tennant, but "also the most dissolute." Moorehead noted that Stephen, who was a friend of Siegfried Sassoon and photographer Cecil Beaton, ignored the once beautiful gardens filled with rare plants, preferring to lounge in his satin bed. "He rose only to touch up the rooms with more feathers, more shells, more pink fronds, and increasingly grubby polar-bear skins," wrote Moorehead.
Daughter Clare, Blow's grandmother, had five children from three marriages, and had little to do with any of them from the time they were born. Blow's mother, Diana, was the daughter of Clare and her first husband, Adrian Bethell, a man she left after two years for Lionel Tennyson, grandson of the poet. Robert Becker wrote in Interview that "Blow's poignant recounting of the contrary treatment afforded his mother by hers, and his own obsession with sorting out his scattered ancestry—an English gentlemen's Roots—carries Broken Blood further than most social histories. Any author might have written a mesmerizing book—the Tennants are a rich subject—but as a Tennant himself, Simon Blow possesses special perspective. His thoughtful commentary, like entries in a diary, charges these odd characters with life."
Blow's No Time to Grow: A Shattered Childhood is a memoir of his own life as a child in the household where his alcoholic father, Purcell, beat his mother, sometimes in front of their children. He tells how after their divorce, his mother began to drink and move in bohemian circles that led her from one destructive relationship to another, and of his father's deterioration from a nervous disorder that left him unable to control his own movements. Francis King wrote in the London Spectator that "though so much of what he writes is almost unbearably horrible—how, one asks oneself over and over again, can so many people have been so ungenerous, callous, and cruel to those closest to them?—there are also scenes, many of them involving his great-aunt Phyllie and the staff on her estate at Ragdale, which hearten one with their revelations of human decency." Times Literary Supplement critic Charles Jennings called No Time to Grow "a tour de force, terrifying and imprisoning." Writing in the London Times, Peter Ackroyd noted that "Blow wonderfully evokes the dreams and reflections of a child…. He discerns the hatred in the smile, and the hypocrisy behind the eyes. It is a huge phantasmagoric reality swimming before him."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
House & Garden, June, 1988, Caroline Moorehead, review of Broken Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Tennant Family, p. 46.
Interview, February, 1988, Robert Becker, interview with Blow, pp. 87-89.
Spectator (London, England), June 12, 1999, Francis King, review of No Time to Grow: A Shattered Childhood, p. 43.
Times (London, England), June 24, 1999, Peter Ackroyd, review of No Time to Grow.
Times Literary Supplement, October 8, 1999, Charles Jennings, review of No Time to Grow.