Saturday, February 7, 2015

Leatrice Fountain 1924-2015

     Leatrice Gilbert Fountain was one of several major American readers brought to the work of Anthony Powell by his obituary in The New York Times. It took a certain sort of curiosity, though, for someone who had never before heard of the series to pick it up, read all twelve volumes, and become a devoted Powell fan. When Leatrice began this new readerly adventure, she was 76, the same age as Powell himself when he began to compose his Journals, and, like Powell, Leatrice used her final years to read widely, appreciate droll stories and applaud admirable values.
     Leatrice was the daughter of John Gilbert, the silent-movie actor whose career never recovered after the turn to the talkies, and Leatrice Joy, a prominent actress of that era. Her parents divorced early, and Leatrice’s childhood saw her shuttling between parents and schools, but learning a lot about life early. Leatrice lived in Ireland after 1945, and was unhappily married, but then returned to the US, marrying John Fountain, who she described as “the nicest and smartest man there ever was.” In the 1980s, Leatrice wrote a biography of her father, Dark Star, wand was frequently in demand as a speaker among aficionados of the silent-movie era. But her scholarship ranged widely: she took courses at Cambridge on medieval history and had a rigorous knowledge of the era that stretched from Alfred the Great to Richard II.
      When I could not go to the 2001 Eton conference,, Leatrice totally unexpectedly called me up and inviteding me to a meeting at her house, where I gave the paper I failed to give at Eton. Also invited was Tom Wallace, AP’s former American publisher. This was the genesis of the Northeast chapter of the Anthony Powell Ssociety, of which Leatrice was the godmother and presiding spirit, the jovial cynosure of our company at the beloved Silvermine Tavern.
       Leatrice, also like AP, was a great lover of cats and a sage observer of people and their quirks. She applied this wittily to the characters in Dance, showing especial insight into Stringham, Many of her gems were written down in a notebook, which, she lost at one of our gatherings. But her wise perceptions about Powell’s world will remain alive among the many friends who shared them with her.

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