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When The Tide Turns

By Filson Young

‘In Rupert I see some reflection of two men whom I knew well in their early youth, Rudyard Kipling and Aubrey Beardseley’ – Edmund Gosse, critic and author of Father and Son

Rupert Savage has been raised by two maiden aunts, in an idyllic setting on the Irish coast. They are the last in a line of Anglo/Irish landowners, with just a house and a few hundred acres left of their estate. Rupert spends his free time sailing his boat across the bay, and he has taught himself to draw. A fine, handsome young man, he begins to mingle in society. At church he catches sight of a beautiful woman – Geraldine, Lady Fastnett. Rupert falls for her – but she is some ten years his senior, and married. But Rupert shows her his drawings and she tells him he will achieve great fame through his talent.

Filson Young moves the action from the remote coast of Ireland to fin de siècle London, where Rupert does indeed achieve fame and success as a celebrated artist. He becomes part of a smart set of artists, poets and writers, figures redolent of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and Rex Whistler. Their ethos is to free art from morality and to create art for art’s sake. Their patron is the rich financier Charles Steinman, who funds a magazine to showcase their work. Rupert navigates the social, amatory and artistic salons of the metropolis, but the tide turns against him when some poems he has illustrated are deemed too shocking even for the sophisticated milieu he inhabits. From oblique hints we gather that the one remaining sin in this proudly amoral world is homosexuality, and Rupert’s career goes into freefall.

Beautifully written, this is a glittering evocation of a famous era in London’s arts scene, and of a young man’s journey to emotional maturity via his relationships with women. As in his other celebrated novel, The Sands of Pleasure, he contrasts a nostalgia for the natural world of rural simplicity with the pleasures of metropolitan life. Filson Young fully inhabited the world he describes, as a successful journalist and young man about town, and both novels serve as wonderful portraits of life in England, Ireland and France at the turn of the twentieth century.

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