05 March 2009

Remembering a Person Forgotten

Richard David Cowan (circa 1909 - 1939) was, in the 1930s, the boyfriend of someone named Stewart Mitchell -- who may have been a writer. For a short time, he was one of the intimates in the famed circle of Sara and Gerald Murphy. He was also, it appears, an object of attraction for Gerald -- who had gay tendencies.

Very little is known of Cowan (pictured, with Sara and Gerald, in 1934), except that he killed himself by filling a kitchen with gas from the oven.

In a letter Gerald wrote to Richard, he said "... and I got to remembering things: your lingering over the bedded flowers in the Spanish Paseo, the things you laughed at, the way your hair grows on your neck, the loose Greek mould of your body, your staring at the passing foam on water, what brown looks like near you, the skin on your hands, your silences, your sudden height when you stand up.... Should one remember these and the thousand more secret things? ... Was it all lost? Will one ever enjoy it? Did it happen?"

You may read more about a recent exhibition of the art by the Murphys and those now-famous artists in their circle here.


Sarah said...

Gerald Murphy makes me so sad. I read the Amanda Vaill bio a while back and have wanted to read more about the Murphys...but sort of haven't wanted to at the same time.

Your Richard Cowan I hadn't heard of before, but google dug quite a bit up for me -- his boyfriend Stewart was quite well known; google "Stewart Mitchell Harvard" for a fair bit about him. Most relevant is probably a quick search in google books through the book "The Crimson Letter" (hope that link works) which talks about Mitchell quite a bit and mentions Cowan -- as well as a book by someone who researched his (Cowan's) diaries.

So, Cowan isn't entirely forgotten, as long as this book stays on shelves, anyway!

Thanks for the photo, too.

Christopher said...

Sarah! Hey! Thanks for the heads up on the Harvard book -- which I just purchased. Sounds really fascinating! I agree with you about Gerald. Although he had his issues, he still had a grand life. Would I trade being openly gay to live the life he led? AB-SO-LUTE-LY! (Hugs to Evan.)

sarah said...

Well, please post about the Harvard book! I couldn't stop reading it!

By the way, have you read the Amanda Vaill Murphy book? We have it on our bookins shelf and we're going to have to get rid of everything soon since we need the room. If you'd like to read it just drop me a line and it's yours!

Christopher said...

Sarah! Thanks for the offer. Matt stumbled on a paperback copy of it a few years ago in a used book store. I read it so many times it started falling apart, so I had to buy a hardbound version last year.

I also just read two other books about the Murphys: "Letters from the Lost Generation" and "Making it New." Add the other couple dozen books I have read mentioning the Murphys and I feel like I actually knew them!

What someone needs to do is make a good movie about them. THAT would be cool.

P.S. I will absolutely write about the Harvard book. Thanks for recommending it!