This page is part of the Peter de Polnay project
The world will be a narrower place for the loss of Peter de Polnay who died suddenly in Paris on November 21 1984. He was 78 and not many people are still alive to recall what good – and sometimes infuriating – company he could be in his roistering bohemian prime.
Some readers will remember him for the “Lives” he wrote which made little pretence to scholarship but showed perceptive understanding of hopeless alcoholics like Utrillo or sad passionate women like Queen Isabel II of Spain; more for his poignant autobiographical novels among which Children my Children and Angry Man’s Tale will live long: most for Death and Tomorrow his convincing piece of factual reporting about Paris in the first two weeks of German occupation after the last isolated French battery had ceased firing and France seemed totally stunned – Paris when the “fridolins” as the representatives of the Reich there were nicknamed, were still behaving with nervous correctness and those Parisians who still remained behind on the Buue or the Left Bank were taking their profits.
Peter de Polnqy was born in Hungary m 1906. the son of one of Admiral Horthy’s ministers, a much-hated rather who inspired some of his most effective writing. After some purposeless wandering around the world when he washed fronts in Buenos Aires and Kenya, be inherited some money and at once set about spending it with eclat in the best casinos in France.
The outbreak of war caught him at Aix-les-Bains playing bridge with tbe Hon Dorothy Paget and whirled him off with his beloved dog to foredoomed Paris and it was there that reality and the Germans caught up with him. There is no space here to do more than hint at the courage Polnay showed in his escape from Paris by way of Vichy France and Franco’s Spain with a spell in jail, till ending up in the Labour Corps in Churchill’s England.
His talents were quickly recognised and Death and Tomorrow became a great best seller – the first authentic account published in EngUsh of what life in occupied Paris was like.
Many more books followed and there was more flamboyant experience to draw on for much vivid writing. Polnay had two great merits as a writer. A cool and sometimes cynical observer of humanity at all levels (often
the lowest) he could always tell a story admirably and yet never lost the inner composure which sustained him in extraordinary situations.
He was twice married, first to Margarei Miichell-Baiiks by whom he had one son. secondly after her death in 1950 to Carmen Rubio y Caparo, who gave him many years of cairn happiness and shared his deep Catholic faith.