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This article is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.

The Sylvia I Knew: A Personal Recollection Bea Howe

It was a day late in April 1978, when answering the ringing telephone in my London flat I heard after a longish pause Sylvia's voice for the last time. It came very faint from her Dorset home. I already knew that she had not long to live and had offered to go and see her. 'No, not just at present, darling,' I heard her say. 'Later, perhaps. You understand?' 'Yes,' I replied. 'I understand perfectly.' A few more faint words and then 'My love, darling. Goodbye.' Her voice trailed away weakly. I put down the receiver. I knew as well as she did that these few words were all she could manage to say in her failing strength, we who had spoken so much to one another and for so long, year after year, since when? Ah, yes, since when?

I think it was very early in the winter of 1919 after we had come to London to live at Number 18, Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge, that I was taken by my only brother, George, to meet Sylvia at 125, Queens Road, Bayswater. I remember little of her ground floor flat except that it generally smelt of strong coffee or China tea being brewed; cups of which Sylvia seemed to live on plus cigarettes offered to one from a packet. Sylvia was an inveterate smoker all her life.

At twenty-five (five years my senior) Sylvia was excessively thin and gawky in her movements; her clothes quite ...


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