The name of Eustace Clare Grenville: Murray is hardly well-known these days, and so far as I know no photo of him survives. But between 1871 and 1883, ten of his books, accounting for a total of 17 volumes, were published by Tauchnitz in its Collection of British Authors. Although the first three were published initially under a pseudonym, he clearly became a well-enough known writer to sell significant numbers of books on the European continent, as well as in Britain.
One of the reasons for his relative lack of public profile, then as now, was that much of his work, both as an author and as a journalist, was published anonymously or under pseudonyms. And with good cause. A lot of his output was highly satirical, or even scurrilous, mocking public figures mercilessly. He almost single-handedly invented, or at least developed, the style of journalism that in today’s Britain would appear in Private Eye. In his own day though, he wrote extensively for ‘Household Words’, the journal edited by Charles Dickens, as well as for various newspapers and briefly for his own publication,’The Queen’s Messenger’.
For much of his life he combined his writing with work as a diplomat, based in Vienna, Constantinople and Odessa amongst other places, and he didn’t hesitate to lampoon his colleagues and even his direct superiors in the diplomatic service. The Ambassador in Vienna became Lord Fiddledee in Grenville Murray’s writings, while the Ambassador in Constantinople was immortalised as Sir Hector Stubble. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he failed to progress in the service, and was shunted into various diplomatic backwaters before being dismissed in 1868.
The cover of anonymity failed again to protect him from trouble the following year, when he published an article satirising Lord Carrington and mocking his late father. Carrington attacked him physically, outside the Conservative Club, leading to a series of court cases, and eventually to Grenville Murray’s exile in France. That was far from the end of his journalistic career, but it was the stimulus for his career as a novelist, and as a Tauchnitz author.
His first novel to appear was ‘The member for Paris: a tale of the Second Empire’ written under the pseudonym of ‘Trois-Etoiles’ and published in 1871 in two volumes (vols. 1183 and 1184). It was followed by two other novels under the same pseudonym, the partly autobiographical ‘Young Brown’ in 1874 (vols. 1444 and 1445), and ‘The boudoir cabal’, in 1875 (vols. 1514, 1515 and 1516).
Grenville Murray had arrived in Paris shortly before the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris in 1870/71 and then the repression of the Paris Commune with much bloodshed. It was the worst of times, but for a journalist and an author, it was also the best of times. There was both a wealth of material and intense public interest, in Britain and on the continent, in the events of the time and in the regime that had preceded it.
He followed up those first three novels with two series of sketches of French life, called ‘French Pictures in English Chalk’, for the first time published under his own name, and now acknowledging his authorship of the earlier volumes as well. The first series appeared in 1876 (vols. 1612 and 1613) and the second in 1878 (vols. 1770 and 1771). In-between, ‘The Russians of Today’, a satirical review of Russian life drawing on his experiences in Odessa, was published as volume 1742. A single volume of ‘Strange Tales’ (vol. 1793) was his third publication in 1878, followed in 1879 by another two volume novel ‘That artful vicar’ (vols. 1820 and 1821).
Astonishingly, as well as those three books published by Tauchnitz in 1878, he was also able in the same year to have a fourth book issued in the rival ‘Asher’s Collection’ then published by Karl Grädener in Hamburg. ‘Round About France’, another series of sketches of French life, appeared as volume 145 in Asher’s Collection. This seems though to have been the only title he denied to Tauchnitz.
Grenville Murray died in Paris in 1881, but there must still have been the appetite in continental Europe for more of his writings, as two posthumous volumes followed. ‘Six months in the ranks’, a novel of military life, was published in 1882 as volume 2064, and ‘People I have met’, a series of comic character sketches, as volume 2129 the following year.
Like all Tauchnitz Editions, the books were originally published as paperbacks, but few first printing copies remain in their original wrappers. Most surviving copies have been rebound, and are found now in the usual variety of bindings.
I can’t finish this post without first acknowledging the biography of Grenville Murray written by Professor G.R. Berridge, called ‘A diplomatic whistleblower in the Victorian era’. And secondly I have to deal with the question of that odd name.
At his birth in 1824 his name was recorded simply as ‘Eustace, son of Richard and Emma Clare’. But Clare seems to have been an invented surname to cover up his illegitimacy. The actual parents were Richard Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, and Emma Murray, an actress. He grew up with his mother and first took her surname, becoming Eustace Clare Murray. Only later did he add his father’s surname as well, to become Eustace Clare Grenville: Murray. The colon seems to have been nothing but an affectation. In the long run, as in the short run, his true fate was to become anonymous.
Wow! It’s not difficult to see why the lawyers did not want this play performed, or even announced, while the phone hacking trial was going on. It’s a satire, but like all the best satires, it’s sufficiently well grounded in reality to hit home and to avoid descending into farce. Of course the characters are caricatures, but at times it’s scary how ludicrous it can get without becoming detached from reality. Hacking into the voicemails of abducted children, tabloid editors in bed with the police and politicians, press campaigns leading to the hounding of innocent people, police shooting an unarmed black man, journalists searching through the bins of celebrities and paying civil servants for confidential information, politicians desperate for media endorsement and conspiring to keep their own indiscretions hidden, police deliberately ignoring evidence of widespread criminality, media owners cynically controlling politicians to further their own financial interests… all of this ought to be farcical, but at times seems little more than documentary.
Richard Bean’s play has masses of energy and the cast bring some real verve to it. Billie Piper romps through the play, as tabloid editor Paige Britain, delivering monologues of breath-taking cynicism to the audience, as she manipulates everyone from her closest colleagues to the police and the Prime Minister. It’s clear from the start that it’s going to be an uncomfortable ride, as she forestalls any hint of smugness from Guardian-reading liberals, and she’s back at the end to make us all feel at least partly complicit in what went on.
She has some great lines, but certainly no monopoly on them, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Aaron Neil does a great comic turn as the witless Police Commissioner, which he plays absolutely straight-faced. A personal favourite was his mangling of the already mangled Donald Rumsfeld quote on known unknowns, and the way some of his lines were given the Nick Clegg treatment in Youtube-style videos on giant screens seemed almost ground-breaking. I’ve seen several plays before that have used screens and audio-visual elements, but nothing before that harnessed new technology and integrated it into the live action so effectively. It’s also quite impressive that a serious role is given to an actress with dwarfism, although they can’t resist using it for some deliciously politically incorrect jokes.
Maybe some of the targets were a bit too easy, maybe even there were too many disparate targets for any serious analysis of the reforms needed, but overall it felt to me like a triumph, and certainly a gloriously enjoyable afternoon in the theatre.