Nicholas Mosley (Lord Ravensdale)

b. 1923 – d. 2017

Nicholas Mosley (Lord Ravensdale) was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1980.

Nicholas Mosley (Lord Ravensdale) remembered – by A.N. Wilson

Though he was hilarious, and facetious, there was nothing trivial about Nicholas Mosley. The huge themes of life and death, the meaning of science, the destiny of the human race in the confusion of modern times, these were the subjects of his books, and of his talk. That makes him sound solemn, but he found many of these subjects screamingly funny. I remember a dinner where he was not known to all the guests. As he spoke, his table fell silent and we all listened. Then the people at the next table stopped talking too. One of them, a well-known actress, came over to me and said, ‘That was the most brilliant speaker I have ever heard.’

He bubbled with the need to share his thoughts. When he broke his leg once and was in hospital, I went up to see him. I did not at first catch sight of him. But I could hear his voice – ‘How lovely to see you!’ – as if he was at a glamorous cocktail party, immediately followed by, ‘You see, what I’ve been thinking is, if it weren’t for God holding it together, the universe would simply FALL TO BITS!’ A roar of laughter followed.

His relationship with God was a tempestuous matter. Raymond Carr, one of his oldest friends, hobbled up to see him in Holloway when they were both deep in their nineties. When Nicholas said, ‘I do not believe in God, I have experienced God,’ Raymond lost his temper and the two parted in a huff. ‘Now i do know – you are bloody MAD,’ said Raymond. It grieved Nick, but also, as he would say about many things that did matter, ‘It didn’t matter.’

Nicholas wrote his magnificent two-volume life of his father, Sir Oswald Mosley, with deep, critical love. He could see what was at fault with fascism, but he also gave his father the credit where that was due. He shared with his father and stepmother a delight in upsetting any apple cart he happened to be passing, and perhaps did not always recognise that this could lead to people getting hurt. The publication of the books caused a rift with his stepmother, Diana. Nicholas and she had been close, and were in some ways similar characters. He rightly diagnosed that she had two passions: one was for the truth and the other was for his father. She wanted the truth told, and so insisted that Nick be given access to all the papers, and that he should tell the whole dreadful story – the anti-semitic thuggery in the East End, the habitual womanising, the attempted return to politics in the 1950s when he had tried to stir up racial hatred in Notting Hill and had lost his deposit as an election candidate. Once she saw the truth in print, Diana knew that honour had been satisfied and she could denounce Nicholas as “spiteful”.

Nicholas Mosley’s experimental novels are often difficult, but their preoccupation is the same preoccupation as that of his life, namely a pursuit of the truth. He was not just a good writer; he was a great writer. I am sure of that. I am sure that when the history of twentieth-century literature comes to be written by the next generation, they will see that he was a writer who was prepared to stretch the boundaries of fiction; and one who never let go of the central preoccupation of the novel since its inception – namely the mystery of human character. Hopeful Monsters is the story of Eleanor, a German Jewish scientist, and Max, her English lover. They can’t be doing either with one another or without one another, but in the course of their intense relationship we follow them through the discoveries of Einstein, the rise of fascism, the philosophical investigations of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, the Spanish War, and much else besides. it won the Whitbread Prize and should have won the Booker.

Central to its mystery was human personality. Nicholas was a mystery all right – to himself, and to all of us who loved him. A brave soldier. An aristocrat who at some deep level was proud of being an aristocrat.

With the sort of twist which only a novelist would devise, Verity and Nick moved from Gloucester Crescent to Holloway, to a house from whose upper storeys can be seen the prison, now defunct, where Nick’s father and step-mother did time in the 1940s. While the family packed up the house, Nicholas, by then frail, spent the day in the Holiday Inn, rereading his favourite William Faulkner novel, Wild Palms. In that searingly painful book, when the renegade dud doctor, having unintentionally killed his lover, is asked why he did not commit suicide. He replied, ‘Between nothing and grief, I choose grief.’

I think that sentence is an eloquent summary of many of the conundrums with which Nick wrestled, as a writer, as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a very bewildered son.