Search for Books by:  


Bookshop | Contact Us | Home


Join Our E-Mail Announcement List!

Ann Freemantle

I WAS BORN ON ST. VITUS' DAY, JUNE 15, 1910, IN AN OLD Saracen tower in the village of Tresserve, near Aix-lesBains, Savoie, France. Mother had a tiny chapel under the stairs-it used to be the dungeon-and I was baptized there the following January, which was the earliest a Church of England clergyman high enough to suit mamma was around. She was very devoted to Our Lady, and called me Anne-Marie for Her and Her mother. She had hoped the village Cure, who was a great friend, would baptize me, and chose a very Catholic name to please him, but he refused to do so unless mamma would promise to bring me up a Catholic, which of course she would not.

When I was six months old, and christened, I was brought to England, and Arthur Rackham, the painter, did a delightful picture of the mermaids carrying me in my cradle and pushing me to shore. Until World War I broke out I spoke only French and German, having a Danish nurse and a French nurserymaid. Mother always spoke to me in French, father in German.

We went to France each summer, and my first memories are of the sun and the bright flowers there, and of pushing my sister down the garden slope (she was two years younger than I) and being punished for it. During the war we were mostly in Sussex, where mother sheltered many wounded soldiers in the house, and in the cottages many Belgian refugees. A Catholic priest came Sundays to say Mass in the drawing room for them, and I remember trying to stay as close as possible to the housekeeper, a Creole, because she had just received Our Lord. I had a tiny closet of my own I made into a chapel; here was a creche at Christmas, and at other times, a crucifix.

When I was seven, the Archbishop of Canterbury prepared me for Confirmation and Communion in the Church of England. He wrote me later that I was the youngest child he had ever confirmed.

I was writing a good deal by then-mostly poetry, and unctiously pious:

On Thursday night,

As it was right,

We went and got shriven,

God has us forgiven,

is a sample. Also screeds about Sir Roger Casement, the Irish leader, who was hanged when I was six (I well remember being got out of bed at six A.M. to pray for him the day of his execution) and the Chief of the Macdonalds murdered in the Massacre of Glencoe by the Campbells.

On our birthdays we were allowed to come down to dinner, and always wore a wreath of flowers. On my seventh, I wore a wreath of red roses, which I placed on my favorite book, Lilith by MacDonald-a book still one of my favorites, that I edited for a new edition entitled The Visionary Novels of George MacDonald, which the Noonday Press published in 1954 with an Introduction by Wystan Auden, another great admirer of MacDonald.

Religion was always my main interest, and I used to come down to the drawing-room at six with my sister, to spend an hour with mother, and insisted on reciting the Nicene Creed, and often the Dies Irae too, to any friends of hers that were rash enough to appear at that hour. I loved learning by heart, and knew the Rubaiyat, Gray's Elegy, and many of Heine's long Hartzreise by the time I was nine. It was then that I became a Muslim, converted by a British author, Marmaduke Pickthall, who rented a house on our place in Sussex. He had become a Muslim and was a fluent Arabic scholar; he translated the Qu'ran for me (I gave the manuscript to Princeton University in 1951) and his translation is the one published in the Mentor series by the New American Library, and is the one used at Princeton and at the great Muslim University of Al Alzhar in Cairo. Marmaduke took me to the Mosque at Woking to make my profession of faith ("There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet") and I faithfully kept the fast of Ramadhan (no food or drink from sunrise to sunset for a month) and said the Islamic liturgical prayers five times daily, to the fury of my governess.

When I was twelve my father died, after only a week's illness, of pneumonia. In the following spring we came to France for a year, where my sister and I learned French and Latin with the Cure, who was horrified that I was a Muslim. He taught me Latin from Cicero and St. Augustine, and at the end of a year I wished to become a Catholic. Mother was cross, and said he had betrayed a sacred trust by attempting my conversion, and we were sent off to boarding-school in England. But only for a year. Then back to France for six happy months, then another school, where I passed School Certificate, and began my first novel. It was about a girl called Cecile who lived in Savole. It was never finished because at seventeen, bored with doing the London Season, I took the entrance exam to Oxford, and won a scholarship to Lady Margaret Hall. While reading history there, I appeared for the first time in real print (of course I'd written for school magazines, etc.): a prizewinning (five guineas) letter to the Daily Mail on whether "you would prefer marriage or a career." Both, wrote I firmly.

At seventeen, too, I met and became engaged to Christopher Fremantle, and we were married shortly after I graduated in 1930, when I was twenty. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who had married my parents, married us, and baptized our first two boys. By this time, although I knew that the Catholic Church was the only true Faith, I had decided to remain in the Church of England with my husband.

On our honeymoon I wrote a couple of pieces for the Manchester Guardian and the London Times, and two poems published in the Times. My one and only slim volume of Poems was published in 1931. In that year when I entered The New Statesman's short story competition, and tied first and second prize with myself (under an alias), Sir John Squire asked me to work on The London Mercury, of which he was then editor, and I did for a year. At the same time I was writing a life of George Eliot for Duckworth's Great Lives series. It was published in 1931.

Then my husband had to have his appendix out, and we went to stay with my in-laws while he convalesced. In a great chest in their house I found lots of vellum-bound diaries, written by his great-great-great grandmother from the age of nine, in 1789, until her death in 1852. I worked on them and three volumes were published under the title The Wynne Diaries by the Oxford University Press in 1936, 1937 and 1939; since the war, the three volumes have been compressed into one, and were issued in The World Classics series.

In 1936, after his death, I was asked by Marmaduke Pickthall's widow to write his life. Hutchinson published it in 1936 entitled Loyal Enemy. It did very well, going into three editions, and is quoted often in books on modern Turkey (I had 'footnote fever,' my husband said, the first time I found myself quoted as an authority).

In 1935 I stood as Labour Party candidate in the General Election, my opponent being Sir Alfred Duff Cooper, then Minister of War. I 'ran' for St. George's Westminster, a hopeless seat, which I chose from the other hopeless ones offered me because it was Charles James Fox's old constituency (I was horrified when my Labour agent said "Charles James Fox, who's 'e?"). I got 5,000 votes, Duff Cooper 20,000; but I had not forfeited my deposit, so all was well !

In 1936 I went to the USSR for the London Times to cover the Moscow Theatre Festival (I had already covered the Greek Theatre Festival in Sicily in 1931, and edited a Guidebook to Sicily for Methuen as a result). I was writing a good deal for the New Statesman and other magazines, also selling short stories to the Daily Herald, Blue Peter, Sphere, etc., and poetry to the Spectator and Sunday Times, and I was a steady reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement from 1930 until I left England in 1940.

When war broke out, I got a job driving an-ambulance for the London County Council as I had taken the Red Cross exam, and after but a few months I went to work for the Joint Broadcasting section of the BBC, broadcasting in German and in French (I had had several plays broadcast: on Sidney and Stella, on Racine, and on Woodrow Wilson).

In the late summer of 1940, I brought my two boys to America and left them with friends, returning to England in 1941. It was also in 1941 that my first book to be published in the United States appeared: Come to Dust, a novel about France. In 1942 I was given a job in Washington, in the Indian section of the British Embassy. I got it through a kind of courtsying to my ancestors: of course I have an Oxford M.A., but my grandfather, Sir Mountstuart Grant-Duff, was Governor of Madras, and then Under-Secretary for India, and his father, James Grant Duff, was the author of the classic History of the Mahrattas as well as an officer fighting the French in the eighteenth century wars there. I had corresponded with both Mahatma Gandhi and with the Ali brothers as a little girl, and was extremely sympathetic to Indian Nationalism. Now I was called upon as a British official to work against that nationalism and to vilify it. I both loved and hated my job: loved it because I loved the Indian atmosphere and personnel with whom I worked (my boss was an Indian, Sir Girja BaJpai), and hated it because I was, as Research Assistant, obliged to justify the imprisonment of Gandhi and Nehru and thousands of other Indians by the British by attempting to prove that they were pro-Japanese, which, of course, was completely untrue.

On July 11, 1943, I was received into the Catholic Church in St. Matthew's Church, Washington, D. C., by Monsignor de Menasce. The Monsignor and my godmother, Mrs. John Wiley, were also both converts.

In 1945, when my Washington job ended with the war's end, I came to New York, where my husband joined me in 1946. Our youngest son was born in Washington in 1944, the result of compassionate leave I took in England in 1944 when my mother died. I had named my three sons after the Victorines-monks of the Abbey of St. Victor near Paris, who lived in the twelfth century and were not related but all wrote: Adam and Richard of St. Victor were hymn writers and theologians; Hugh of St. Victor was a mystic.

In 1947, I went to North Africa to gather material for a life of Charles de Foucauld; this was published by Holt in 1949 under the title Desert Calling. In 1948, my historical novel, James and Joan, a Literary Guild recommendation, was also published by Holt, and Desert Calling was published in England by Hollis & Carter as Catholic Book Club Choice and Book Society Recommendation. In 1947, I was appointed to the Department of Communication Arts at Fordham University, a post I still hold, and in 1949 I worked as an editor at the United Nations during the General Assembly, a job I have held six times since and again this year, 1956-57. I had begun to write for The Commonweal in 1944 and in 1950 I was made an associate editor. I have done reviewing for the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune, and have also written for Vogue, Town and Country, Harper's Bazaar, the Catholic World, Psychoanalytical Quarterly, etc.

Since 1950, I have written, edited, translated or contributed to the following books: The Face of the Saints, Fifty Years of the American Novel, The Commonweal Reader, The Lives of the Saints, The Greatest Bible Stories, Mothers, Christian Conversation, Christmas Is Here, The Grand Inquisitor, Europe: a Journey With Pictures, A Maurois Reader, A Treasury of Early Christianity, The Age of Belief, and The Papal Encyclicals.

My husband, children and I live at 252 East 78th st., New York City, where we have been since 1946, and at 156 Mercer st., Princeton, N. J., since 1951.

Bookshop | Contact Us | Home