Monday, 16 July 2012

Betty May

In the Autumn of 1933, Lowry went to live with Hugh Sykes Davis at South Hill Park Gardens in Hampstead, London. Sykes Davies had been approved by Arthur Lowry to act as a "guardian" so that Lowry could stay in London after his problems in Devon during the Summer of 1933. (Gordon Bowker Pursued By Furies Pg. 165). Sykes Davies was living with Betty May at the time - Sykes Davies told Gordon Bowker; "There was one other person present ...connected rather with me than with him. She had a tendency to drink rather a lot, too - one of Epstein's old models" (Gordon Bowker Malcolm Lowry Remembered Pg. 68).

Born in the East End of London, Betty May became the model and muse to the bohemian elite of London. She sat for Augustus John, Jacob Kramer and caught the attention of Jacob Epstein at the Café Royal where they were all "regulars".She was known as the Tiger Woman - because of her party trick: putting a saucer of brandy on her back, on all fours. Boundary Gallery

Betty May by Epstein 1919

Tiger Woman My Life by Betty May; A beast of a book - literally, because it is very hard to find and also because its value derives from its connection to the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. Briefly, Betty May was born in in Canning Town, (around Tidal Basin) London where she endured an extremely rough childhood. She became an artist's model, moved in decidedly bohemian circles and migrated to Paris where she hung out with the Apaches (motorised robbers mostly). She was known among the Apaches as 'The Tiger-Woman.' Five feet tall and of a witchy appearance she was not a woman to cross, at one point she threatened to murder Crowley. She was married three times, her second husband divorced her because of her overuse of cocaine; having cleaned up she married again for love. Her third husband Raoul Loveday whom she had met at the Harlequin club in London was a young Oxford graduate and keen Egyptologist. Together they made a fateful journey to Crowley's retreat Thelema Abbey in Cefalu, Sicily.

Betty May writes that she detested Crowley but it appears that Loveday was captivated by his personality. Loveday died at Thelema after an illness in slightly mysterious cicumstances. Betty May surmises it was after drinking tainted water at a nearby monastery but the rumour (completely false) was that he expired after drinking cat's blood in a magick ceremony. The newspaper went mad in England and America with headlines such as 'Varsity Lad's Death. Enticed to 'Abbey'. Dreadful ordeal of a young wife...' This is where Crowley's reputation as the Great Beast was made. Betty May, obviously no innocent, was cast as the 'Young English bride' 'Girl-wife' 'Parlour Puss' and Loveday as her 'boy-husband.'  Bookride

Betty May's life was still affected by Crowley while Lowry was living at South Hill Park Gardens.(Read more here)

Jan Gabrial refers to her and Lowry meeting Betty May several times in the Autumn of 1933;  in her diary on Sunday, October 29th 1933 she wrote; "Later we had supper with Hugh Sykes Davies and Betty May, the famous "Tiger Woman". She was a favourite of Jacob Epstein's  and is said to have known everyone, even Ernest Dowson and Oscar Wilde, though this seems impossible. But she is fascinating, warm, friendly, and very very attractive, as well as a wizard cook. We are invited back for dinner tomorrow together with an ex-lover of hers, Edgell Rickword. I wish Malcolm could be as relaxed as Hugh about these overlapping relationships." (Jan Gabrial Inside The Volcano Pg. 33); Jan and Lowry stayed at South Hill Park Gardens in early November 1933 while Sykes Davis and Betty May where away; "I had a bath and we finished the third of four bottle, then having borrowed one of Betty's gowns, I crawled into bed beside Malc." (Pg.35); "Betty May returned, radiant, just as we were setting off for the Palladium and an indifferent show" (Pg. 35). Jan also related how she and Lowry went to the Marquis of Granby and The Plough pubs with Betty May and Edgell Rickword after Kleinfled's (Fitzroy Tavern). Betty then took them to Smokey Joe's, "a non-alcoholic speakeasy-cum-lesbain pub" (Pg. 36).

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