Partner Elsie Arnold, Olwen Bowen-Davies

Queer Places:
Harlequin Court, 20 Tavistock St, West End, London WC2E 7NZ, UK

Clemence Dane 01.jpgClemence Dane was the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton (21 February 1888 – 28 March 1965), an English novelist and playwright. Regiment of Women is the debut novel of Winifred Ashton writing as Clemence Dane. It is dedicated to "E.A. / Here's Our Book / As it grew. / But it's Your Book! / For, but for You, Who'd look / At My Book? / C.D." (Elsie Arnold was her lover for many years.) First published in 1917, the novel has gained some notoriety due to its more or less veiled treatment of lesbian relationships inside and outside a school setting. It is said to have inspired Radclyffe Hall to write The Well of Loneliness.[1]

After completing her education, Dane went to Switzerland to work as a French tutor, but returned home after a year. She studied art in London and Germany. After the First World War, she taught at a girls' school and began writing. She took the pseudonym "Clemence Dane" from the church, St Clement Danes on the Strand, London.

Her first novel, Regiment of Women, written in 1917, was a study of life in a girls' school. [1] In 1919 she wrote Legend, the story of a group of acquaintances who debate the meaning of a dead friend's life and work. Dane's 1921 play, A Bill of Divorcement, tells the story of a daughter who cares for her deranged father and faces the fact that his mental illness may be hereditary. The smash hit play was adapted for the screen three times, using the same title as the play: a silent film in 1922 with Katharine Cornell, a 1932 film starring Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore, and a 1940 film starring Maureen O’Hara and Adolphe Menjou.

Her 1921 Will Shakespeare: An Invention in Four Acts was on Broadway in 1923, again with Katharine Cornell.

by Carl Van Vechten

Clemence Dane by Lewis Morley resin print, 1960s 15 1/2 in. x 11 5/8 in. (395 mm x 295 mm) Given by Lewis Morley, 1989 Photographs Collection NPG x47128

Katharine Cornell as Mary Fitton in the Broadway production of Will Shakespeare (1923)

Dane began writing screenplays as well as novels. She co-wrote the screenplay for Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo. The pinnacle of Dane's success was winning an Academy Award with Anthony Pelissier for the film Vacation from Marriage, released in the United Kingdom as Perfect Strangers, starring Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr as a married couple transformed by their experiences in the Second World War.

Dane's 1931 novel Broome Stages followed the fortunes of an acting family from the time of Queen Anne to the present. Broome Stages became a surprise bestseller. [1] Dane and Helen de Guerry Simpson wrote three detective novels featuring their creation, Sir John Saumarez. Both were members of the Detection Club. The first novel, Enter Sir John, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1930 as Murder!. Dane contributed to the Club's serials The Scoop and The Floating Admiral. In 1934 she wrote Come of Age: The Text of a Play in Music and Words with Richard Addinsell. Dane's The Arrogant History of White Ben (1939) is a dystopian novel set in a politically unstable near future. [2] She is also the author of Claude Houghton: Appreciations with Hugh Walpole.

Dane's last play, Eighty in the Shade (1959) was written for and starred her friend, Dame Sybil Thorndike. Dane is believed to be the template for the character Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium in her friend Noël Coward's play, Blithe Spirit. Terry Castle has argued that Coward modelled the character on Dane to paid a tribute to "that Lesbian Muse who - in her many different guises - was so much part of Coward's professional and imaginative life." The National Portrait Gallery contains two works by Dane, both of Coward. One is an oil painting and the other is a bronze bust. The gallery also contains a portrait of Dane by Frederic Yates.

According to Arthur Marshall, she was famous for her indecent, though entirely innocent, remarks. "The physical side of life had passed her by, together with the words, slang and otherwise, that accompany it. Time and again she settled for an unfortunate word or phrase. Inviting Noël Coward to lunch during the war, when food was difficult, she boomed encouragement down the telephone; 'Do come! I've got such a lovely cock.' ('I do wish you'd call it a hen', Noel answered). To use correctly, in a literary sense, the words 'erection', 'tool' and 'spunk' was second nature to her. When wishing to describe herself as being full of life and creative energy, she chose, not really very wisely, the word 'randy'."[3]

In 1955, Dane edited the Novels of Tomorrow series for publisher Michael Joseph. This was a series of science fiction novels featuring such authors as John Wyndham, Robert Sheckley, and Cyril M. Kornbluth. [4]

Dane also wrote a book on the history of Covent Garden (where she lived for a number of years) titled London has a Garden and published in 1964. Dane ran her small flat at 20 Tavistock Street as a modern version of a theatrical salon. She chose the flat for its vicinity to the new generation of theatrical and literary agents and for its setting amongst the ghosts and living legends of the London theatre scene: 'I thought to myself that to live in or near it [Bedford Street] would be the luckiest thing that could ever happen to anyone who wanted the life literary, the life artistic or the life theatrical. I had had a taste of three, and longed for more!" The flat, most unsuitable as living accommodation, was in fact advertised to let as office space: "The eighteenth century rooms were in a desolate state, with soot and a long dead fire spilling out over the dirty oaken floorboards ... I had no front door ... [but] a stall front row in the best theatre of all-the Garden [Covent] itself."

By the time of her death in London, on 28 March 1965, Dane had written more than 30 plays and 16 novels. Clemence Dane's will names Olwen Bowen-Davies as an executor and major beneficiary, to inherit her house in St. John's Wood in which her previous lover, Elsie Arnold was at that time living, with the rider that Arnold could live in the home for life if she so wished.

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