Stephen James Napier Tennant was a British aristocrat known for his decadent lifestyle. It is said, albeit apocryphally, that he spent most of his life in bed.
Born in England, the youngest son of a Scots peer, Lord Glenconner. His mother was the former Pamela Wyndham and a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), Oscar Wilde's lover. Tennant's eldest brother Edward 'Bim' Tennant was killed in WWI.
During the 1920s and 30s, Tennant was an important member - the 'Brightest', it is said - of the 'Bright Young Things'. His friends included Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, the Sitwells, Lady Diana Manners and the Mitford girls. He is widely considered to be the model for Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's novel Love in a Cold Climate; one of the inspirations for Lord Sebastian Flyte in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and a model for the Hon. Miles Malpractice in some of his other novels.
When he was nineteen, Tennant became the lover of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Prior to this he had proposed to a friend, the novelist Elizabeth Bowen, but had been rejected. (allegedly Tennant discussed plans with Bowen about bringing his Nanny with them on their honeymoon.) His relationship with Sassoon, however, was to be his most important: it lasted some four years before Tennant off-handedly put an abrupt end to it. Sassoon was reportedly depressed afterwards for 3 months, until he got into a short-lived and unhappy marriage.
For most of his life, Tennant tried to start or finish a novel - Lascar. It is popularly believed that he spent the last 17 years of his life in bed at his family manor at Wilsford, Wiltshire, which he had redecorated by Syrie Maugham. Though undoubtedly idle, he was not truly lethargic: he made several visits to the United States and Italy, and struck up many new friendships, despite his later reputation as a recluse. This became increasingly true only towards the last years of his life. Yet even then, his life was not uneventful: he became landlord to V S Naipaul who immortalised Tennant in his novel The Enigma of Arrival.
When Tennant died in 1987, he had far outlived most of his contemporaries.
|'The Bright Young Things' at Wilsford: William Walton, Cecil Beaton, Hon Stephen Tennant, Rex Whistler, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman and Teresa Jungman, 1927|