Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt
From Justinian, July 1992
JUST PUT YOURSELF in the position of David Marr (seen here), former Allens’ boy and now successful biographer of that lovable, but now dead, old monster Patrick White.
He’s basking in the glow of world-wide acclaim for his book, modestly accepting plaudits and prizes by the wheelbarrow full, when along comes a letter under the masthead of Bradfield & Mills, solicitors incorporating H.O. Marshall, Lupton & Scott).
Thinking it might be another adoring reader of the tome offering congratulations he scanned the letter expectantly.
You can imagine his alarm when he found the following:
“We act for Mrs Helen Mary Simos of 24 Martin Road, Centennial Park, who lives at that address with her husband, Mr Theodore Simos QC. The house in which they live is next door (separated by a vacant block of land) to 20 Martin Road, Centennial Park, which was occupied by the late Patrick White for many years prior to his death.
Our client recently read for the first time your biography of the late Mr White entitled Patrick White – A Life and was greatly distressed and embarrassed to discover a number of factual inaccuracies relating to her and her husband which are a of a defamatory nature.
Those factual inaccuracies appear on pages 447 and 448 where it is stated, in effect, that when the late Mr White moved to 20 Martin Road (on October 12 1964) he had close neighbours ‘in a house on one side of No 20’ in which lived ‘a barrister and his family’.
It was then stated that their ‘12-year-old son’ made certain statements and that Mr White found the father ‘a tremendously profitable gossip’.
The true facts are that our client and her husband were not living at 24 Martin Road in October 1964 and did not occupy No 24 until 1966.
Further, until November 1964 their elder son was less than one year old.
Moreover, our client’s husband did not engage in gossip with Mr White and only spoke to him infrequently.
The statements alleged to have been made by ‘their 12 year old son’ are defamatory of our client as well as untrue as is the description of our client’s husband.”
Mrs Simos wanted the inaccuracies corrected in an erratum in unsold copies of the prize-winning work and scrubbed from future editions.
She also sought an apology, and reserved her rights, etc. etc.
One of the things that Mrs Simos says is untrue on page 448 of the biography is that her son had told Mr White and his friend Lascaris that she was reading Riders in the Chariot. “But she finds it so heavy she has to take a rest after every couple of lines.”
Marr agrees he made a mistake and that he should have been referring to the family of a businessman who occupied No 24 prior to the Simoses.
It will be fixed up in the 4th printing of the book.
But it’s a pity that it’s not true because, if it were, there might have been a groundswell of sympathy and understanding for Mrs Simos.
And as for the accusation of being “a tremendously profitable gossip” could someone please tell me what is so wrong about that?