Anne-Marie Fremantle (Huth Jackson), 1909-2002

December 1, 2009

Anne Fremantle was above all else a writer. She published some 30 books, and literally thousands of articles.Her first book was a slim volume of poems, and when she died over 70 years later she left an unpublished manuscript of another collection of poems. She wrote four novels. She also wrote biography, and hers of Charles de Foucauld, the French priest who was murdered in the early years of the 20th century in the Sahara, was the first in English. It was translated into a number of languages. Her own autobiography, A Three-Cornered Heart, published in both New York and London, is a poignant  memoire of her mother’s and her own lives when young.

With her husband, Christopher Fremantle, she was a translator.They translated a number of works from French and German, in both of which languages she was fluent.

Anne Fremantle edited many books, notably on the Middle Ages, on social issues, and on literature. Her small Mentor volume of selections by Mao Tse Tung, done at the urging of Ivan Illich, was a significant work with political orientation. Another was The Papal Encyclicals. Still another of the compendiums, a literary one, was also for Mentor: Latin-American Literature Today.

Perhaps her most notable work of editing was The Wynne Diaries, published in three volumes, by Oxford University Press between 1935 and 1938.These are the wonderful journals of Betsey Wynne and her sisters traveling all over Revolutionary and Napoleonic Europe, from when the main diarist was 9 years old in the late 1780’s, to the death of her husband Vice-Admiral Thomas Fremantle, Nelson’s great friend and companion-in-arms, in Naples when Betsey was 40. This was later abridged and re-published by OUP as a double volume in their “World’s Classics” series, and still later as a soft cover with an admirable foreword by Christopher Hibbert.

Anne Fremantle also wrote history: This Little Band of Prophets was one of the first of the Fabian Society in the UK, and of Bristish Socialism. And her The Age of Belief, an outline of Medieval thought and philosophy  done for Mentor some 50 years ago in their series on “The Great Ages of Man”, is still used in American universities as a text.

As an editor, too, she worked many years both at the U.N. in New York, for their General Assembly publications, and for the Commonweal, a New York  liberal Catholic jounal of current events.

Over a long and energetic career Anne Fremantle wrote for most every major British and American newspaper and magazine. When she was struggling in post-WW II New York, with three children, an often absent husband, and no money, she would go to a friendly local bookshop, pick up whatever of interest had come in that day, read it while standing there, and then go back to their tenament flat to write and post off a review before most other reviewers had even seen the book.

Anne Fremantle was a lecturer and a teacher. She traveled all over the United States in the  mid-1930’s to lecture on British life for the English-Speaking Union, and continued traveling to lecture until she was quite elderly: at the age of 71 she got herself a post for two years with the University of Shanghai to teach The American Novel to future Chinese teachers of English. She taught for many years in New York at various times and at various places– at Duchesne, at NYU, at Fordham, and at CCNY.

Anne Fremantle held honorary Ph.D.’s from two American universities. She was  a long term member of American P.E.N. and served both as a Vice-President and as Secretary of that organization. All her life she was politically active, particularly in the UK where, as she often put it ,she “didn’t care for the social sysytem”, through which a few super rich people, like her own family, controlled a world where many people were poor, overworked and ill. As a young woman she  took on the hopeless task as Labour candidate for Parliament, of challenging Alfred Duff Cooper’s safe Conservative seat in Westminster. He was also then Minister for War. Fremantle boasted happily for the rest of her life that she didn’t lose her deposit.

Anne Fremantle had a number of wonderful qualities besides her many talents as a writer, her rich intelligence, and her limitless energy.  Above all she was brave, not only intellectually but also physically. In leaving Britain during the war,and then converting to Catholicism, she was condemned by many of her family, friends and colleagues. Evelyn Waugh, a friend who admired her and even called her ”the smartest woman in America”, also called her a double-traitor. Under the circumstances of the war it took particular courage to stand by these choices.

Her capacity for friendship was another extraordinary quality. She retained friends from Oxford all her life, and mixed them with her friends from pre-war London, and post-war America: Basil and Nicolette Gray, and later their daughter Camilla, Elizabeth Longford, Wystan Auden, Leonora Carrington—who painted her portrait—Alan Pryce-Jones, Isiah Berlin, Bill Younger, Harold Acton, Alethea Hayter, Nancy Balfour, Gavin Farringdon, Thomas Bazley, Ronnie McNair Scott,  and not the least, Christopher Fremantle, whom she married in 1930 and loved all her life. These were some of her many friends from her English life. Gillie Peterson, Kathy Cowles, Shirley Hazzard, Ved Mehta, Bryan and Freda Holme, Norman Mailer, Paul Horgan,  Ivan and Micha Illich, Dan Friedenberg, Henry and Esther Clifford , Maggie Potter, Porter and Bibo Chandler, Henry and Byba Coster, Marion Stancioff –these were some from her American life. She mixed them, and cared deeply for them all.

Generosity was a third grand quality of Anne Fremantle, again both intellectually and physically. She was open to all new ideas and all new people, and  helped everyone with her time and her money, often the  very little she had. Ivan Illich, her great friend and confessor, was often a recipient. So was Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker. The humbest of her neighbours in the poor part of New York that became home all knew of her openness and generosity. It was even she who found the Gurgieff movement their house at Franklin Farms in Mendham, New Jersey. This required a fourth quality–good humour–as her husband’s religion was not one she found particularly interesting.

Anne Fremantle was born into a distinguished family. Her father, Frederick Huth Jackson, had been at Balliol before going into the family  business, the old banking firm of Frederick Huth and Co. At 28, he was the youngest Director of the Bank of England ever appointed. He was  a Privy Councillor, President of the Institute of Bankers, and Sheriff of London. Her mother, Annabel Grant Duff, was also an author: A Victorian Childhood, published in 1929, is a  minor classic of early 20th c. British literature. She was the daughter of an important social and literary figure, Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, sometime Under-Secretary for India, Governor of Madras –then a province of some 40 million people–and also a Privy Councillor. He knew everybody who was anybody, and was the author of some 20 volumes commenting on England, the Continent, and India in the late 19th century.  Grant Duff, who was Rector of Aberdeen University, was M.P. for the so-called Elgin Boroughs in the North of Scotland for some 30 years. Anne Fremantle inherited his flaming red hair. Both these men were friends at Oxford of Benjamin Jowett.

The career of Anne Fremantle was divided by WW II into distinct halves. The first consisted of her Scottish-English origins and life: birth in France in 1909 at Aix-les-Bains where her parents kept a house, her childhood there and in London and Sussex, her schooling at Cheltenham Ladies College, her” blissful days” as she used to call them, at LMH, her marriage to Christopher Fremantle, her first two children, and her career in London in the 30’s as a writer. At Oxford she distinguisher herself not only by her circle of brilliant friends, but in athletics, particularly in swimming, for which she won a blue.

During the early part of the war she worked in London as an ambulance driver, and as a broadcaster in French and German for the BBC.

The second half of her life was the American half. Because of family ties and for the safety of her children, she left London during the war, finding work in the British Embassy in Washington.  She converted to Catholicism, took American citizenship, had a third child, and settled in New York. She also started a second career as a writer—this time as an American, and a Catholic.

Her husband, a painter, was a life-long follower and teacher of the philosophy of Gurgieff and Ouspensky. For Christopher Fremantle’s lectures “to the faithful”, as she would call the other followers of Gurgieff , the couple would travel each year between the main centers of the movement—New York, Paris, and Mexico City—staying some months in each place. Eventually they aquired property in Mexico and settled there for much of each year. In old age, and after the death of her husband, Anne Fremantle returned to live in London where her family was more able to care for her. Anne Fremantle died there on the 26th of December, 2002. She is survived by 3 sons and 4 grandchildren.


From: The Red Book of Lady Margaret Hall College, Oxford. 2003.


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