Sally Conelly, 1931-2014

Sally Connely was the daughter of Eve and the American biographer Willard Connely. In 1940 Eve left Connely for another biographer, Malcolm Elwin, taking her two daughters with her. Sally was educated at Badminton School and then Heatherley’s Art School in London and Julien’s in Paris. Her attempts to earn a living as an artist were impeded by recurrent ill-health; and after Elwin’s death in 1973 she lived permanently with her mother at Sedgebanks, just above Putsborough Sands in North Devon. Elwin had written the life of Llewelyn Powys (thereby entering into an extensive correspondence with his brother John Cowper); and when Eve Elwin died in 1984 Sally inherited not only the house but Llewelyn Powys’s copyright. Yet Sally could not afford to stay at Sedgebanks and moved to a smaller house three years later.

I met Sally only once. I spent a day with her in May 2004 and it was an unforgettable experience. She was then living in the modern detached house, strikingly named ‘Blackthorn Winter’. She hated it, railing against it constantly while recalling the splendours of Sedgebanks. Anyone else would have probably have been grateful to have had a perfectly reasonable home a couple of miles from the sea, especially in the attractive village of Georgeham (where Henry Williamson, who had been a close friend of the Elwins, had lived).

‘Blackthorn Winter’ was filled with the remains of Malcolm Elwin’s once magnificent library and his voluminous papers, which Sally was supposedly ‘sorting’. She knew my name through the Powys Society Newsletter, of which she was a close reader, although her sister Susan Rands must have been my advocate. Sally wanted me to become literary executor for both Llewelyn Powys and Elwin, jointly with Peter Thomson, by then Professor of Drama at the University of Exeter. Elwin, meeting George Steiner when recording the BBC tribute to John Cowper Powys on his ninetieth birthday, sought his assistance in finding a student to catalogue his library. Back in Cambridge Steiner asked Raymond Williams and Williams recommended Peter whose doctorate he was currently supervising. Peter and I acceded to Sally’s request but, despite repeated reassurances, she never made the trip to Dulverton to have her solicitor change her will. Llewelyn Powys came out of copyright in 2009, but with Sally’s death Elwin has ceased to have a literary executor. This is something I much regret since I continue to admire Elwin considerably for the many services, altruistic as they were, he performed for J.C. Powys.*

Sally also wanted advice about what should be done with the Elwin papers. I am delighted to be able to report success here, since it was I who initiated the discussions with Special Collections at Exeter University which ultimately led to their purchase in 2013. (In the intervening processes Peter Thomson was to labour intensively at Georgeham.)

I liked Sally very much. She was warm and humorous, exceedingly well-informed about many subjects, including literature, art and history, and devoted to her step-father’s memory. She insisted on my taking two books of which she had multiple copies: the second, 1949 printing of The Life of Llewelyn Powys (the dust-wrapper differs from that of 1946...) and Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, the diaries of Churchill’s physician, Lord Moran.

*I am delighted to learn that Sally's nephew and two nieces are now Elwin's literary executors. The principal contact is currently Dr Gianetta Rands: grands@doctors.org.uk.

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