The secret love-child of an American Civil War commander: The strange story of Tolkien’s schoolteacher
in In and out of Bloomsbury
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The essay is the first detailed study of Richard Williams Reynolds (1867–1947). It reveals that, although born in Liverpool, he was the illegitimate son of Brigadier-General Daniel Harris Reynolds of Arkansas by Annie Franklin, a British settler who had been widowed just before the Civil War, in which her lover fought for the Confederate Army. Educated at King Edward’s School (KES), Birmingham, and Balliol College, Oxford, Richard spent the 1890s in London, where he trained for the Bar and did some journalism. His membership of the Fabian Society brought him into close friendship with the writer Edith Nesbit. In 1900 he joined the staff of KES. His most famous pupil was J. R. R. Tolkien. In 1910 he married the novelist Dorothea Deakin, Nesbit’s niece, with whom he had three daughters. In 1922 he retired from KES. He and his family moved to Capri, where they associated with Axel Munthe and other writers and artists. But Dorothea died in 1924, and in 1935–1936 Richard suffered further losses on a Greek-tragic scale – the deaths of his daughters Diana and Pamela, and of the second wife whom he had just married. Pamela, a promising poet, perished in a fall down a cliff.

In and out of Bloomsbury

Biographical essays on twentieth-century writers and artists

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