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04 March 2024

Fraser: Pinter book about 'very happy years'

The marriage of Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser remained tabloid talk during their 33 years together. (AFP)

By Sophie Nicholson

On the first evening the acclaimed British playwright Harold Pinter met his future wife Lady Antonia Fraser, he asked her: "Must you go?"

Fraser, a glamorous historical biographer, said she replied: "No, it's not absolutely essential."

Just over a year after Pinter's death, Fraser is publishing a book on the 33 years during which the famous British literary couple lived together, titled Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter.

Pinter, one of the most influential British playwrights of modern times, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005.

Fraser, 77, presented the memoir of her "very happy years" with Pinter for the first time in Mexico City, where one of her sons lives, ahead of its British release yesterday. Fraser said she based the memoir in part on her diaries, which she has kept diligently since 1968.

"It's not a book I ever, ever expected to write," she said, explaining how, shortly after Pinter's death on Christmas Eve, 2008, she suddenly made the decision to write the book. "Every now and then I do think: 'What on earth have I done?'" said Fraser, who has maintained her privacy about the relationship until now.

The book includes anecdotes on meetings with literary celebrities, Fraser said, detailing her encounter with Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa in which he praised the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, mistakenly believing it to be by Pinter, instead of Edward Albee. Fraser said she was impressed by the "very handsome" Peruvian and declined to correct his mistake.

She also told of how Salman Rushdie's first wife, Clarissa Luard, told her how she asked her famous novelist husband to read to her to send her to sleep.

In a country obsessed with class relationships, Fraser said she and Pinter, along with other writers and intellectuals, had belonged to a "bohemian class." "A lot was made about me being a Catholic aristocrat and Harold being a working class East End boy, and this was tabloid talk because we were both in our early forties, we were both writers so you couldn't say I was upper class and he was working class, that's ridiculous," she said.

The last part of the book touches on Pinter's seven-year battle with cancer, during which he continued to work and act on stage and screen. "It wasn't until I came to write this book that I saw how extraordinarily brave he was," she said, declining to read one of Pinter's poems for fear of crying.

Fraser has written many historical works, including a book on Marie Antoinette, which was made into a film directed by Sofia Coppola.

Before marrying Pinter, Fraser was married to Conservative MP Hugh Fraser, with whom she had six children. She is also reportedly working on a biography of Queen Elizabeth I.


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