This is the third novel in the Oxford quintet entitled ‘Staircase in Surrey’. Duncan Pattullo returns in middle age to his old college. The Provost is heavily engaged in trying to secure a benefaction from a charitable trust which the old and outrageous Cedric Mumford influences. One significant complication is the presence in college of Ivo Mumford, Cedric’s grandson. He is badly behaved and far from a credit to the college. His magazine, ‘Priapus’ proves to be wholly objectionable. Stewart explores the nature of the complicated relationships between the characters with his usual wit, literary style and intellectual precision and turns what might otherwise be a very common and ordinary situation into something that will grip the reader from cover to cover.
The Author: John Innes Mackintosh Stewart (who also wrote as ‘Michael Innes’) was born in Edinburgh where his father was Director of Education. He attended Edinburgh Academy before going up to Oriel College, Oxford where he was awarded a first class degree in English and won the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize and was named a Bishop Frazer scholar. After a short interlude travelling with AJP Taylor in Austria, including studying Freudian psychoanalysis for a year, he embarked on an edition of Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays. This subsequently helped him secure a post teaching English at Leeds University.
In 1932, Stewart married Margaret Hardwick, who practised medicine, and they subsequently had three sons and two daughters. By 1935, he had been awarded the Jury Chair at the University of Adelaide in Australia as Professor of English and had also completed his first detective novel, ‘Death at the President’s Lodging’, published under the pseudonym ‘Michael Innes’. This was an immediate success and part of a long running series centred on ‘Inspector Appleby’, his primary character when writing as ‘Innes’. There were almost fifty titles completed under the ‘Innes’ banner during his career.
In 1946, he returned to the UK and spent two years at Queen's University in Belfast, before being appointed Student (Fellow and Tutor) at Christ Church, Oxford. He was later to hold the post of Reader in English Literature of Oxford University and upon his retirement was made an Emeritus Professor. Whilst never wanting to leave his beloved Oxford permanently, he did manage to fit into his busy schedule a visiting Professorship at the University of Washington and was also honoured by other Universities in the UK.
Stewart wrote many works under his own name, including twenty-one works of fiction (which contained the highly acclaimed quintet entitled ‘A Staircase in Surrey’, centred primarily in Oxford, but with considerable forays elsewhere, especially Italy), several short story collections, and over nine learned works on the likes of Shakespeare, Kipling and Hardy. He was also a contributor to many academic publications, including a major section on modern writers for the Oxford History of English Literature. He died in 1994, the last published work being an autobiography: ‘Myself and Michael Innes’.
J.I.M. Stewart’s fiction is greatly admired for its wit, plots and literary quality, whilst the non-fiction is acknowledged as being definitive.