Tom Sharpe’s Wilt stays in Catalonia

A foundation will administer the novelist's literary legacy, including manuscripts and correspondence

Blanca Cia
Tom Sharpe, pictured in 2005.
Tom Sharpe, pictured in 2005.Barry Lewis (Barry Lewis)

Somewhere in Girona, or perhaps Barcelona, will be home to the troubled spirit of Wilt. What is certain is that he will not leave Catalonia. The mayor of Palafrugell, Juli Fernández, has been quick to step forward and offer his city as seat of the future foundation in memory of the late British writer Tom Sharpe, who died on June 6 from complications relating to diabetes at the age of 85 in Llafranc, the town on the Costa Brava where he settled 18 years ago and which earlier had also seduced Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dalí.

The person entrusted with setting up the foundation in Sharpe's memory is Montserrat Verdaguer, a doctor and friend who, in Palafrugell, attended to the delicate health of the humorist - whose most famous personality, appearing in several books, is Henry Wilt.

It was to her that Sharpe entrusted the unification in a single collection of the manuscripts of all his novels, correspondence, notebooks and other materials, which are to be deposited in a foundation, according to a story in the Sunday edition of the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia . The other task Sharpe entrusted to her is to write his biography. This desire is expressed in a concise note in his handwriting.

"I am greatly pleased and honored, though it will mean a lot of work," Dr Verdaguer explained on Sunday, in conversation with this newspaper, from her office in Palafrugell. A neurologist and psychiatrist, Montserrat Verdaguer already knew of Sharpe's desire that she act as his literary executor. "In 2001 he told me this [about writing the biography] and since that time I have been gathering material. I have copies of everything he had around him - manuscripts, letters, tapes - but now I have to try and find earlier material. Sharpe's wish was that it be put together in a single collection."

Sharpe's wish was that it all be put together in a single collection"

Among other places, she will search in Cambridge, where his wife and two of his daughters live. "I have no idea whether there are many boxes there, or what their content may be. The same applies to his family house in Sunderland; and I don't know if there is anything from the South Africa period."

Verdaguer gave medical attention to Sharpe but they were also friends, so she knows a number of first-hand anecdotes. "For example, he told me things about his time in South Africa, but the interesting thing now would be to document them."

Sharpe lived in South Africa as a child, and went back there in 1951 after studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was eventually jailed and deported for "subversive activities," mainly stemming from his published observations on racism, in writings such as his play Natal. His experiences during that period also produced the novels Riotous Assembly (1971) and Indecent Exposure (1973), which were critical of the ruling National Party's system of apartheid.

With a shy laugh the neurologist admits she has never in her life written anything but strictly medical documents, and that she has yet to get to work on the writer's biography.

He admired P.G. Wodehouse and Waugh, great humorists like him"

For the moment, she does not care to speculate on what city may be home to the foundation, but she plans to meet with the mayor of Palafrugell on Monday. "He is enthused about the possibility of the foundation being here, but I think it's still too early to say, because I have no idea of the volume of material we may be looking at. Then we have to decide who will be the trustees of the foundation... there's more, but the important thing now is to gather as much material as we can, which is what he wanted."

Sharpe is best known for his farcical series of novels featuring the hapless Wilt, the last of which was published in 2010. The misadventures of the downtrodden anti-hero lecturer were based partly on Sharpe's experiences teaching at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. A friend of Sharpe's, the Catalan writer Xavier Moret, said: "He was very grateful to Wilt, his star creation, and he admired P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, great British humorists as he himself was."

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