The Word on the Street

The mystery of Arthur Kingsley Porter

Arthur Kingsley Porter and Lucy Porter around 1920 in Cambridge.
Arthur Kingsley Porter and Lucy Porter around 1920 in Cambridge.(Harvard University Archives)

The mystery of Arthur Kingsley Porter

The wealthy erudite Arthur Kingsley Porter was quite a character. At 21, he fell into a trance while he stood, bathed in light, admiring a cathedral, an experience that inspired him to study medieval architecture. Later, ensconced at Harvard, where he taught art history, he took a young male lover. That was with the acquiescence of his wife, Lucy, and at the suggestion of his psychologist, Havelock Ellis, who was treating him for depression.

After Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell summoned Porter to his office on numerous occasions, he and Lucy left the country in 1929 and took refuge in a castle they owned in Ireland. Did Lowell question Porter about his homosexuality or something else? Were professors calling for his expulsion? The record isn’t clear, but, as Lucy Costigan writes in “Glenveagh Mystery: The Life, Work and Disappearance of Arthur Kingsley Porter” (Merrion), “There is no doubt that Kingsley realized he was on the brink of a scandal at Harvard.”

Four years later, Porter vanished without a trace. Did he drown, commit suicide, or take off to start a new life as a gay man? Costigan doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion, but she mentions her discovery in Dublin’s National Archives office of an intriguing piece of information: On the day of Porter’s disappearance a boat left the remote island where he lived. Was he on it?


Four Stories series returns

After a nearly two-year hiatus, Four Stories literary series will return March 5 with an evening devoted to tales of secrets, lies, and true confessions. Series founder and emcee Tracy Slater will welcome fiction writers Jennifer Haigh, Michael Lowenthal, and Kaitlin Solimine. Rounding out the lineup is Slater’s sister, Lauren, author most recently of “The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals” (Beacon).

This Four Stories will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge. Tracy Slater, who has been living in Japan for the past two years, plans to make Four Stories a quarterly affair this year. Her offer from the early days of Four Stories still stands: A free drink will go to the person who asks the best question.


Randy Susan Meyers celebrates new novel

Boston author Randy Susan Meyers will be all over town this week celebrating the release of her second novel, “The Comfort of Lies” (Atria). An affair leads to a pregnancy; the woman gives the baby up for adoption. The story, set in and around Boston, is told in alternating points of view: the birth mother, the wife of the girl’s birth father, and the adoptive mother.

Meyers, who teaches at Grub Street writers center, will be at Brookline Booksmith on Tuesday at 7 with fellow Grubbie Christopher Castellani, whose new novel “All This Talk of Love” (Algonquin) was inspired by a trip with his mother back to her hometown in Italy. The following evening, also at 7, she’ll be at Newtonville Books.

Coming out

 “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things” by Paula Byrne (Harper)

■  “Touch & Go” by Lisa Gardner (Dutton)

■  “Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein”

by Jonathan Cott (Oxford University)

Pick of the Week

Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “Harvest” by Jim Crace (Random House): “Set in a remote English village, this novel is a timeless story about dealing with change and progress. Two troubling plumes of smoke coincide with the arrival of strangers. The villagers, used to a monotonous cycle of work and sleep, see their world start to fall to pieces, leaving them with a lot of unanswered questions.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.