R. V. C. Bodley

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Ronald Victor Courtenay Bodley
A black and white portrait photo of R. V. C. Bodley in a military uniform
R. V. C. Bodley, c. 1914
Born (1892-03-03)3 March 1892
Paris, France
Died 26 May 1970(1970-05-26) (aged 78)
Bramley, Surrey, United Kingdom
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch United Kingdom
Years of service 1911–19
Rank Major
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Military Cross
Legion of Honour (France)
Order of the Black Star (France)
Order of the Crown (Romania)
Order of Wen-Hu (China)
Relations John Edward Courtenay Bodley (father)
Other work Author, screenwriter

Ronald Victor Courtenay (R. V. C.) Bodley, MC (3 March 1892 – 26 May 1970) was a British Army officer, author and journalist. Born to English parents in Paris, he lived in France until he was nine, before attending Eton College and then the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps and served with them during the First World War. After the war he spent seven years in the Sahara desert, and then travelled through Asia. Bodley wrote several books about his travels. He was considered among the most distinguished British writers on the Sahara, as well as one of the main western sources of information on the South Pacific Mandates.

Bodley moved to the United States in 1935, where he worked as a screenwriter. He re-enlisted in the British Army at the outbreak of the Second World War and was sent to Paris to work for the Ministry of Information. He later immigrated to the United States, where he continued to work as a writer and also as an advisor to the United States Office of War Information.

Early life and First World War[edit]

Bodley was born in Paris on 3 March 1892 to civil servant and writer John Edward Courtenay Bodley and Evelyn Frances Bodley (née Bell). He was the oldest of three children; his brother Josselin and sister Ava were born in 1893 and 1896 respectively.[1] Bodley was a cousin of Gertrude Bell,[2] a writer and archeologist who helped establish the Hashemite dynasties, and he was also a descendant of diplomat and scholar Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library.[3] He lived in France with his parents until he was nine.[3] His grandfather owned a Turkish palace in Algiers, which Bodley often visited as a child.[4]

Bodley was educated at a Lycée[5] in Paris before he was sent to Eton College and then to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Bodley showed interest as a writer during this time, writing poetry at Eton and for a cadet magazine at Sandhurst.[1] From Sandhurst he was commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps as a second lieutenant in September 1911.[2][6] He spent three years serving in a regiment in India where he began to write and stage plays. His commanding officer once remarked "The plays are amusing. You're a credit to the regiment and all that, but did you join the army to become a soldier or a comedian?" Shortly thereafter the First World War commenced,[7] and Bodley was sent to the Western Front for four years.[8] He was wounded several times,[4] including by chemical gas.[1] At the age of 26 he was given the rank of lieutenant colonel and command of a battalion.[5] He was appointed assistant military attaché to Paris[2] on 15 August 1918,[9] and attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. What he heard there reportedly made him feel that he and the millions of other soldiers had fought for nothing;[2] he wrote later that "selfish politicians [were] laying the groundwork for the Second World War – each country grabbing all it could for itself, creating national antagonisms, and reviving the intrigues of secret."[10] Disillusioned with the military, Bodley considered a career in politics instead,[2] on the advice of David Lloyd George.[4]

Gertrude Bell introduced Bodley to T. E. Lawrence.[2] Bodley ran into Lawrence one day outside the Paris Peace Conference and told him of his intent to move into politics. Lawrence responded furiously, calling him a moron and a traitor. When he replied that he had no other prospects now that the war was over and asking what he should do, Lawrence suggested "Go live with the Arabs."[2] Bodley said his conversation with Lawrence, which lasted "less than 200 seconds", proved to be life-changing.[10] He promptly sorted his affairs and went to live in the Sahara. His bemused friends held him a farewell party. They all agreed he would be back in six weeks; he stayed in the Sahara for seven years.[2]

Travels through the Sahara and Asia[edit]

Bodley spent his seven years[11] in the Sahara desert living with a nomad Bedouin tribe. He purchased a herd of sheep and goats and used them as a source of income. He hired 10 shepherds to care for his flock, and consistently earned 120% on his investment.[4] He wore Arab dress, spoke Arabic, practiced the Muslim faith and abstained from alcohol;[4] Bodley continued to be a non-drinker after leaving the Sahara.[7] He left the tribe on the advice of its chief, who told him there was no use in continuing to pretend to be an Arab.[4] In 1927 he wrote Algeria From Within, after being encouraged to do so by publisher Michael Joseph.[1] The book is based on his experiences living in the country.[12][13] The book's success greatly exceeded his expectations, prompting him to continue writing.[1] His first novel, Yasmina, was published later that year; it sold well and was reprinted. His next novel, Opal Fire, published the following year, was a commercial failure, though this did not discourage him from continuing to write.[1] He regarded his time in the Sahara as "the most peaceful and contented years" of his life.[3] He was considered amongst the most distinguished British writers on the Sahara.[14]

"One of the strongest impressions I had when I lived with the Arabs, was the 'everyday-ness' of God. He ruled their eating, their travelling, their business, their loving. He was their hourly thought, their closest friend, in a way impossible to people whose God is separated from them by the rites of formal worship."

Ronald Bodley, commenting on life in the Sahara[15]

After leaving the Sahara, Bodley spent three months in Java working on a tea plantation, before travelling to China and Japan.[7] The success of Algeria From Within made it easy for him to obtain work as a journalist in Asia. He became a foreign correspondent for The Sphere in London and The Advertiser in Australia.[1] Bodley was one of several westerners to be granted access to the South Pacific Mandates by Japan in the 1930s,[16] and he has been cited as one of the main sources of information on the area at the time.[17] Like other westerners allowed to visit the region, he reported that there was no evidence that Japan was militarising the area. Bodley's movements were "carefully choreographed" by the Gaimu-shō.[1] He wrote about his experiences and findings in his 1934 book The Drama in the Pacific, in which he wrote, "having visited practically every island … I am convinced that nothing has been done to convert any place into a naval base".[17] In his 1998 book Nan'yo: the Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia, 1885–1945, Mark Peattie stated that while it is easy to accuse Bodley and the other writers of naivety, the militarisation of the area was complex and occurred in several stages. Bodley was a passenger aboard the ship Shizuoka Maru when it was wrecked on a reef north of Yap in April 1933. The vessel was lost, though there were no injuries.[18] Bodley was offered a job teaching English at Keio University, and did so for nine months; he wrote about the experience in his 1933 book A Japanese Omelette.[1] Bodley and Keio university Professor Eishiro Hori provided voluminous notes in the 1934 Japanese textbook version of Round the Red Lamp by Arthur Conan Doyle,[1] and in 1935 Bodley published a biography of Tōgō Heihachirō.[7]

Later life[edit]

In 1935 Bodley moved to the United States to work as a screenwriter,[7] leaving Japan aboard the Chichibu Maru.[1] In October 1936 Bodley was hired by Charlie Chaplin[19] to adapt the D.L. Murray novel Regency into a feature film. It was the first time Chaplin had hired someone to write a script; he had previously written his own scripts.[19] Bodley had a rough draft ready by January 1937,[20] and completed his work in March, though in late May that year Chaplin abandoned the script,[21] in favour of another project he was working on.[22] Bodley also worked on the script for the 1938 film A Yank at Oxford.[7][23] In the United States Bodley was known to his friends as "Ronnie" and was often referred to in the press as Bodley of Arabia.[1]

When the Second World War commenced, Bodley immediately rejoined the King's Royal Rifle Corps and was given the rank of major,[7] though according to his book The Gay Deserters he was regarded as too old for active service in the infantry.[8] He was instead sent to work for the Ministry of Information in Paris.[7] He was in Paris when the German army invaded in 1940.[4] According to his book The Soundless Sahara after Paris fell he went to work behind the German lines until he came under suspicion of the Gestapo, then escaped across the Pyrenees on foot.[5] He returned to the United States via Portugal.[4] Upon his return he became a US citizen and an advisor to the Arabic desk of the US Office of War Information,[7] and focused on a career in writing and lecturing.[1] Bodley would go into complete isolation in order to write a book, spending about 10 weeks to complete his work.[7] He wrote several of his books in York Harbor, Maine.[24] Bodley frequently gave lectures while travelling the United States,[25] speaking in almost every state and referring to himself as "Colonel" or "Major".[1] Having reached the mandatory age for retirement, he ceased to be a member of the British Army on 3 March 1943.[26]

In 1944 Bodley published Wind in the Sahara.[27] By 1949 the book was in its seventh edition and had been translated into eight different languages.[28] In 1945 he wrote the satire novel The Gay Deserters, which was inspired by his flight from the German army,[8] though it was not well received.[1] Robert Pick from the Saturday Review wrote "it isn't even humorous at all."[29] He wrote an essay entitled I Lived in the Garden of Allah, which was featured in the 1948 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.[3] In 1953 he wrote The Warrior Saint, a biography on Charles de Foucauld. John Cogley from The New York Times said Bodley had "written a clean, poetic and frankly admiring account" of Foucauld's life.[30] In 1955 he wrote the partly-autobiographical[28] self-help book In Search of Serenity. Elsie Robinson from The Index-Journal and Phyllis Battle from the Tipton Tribune gave favourable reviews, with Robinson calling it "a must for every rasped spirit".[31][32] His next and final book, The Soundless Sahara, was published in 1968; according to the book's back cover he spent part of his years living in Massachusetts, and the rest in either England or France.[5] He provided information for the book The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, which was published by Thomas Nelson in 1969.[33] He died on 26 May 1970 in a nursing home[1] in Bramley, Surrey.[34]

Personal life[edit]

Bodley married Ruth Mary Elizabeth Stapleton-Bretherton on 30 April 1917[35] while on furlough.[7] They had one son, Mark Courtenay Bodley, born 22 May 1918. His wife filed for divorce on the grounds that Bodley was adulterous and drank excessively. He did not contest the petition and the divorce was finalised on 8 June 1926. In his 1931 memoir Indiscretions of a Young Man, Bodley said the marriage was an "unfortunate action" which "proved the folly of very young people ignoring the advice of their parents."[1] In 1927 he married Australian Beatrice Claire Lamb, who he met while travelling in North Africa. She filed for divorce around 1939. Bodley's son, who became a lieutenant in the Royal Armoured Corps, was killed in action in Libya in 1942; Wind in the Sahara is dedicated to him. In November 1949 Bodley married American divorcee Harriet Moseley;[1] according to The Soundless Sahara, published in 1968, they were still married.[5] According to a biographical journal article on Bodley by William Snell from Keio University, there is very little information on his last years, but he believed that Bodley's marriage to Moseley ended in divorce no later than 1969.[1]


Bodley was awarded the Military Cross in the 1916 King's Birthday Honours.[36] He was awarded the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the President of France in 1919,[37] and appointed Officer of the Ordre de l'Etoile Noire in 1920,[38] Knight Officer of The Order of the Crown by Ferdinand of Romania in 1920,[39] and the Order of Wen-Hu (4th Class) by the Republic of China in 1921.[40]


Bodley published 18 books during his career:[1]

  • Algeria from Within (1927)
  • Yasmina: A Story of Algeria (1927)
  • Opal Fire (1928)
  • Indiscretions of a Young Man (1931)
  • The Lilac Troll (1932)
  • A Japanese Omelette (1933)
  • Indiscreet travels East (Java, China and Japan) (1934)
  • The Drama of the Pacific (1934)
  • Admiral Togo (1935)
  • Gertrude Bell (1940) with Lorna Hearst
  • Flight into Portugal (1941)
  • Wind in the Sahara (1944)
  • The Gay Deserters (1945)
  • The Messenger (1946)
  • The Quest (1947)
  • The Warrior Saint (1953)
  • In Search of Serenity (1955)
  • The Soundless Sahara (1968)



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Snell, William (2013). "R.V.C. Bodley ("Bodley of Arabia") at Keio University, 1933" (PDF). The Hiyoshi Review of English studies. Keio University (63): 17–49. Retrieved 3 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Englishman In The Garden Of Allah". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 August 1947. Retrieved 18 July 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Carnegie 1981, p. 280.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Flanner, Janet; Maloney, Russell; Kinkead, Eugene (27 February 1943). "Bodley of Arabia". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2 February 2015.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b c d e Bodley 1968.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28532. pp. 6882–6882. 19 September 1911. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McCollough, Trudy (23 July 1944). "Writer Bodley Loves His Quietude". Abilene Reporter-News. p. 50. 
  8. ^ a b c Bodley 1945.
  9. ^ Dutton 2001, p. 164.
  10. ^ a b Carnegie 1981, p. 281.
  11. ^ McDonald 2007, p. 33.
  12. ^ Pond, Alonzo (March 1928). "Algeria from Within. by R. V. C. Bodley". American Journal of Sociology. 33 (5): 844–845. doi:10.1086/214565. 
  13. ^ "Algeria from within – R.C. Bodley". The Geographical Journal. The Royal Geographical Society. 70 (4): 398–399. October 1927. doi:10.2307/1782074. 
  14. ^ Speake 2003, p. 886.
  15. ^ Cranston 1949, p. 171.
  16. ^ Peattie 1992, p. 245.
  17. ^ a b Peattie 1992, p. 246.
  18. ^ Peattie 1992, pp. 333–334.
  19. ^ a b "News and Comment of Stage and Screen". Fitchburg Sentinel. 26 September 1936. p. 10. 
  20. ^ Graham, Shiela (26 January 1937). "Nothing to Harlow, Taylor Romancing". Lincoln Evening Journal.  (subscription required)
  21. ^ Flom 1997, p. 118.
  22. ^ Robinson 1992, pp. 482–483.
  23. ^ Glancy 1999, p. 220.
  24. ^ Nickerson, Row. W (15 February 1948). "World Traveler, Author To Speak Tonight At Bowdoin College". Portland Sunday Telegram. Portland, Maine. p. 52. 
  25. ^ "News of the Yorks". Portland Sunday Telegram. Portland, Maine. 5 December 1948. p. 38. 
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35926. p. 1065. 2 March 1943. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  27. ^ Bailey 1963, p. 326.
  28. ^ a b "Nomad Contracts to Publish Book About Serenity". Kingsport Times-News. 24 April 1949. p. 27. 
  29. ^ Pick, Robert (24 November 1945). "'Tempest Tost' Guests of U.S.A.: The Gay Deserters by R. V. C. Bodley". Saturday Review. p. 32. 
  30. ^ Cogley, John (10 May 1953). "The Saint of the Sahara". The New York Times.  (subscription required)
  31. ^ Robinson, Elsie (21 June 1955). "Listen, World!". The Index-Journal. Greenwood, South Carolina. p. 2. 
  32. ^ Battalle, Phyllis (15 April 1955). "Assignment America". Tipton Tribune. Tipton, Indiana. p. 2. 
  33. ^ Knightley 1969, p. vii.
  34. ^ The London Gazette: no. 45238. p. 13034. 26 November 1970. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  35. ^ "Marriages". The Tablet. 5 May 1917. p. 24. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  36. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29608. pp. 5570–5571. 2 June 1916. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  37. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31222. pp. 3279–3280. 7 March 1919. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  38. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31812. p. 2868. 5 March 1920. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  39. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31812. p. 2874. 5 March 1920. Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  40. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32268. p. 2388. 22 March 1921. Retrieved 13 July 2010.