Talk for Literary Festivals

Utterly Immoral, Robert Keable and his scandalous novel

Thank you so much for coming to speak - our members loved your talk! 

Sherborne Literary Society Events Director

In this talk Simon Keable-Elliott discusses his book Utterly Immoral, Robert Keable and his scandalous novel. He looks at the extraordinary life of Robert Keable and the story of his 1920’s novel Simon Called Peter. The wartime novel was savaged by critics, called ‘utterly immoral’ by F Scott Fitzgerald who mocked it in The Great Gatsby, and faced many attempts to ban it; but became an international bestseller and spawned a Broadway play and a Hollywood movie.

Robert Keable’s life was truly extraordinary. As a child he was an evangelical preacher. He won a scholarship to Cambridge, became a priest, worked in Zanzibar and Basutoland as a missionary and gained a reputation as a writer of devotional books. He recruited black labourers to help with the war effort and in 1917 travelled to France as chaplain to the SANLC. Witnessing the appalling racism the men faced, ‘changed him’, as well as an affair with a 19-year-old lorry driver called Jolie. He returned to Basutoland and wrote Simon Called Peter. He left the church and after a year as a teacher back in England he fled the country to go and live in Paul Gauguin’s house in Tahiti. He continued to write and later ‘married’ a Tahitian princess.

Simon Keable-Elliott is Robert and Jolie Keable’s grandson. He has been researching Robert Keable’s life and work for the last thirty years. He has been in touch with many academics about different aspects of Robert Keable’s life and has written the first full biography of a significant 1920’s novelist. In July 2021 Simon took early retirement following 25 years as a secondary school politics teacher, and he now works as a full-time writer and lecturer. His first book, Utterly Immoral, Robert Keable and his scandalous novel was published in November 2022.

Simon has spoken at events in Ilminster, Sherborne and Penzance. To see a list of talks and lectures Simon is due to give please visit his events page:

If you require any further information, please do email Simon on [email protected] or use the contact page to send a message.