Two books by what one might term poshos today, really. But what poshos – lovely Harold Nicolson and lovely Deborah Devonshire. So not the braying old-Etonians who are trying to destroy our society, but two people who cared about the warp and weft of (especially) countryside society and community and thought carefully about books, gardens and other people. Oh, and they were both bought (an old book and a new, in Oxfam and The Works) on a lovely trip to Macclesfield with friends back in March 2015. Note how I’m less than a year out of date now, too!
Harold Nicolson – “Diaries and Letters 1930-39”
(Bought 28 March 2015, Macclesfield Oxfam)
As a long-term fan of the entire Nicolson family, this was a wonderful find (I found volumes 1 and 3 and have recently supplanted them with volume 2) and excellent, entertaining reading. It’s beautifully edited by his son, Nigel, to the extent of having the running headers change on each page to describe what’s going on on that very page – not something you find now, I think. There’s a very good biographical summary, skilled interpolations to explain the background or activities described, and great footnotes explaining who people are, too.
Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West’s love and mutual respect shine through the book, which also includes some of her letters, for context: their only real falling-out is when she refuses to play the candidate’s wife when he’s standing in the General Election. It’s lovely to see their purchase of the Shiant Isles, about which their grandson Adam has written so beautifully (see my review of his “Sea Room“) as well as Harold and Nigel’s mutual love of the classics, which has also followed down the generations (I haven’t read Adam Nicolson’s book on Homer yet, but I will do). That’s what’s lovely when you’ve read biographies, novels, letters, diaries, etc., etc., surrounding a family and its generations, seeing patterns and places – dear Sissinghurst, of course, too, bought in this book and starting to develop – and people all moving along through the century.
Harold is witty and entertaining but serious and perceptive where he needs to be; we have an insider’s view of the Abdication Crisis and he’s fascinated by the House of Commons when he eventually gets there. Nigel is not hagiographical, being clear, for example, about Harold’s view that “true civilisation existed nowhere outside the inner circles of certain West European capital cities,” but it wouldn’t do to agree with everything that people you like think and say, and there is very much to like here. I’m already reading volume 2!
This book would suit: Anyone interested in 20th century history and politics, or houses and gardens, or the Bloomsburys and Nicolsons.
This book fills in a year in my Century of Re-Reading (although the 60s are quite sparse at the moment, so I’m not sure which volume will be the final one to be included!).
Deborah Devonshire – “All in One Basket”
(28 March 2015 – The Works, Macclesfield)
This jolly book by the youngest Mitford Sister draws together in one volume “Counting my Chickens” and “Home to Roost” with some additional essays and the original introductions by guest writers (including Alan Bennett). It’s a lovely collection of diary entries, short pieces, longer pieces (for example on the Kennedys), book reviews and fragments of memoir. Many of the pieces were written in her later years: she was obviously a doughty female who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and this shines through in her no-nonsense but often shriekingly funny prose.
Her love of place is evident, and her descriptions of Derbyshire lovely. Some of her pieces on modern language and ways are a little self-conscious, and I don’t agree with some of her more conservative views, but I loved the pieces on the experience of living in a stately home that’s run as a business, and the pieces about family (how did I not realise she was Emma Tennant’s mother?). All in all, it was a lovely, fresh and readable collection.
I was reading these two books at the same time, so it was lovely to come across a couple of mentions of Vita Sackville-West, her gardens and her gardening writing – I love it when that happens.
This book would suit: People looking for an easy, countryside-based read; fans of the Mitford Sisters.
So now it’s on to some heavy reviewing – I have the fascinating looking “The Prose Factory” on the go to review for Shiny New Books, and the republisher, Open Road Media, has kindly offered me two Margery Sharp novels to review through Netgalley (they’ve asked me to release those reviews near to the publication date, so watch out next month). I’ve had a look at the next Dorothy Richardson and it’s a biggie, so I’m hoping I will get some good solid reading time in during the next week or so! I am marshalling at a cross-country running event tomorrow – maybe there will be big gaps between competitors … (only joking).