Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West: Part 3

published 1930    set in 1905







He was late for luncheon, and his mother looked at him disapprovingly as he slipped into his place at one of the little tables. His mother was annoyed, but she idolised her son, and could not deny that he was very good-looking. His good looks were of the kind that surprised her afresh every time he came into the room. He was so sleek, so dark, and so olive-skinned. So personable. Potini, that sly, agreeable, sensuous Italian, hit the nail on the head when he murmured to her that Sebastian enjoyed all the charm of patrician adolescence. Patrician adolescence! Yes, thought his mother, who could never have found the words for herself; yes, that’s Sebastian. He could be half an hour late for luncheon, and one would still forgive him.



observations:
It was Sebastian’s suggestion that they should go up on to the roof.

What book would you say that was from? Brideshead Revisited, right, where Chas and Seb go up on the roof to have a picnic and commit some of the seven deadly sins? * No, it’s from this one. Sebastian has just come down from the roof, and that is why he is late for lunch.

The Edwardians (see earlier entries here and here) was a big bestseller in its day, it was Downton Abbey in book form, showing how the nobs live from the inside, with suitable stuff about the servants too, and some solemn symbolism like the estate carpenter’s son wanting to go and become a garage mechanic rather than follow his father into his trade. Sackville-West had lived that life, and Chevron in the book is apparently very recognizably her childhood home of Knole. There are some interesting historical details: no telegrams on a Sunday, and there is a child wearing ‘gloves that had thumbs but only a bag for the fingers.’ No word for mittens then?

The two lordly children Sebastian and Viola – teenagers to begin with, they age by five years during the book – have the names of the twins in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, though these are not twins, and Viola takes a minor role. (A year later Vita’s lover Violet Trefusis wrote a book called Echo, on the blog here, about a twin brother and sister, also young and landed, and the two books have, yes, echoes, though they are very different from each other.)

As a book this really isn’t much cop – weirdly structured, strangely plotted, characters appearing and disappearing unsatisfactorily. Never a sense of ‘show not tell’. Sebastian is inexplicable, his character and actions make no sense and have no consistency.
Viola makes less sense and scarcely appears. It would surely not have been published - by Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, what’s more, for which it was a financial lifeline - if it had been written by anyone else. (Virginia and Vita were lovers, and Vita was the inspiration for Orlando.) But people were fascinated by the details of upperclass life, and Vita knew her stuff. So like posh girls from then till now, she got a free ride and a job she didn’t deserve. 

* [In Brideshead, Sebastian Flyte, avoiding his family, says ‘“We shall have to hide”… so we lay on the roof under the balustrade.’]

The picture is by Alice Pike Barney, is in the Smithsonian, and comes from The Athenaeum website.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for reading - you saved me the bother!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed. Bet you've never read a book written by a Vita....

      Delete
    2. Probably been too overwhelmed by choice and couldn't decide

      Delete
  2. Moira - Interesting how a less-than-stellar book like this still got published because of its author... And even though it may hardly be called a 'great book,' I do like that look at life during that era. Sometimes those kinds of novels are like windows in time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm torn - I don't think it justifies its reputation, and I'm sure it only was published because of who she was. And yet, I'm really glad I've read it - as you say, the details of life back then were interesting...

      Delete
  3. I am torn. I like the idea of the upper class life and the servants, etc., but then it doesn't seem like it is worth it. But it is not too long.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know whether I should recommend it or not. It is quite an easy read...

      Delete
  4. One day, if there is any justice, this will be reprinted with your comment, "As a book this really isn’t much cop" emblazoned on the cover - a little honesty goes a long way and I would pay serious money to see that! Thanks Moira :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Finally I will be seen as the true judge that I am! If Vita was still around, she wouldn't object to my opinion, but to my lower-class way of putting it.... Thanks, Sergio, you made me laugh...

      Delete
  5. *tiny quiet voice* I liked this book. I thought it captured something rapidly being lost. And I loved that coronation scene -- so glamorous and wearisome all at once. I may not have noticed how jumpy the narrative is, probably thinking to myself - no doubt incorrectly owing to lack of other comparisons at the time - "Ah, that's her style..." ;-) Sebastian was loathsome though. But understandably so?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well... I'll let you off Vicki. It certainly had its moments, I've read worse. I think I just get annoyed at the whole Vita industry. But that doesn't stop me doing endless posts on the book and its clothes (and her in general) - the clothes are too good to resist.

      Delete