published 1930, set at Christmas 1906
[Teresa and her husband John, a doctor, are visiting Sebastian, the young Duke of Chevron, at his country house for Christmas]
Snow had ceased to fall; it was freezing hard; the lying snow was in admirable condition. Sebastian, John and Teresa went out in hearty spirits. Teresa, moreover, was looking deliciously pretty, dressed in a tight bolero of stamped velvet, a sealskin cap on her head, and her hands buried in a little sealskin muff. She tripped gaily between them, chattering, and turning her happy face from one to the other. This was better than London, she said…
[Later that day, Sebastian wants to be alone with Teresa]
“Mrs Spedding, do come and talk to me. You don’t play Bridge, neither do I – at least, not when I can do anything better. Let’s go and wqander through the house. We’ll take a candle. Look – they’re all settled down. No one will notice. Let’s creep away. Shall you be cold?” Impetuous, he caught up a cloak thrown down on the back of a sofa.
“But that is your mother’s cloak.”
“Never mind.” He put it round her shoulders. It was of gold tissue lined with sable.
observations: Should be read in conjunction with earlier entries on this book.
This is not, on the whole, a surprising book, but respect to Sackville-West for the character of Teresa – who is shown as silly and snobbish and a bit of a social climber, but who turns out to have some strength of character and more morals than almost anyone else in the book.
Sebastian has everything the world can offer, but is young, bored and restless. He invites the very middle-class John and Teresa – awkward for everyone concerned – for the celebration, and is hoping for some entertainment to ease his discontentment.
The second scene above will end with the cloak lying on the floor in a ‘pool of moonlight… its lining as dark as the shadows within the great bed… as empty and as crumpled as everything that [Sebastian] had ever desired.’ VS-W is never averse to some heavy-handed symbolism, which she then spells out in case you missed it.
The house, Chevron, is very much the author’s childhood home of Knole, and the Christmas house-party is very well done: this and a summer party are assumed to be an exact and authentic description of how it would have been in her youth, down to quite small details.
For example, in between the two extracts above, Teresa helps out with the Christmas party for the tenants’ children, and the distribution of presents to them. There is a very similar scene in Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love, one that featured in a previous special Christmas blog entry.
The top picture is an autumnal ensemble from the fashion house of Cheruit in 1912.
The woman in the black and gold cloak is a picture by Francis Cadell.