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Charmed Lives & Literary Salons, Memoirs & Biographies Part 2 - Livres du Mois

In August's Livres du Mois we explore more of the memoirs and biographies that I find myself returning to time and time again. These books include more of the unusual men from history that I always find myself drawn to and a new book which I discovered at Chatsworth house which "unveils a missing link in English literary and cultural history." We begin once again with Cecil Beaton, and the story of his beloved Ashcombe House.



The Story of a Fifteen Year Lease

Cecil Beaton

"Ashcombe is the name of the country house in the Wiltshire Downs whose lease Cecil Beaton held for fifteen years from 1930. In this book Mr. Beaton has wonderfully succeeded in recreating the atmosphere of those days: the period when the house and garden were being made over from their former unkempt and derelict state into the idyllic home which they later became; the day-to-day life of the house and of the servants and friends who did so much to create the atmosphere; the week-ends, when there would be visits from Rex Whistler, Edith Olivier, Augustus John, Tilly Losch, Lord David Cecil, and so many others; and the parties and fetes-champetres, occasions which are likely never to be forgotten either by the guests or their host."


The Crichel Boys

Scenes From England's Last Literary Salon

Simon Fenwick

"In 1945, Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys - writers for the New Statesman and a National Trust administrator - purchased Long Crichel House, an old rectory with no electricity and an inadequate water supply. In this improbable place, the last English literary salon began.

Quieter and less formal than the famed London literary salons, Long Crichel became an idiosyncratic experiment in communal living. Sackville-West, Shawe-Taylor and Knollys - later joined by the literary critic Raymond Mortimer - became members of one another's surrogate families and their companionship became a stimulus for writing, for them and their guests. Long Crichel's visitors' book reveals a Who's Who of the arts in post-war Britain - Nancy Mitford, Benjamin Britten, Laurie Lee, Cyril Connolly, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson - who were attracted by the good food, generous quantities of drink and excellent conversation. For Frances Partridge and James Lees-Milne, two of the twentieth century's finest diarists, Long Crichel became a second home and their lives became bound up with the house.

Yet there was to be more to the story of the house than what critics variously referred to as a group of 'hyphenated gentlemen-aesthetes' and a 'prose factory'. In later years the house and its inhabitants were to weather the aftershocks of the Crichel Down Affair, the Wolfenden Report and the AIDS crisis. The story of Long Crichel is also part of the development of the National Trust and other conservation movements.

Through the lens of Long Crichel, archivist and writer Simon Fenwick tells a wider story of the great upheaval that took place in the second half of the twentieth century. Intimate and revealing, he brings to life Long Crichel's golden, gossipy years and, in doing so, unveils a missing link in English literary and cultural history."


Charmed Life

The Phenomenal World of

Philip Sasson

Damian Collins

"The story of a fascinating man who connected the great politicians, artists and thinkers at the height of British global power and influence.

A famed aesthete, politician and patron of the arts, Philip Sassoon lived in a world of English elegance and oriental flair. Gathering a social set that would provide inspiration for Brideshead Revisited, Sassoon gave parties at which Winston Churchill argued with George Bernard Shaw, while Noël Coward and Lawrence of Arabia mingled with flamingos and Rex Whistler painted murals as the party carried on around them.

Not merely a wealthy socialite, he worked at the right hand of Douglas Haig during the First World War and then for Prime Minister Lloyd George for the settlement of the peace. He was close to King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, and Minister for the Air Force in the 1930s. And yet as the heir of wealthy Jewish traders from the souks of Baghdad, Philip craved acceptance from the English establishment. In Charmed Life, Damian Collins explores an extraordinary connected life at the heart of society during the height of British global power and influence."


Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man


Siegfried Sassoon

"The first volume in Siegfried Sassoon's beloved trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. A highly decorated English soldier and an acclaimed poet and novelist, Siegfried Sassoon won fame for his trilogy of fictionalised autobiographies that wonderfully capture the vanishing idylls of Edwardian England and the brutal realities of war.

In this first novel of the semiautobiographical George Sherston trilogy, Sassoon wonderfully captures the vanishing idylls of the Edwardian English countryside. Never out of print since its original publication in 1928, when it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Sassoon's reminiscences about childhood and the beginning of World War I are channeled through young George Sherston, whose life of local cricket tournaments and fox-hunts falls apart as war approaches and he joins up to fight. Sassoon's first novel, though rife with comic characters and a jaunty sense of storytelling, presents his own loss of innocence and the destruction of the country he knew and loved."


Queer Saint

The Cultured Life of Peter Watson

A. Clark and J. Dronfield

"When Peter Watson was murdered in his bath by a jealous boyfriend in 1956, the art world lost one of its wealthiest, most influential patrons. This compellingly attractive man, adored by Cecil Beaton; a man who was called a legend by contemporaries, who was the subject of two scandalous novels, and who helped launch the careers of Francis Bacon, John Craxton and Lucian Freud, fell victim to a fortune-hungry lover.

Elegant and hungrily sexual, Peter Watson had a taste for edgy, disreputable boyfriends. He was the unrequited love of Cecil Beaton's life - his 'queer saint' - but Peter preferred the risk of edgier, less sophisticated lovers, including the beautiful, volatile, drug-addicted prostitute Denham Fouts. Peter's thirst for adventure took him through the cabaret culture of 1930s Berlin, the demi-monde and aristocratic salons of pre-war Paris, English high society, and the glitz of Hollywood's golden age. Gore Vidal described him as 'a charming man, tall, thin, perverse. One of those intricate English queer types who usually end up as field marshals, but because he was so rich he never had to do anything.' Truman Capote called him 'not just another rich queen, but - in a stooped, intellectual, bitter-lipped style - one of the most personable men in England'.

More than just a gay playboy, Peter Watson was a renowned connoisseur, and fuelled the engine of mid-20th century art with his enormous wealth. Without his patronage, Bacon and Freud might have failed before they'd got started. He also founded the influential British arts journal Horizon with Cyril Connolly and Stephen Spender, and was one of the core founders of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and organised most of its early exhibitions. From the mystery of his obscure family origins to the enigma surrounding his premature death, this book follows Peter Watson through an odyssey of the middle 20th century."


Oliver Messel

A Biography

Charles Castle

Oliver Messel was an English artist and one of the foremost stage designers of the 20th century. With a foreword by actor and theatre directors Sir John Gielgud, Castle's biography explores the life and work of Messel. The book examines Messel's set and costume designs for theatre, ballet, opera and film, generously illustrating his work with archival photographs.

The book also looks at his personal life and his interior decoration in Barbados and Mustique. The text is based extensively on autobiographical notes Messel left at the time of his death and is bolstered by contributions from friends, family and colleagues.


I hope you have found something (or someone) that piques your interest amongst these books. If not, you may find a tale more to your tastes in the Compendiums Library. Happy hunting.


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