top of page
  • Writer's pictureLilium

The Curious Pleasures of Wandering years, Diaries & Biographies - Livres du Mois

In April's Livres du Mois we explore the diaries, biographies and autobiographies that I find myself returning to time and time again. Whether it's to reread a point in their lives for my writing or to relive a particular story, these are the books that I find myself reaching for, especially in a time when I'm looking for guidance from lives well lived. We begin with a wander with Cecil Beaton during his early years of creativity in the sparkling 1920s.


Cecil Beaton's Diaries


The Wandering Years

The Wandering Years is the first volume of Cecil Beaton’s Diaries, a personal memoir of the twentieth century, covering famous artists and photographers, political figures, socialites, the rich & famous and movie stars.

For almost as long as he could write, Cecil Beaton kept his diaries. They accumulated year after year, and from a formidable pile of notebooks he extracted enough to fill six volumes.

This first volume covers seventeen years from 1922 to 1939 and is a fascinating and disarming book. He describes his friendships with famous men and women, artists, writers, actors, film stars and celebrated socialites. Few franker autobiographical documents have seen the light of day.


The Wandering Years is certainly Mr Beaton’s best book … The diaries belong to the classical case-histories of youthful struggles, of the instinct which guides the misfit to salvation’ – Sunday Times

‘It is an enormously illuminating book, about a multi-talented man with an apparently limitless reserve of energy’ – Tatler

‘Moment after moment in The Wandering Years springs to life with remarkable colours and clarity and it is continually apparent that Mr Beaton’s talent for what he modestly calls his “snap-shots” extends equally well to his pen as to his camera’ – Time and Tide

‘An elegant and witty recreator of the period scene’ – Vogue

‘He has a warm appreciation of beauty, a sense of elegance and display, a gentle wit, a thorough understanding of his craft’ – Observer


Serious Pleasures

The Life of Stephen Tennant

Phillip Hoare

"A seductive biography of the last professional exquisite. Britain's most legendary and flamboyant aristocratic aesthete, Stephen Tennant was one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th century. His home, Wilsford Manor, where he spent his later years in 'decorative reclusion', achieved nationwide fame when its contents were auctioned in 1987, a few months after Tennant's death at the age of eighty. The newspapers of the time were full of tales of his eccentricity and wasted life, lying half asleep among his bibelots, jewels and polar bear skins.

But there was a great deal more to the brightest of the Bright Young Things than gold-dust in his hair and make-up. Philip Hoare charts the course of Tennant's life from cosseted childhood and artistic precocity into the full swing of the 1920s, when his friendship with Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton provided vital stimulus for their careers. After the charity pageants, parties and frivolity, Tennant became romantically involved with Siegfried Sassoon, an affair that was to prove cataclysmic for them both.

The author has had access to the extensive collection of Stephen Tennant's papers and correspondence, and has been able to draw upon Beaton's private diaries and other previously unpublished material which sheds new light on the love-affair with Sassoon. He has conducted interviews with Tennant's surviving friends and had a memorable meeting with the subject himself."


Siegfried Sassoon

A Biography

Max Egremont

The life of Siegfried Sassoon has been recorded and interpreted in literature and film for over half a century. He is one of the great figures of the First World War, and Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer are still widely read, as are his poems, which did much to shape our present ideas about the Great War. But Sassoon was more than the embodiment of a romantic ideal; he was in many senses the perfect product of a vanished age. And many questions about his character, unique experience and motivations have remained unanswered until now.

Siegfried Sassoon’s life has been recorded and interpreted in literature and film for over half a century. But this poet, First World War hero, friend to Robert Graves and mentor to Wilfred Owen, was more than the embodiment of a romantic ideal.

Passionately involved with the aristocratic aesthete Stephen Tennant, married abruptly to the beautiful Hester Gatty, estranged, isolated, and a late Catholic convert, his private story has never before been told in such depth. Egremont discovers a man born in a vanished age, unhappy with his homosexuality and the modernist revolution that appeared to threaten the survival of his work, and engaged in an enduring personal battle between idealism and the world in which he moved.


The Old Century

and seven more years

Siegfried Sassoon

The distinguished poet depicts his childhood in a country house in Kent and his experiences at Cambridge University.

"One of those rare, unobtrusively original books, that are destined to endure. The warm simplicity of the earlier chapters is reminiscent of Tolstoy's memories of his childhood. Than which I know no higher praise." - Roger Pippett, Daily Herald.

"In this reflective and captivating book the author of the Sherston memoirs tells the true story - a substantially different story from that of his famous fox-hunting man - of his first twenty-one years. So vivid and authentic are the scenes, people and experiences recalled by Mr. Sassoon that the reader has at times to pull himself up sharply in order to realise that the world described by the author is irrecoverably lost. All the people are more interesting than the characters in most novels." - Douglas West, Daily Mail.

"If that does not mean good writing then my notion of what is meant by good prose is out of date. The bloom on the book is as if a hand had never been on it." H.M. Tomlinson, Observer.


The Laughter and the Urn

The Life of Rex Whistler

Laurence Whistler

"Rex Whistler was one of the most gifted figures of the inter-war years. He was an artist in whose work the romantic and the humours met in a unique way. But, even though he has always had an enthusiastic public, in his life he was almost disregarded by the critics as one who had no part in 'modern' art. He was still developing his own distinctive style when his career was tragically cut short: Rex, peace-loving and unusually sensitive, steeled himself to fight when he could easily have evaded it - he joined the Welsh Guards as a subaltern - and in 1944, when he was thirty-nine, he was killed leading his troop of tanks into action in Normandy.

Whistler was remarkable for the diversity of his achievement: few other artist have excelled in five such different modes as murals, book illustration, design for theatre, easel painting and portraiture, not to mention more ephemeral work that is still sought after. Best-known today are probably his mural as Plas Newydd in Anglesey and his illustrations for Gulliver's Travels and Hans Anderson's Fairy Tales. His work immediately betokens a wonderfully skilled hand and a rich imagination; its special qualities, inspired by his knowledge of architecture and his admiration for the Baroque and the Rococo, are unmistakable.

In this beautifully written and carefully researched book Laurence Whistler, the writer and glass engraver, recalls his elder brother with love but with detachment, intimately and often with humour. As a man Rex had charm and was outstandingly generous - liked by almost everyone and loved by many. Yet he remained an enigmatic figure, apparently successful and never deeply happy. Laurence Whistler is in a matchless position to record his life, having shared so many experiences with him. He draws on unpublished material, like the journal of Edith Oliver and the diary of Siegfried Sassoon at that period. He leaves us with a poignant account of his brother's life, in the context of what he calls 'Between Time', that age of squandered chances that began and ended in world wars."


A Curious Friendship:

The Story of a Bluestocking and

a Bright Young Thing

Anna Thomasson

The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith's world opened up and she became a writer.

Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton - for whom she was 'all the muses'.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.


I hope you have found something (or someone) that has piqued your interest but if not, you may find a book more to your tastes in The Library. These books have be an invaluable resource to me and I hope one day to write a biography that will have the same impact on someone else's life as these have to mine.


bottom of page