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As I’ve said before, one of the great pleasures of reading P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe has been learning Plum’s thoughts on books and other authors.  I’ve shared how he loved Denis Mackail’s Greenery Street and came to a belated but deep enjoyment of the works of Anthony Trollope.

But now we reach the critical stuff: his opinion of my adored Angela Thirkell.  In November 1945, after staying away from her works for years out of a sense of loyalty to his friend Denis Mackail (Thirkell’s younger brother), Wodehouse finally discovered her charms – and even dared to write to Denis in praise of them:

Talking of books, as we so often do when we get together, ought I to be ashamed to confessing to you a furtive fondness for Angela Thirkell?  You told me once that she bullied you when you were a child, and for years I refused austerely to read her.  But recently Wild Strawberries and Pomfret Towers have weakened me.  I do think she’s good, though if we are roasting her I will add that August Folly was rotten and I couldn’t get through it.

He’s clearly wrong about August Folly (who doesn’t love the the awfulness of Richard Tebben?  And the excessive number of Jane Austen allusions?  And a village that puts on Hippolytus as casual recreation?) but I can forgive him that for otherwise seeing the light.

When I shared one of the letters from P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters edited by Sophie Ratcliffe a couple of weeks ago (when Wodehouse wrote to Denis Mackail to praise the newly published Greenery Street), I mentioned the book was full of Wodehouse’s comments on authors who were his contemporaries.  What I’d forgotten until I found myself flipping through the book again this weekend was that Wodehouse’s reading was wider than that!

In June 1945 Wodehouse was living in Paris when he discovered the genius of that most British of authors, Anthony Trollope.  Trollope had been recommended to him by his old school friend, Bill Townend, and it was to Bill that Wodehouse wrote to share his excitement:

[…] In one of your letters you asked me if I had ever read anything by Trollope.  At that time I hadn’t, but the other day, reading in Edward Marsh’s A Number of People that Barrie had been fascinated by a book of his called Is He Popenjoy? I took it out of the American Library.  I found it almost intolerably slow at first, and then suddenly it gripped me, and now I am devouring it.  It is rather like listening to somebody who is long-winded telling you a story about real people.  The characters live in the most extraordinary way and you feel that the whole thing is true. […] Anyways, I think Trollope is damned good and I mean to read as much of him as I can get hold of.

I am currently reading A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson, a memoir/biography of seven generations of women in her family.  It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to for some time, having only heard good things about it (it was shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize in 2016) and I can confirm it is excellent.

The bulk of the focus is on the famous side of the family, the Sackville-Wests.  Juliet Nicolson’s paternal grandmother was Vita Sackville-West, the author and gardener, and so her grandfather was Harold Nicolson, one of my very favourite diarists and letter writers.  A few years ago I read The Harold Nicolson Diaries (edited by his son – and Juliet’s father – Nigel Nicolson) and was especially charmed by a letter he wrote to the newborn Juliet.  One of the pleasures of A House Full of Daughters has been getting to see that relationship through Juliet’s eyes as she remembers him as “a marvellous grandfather, a blueprint for grandfatherhood.”

One of the points Juliet makes is that in her family it was often the father who was the more affectionate, involved parent.  Harold was certainly one such father (as his affectionate letters to his children show) and was a delightful playmate for his grandchildren when they arrived:

‘Can I join you in the paddling pool?’ he would ask as he stepped, without waiting for an answer, straight into the water, wearing his shoes and socks.  ‘May I offer you a light?’ he would suggest, footman-solicitous, as we placed a sugar cigarette on our lips while he flicked a match to the red-painted end.

He also delighted in games that held just the right amount of danger for his energetic grandchildren (Juliet and younger brother Adam):

There were dares known as courage tests. ‘I dare you to jump off the top of the tower steps with your eyes shut.’  Or, ‘I dare you to climb to the top of the wall on the lower courtyard.’  The long drop from the top of the tower steps to the lawn below required our small legs to be courageous, but the Bagatelle urns that Victoria had given Vita from her Wallace Collection legacy, and now planted with sweet-smelling viburnum, acted as hand steadiers.  The wall was a great challenge.  A fragile, crumbly Elizabethan affair, it was sturdy enough to support a fully bloomed Madame Alfred Carrière rose but hardly robust enough for the combined weight of the two boisterous grandchildren.  My mother would appear and shout, ‘Oh, Harold, I have asked you not to endanger the lives of my children.’  ‘What about my wall?’ he would replay as he gestured for us to climb higher, his moustache rising up his face and expanding with his smile.

It is a joy to read about such affection.