Archive for the ‘Juliet Nicolson’ Category

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.



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