Sunday 30 December 2018

The Perfect Summer

Finished December 20
The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson

This book looks at one summer, often dubbed in retrospect The Perfect Summer, but actually far from perfect, with German aggression towards France, labour unrest in Britain, a wicked heatwave doing damage to crops, and other issues.
The book covers the months from May to September, following a number of people's experiences through the use of news, letters, and diaries. We see the end of the year-long official mourning of the death of King Edward VII, and the coronation of King George and Queen Mary, a very different set of royals with different social lives and expectations. We see the social life of the upper class, such as Mrs. Hwfa Williams, wife of the manager of Sandown racecourse; Ladu Ripon, who introduced Russian ballet dancers such as Nijinsky, and the producer Diaghilev, to England; Lady Cunard being caught in flagrante with a man other than her husband; and Lady Diana Manners, making her debut at Court. winning prize money at costume balls that she put towards books.
We see the fight for women's rights by those such as Mrs. Pankhurst.
Home Secretary, the young Winston Churchill found himself busy with labour issues and Irish moves toward independence, but still able to launch a unique social club with his friend F.E. Smith, as he awaited the birth of his second child.
We see young people such as Edith Sitwell wanting a life different from that of their parents.
Current fashion such as the French sheer evening gowns, and the introduction of the brassiere also played their part. Weekends in the country, where it was common to ring a bell before the usual hour of rising so everyone could return to their own rooms.
Books such as Zuleika Dobson introduced a new idea of romance. Leonard Woolf met Virginia Stephen in the literary circles including Rupert Brooke, Vanessa Bell, and Byron. Vita Sackville-West drove her elegant car at speed down the high street. Rolls-Royce launched their new hood mascot, The Spirit of Ecstasy. Cornflakes and teabags were available to make breakfasts more streamlined. The post office offered special headphones that provided live audio from many West End theatres. T.W. Burgess was successful in his sixteenth attempt to swim the English Channel, this time naked but for his hat and motor googles. Roger Fry mounted an exhibition that included Paul Gaugin, Paul Cezanne, and Vincent van Gogh that had old ladies fainting in shock.
I enjoyed the details here, looking into the lives of a variety of characters, from a variety of walks of life.

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