Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West

I'm terribly, terribly behind with book reviews -- I actually read this book over the summer, and finally got around to finishing this, though I have little chance of completing this years TBR Pile Challenge. But anyway:  

The Edwardians begins with this author's note: 

 No character in this book is wholly fictitious.

Written in 1930, this is a book about the end of an era.  It begins in 1905 at a house party at Chevron, a massive estate owned by a fictional young Duke named, Sebastian, who is 19.  It ends six years later, on Coronation Day, June 22, 1911, after the death of Edward VII.  

Sebastian's mother, Lucy, has invited a variety of guests, including a famous explorer, Leonard Anquetil.  He observes the society matrons and other upper-crusties from an anthropological viewpoint.   Late at night, he and Sebastain scale the roof of the great house and Anquetil predicts what Sebastian's future will hold.  It's more than a page, but here's a small chunk of it:

My dear boy, your life was mapped out for you from the moment you were born.  You went to a preparatory school; you went to Eton; you are now at Oxford; you will go into the Guards, you will have various love-affairs, mostly with fashionable married women; you will frequent wealthy and fashionable houses; you will attend Court functions; you will wear a white-and-scarlet uniform -- and look very handsome in it too -- you will be flattered and persecuted by every mother in London . . . . 

Naturally, Anquetil is mostly correct.  There's a long digression into one of Sebastian's affairs, though interestingly told from the point of view of the lady in question.  Sebastian then gets involved with a very unexpected young lady.  Will Sebastian fulfill the destiny predicted by his friend Anquetil? 

Though I found some parts a bit slow, I enjoyed The Edwardians.  However, as I read it, I couldn't help thinking shortly, Europe would explode into the Great War and that Sebastian, then aged about 29, would surely go off to fight in the war.  Based on my recent reading of Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson, I know that there's a very high chance that a young many of Sebastian's era and social standing would die in battle, or be wounded or shell-shocked, thus ending the male line or rerouting it significantly (as was feared in Downton Abbey).  Of course, after the War many estates fell apart due to lack of funds, servants, and heirs, but that's a different story.  


  1. I really enjoyed this as well. Am I right in thinking Virginia Woolf wrote The Years as a sort of response to it? I did a quick Google and it didn't come up with anything so I may be wrong!

    I won't be completing TBR either - I've read 11, but I think I've only reviewed 9 or 10. I should try and read one more so I've at least *read* 12! Not terribly inspired, though! :)

    1. I know Vita Sackville-West and VW were contemporaries, but I don't know much about Woolf's writing -- I've only read Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One's Own. I think The Years is on a much bigger scope -- I do want to read it someday.

  2. I've tried to read this one and have never gotten beyond the roof scene. I must try again someday.

  3. It was a leisurely read, definitely. Not what I expected at all.

  4. I think I would like this, but would probably want to read it over a long period of time. England in the pre-WWI era is interesting, knowing what catastrophe is coming.