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Vita Longa

Mary-Kay Wilmers

1 December 1983
Vita: The Life of V. Sackville-West 
by Victoria Glendinning.
Weidenfeld, 430 pp., £12.50, September 1983, 0 297 78306 8
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... my ideal, my inspiration, my perfection.’ And in most cases Vita’s feelings, for a while at least, ran equally high. There can’t be many people who were so much involved in bliss. Vita’s son, NigelNicolson, attempting to give some account of what went on between his mother and Violet Trefusis, speaks of the two women being ‘carried on the breezes towards the sun, exalted and ecstatic ...


Robert Blake

18 December 1980
Harold NicolsonA Biography: Vol. 1, 1886-1929 
by James Lees-Milne.
Chatto, 429 pp., £15, November 1980, 0 7011 2520 9
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Harold Nicolson​ Diaries 1930-1964 
by Stanley Olson.
Collins, 436 pp., £9.50, October 1980, 0 00 216304 7
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... Harold Nicolson was a diarist of genius who would have loved to make a success of public life or literature. He was an able but not outstanding diplomat who retired at 43, a journalist and broadcaster of talent, an ...

A Tale of Three Novels

Michael Holroyd: Violet Trefusis

11 February 2010
... velvets, taffetas. Shopping lists were pinned to her bosom. Virginia Woolf read the American edition of Challenge in the mid-1920s when she began writing Orlando, described by Sackville-West’s son NigelNicolson as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’. Orlando is a love letter to his mother, the eponymous figure who is magically transformed over four centuries from a ...

Landlord of the Moon

David Craig: Scottish islands

21 February 2002
Sea Room: An Island Life 
by Adam Nicolson.
HarperCollins, 391 pp., £14.99, October 2001, 0 00 257164 1
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... I never thought I would find myself writing warmly about a book by a Scottish laird. Adam Nicolson owns the Shiant Islands, east of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Shiants are a compact cluster and, like all small islands, offer the marvellous sense that you can encompass them, you can easily ...

In the field

Nigel​ Hamilton

5 November 1981
Washington Despatches, 1941-45: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy 
edited by H.G. Nicholas.
Weidenfeld, 700 pp., £20, August 1981, 0 297 77920 6
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British Intelligence and the Second World War. Vol. II 
by F.H. Hinsley, E.E. Thomas, C.F.G. Ransom and R.C. Knight.
HMSO, 850 pp., £15.95, September 1981, 0 11 630934 2
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Mars without Venus: A Study of Some Homosexual Generals 
by Frank Richardson.
William Blackwood, 188 pp., £5.95, September 1981, 9780851581484
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Soldiering on: An Unofficial Portrait of the British Army 
by Dennis Barker.
Deutsch, 236 pp., £8.50, October 1981, 0 233 97391 5
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A Breed of Heroes 
by Alan Judd.
Hodder, 288 pp., £6.95, September 1981, 0 340 26334 2
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War in Peace: An Analysis of Warfare Since 1945 
edited by Robert Thompson.
Orbis, 312 pp., £9.95, September 1981, 0 85613 341 8
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... cannot get away from the fact that, deprived of the right to portray personalities, express opinions, or be funny, Theseus puts up a pretty disappointing display against the American Minotaur. Harold Nicolson had the right idea in steering the budding Berlin towards Moscow – which Berlin finally reached in 1945/6. But whether Sir George Weidenfeld has had the right idea in resurrecting his despatches, I ...

Footing the bill

Jonathan Parry

9 June 1994
Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain 
by David Cannadine.
Yale, 321 pp., £19.50, April 1994, 0 300 05981 7
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... delicate, neurotic, lonely and melancholy’. Gerald Strickland was ‘too aggressive, too intemperate, too belligerent, too quarrelsome ... too ambitious, too intolerant, too vindictive’. Harold Nicolson’s brother died ‘a lonely, miserable, embittered failure’; Harold and his wife were ‘marginal people’; Lord Curzon’s political career was ‘an ultimate failure’. These quotations from ...
20 November 1980
The Sickle Side of the Moon: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. V, 1932-1935 
edited by Nigel Nicolson.
Hogarth, 476 pp., £12.50, September 1979, 0 7012 0469 9
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Leave the Letters till we’re dead: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. VI, 1936-41 
edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautman.
Hogarth, 556 pp., £15, September 1980, 0 7012 0470 2
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The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol. III: 1925-1930 
edited by Anne Olivier Bell.
Hogarth, 384 pp., £10.50, March 1980, 0 7012 0466 4
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Virginia Woolf 
by Michael Rosenthal.
Routledge, 270 pp., £7.95, September 1979, 0 7100 0189 4
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Virginia Woolf’s Major Novels: The Fables of Anon 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 252 pp., £11, April 1980, 0 300 02402 9
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... defended the view that conversation is ruined by the presence of women. Virginia reacted to the onslaught with quite untypical tranquillity and amusement. One wonders how she would have reacted to NigelNicolson’s editorial remarks: his generally reverential attitude suddenly dissolves when he is called upon to comment on her views on women, men and war. He is puzzled as to why Virginia Woolf ...

British Worthies

David Cannadine

3 December 1981
The Directory of National Biography, 1961-1970 
edited by E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls.
Oxford, 1178 pp., £40, October 1981, 0 19 865207 0
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... a general, if flexible rule that the writers of ‘official’ biographies should not contribute on the same subject to the DNB. The rationale of this remains obscure, and in this volume robs us of NigelNicolson on Alexander, A.J.P. Taylor on Beaverbrook, Martin Gilbert on Churchill, Jonathan Dimbleby on his father, John Pearson on Ian Fleming, P.N. Furbank on E.M. Forster, Philip Williams on ...

A Very Smart Bedint

Frank Kermode: Harold Nicolson

17 March 2005
Harold Nicolson 
by Norman Rose.
Cape, 383 pp., £20, February 2005, 0 224 06218 2
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... Like everybody else, I had read a lot about Harold Nicolson and his amazing marriage, but paid little attention to him as the author of many books, including a biography of his father, Lord Carnock, a bestselling life of King George V, a life of Mrs Charles ...
16 March 2000
Morgan: American Financier 
by Jean Strouse.
Harvill, 816 pp., £25, June 1999, 9781860463556
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... began after Morgan purchased the Gainsborough portrait of Miss Linley and her Brother which the Sackville estate had put up for sale to avoid death duties. Lady Sackville, described by her grandson NigelNicolson as having ‘made a corner in millionaires and lonely elderly artists’ (among them Kipling, Lord Kitchener, W.W. Astor, Rodin, Lutyens and Henry Ford), was determined to get the painting ...


Frank Kermode: James Lees-Milne

30 November 2000
Deep Romantic Chasm: Diaries 1979-81 
by James Lees-Milne, edited by Michael Bloch.
Murray, 276 pp., £22.50, October 2000, 0 7195 5608 2
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A Mingled Measure: Diaries 1953-72 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 325 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 5609 0
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Ancient as the Hills: Diaries 1973-74 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 228 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 7195 6200 7
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... like Lord Salisbury, gentle, attentive to their inferiors, courteous, while aware of their superior social status in the world; or provocative and combative and rude like Randolph, Edward Stanley, Nigel Birch and others’) and it seems he is unwilling even to be a gentleman. He notes that Somerset Maugham said that Kipling was ‘not quite a gent’. When Kipling said of somebody, ‘He’s a white ...

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