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The Perfect Summer : England 1911, Just Before the Storm
"A hugely interesting portrait of a society teetering on a precipice both nationally and internationally . . . As page-turning as a novel." --Joanna Trollope, The Guardian
Topping the best-seller charts in Britain and published to much acclaim in the United States, The Perfect Summer chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change. That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. To a charity ball where the other girls came dressed as virginal white swans, the striking debutante Lady Diana Manners made a late appearance as a black swan. The Ballets Russes arrived in London for the first time and people swarmed to Covent Garden to see Nijinsky's gravity-defying leaps.
Through the tight lens of four months, Juliet Nicolson's rich storytelling gifts rivet us with the sights, colors, and feelings of a bygone era. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing: The country was brought to a standstill by industrial strikes. Led by the charismatic Ben Tillett, the Southampton Dockers' Union paralyzed shipping in the south. Organizer Mary Macarthur inspired women from the "sweated industries" to take to the streets in protest of intolerable conditions. Home Secretary Winston Churchill, fearing that the country was on the verge of collapse, gave in to demands for wage increases. Temperatures rose steadily to more than 100 degrees; by August deaths from heatstroke were too many for newspapers to report.
Drawing on material from intimate and rarely seen sources and narrated through the eyes of a series of exceptional individuals--among them a debutante, a choirboy, a politician, a trade unionist, a butler, and the queen--The Perfect Summer is a vividly rendered glimpse of the twilight of the Edwardian era.
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May 12, 2008
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Excerpt from The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson
No one referred to "weekends." The rich would leave London not on a Friday but for a "Saturday-to-Monday." On Saturday "The Noah's Ark," a huge domed trunk containing enough clothes for six changes a day, would be loaded into the car or a train and transported to country houses belonging to families whose names would have been familiar to Shakespeare.
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Lady Diana Manners was exhausted. She had been dancing for six hours in the white-silk evening dress she made herself, with colored scarves wound turban-style around her curly hair... and knew that with all the lunches, dinners, theaters, and balls of the forthcoming month, she would be writing at least five "Collinses" a day. These thank-you notes took their nickname from the obsequious gratitude that flowed from the pen of Mr. Collins in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. These letters were a great drain on her time and imagination.
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Butlers and other "upstairs" servants were advised to have neither eyes, nor ears, nor understanding for any inappropriate high jinks. "There is nothing will sooner make you feared, distrusted, and ruined," Eric, author of the best seller What the Butler Winked At?, commented wisely. He frequently was expected to forget the married lady taking a bath in an unmarried gentleman's room, and the couple he surprised behind the study sofa.