Thursday, 6 May 2010

Persephone Reading Week : Julian Grenfell

"A book depends on what a writer feels. This need not distort objectivity. Feelings can be observed,like that which they are about. It must be clear to anyone who reads this book that I have some love for Julian Grenfell. He seems to have achieved in a short life a rare authority. I wanted to understand what made someone so full of life and irony in the end adore war: what was his experience of people, that made him feel closest to horses and dogs"

Nicholas Mosley's life of Julian Grenfell initially seemed like a strange book for Persephone to have republished, but once I started reading it I understood. Although Mosley has an obvious interest in the life of Grenfell (as illustrated by the extract above), the first half of the book almost completely concentrates on the life of his mother, Ettie Desboroug, because he believed that she was responsible for Grenfell's mindset and gives a wonderful insight into life in Edwardian times.

Grenfell was killed in 1915 during the First World War, but had actively welcomed the opportunity to go to war, along with many other men of his era. In a letter in October 1914 he wrote: "I adore war. It is like a big picnic but without the objectivelessness of a picnic. I have never been more well or more happy." It is this desire which Mosley sought to investigate. Mosley believes that it was in part a rejection of the world of "society" in which his mother was involved which led him to these beliefs - she was beautiful and notorious for her charm, and part of a group which wasn't interested in much more than hunting or the latest parties and making conquests of one another.

I loved the endpapers for this book - called "Poppies" and printed on a velveteen fabric, it was produced in 1888, the year that Grenfell was born. This has a double edge as poppies are of course symbolic of the sacrifice made during the First World War.


  1. It sounds interesting and, I agree, the endpapers are divine.

  2. I think that these endpapers are my favourite of all the Persephone's, but I thought it wrong to buy the book just for this reason. Thanks to your tempting review, I can now do some guilt-free shopping!


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