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The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm Paperback – May 13, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143679
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The granddaughter of Bloomsbury notables Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson chronicles the minutiae of the hot, sunny summer of 1911, when the rich crammed in a succession of parties as industrial strikes almost brought the country to a standstill, and WWI loomed on the horizon. Under Nicolson's lavish attentions, "upstairs" and "downstairs," the weighty and frivolous spring to vivid life. While Mary approached her upcoming coronation as queen with dread, Leonard Woolf fell in love with his Cambridge pal's sister, the budding novelist Virginia Stephen. The bewitching marchioness of Ripon arranged for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes to perform at Covent Garden, and the Times revealed that certain servants were selling juicy tidbits about their aristocratic employers to American newspapers. Trade unionist Mary Macarthur's fight for women's rights meshes artfully with racy novelist Elinor Glyn's adulterous affair with ambivalent lover Lord Curzon. Lady Diana Manners's tart observations of her debutante season segue to a rendezvous between a footman and a kitchen maid. Drawing on a wide variety of primary sources—from Churchill's memoirs to the tell-all What the Butler Winked At—journalist Nicolson's debut, a British bestseller, serves up a delightfully gossipy yet substantial slice of social history. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The storm of the subtitle is the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, and Nicolson focuses on a particular period of quiet before that storm: the English summer of 1911, which boasted extreme heat but also day after day of sunny weather. European life was on the precipice; the forthcoming horrible years of war would bring a sudden modernism to how people lived, from king to commoner. But in that summer of 1911, "England was plump with promise," and the author seeks to "evoke the full vivid richness of how it smelt, looked, sounded, tasted and felt to be alive" in the months from May to September. She reconstructs the lives of several English individuals whose particular life-tales add to the complete picture of those ironically self-contented months. Nicholson visits, among others, Queen Mary, wife of the new king, George V ("The people in the waiting crowd were gratified to see how splendid the new Queen looked in her beautiful frock and diamonds"); politician Winston Churchill ("Life without champagne was inconceivable for Winston"); socialite Lady Dianna Manners ("the golden girl of the summer"); and butler Eric Horne ("Not quite the faithful servant he was assumed to be by the deluded individuals who employed him, Eric's was an increasingly cynical view of the changing world"). As entertaining as it is edifying. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It reads like a novel with intriguing characters and plot twists.
There are some outright errors and mis-attributions, not to mention a few apocryphal tales.
A. S. Haropulos
Nevertheless, the book was interesting, informative, and fun to read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Graham on May 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The British edition came out last year. Washington Post reviewer Yardley actually paints a very good picture. Nicolson is giving us interesting social history, set within a looming historical context of overwhelming magnitude, well written and engaging. There is little new in her book, but it is not material that has been presented this way in a generation or so, so Nicolson is making a real contribution by reviving not only the narrative of the period, but writing it for the present generation of readers. If Yardley's review suggests that this is the sort of thing you will like, then you will like this sort of thing.

Yardley seems to have spectacularly missed the point of the title, though, and spoils his review by repeatedly finding material in the text to slag the use of the word perfect. Even after nearly a century, no British reviewer would have so utterly failed to understand the reference and its meaning. Knowing that context would have helped Yardley to get the point, and would help any American reader appreciate the book for its qualities and flaws alike.

World War I struck Britain hard at every level of society and deep into the psyche of generations of Britons. Britain's more obvious national heroism and apparent unity in WW2, and its having not been occupied, makes that latter war seem more positive and less shattering an event than WW1, even though it truly finished off Britain's empire and gutted its prosperity more completely. As a result, WW1 looms more vividly in the British mind and culture than it does in nations damaged much worse by it. France and Germany have had worse since. 1914-18 remains the great dividing line of modern British history. Perhaps the serenely ahistorical young Britons of today no longer remember.
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56 of 56 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Juliet Nicolson is following in the footsteps of her father Nigel and her grandparents Harold and Vita (Sackville-West) Nicolson by producing history which reads like fine literature. The Perfect Summer is the story of the summer months of 1911, a year which in retrospect for England was indeed the calm before the storm of World War I.

Because 1911 was a Coronation Year much of The Perfect Summer focusses on the lives and doings of England's upper classes, from King George V and Queen Mary through Society luminaries like the Marchioness of Ripon and politicians like Winston Churchill. There is more to The Perfect Summer than gossip about the elite, however. The summer months of 1911 were filled with tension as the Liberal Government struggled to reform the House of Lords, the British and Germans clashed in Morocco, and strikes spread across the country. In addition, most of the summer was brutally hot and dry. All of this is well and thoroughly discussed with plenty of references from newspapers and magazines of the period to add immediacy.

The Perfect Summer will join Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower as an essential resource to help us better understand the world which came to an end forever just three summers later.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
about a very interesting summer. The Summer of 1914 has been explored in many books, most notably by Barbara Tuchman, but here, Ms Nicolson writes about a very important season a few years earlier. The weather was hot, the new King and Queen were being coronated, and society was in a gentle upheaval. Edward VII's death the previous year truly ended the Victorian age and all sorts of "new things" were being done by members of all levels of society.

Nicolson writes easily about the time and the people. One incident she writes about made me chuckle. On page 167 she mentions Hwfa Williams being shot and wounded "in the Mall by 'an overworked telegraph clerk whose brain had given way under strain'". "Overworked telegraph clerks" then, "overworked postal workers" now. Things haven't changed so much from then til now!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E.B. on December 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
A doomed empire tottering on the edge, the old ways starting to crumble and the new order beginning to assert itself. All of this in the sunny foreground while the unmistakable dark storm of catastrophe rumbles on the horizon. With such terrific raw material it would be hard to go wrong. But, to Ms. Nicholson's credit, she adds a delightful sense of humour, an eye for quixotic detail, sensitivity and obvious compassion, to craft an informative and very entertaining read. It's great fun. But it is also a sobering reality check. A colourful portrait of folly that so often precedes the fall.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By SusieQ on September 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Examination of the summer months of 1911, the Coronation Summer of King George V. The author's style can be somewhat plodding, and there a few noticable errors of fact. For example, Queen Mary's Aunt Augusta was nearly 89, not 85, in June of 1911. And I thought it was Harold Nicolson who owned the car nicknamed Green Archie, not Vita Sackville West? (Funny that a relative would make that error?)

Just two examples -- I don't want anyone to think I read the book looking for errors, but there are more than these.

The book is interesting yet somehow not very insightful. Despite a substantial bibliography, the book gives an impression of being lightweight. Perhaps that's caused by its focus being somewhat more on the lives of the English aristocracy than on all classes.

I can say with all honesty, while I didn't dislike this book and in fact found some sections very interesting (such as, the cost of a funeral for a lower class English person, and the information about the strikes that occurred that summer) I am glad I borrowed a copy from the library rather than purchasing it.
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