Selina Hastings

The nervous passenger who became one of our great travel writers

Sybille Bedford all her life was a keen and courageous traveller. Restless, curious, intellectually alert, she was always ready to explore new territories, her experiences recounted in a sophisticated style that Jan Morris in her introduction refers to as ‘a kind of apotheosised reportage’. Bedford’s first book, A Visit to Don Otavio, describing an expedition

Australia’s entrancing Sheila

The ‘dollar princesses’, those American heiresses who crossed the Atlantic in search of a titled husband, are familiar figures from the 19th and early 20th century. Less well known are the young ladies who made the much longer journey from Australia, and who, like their transatlantic counterparts, arrived in England with large fortunes, ready to

Stage Blood, by Michael Blakemore – review

Stage Blood, as its title suggests, is as full of vitriol, back-stabbing and conspiracy as any Jacobean tragedy. In this sequel to Arguments with England, his superb first volume of memoirs, Michael Blakemore presents us with an enthralling account of his five embattled years as an associate director of the National Theatre. When in 1970

Friends across the sea

On 12 February 1952 the novelist Anthony Powell received a letter from a bookseller in New York. Robert Vanderbilt Jr was the proprietor of a couple of Manhattan bookstores and a great admirer of Powell’s. He wrote to ask if he might himself publish a couple of the novelist’s out-of-print works. Powell was delighted. The

House of memories

Selina Hastings recalls her visit in 1989 to Lady Beauchamp, mistress of Madresfield Madresfield: the name is now almost as lustrous with literary association as Little Gidding or Adlestrop. To the admirers of Evelyn Waugh, Madresfield is hallowed ground: ‘It’s where Waugh stayed, you know, when he was writing Brideshead Revisited. In fact Madresfield is

Mixing memory with desire

Rick Gekoski is an expatriate American, long established as one of the leading antiquarian book-dealers in Britain. As one might expect, books have been his passion for as long as he can remember, his reading as integral a part of his development as anything experienced in the world outside. ‘Every reading experience vibrates subtly across

Friends and enemies

The Pursuit of Laughter: Essays, Articles and Reviews, by Diana Mitford, edited by Deborah Devonshire Nancy was the only one of the six Mitford sisters who, throughout her life, bitterly complained of the fact that she had not been sent to school. Her younger sister, Diana, on the other hand, dreaded the very thought of

The triumph of hope over experience

Derek Jackson was one of the most distinguished scientists of the previous century, whose work in atomic spectroscopy contributed significantly to British success in aerial warfare. Throughout his life Jackson remained absorbed in his highly specialised subject, regarded with profound respect by colleagues throughout the world, and yet there was almost nothing about him that

For richer, for richer

In her introduction to this extraordinary memoir, Etti Plesch warns the reader that the life she is about to describe will seem unfashionable as it contains no ‘stories of great suffering’. True enough. As recounted in Horses & Husbands, Etti’s 99 years seemed to have been passed at a level of luxury and self-indulgence almost

The battle of the books

B y now Heywood Hill’s bookshop in Curzon Street must be almost as famous as 84 Charing Cross Road. Opened in 1936, the shop first became familiar through the lively accounts of Nancy Mitford, who worked there from 1942-45. Then came A Bookseller’s War, the correspondence between Heywood Hill, away in the army, and his

Unfaltering to the end

While staying at Chatsworth for Christmas 1994, James Lees-Milne records an exchange with his old friend, Patrick Leigh Fermor, on the subject of keeping a diary. Leigh Fermor regrets not having done so: ‘It might have helped him pick up the threads … so difficult for horny old fingers to feel. Yes, I said, a