Posted by Sari
Decca, Debo, Bobo, Cimmie, Beb, Cys and Puffin... I have been reading a number of books about British upper classes during the belle epoque and interwar period, and I have to say that the most memorable thing about all of them is the amount of silly nicknames people seem to have carried with them to their graves. Like the great friends of Edward VIII Baba and Fruity Metcalf. Or Brigadier-General Oc Asquith. Or Hoppy, Lord Manners. I tell you, P.G. Wodehouse did not exaggerate. [In all honestly, I have to own up coming from a family whose habit of insisting on more or less silly nicknames has generated much amusement among my friends, so maybe I am not the best person to cast this particular stone...]
Another fun thing is playing six degrees with the cast of characters: Prime Minister Asquith's son Beb was married to Lady Cynthia Charteris who was the daughter of Lady Elcho, who was friends with Lord Curzon, whose daugher, Cimmie was the first wife Of sir Oswald Mosley, who later married Diana Mitford, whose sister Debo married the future Duke of Devonshire, whose older brother was married to Kathleen Kennedy, who of course was the sister of JFK.
Yes, those were the days. I'd have to say that as a woman, the only time period other than present I would want to live in would be as a member of British upper classes in 1920s. Enough money to live as one of the leasured classes, but already enough possibilities for a determined woman to live her life independently. Only without that pesky stockmarket crash and Second World War ruining the fun.
If the period interests you at all, may I recommend Colin Clifford's The Asquiths which is a very readable bio of Margot, and her stepchildren with small cameos by Herbert Asquith. As it is not a political biography, and the main sources are letters and diaries by other members of the family, the PM himself does seem like a eminence grise in his own family. And be warned that Lloyd George comes out as a cowardly villain and Haigh as a hero. The book is, however, excellent in depicting the life of the Asquith children as part of the elite before the First World War and how the war changed everything (Raymond, Beb and Oc all served at the front, and Raymond was killed during the later stages of Somme).
In many ways similar but concerned with later period is Mary Lovell's biography of the notorious Mitford sisters whose mother used to complain that every time she saw a headline beginning with "peer's daugher..." she knew one of her daughters had been stirring up trouble.