Saturday, 16 May 2009

Book Review: The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Published by: John Murray (2006)
Pages: 290 (Paperback)

First Line:

On the first day of May 1911 temperatures throughout England began to rise, and everyone agreed that the world was becoming exceedingly beautiful.

Set against the backdrop of the long hot Summer of 1911 we see English life through the eyes of several different people including
  • Queen Mary (who's husband George V was to be crowned the new King in May) and who 'had never felt so lonely'
  • Politician Winston Churchill
  • Lady Diana Manners (a debutante) who was looking forward to a Summer of relentless partying
  • War Poet Siegfried Sasson who, in the middle of the summer, said 'We seemed to have forgotten that there was such a thing as the future'
  • Butler Eric Horne who thought some of the noblemen and women he worked for had 'a kink in the brain'
  • Trade Unionist Ben Tillett who almost brought the country to its knees through a series of industrial strikes

This is an absolutely absorbing look at the England of yesteryear, we see how life was changing especially for the under-class in society, they were beginning to question their role and the rules they were governed by.

Juliet Nicolson's detailed research could not be faulted and at the end of it I almost felt as if I had lived through the heatwave. I loved so many of the fascinating facts she gave us. Thinking about the present furore over many UK MP's expenses claims I found this nugget -

The proposed salary of £400 a year for Members of Parliament was not scheduled to come into effect until August: traditionally, MP's had funded themselves, from a private income or earnings outside the House of Commons.

How times have changed!!

Another entertaining fact regarding the rise of the picture-houses -

Some cinemas had tea-houses, and special sitting-out rooms reserved for ladies only. A reassuring manager in a tailcoat - like a maitre d'hotel in a restaurant or a butler opening a front door - would greet the audience as they arrived.

What a wonderful picture she painted of the everyday lives and loves of so many people, of their struggles just to survive in contrast to the upper-classes bored lives filled with playing bridge and partying.

My only criticism with The Perfect Summer is of the very lengthy paragraphs, some were almost a page long, of which many could have been edited better to make it easier to read.

However, if, like me, you love reading about the Edwardian way of life and can't resist enlightening anyone within listening distance of your amazing historical knowhow, you're going to want to add this to your collection!

About The Author:

To learn more about Juliet Nicolson read an interview with the Mail Online here

Her new book Living in the Shadow of the Great War 1918-1920 will be available from October 2009


  1. Carole:

    I read this last year and loved it. In fact, just the other day I recommended it to a friend who's interested in that period of history. Thanks for a spot-on review of an insightful and fascinating book. Another you might enjoy is "King, Kaiser, Czar," that provides a personal, rather than political, portrait of the 3 men who shaped a huge chunk of the 20th century.


  2. Maggie, I'm pleased you enjoyed this book, I'm sure your friend will too ... it is so full of wonderful stories.
    'King,Kaiser,Czar' sounds interesting, I've just checked my local library and they do have it so it's been added to my ever-growing wish list!
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi Jackie, it's a very interesting snapshot of life during that summer, just a few years before the start of the First World War.
      Hope you get the chance to read it.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Sounds like the perfect companion to Downton Abbey. Especially during the long wait for the next series.

    1. Yes, Joy, you're right, it is the perfect novel to read while waiting for the next series!
      I hope you get the chance to read it.



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