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The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal Hardcover – 24 Apr 2014
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Sackville-West has done his best with this tangled and unedifying tale. He writes elegantly and has been able to draw on Victoria's diaries and the copious documentation thrown up by her uncle Henry's court case (Sunday Times)
Brilliantly exposes the shadowy side of the Victorian aristocracy and the horrors of life on the wrong side of the blanket . . . A marvellous book - a gripping story, superbly researched and related with grace and humour in elegant, enjoyable prose. (Literary Review)
Poignant (Daily Telegraph)
His extraordinary research uncovers a world of shadows lying within inches of his family's official history, and he enters into it with sympathy and understanding (Economist)
Immaculately written ... A fascinating picture of a forgotten underside of English aristocratic and public life (Lucy Lethbridge, Observer)
Entertaining (Evening Standard)
Meticulous (Country Life)
A romping read (Tatler)
A deliciously gossipy tale of family secrets and lies, but it's also a sad story of children at war with one another (Independent on Sunday Best Biographies of the Summer)
Investigates, in elegant prose, the other side of the family tapestry, so to speak: the tangled skeins of lives tainted by illegitimacy . Gripping (Ronald Frame, Herald Books of the Year)
The whole thing has the trappings of a Wilkie Collins novel (Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times Biographies of the Year)
The Disinherited exposes the dark side of English history, as ancient wealth mixes with modern manners
Top customer reviews
Free copy and I certainly thought this book worthy of 5 stars.
This is the story of the family of the 7th Baron’s great, great uncle “old” Lionel and a Spanish dancer and demi-mondaine Pepita Oliva. “Old” Lionel never expected to inherit, being the 5th son, but immediately after his death one of his five children, Henry, was to sue his brother in law, “young” Lionel, the 3rd Lord Sackville, for the title on the pretext – or was it the deeply held belief? – that he was in fact the legitimate son of “old” Lionel. That sister was Victoria Sackville-West, mother of the famous Vita, who married a legitimate cousin in order to become the mistress of Knole. While Victoria came closest to escaping it, all of the children of Lionel and Pepita remained cursed by the taint of bastardy, by thoughts and envy of what might have been, even though for much of their lives there was no expectation that their father was anything more than a second son, at best moderately successful in his career as a diplomat. Alone Maximilian, the eldest son, made something of his life and I hope that, while the family tree is curtailed after the 3rd generation, that it continues to prosper and grow in South Africa or elsewhere.
This is a sympathetically written book. The author maintains a dispassionate view of his family and of the evidence that was brought to trial over the years. Legal process culminated in a celebrated High Court case in 1914, on the eve of the Great War, after which Henry committed suicide in Paris. It is also a fascinating insight into the social lives and attitudes of the aristocracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as their power and wealth gradually ebbed, as well as those illegitimate sons who tried (sadly in the Sackville West’s cases) none too successfully to earn a living by farming in South Africa, or daughters who made as best a life as they could through ill-fated marriages, the stage, ultimately possibly prostitution. Having discovered only after my father’s death that my grandfather, born a generation later than Victoria Sackville West and her siblings, was adopted into my modest family name, and was badly affected by that discovery in early adulthood, I found the story be to be particularly moving.
I was also interested to see that while, historically, the legitimate branch of the family hyphenated their name Sackville-West, but the illegitimate branch are referred to as mere “Sackville Wests( with no hypen) in family histories like this, the current Lord’s signature seems to omit the hypen – certainly it makes no big deal of it – perhaps in sympathy?
As a history graduate myself I can admire Sackville-West for his historical-literary style, and while he probably has a more than full time job in publishing and, alongside the National Trust, managing the Knole house and estate, I would like to read his future account of some other family, great or small, where the papers weren’t part of his own inheritance.
Over the years, as the children became young adults they had to make the best of the situation they found themselves in; the two boys were sent out to farm in South Africa, Flora married a Frenchman, and Amalia drifted from one situation to another, causing problems for the rest of her family. Victoria however, after living with her father as his hostess when he was appointed British Minister in Washington, made such a great success of her position that when Lionel became the second Lord Sackville and inherited Knole - a huge stately home with 365 rooms and 52 staircases - Victoria returned to England with her father and managed the house for him. The beautiful Victoria then very wisely married her first cousin, young Lionel, who was her father's nephew and his heir, thus ensuring her future at Knole. Although, with such a huge house to maintain, money was not in quite as abundant supply as might have appeared to outsiders, Victoria's success understandably brought out feelings of envy and resentment in her four siblings and she and her father were constantly appealed to for money, which they were reluctant to provide. While Victoria and Lionel entertained the Prince of Wales, her brothers and sisters struggled to make ends meet and eventually Victoria's younger brother, Henry, obsessed with the circumstances of his birth and convincing himself that he was his father's legitimate heir, brought about a lawsuit in the attempt to prove his case, which had significant consequences for all concerned.
The author, Robert Sackville-West, seventh Lord Sackville, has written an interesting, well-researched and even-handed account of the lives of his ancestors, sharing with his readers a story of disinheritance and deception, of greed and grievance, of sibling rivalry and of damaged individuals who were sadly never able to escape from the unfortunate circumstances of their birth.