Top critical review
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like the curate's egg, good in parts
on 12 October 2009
I bought this book in the hope it might be like Catherine Bailey's well-written and enthralling Black Diamonds but was very disappointed. It starts out promisingly enough with the first two chapters devoted to Evelyn Waugh's association with the Lygon family, who inspired Brideshead Revisited. Then the author returns to the Anglo-Saxon origins of Madresfield and it is here the tedium begins. Endless recitation of dull lifeless facts about the Lygons and even those ancestors whose lives were obviously full and interesting such as Fernando the corsair and Richard the seventeenth century botanist who went to Barbados and wrote about it fail to come alive under the author's pen. There are several chapters devoted to Puesyism and politics - dry subjects at the best of times but so boring I ended up skipping them and going to the final chapters dealing with the great scandal of Lord Beauchamp's homosexuality and details of what happened to the Lygons' after Brideshead.
Anybody hoping for signs of this book being "one of the best recent monographs on an English family and their country house.." as the blurb on the jacket proclaims will be disappointed. Almost nothing is made of the architecture or the interior of Madresfield apart from some glorious colour photos of some of the rooms and in using objects found in the house as chapter headings as in "The breviary", " the scrap of paper" and so on.
The writing is quite fawning in style, in that no critical word ever escapes the author's pen. Nor is there any evidence of any independent research being done. I am left with the impression that Jane Mulvagh was so overwhelmed at the privelege of being admitted to this most private of houses and its muniments that she took the greatest care not to offend the present members of the family at Madresfield. The result is a very dull book. Surely the Brideshead generation was not the only scandal in nine centuries?