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My History: A Memoir of Growing Up Hardcover – 8 Jan 2015
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My History, a captivating memoir of her childhood and early youth ... is a delight from start to finish. Antonia Fraser is warm, amusing, intelligent, generous and original. She says that her idea of perfect happiness is to be alone in a room with a house full of people. I can't think of a better way to start the year than to be alone in a room with this book (Cressida Connolly THE SPECTATOR)
Inevitably this chronicle is at first much concerned with her parents, her mother's literary skills, her father's rumpled person, the Leftish political endeavours of both, but gradually the clever girl takes over and her very ow History begins with the conviction that the medieval Matilda, Joan of Arc, Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette were much more interesting than the heroines of children's books (Brian Sewell THE OLDIE)
Venerable historian Antonia Fraser looks back on her formative years growing up in Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s (Charlotte Heathcote DAILY EXPRESS)
Lady Antonia Fraser begins this memoir of her youth with a quote from historian George Macaulay Trevelyan that captures the allure of history. The idea that "once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women" from ages past, "gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone like ghosts at cockcrow" (Andrew Wilson THE INDEPENDENT)
The title of Antonia Fraser's memoir has two meanings. This is her history, in the sense that she is describing the early part of her long, garlanded life. But it is also an account of how she was drawn to history, which she traces back to a Christmas present she was given when she was four - H. E. Marshall's Our Island Story (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
One of the things Antonia Fraser remembers most fondly from her childhood was games of 'rugger'. 'All the girls at the Dragon [her school] in those days played rugger as a matter of course, there was nothing special about it.' Fraser played on the wing and found it 'intoxicating'. Years later, at an Army and Navy match at Twickenham, an enthusiastic general took it upon himself to explain the rules of the game to her, and had to be stopped after she assured him - to his incredulity - that she knew the game perfectly well (Lynn Barber SUNDAY TIMES)
In the final section of this engaging autobiography come fulfilment and resolution. There is marriage and a family of six children; there is a new and harmonious relationship with her mother, who herself became a historian of note ('now with my Small Children and her History', as Antonia puts it, 'we had all the most important things in common'); and with the acclaim greeting the publication of Mary, Queen of Scots there is the triumphant start of a long and distinguished career (Selina Hastings MAIL ON SUNDAY)
My History is a hugely enjoyable squishy romp, the literary equivalent of a big crumbling meringue at a society wedding (Roger Lewis THE TIMES - Book of the Week)
Fraser's previous volume of memoir, Must You Go?, an account of her life with Harold Pinter, was acclaimed as a moving love story. In this second instalment, she stands unabashed and alone - wise, self-deprecating and always entertaining (Peter Stanford DAILY TELEGRAPH)
She killed a viper in a sandpit as a toddler and at 23 began writing her own books: most notably chronicling the lives of Cromwell, Marie Antoinette and Mary Queen of Scots. Now Harold Pinter's widow charts the events of her own early life in a bid to inspire others to fall in love with history (Susanna Gross MAIL ON SUNDAY)
Antonia Fraser, the historical biographer and widow of playwright Harold Pinter, takes us on a fascinating journey through her formative years (GOOD HOUSEKEEPING)
Historian, debutante, useful rugger player - Lady Antonia Fraser has led a life of vivid contrasts. Her memoir of her relationship with the playwright Harold Pinter, Must You Go?, gave a glimpse of a partnership of successful writers. in this second excursion into personal history she revisits the more distant realm of childhood (Jane Shilling EVENING STANDARD)
Dame Antonia Fraser's memoir about her early life is sheer delight. It is the story of her childhood, adolescence and early adult life, and it is also the story of her fascination with history, which led her to her first bestseller, the biography of Mary Queen of Scots, published in 1969 (Allan Massie THE SCOTSMAN)
It is at its most engaging when she describes her own writing process, her deep fascination for history and the problems of its retelling (Kate Colquhoun SUNDAY EXPRESS)
Above all, what comes through was her success as a historian that has been achieved by determination and hard work. You can't help admiring this very grand lady (Vanessa Berridge DAILY EXPRESS)
It shows how one curious-minded girl born in 1932 became entranced by history from a young age; by doing this, it inspires us all to think about how the next generation should have their minds opened to history (Ysenda Maxtone Graham COUNTRY LIFE)
Engaging and elegiac (Virginia Rouning FINANCIAL TIMES)
The childhood and early life of the distinguished historian Antonia Fraser is the focus of her memoir My History although its real concern is her growing love of history (CHOICE)
My History is a travelogue of the mind through the roaming delights of youth to the full realisation of the power of the past. It is an eloquent, candid and very funny account of growing up in exalted circles, but really, and really originally, it is a glorious paean to the poetry of history (Jessie Childs THE TABLET)
She writes every kind of anecdote, hard and soft, with a sustained, strong tone, inimitably her own and with always a smile behind a frown and a frown behind each smile (Peter Stothard TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)
Antonia Fraser had, by her own account, an enchanted childhood, so much so that when she heard the bells of Magdalen College again more than 60 years later, "wonderland once more returned". She dreamed she was the heroine of a fairytale, "the beggar girl (intensely beautiful) who, armed with a first-class degree, wrote bestselling books". It was standard stuff for a girl growing up in Oxford whose father was a don at Christ Church, but not all dreams come true as emphatically as this one (Hilary Spurling THE GUARDIAN)
It is Fraser's own dynamism that shines out of this charming book (Julia Richardson DAILY MAIL)
This elegant, charming memoir covers her early life and ends with the publication of her first book (Simon Shaw MAIL ON SUNDAY)
A hymn to Fraser's happy family background (THE WEEK)
In all senses, this is a romantic memoir (Lesley McDowell THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)
The historian Antonia Fraser has a well-known father in the Labour Cabinet minister and penal reformer Lord Longford, but she perhaps owed more in career terms to her mother, Elizabeth Longford, a celebrated biographer. But as this warm, witty memoir of her early life reveals, Antonia Fraser has always been very much her own person (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
'The childhood and early life of the distinguished historian Antonia Fraser is the focus of her memoir My History although its real concern is her growing love of history. (CHOICE)
The childhood and early life memoir of Antonia Fraser, one of our finest narrative historians.See all Product description
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She grew up, the eldest of eight, in North Oxford as her father was a don at the time attached to Christchurch College. Although well connected on both sides : her mother was the daughter of a prosperous upper middle class ophthalmic surgeon and her father, Frank Pakenham, inherited the title of Lord Longford from his brother, but only in 1961 when Antonia was nearly 30. Although with impeccable lineage and utterly respectable parents there was not a lot of spare cash for luxuries. She learned to read very young, almost a prodigy if she is to be credited for reading books on her own by the age of four. She also learned to socialize early on, not only within her growing family but with other children. This is when they shared a beautiful Elizabethian house, Water Eaton Manor, at the beginning of the war with two other families.
Later she was sent to the Dragon School in Oxford that had recently become co-educational where she learnt to play Rugger and effectively become a She-Dragon ! Thereafter her education took her to the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where already in advance of the other girls of her age she was to undergo some humiliation for her precociousness. One must imagine that she was seen by some as "Miss Clever Clogs" and "Miss Goody Two Shoes" rolled into one, and thus an object to be highly reviled ! As a result she was not too unhappy when her mother suggested a Catholic School, St. Mary's Convent, Ascot, where she could make Catholic friends. Both her mother and father were Catholic converts, her mother as recently as 1946. Antonia, full of fantasy about ancient English Catholic families, took to convent and the principles of Catholicism like the proverbial duck to water and in due course herself converted.
The next step was Lady Margaret Hall Oxford where she read History, having been advised to apply to read PPE as she was more likely to gain a scholarship or at least an exhibition. She claims up to the time of her interview she didn't even know what the letters stood for, but her father now being a Labour Member of Parliament I rather tend to believe the story must be apocryphal.
This book is anything but boring and there is far more than the bare outlines of the schooling that I have given, such as her trips to Uncle Edward at Pakenham Hall, Westmeath in Ireland, and her own preparations to bring herself out as a debutante. She seems invariably honest in her reflections although with a bias that is hard to define but which comes in part from the knowledge of the value of her family heritage and the admiration she felt in particular for her father.
But there are some gems in this book. I loved the anecdote about her parents, just after they got married. They had very little money (an annual income of £1,000 - worth only £50,000 in modern money). They set up home in a cottage on their own. Elizabeth, the future Lady Longford, asked her husband how they would wake up in the morning. Frank, the future Lord Longford, said that, surely, "they" would bring them a cup of tea. Elizabeth had to explain to him that there was no "they". There were no servants. And then there was the story about Longford walking with the Duke of Norfolk (premier Catholic layman) down a corridor in the House of Lords. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster approached them. Longford, who had recently become a Catholic, fell to his knees and attempted to kiss the Cardinal's ring. The Duke of Norfolk looked down at him and said "bloody converts".
But it is stories like those which lead me to wish Lady Antonia had tried a bit harder with this account of her early life. And it really would have been quite nice of her to acknowledge, as must have been the case, that she was sometimes influenced by people who were not famous.
Never mind, this is an amusing read. I don't want to put you off buying it.
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