Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Perfect Summer

The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm
Nicolson, Juliet

Knitting Sticks: 5

" The season from May to September 1911 was one of the high sunlit meadows of English history. It was a time when England - rich, happy, self-indulgent and at least slightly decadent - felt most contentedly itself. And yet the exuberance and self-congratulatory spirit of those few months was in many ways illusory."

So begins Ms. Nicholson's most excellent book on that perfect or seemingly perfect summer. England was England and all was right with the world. The coronation of George V and Queen Mary, the usual summer pursuits of the rich and royal, the halcyon days of a perfect English summer with many more to anticipate. But it wasn't always the perfect summer. The temperatures were unusually hot those four months reaching at one point an astonishing 100F. If you were rich on even moderately successful you could leave the city and retreat to some place cooler, living a languid life. But if you toiled on the docks or in the factories, living in squalid conditions in tenement slums you did not have that choice.

This perfect summer saw the beginning of changes. The working class were no longer willing to work for poverty wages in inhumane conditions. This summer saw multiple strikes in transportation and industry. The divide between "upstairs and downstairs" in the great houses of the aristocracy was breaking down. Women and men were less likely to go into "service" and once there were less likely to stay.

And over all was looming the threat of an increasingly militaristic Germany with it's Kaiser Wilhelm the grandson of the late Queen Victoria.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I have to admit that the time period just preceding WWI and the war itself has not been one where I have done a great deal of reading. I am trying to remedy that. This book is well worth searching out.


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