In House


In House

The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life, Rizzoli, 2017, ISBN 978-0-8478-3057-2, £50, reviewed by Angela-Ellis Jones

‘The English country house is an extraordinary phenomenon that lies at the very heart of England’s history and cultural life’. So begins a magnificent tome which showcases  sixty-two houses which have featured in Country Life since the 1980s, when it started printing photographs in colour. The architectural styles span seven centuries, from the mediaeval Stokesay Castle to the newly built, Lutyens-inspired Corfe Farm. Many are still private homes, often inhabited by descendants of the families that built them. The houses show a wide geographical spread – almost all counties boast at least one entry in the book. The variety of England’s vernacular architecture is a testament to the remarkable diversity of its geology.

The book is punctuated by an unusual feature – six leaflets containing essays by leading British architectural historians that set the English country house in its social context and chart the changing tastes in collecting and decorating; the development of ancillary buildings, gardens and landscapes; and finally its influence in the United States. Two demolished country houses  – Elizabethan Warwick Priory and mediaeval Agecroft Hall – were rebuilt in the US!

In the first of these leaflets, John Martin Robinson notes how ‘The distinguishing feature of the English country house is that it was the capital of a landed estate, the centre of a social and economic entity with farmland, tenants, woods, pleasure grounds, sporting and subsidiary buildings. Ownership of a landed estate gave its proprietors power and influence, economic security, independence, and an established position in society, as well as retirement, recreation and sport. For many centuries, from the Middle Ages onwards, the ownership of land was the only sure base of power and influence in England, and the only solid long-term investment. Therefore, anyone who made money by whatever means – from the law, from trade and commerce,or from royal service and warfare – automatically invested the proceeds in a country estate and country house and set themselves up as a landed dynasty, and this continued long after the development of a pluralist, capitalist economy.’

This is a correct assessment. However, I think that he errs when he claims that ‘The role of the country house as a political power base began to change with the Industrial Revolution, as acknowledged by the Great Reform Bill in 1832, which tipped the balance of political representation from the country to the town, and all subsequent social and political movements have further acknowledged urban economic realities, though the country house has continued to play a ceremonial, social cultural and figurehead role in its area’. On the contrary, the country house was still of crucial political importance in the years following the second Reform Act (1867), as can be seen from Trollope’s Palliser novels. Indeed, much of the business of politics was still conducted during country house weekends before 1914.

Visiting country houses was a long-established social convention amongst the gentry from the seventeenth century onwards. A strong tradition of country house and garden visiting dates back to the eighteenth century, when large estates had set days of the week when they were open to the public. Today, around 80% of visitors to National Trust properties say that the garden is the main reason for their visit.

The aforementioned leaflets provide a wealth of interesting information and insights. Mark Girouard considered the halls of Oxford and Cambridge ‘the principal still-working survivals of communal mediaeval households in the modern world’ –  dons and students resemble ‘the squire or lord and his guests on the high table,the household below’. It is Girouard whom we have to thank for the fact that Victorian country houses, considered unfashionable for much of the past century, started appearing in the pages of Country Life  in the late 1950s.

I have only two minor criticisms of this otherwise excellent book. Firstly, more could have been made of the destruction of so many houses in C20th due to the socialist tax policies of both governing parties. For example, a house that has undergone a phoenix-like resurrection is Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, it contains Pugin’s Gothic drawing room, his ‘best surviving domestic interior’. It was a victim of the Agricultural Depression, two world wars and punitive death duties. With little spent on repairs for nearly a century, by the 1970s it was at risk of demolition. Fortunately, this was rejected on the ground of cost, and in the 1980s the sale of a major artwork and English Heritage grants made it possible to carry out repairs, and the castle is now returned to its former glory.

Secondly, there are some surprising omissions, of which the glorious Cragside in Northumberland is one. Fortunately, ‘The emergence of modernism in the English country house is largely absent from these pages, reflecting an editorial decision that the houses built in response to the Continental avant-garde of le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe would be discordant with the general tone and appearance of the book’. But towards the end, several modern houses are featured, which do not fit well. Nonetheless, this book will grace the shelves of many a country house, and delight those who can only participate in the attendant experience by proxy.

Angela Ellis-Jones is a writer and researcher

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Rattle and Hun

Wassily Kandinsky, Romantic Landscape

Rattle and Hun

Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic, Staatsoper, Unter Den Linden, Berlin, December 2017: Stravinsky, Petrushka, Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 3 in A minor. Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, Konzerthauss, Berlin. Reviewed by TONY COOPER

Sergei Rachmaninov wrote his Third Symphony in 1936, whilst living in Switzerland where he had a home located just outside of Hertenstein, near Lake Lucerne. Named Villa Senar, it was the composer’s summer residence for most of the 1930s. He died in 1943, after emigrating to the United States and, apparently, wishing to be buried at Senar. But the Second World War thwarted his wishes.

Rachmaninov’s three symphonies reflect different phases in his creative development. The First (written in 1895) conjures up a stormy combination of contemporary trends in Russian symphonic music, whilst the Second (1907) reflects the opulence of the music of Tchaikovsky. The Third Symphony, first heard in Britain in November 1937 with the London Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham, saw the light of day a year earlier with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Critical opinion was divided. Public opinion proved negative but the composer remained convinced of its worth. Continue reading

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M.L. West, Cementing a Legacy

Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, by JMW Turner

M.L.West, Cementing a Legacy

M.L. West, ed., Homerus Odyssea, Berlin/Boston, Walter de Gruyter, 2017, Pp. LXII, 519

One hundred and fifty years ago, German academics were strides ahead of their non-Teutonic, classicist peers. Since then, a text-critical revolution has occurred: a select few men and women adapted and improved German classical implements for the betterment of classical studies as a whole. The distribution of good judgment in the editing of ancient Greek and Latin texts has now has been equalized, and to good effect

This edition of “Homer’s” Odyssey supersedes P. von der Mühll, Homeri Odyssea (Teubner, 1984), and is the culmination of five decades of academic study of Greek epic by West. The critical text exhibits all the scientific principles set forth in previous editions of Greek texts edited by him. Scholarly debts are repaid by him to several competent scholars (XXV). By June of 2015 the book was in effect finished (XXVI). Dr. Stephanie West, a distinguished classicist in her own right, tells readers that M.L. West (1937-2015), her husband, died before he could put the finishing touches to the final pages (XXVI). So the task fell to her. She is to be commended for her efforts. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, 6th December 2017

Olga Spessiva, in Swan Lake

ENDNOTES, 6th December 2017

In this edition: Ronald Corp conducts Parry, Elgar & Vaughan Williams; A Wind in the Willows fantasy, narrated by Simon Callow; Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker from Bergen, reviewed by STUART MILLSON. Echoes of Mozart, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

The Quarterly Review caught up with conductor and composer Ronald Corp just a few days before his end-of-year concert with the London Chorus and New London Orchestra. Busily rehearsing at London’s Cadogan Hall – especially the large-scale and seldom-performed Vaughan Williams’ Hodie (1953-54) – we asked the maestro about his latest championing of rare English music: “I am delighted to be performing this late work by Vaughan Williams, his 16-part Christmas choral-orchestral piece, because it’s very much a symposium – his own symposium – of his lifetime of composition. Hodie (‘Today’ – [Christ is born]) contains many ideas and themes – some of them pastoral, some reminiscent of The Pilgrim’s Progress, some from the symphonies. There are wonderful sections for the three soloists, a tenor, soprano, baritone [Mark Wilde, Julien Van Mellaerts and Augusta Hebbert] with the choir – and children’s choir – evoking the mysteries of the Christmas story.” Continue reading

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Oakeshott’s World View, Part 3

Dusk at Walpole, by Max Panks

Oakeshott’s World View, Part 3

Noel O’Sullivan (ed), The Place of Michael Oakeshott in Contemporary Western and Non-western Thought, Imprint Academic, 2017; £19.95; pbk; 197 pages, reviewed in three parts by ALLAN POND

[This collection includes some of the papers given at the 2015 conference of the Michael Oakeshott Association held at Hull University plus some papers not presented to the conference but on the same theme of the conference which also lends its title to the book.]

Whence Oakeshott’s growing appeal? Clearly he speaks ‘to our condition’. Yet there are many thinkers who don’t speak ‘to our condition’ (such as Filmer, Bossuet, Albert the Great) who are studied and whose writings are still available to us, the first two at least in modern paperback editions; and there are writers who try to speak to us but do so in such technical or obscure language that they have little broad appeal. Continue reading

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Mad Days in Münster

Jan van Leiden tauft ein Mädchen

Mad Days in Münster

Le prophète, Grand Opera in 5 acts composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Deutsche Oper, Berlin, November 26th, 2017, directed by Olivier Py, conducted by Enrique Mazzola, reviewed by TONY COOPER

Le prophète forms part of a project that has seen new productions at Deutsche Oper Berlin of Les Huguenots (2012) and Vasco da Gama (L’Africaine) (2015) while a concertante version of Meyerbeer’s opéra comique, Dinorah, formally entitled Le pardon de Ploërmel, was staged in 2014.

It charts the rise and fall of the rebellious Protestant Anabaptists who tried to establish a communal sectarian government in the Westphalian city of Münster during the Reformation. The city, in fact, came under their direct rule from February 1534 – when the city-hall was seized and Bernhard Knipperdolling installed as mayor – until its fall in June 1535. It was Melchior Hoffman who initiated adult baptism in Strasbourg in 1530, and his line of eschatological Anabaptism helped lay the foundations for the dramatic events in Münster, one of the bloodiest chapters in the history of the Reformation.

Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète captured this slice of history convincingly and was  frequently performed on the world’s leading opera stages. But, sadly, it fell completely out of favour in the early part of the 20th century and only slowly recovered its status with revivals at Zürich Opera in 1962 and Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1966 (both featuring Sandra Warfield and James McCracken in the leading roles). A revival at The Met in 1977 starred Marilyn Horne as Fidès. Vienna State Opera also brought it to the stage in 1998 in a production directed by Hans Neuenfels with Plácido Domingo and Agnes Baltsa. Happily, over the past few years, Le prophète is finding its feet once more in European houses. Continue reading

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Deconstructing Darwin

Charles Darwin, painting by Walter William Ouless, 1875

 Deconstructing Darwin

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker by A.N. Wilson, published by John Murray, 2017, £25, hardback, reviewed by Gerry Dorrian

Some of literature’s most unreliable narrators can be found in the field of biography. How appropriate, then, that A.N. Wilson devotes much of Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker to an examination of the naturalist’s self-reconstruction in his autobiography. In doing so, Wilson is endeavouring not only to demonstrate Darwin’s contribution to eugenics in the twentieth century but also arguably to occlude his (Wilson’s) embrace of eugenics at the start of the twenty-first.

As the author observes, Darwin erased from his history the evolutionary theories of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, his parents, at least one schoolteacher and his fellow officers on the Beagle, whom his disappointed captain (later Admiral) FitzRoy bitterly referred to as “the ladder by which you mounted to a position where your…talent could be thoroughly demonstrated”. He also failed to mention adumbrations of his theory by Edward Blyth and Georges Cuvier, giving the impression that he came up with evolution through inspiration as opposed to osmosis. Continue reading

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The Body Dandiacal

The Body Dandiacal

The Dandy at Dusk: Taste and Melancholy in the Twentieth Century, 2017, Philip Mann, Head of Zeus, £25, reviewed by STODDARD MARTIN

For one who grew up by the sea and sequoias of California in the 1960s, there is no more perfect condition than to amble in solitude in a warm, dappled wood. This is an instinctive creed. To be barefoot or nude wearing nothing but beads was a style of the soi-disant New Age. It travelled cross-country to Woodstock, not far from where Emerson tread, Thoreau and Whitman notionally alongside. Over the ocean, a renaissance of Wandervögel and Kibbo Kift kindred flourished, donning old tapestries and furs and boa-like scarves – anything begged, borrowed or fallen from the curtain-rails – during the inevitable tragedy that winter becomes for children of a forest of Arden.

Nature, in short, was our milieu, the body the ultimate dress. Pasolini, clothing his dramatis personae in gaudy costume in Decameron or Canterbury Tales, revelled in disclosing the vanity, nay absurdity, of such sumptuousness by repeated uncoverings of youthful flesh. Clothes are a substitute, or necessity. Having lost simian hair, we need protection from the elements. So evolved ‘fashion’, with its inevitable preferences. Because it is a creation, artifice if not art, we have generated theories about it. Like cookery or the lore of perfume, it is a sensual craft liable to be dismissed as frivolous or delectated with ardour and prescriptive rules by dedicated connoisseurs. Continue reading

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Eva Perón

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

From Fascism to Populism in History, Federico Finchelstein, University of California Press, 2017, 328 pp, h.b., reviewed by LESLIE JONES

In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci refers to the sentimental connection (connessione sentimentale) that exists between the intelligentsia and the people. But not today, as Federico Finchelstein unwittingly makes clear.

“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye”? (St Matthew, 7:3). During both the British EU referendum campaign and the American Presidential election, many commentators gave up being objective. Both results were generally unexpected (and unwelcomed), a testament to left-liberal wishful thinking but also to the underestimation of nationalism. Indicatively, in this context, “defeated” French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen won 11 million votes in 2017, more than twice the number of her father in 2002. And Donald Trump, likewise, won almost 63 million votes in 2016. Continue reading

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Cadres for Canadian Renewal

Cadres for Canadian Renewal

Mark Wegierski, on an under-estimated element in politics 

Whether one calls them infrastructures or “cadres”, conservatives in Canada today are greatly in need of them. A truly consummate politician is able to utilize the self-interest of disparate groupings to work towards some common goal that only he or she has in mind. This process is exemplified by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada from 1968-1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980). Trudeau’s ability to turn both French- and English-speaking Canada to his own ends, with both parts of the country thinking they were pursuing their own self-interest, is the mark of an effective political figure.

Indeed, one of the most important elements in politics is the harnessing of the energies of others to consciously or unconsciously, willingly or inadvertently, work for your own goals. Cadres, broadly defined, are a key to history. Certainly, in the Twentieth Century, the exercise of social, political, and cultural power by various “cadres”, whether left-liberal, Leninist, fascist, nationalist, or theocratic (in Iran, for example) has had an enormous impact. Continue reading

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