Magazine article The Spectator

Transcending a Small World

Magazine article The Spectator

Transcending a Small World

Article excerpt


DIARIES, 1970-72

by Frances Partridge

Weidenfeld, f18.99, pp. 288

Two years ago the writer Paul Binding decided to take `English Diaries' for his weekly WEA (Workers' Educational Association) course in Leominster. He started with Culvert, and then went on to more modern practitioners. One of these was Frances Partridge.

They read first A Pacifist's War, number one in the line of which this book is the seventh. Frances Partridge has steadily built a following, but one suspects much of it initially came from those interested in Bloomsbury. Binding's group had no particular interest in Bloomsbury (some, immured in their remote Herefordshire vales, had never even heard of Bloomsbury). Their comments, therefore, had some interest, especially coming from a social stratum some considerable way removed from the one Partridge habitually chronicles.

What were the comments? How does Life Regained reflect or contradict them (for they were not all favourable)?

First, the group loved her feeling for landscape and nature. This volume, written while recovering ten years after the death of her beloved Ralph and the more recent death of her son Burgo (both, in poignant passages, still poignantly missed), retains all that feeling: in the Lakes the smell of crushed fern, `the thunderous gurgle of streams bursting between stones'; in Ireland hearing `the extraordinarily loud umbrella-flapping of innumerable swans suddenly taking off with outstretched wings'. It is often a Londonscape, when, through `tossing tree-tops, the sparkling lights of a skyscaper looked really pretty, with one silently moving aeroplane light seeming to have become detached from them'.

The second thing the WEA group noted was how well she wrote. They couldn't believe she hadn't written novels and biographies. They will note this again. Sharpness and accuracy of observation `circling Heathrow from Russia till at last we swooped down through opaque clouds with that strange feeling of not altogether unpleasant finality.' Raymond Mortimer: `When he says "Ah!" in response to some remark one knows it has bored him.' On open-mindedness: 'I feel some minds can be too open, the doors can get positively flabby from being allowed to flap about too freely.'

How well she wrote - and also how amusingly; and so she does still. Raymond Mortimer says, 'I always nod to our postman when he brings the letters in the morning.' Dadie (Rylands): `Oh, really, Ray? How extraordinarily kind and condescending of you! You mean you actually say "Good morning" or something of the sort? …

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