The first of three abridged volumes of 'the greatest diarist of our times'
James Lees-Milne (1908-97) made his name as the country house expert of the National Trust and for being a versatile author. But he is now best known for the remarkable diary he kept for most of his adult life, which has been compared with that of Samuel Pepys and hailed as 'a treasure of contemporary English literature'.
The first of three, this volume covers its first dozen years, beginning with his return to work for the National Trust during the Second World War, and ending with his tempestuous marriage to the exotic Alvilde Chaplin.
The diary vividly portrays the hectic social life of London during the Blitz, when in the intervals between struggling to save a disintegrating architectural heritage he enjoys a dizzying variety of romantic experiences with both sexes. His descriptions of visits to harassed country-house owners are as perceptive as they are hilarious.
With the war's end, the mood changes as he portrays a world of gloom and austerity. He shares the prevailing pessimism, yet during these years arranges the transfer of some of England's loveliest houses to the safe keeping of the National Trust. Finally he escapes from England to live on the Continent with his beautiful paramour, yet remains restless and dissatisfied.
The diaries of James Lees-Milne were originally published in twelve volumes between 1975 and 2005. Michael Bloch, James Lees-Milne's literary executor and editor of the last five volumes of the complete work, has produced this skilful compilation from the first five volumes - including interesting new material omitted from the original publications.
Just as querulous, misanthropic, greedy, vain and fascinating as ever. One reads, one deplores - and reads on with vindictive delight - Patrick Skene-Caitling, Sunday Telegraph
The greatest diarist of our times - funny, feline and disconcertingly honest, wielding a rapier to Alan Clark's cudgel - Jeremy Lewis, The Oldie
His wonderful diaries demonstrates to anyone with eyes to see that he was a superb chronicler of the human condition - Hugh Massingberd, Spectator
Funny, shrewd, waspish and wise ... Lees-Milne was the greatest diarist of this century, and one of its finest writers - Jeremy Lewis, Literary Review
Nothing short of phenomenal ... surely the finest diary of the 20th Century, truly a great masterpiece of English literature - Hugh Massingberd, Country Life
Without question one of the finest diarists of the 20th century - Selina Hastings, Spectator