Anthony Eden wrote his memoirs backwards, beginning with a self-serving and mendacious apologia for his disastrous term as prime minister. Two other, better volumes followed before he died last January.
This little book tells us what he remembered 60 years later of the idyllic life of the English aristocracy in the Edwardian era, and its destruction in the trenches of the First World War.
Time soothes most troubles, and although Eden describes vividly the horrors he experienced as an infantry officer (he was decorated for bravery), the book has none of the bitterness of Goodbye to All That., or Memoires of a Foxhunging Man . They were written immediately after the war, in a rage of bitterness against the incompetent, dishonest and class-ridden politicians and generals who nearly destroyed European civilization.
They are classics, and this is not. But it is a good book, all the same: well-written, slightly melancholy about the lost world of Eden's youth, and grimly evocative of the horrors of the Somme.
Eden was a younger son of rich landowners in County Durham, a family which had held its estates there for 400 years. He remarks that it never occurred to him and his friends that it could all vanish in their lifetime.
His mother carried out good works, his father made a work of art out of the house and grounds, and collected paintings by Degas. One of his neighbors was once heard to whisper in horror: "Bill paid good money for those things."
Now the house is abandoned, the park a wilderness and that pleasant, rich and civilized existence has vanished completely. Two of Eden's brother's were killed in the war, as were most of his friends, and neither he nor practically anyone born in Britain before, say, 1930, ever really grasped that their world had come to an end. (Doubleday, $7.95)
- Patrick Brogan