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English Country Houses

by V. Sackville-West

Series: Britain in Pictures (15)

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1052200,486 (3.42)10
Part of the Writers' Britain series, first published in the 1940s. This book offers a brief history of the English country house from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and of the people who built and lived in them from common squires to kings and queens.
  1. 10
    Some Country Houses and Their Owners by James Lees-Milne (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Very similar in length and scope. The Sackville-West sticks mainly to architecture, and not much about the home owners.

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The front flap of my edition says "Written during the Blitz by one of England's most celebrated writers, this text was undoubtedly a morale booster for a British people laid siege to during a time of war . . . " Undoubtedly, or maybe not. She never mentions the war, but does say several times that there really have never been any wars on English soil -- the English like to go elsewhere to fight. Far away places like France, Scotland, and Ireland. And she reiterates that the English people like peace and quiet. Hmmm, okay ....

Anyway! This 92 page book is mostly about the grand English country houses that I love to read about, watch in films, and visit if possible. It reminded me of a similar book that I read years ago and thought was a riot --Some Country Houses and Their Owners by James Lees-Milne. That one was perhaps more fun because it talked about the eccentric home owners. With English Country Houses, Sackville-West sticks mainly to the buildings themselves for the most part.

At times, the author can be quite amusing. For example: "The English are a rural-minded people on the whole, which perhaps explains why our rural domestic architecture is so much better than our urban. Our cities, generally speaking, are deplorable. There is a lack of design which must make the French smile. When the French hint delicately at this we are apt to murmur 'Bath' and then come to a full stop."

However, far too much of the time she throws out one historical or architectural detail, and then give a long list of the houses that exemplify it. At one point she says, "....and, again restricting myself to the tantalising system of giving a mere list . . . " Yeah, no, not such a tantalising system, more tiresome.

I wonder who the target audience was who she had in mind --I'm doubting it was the average Brit who was getting targeted by the falling bombs. Did her reader have a familiarity of the places she listed and described? Because I didn't, and would have been completely lost if I didn't google almost every property she mentioned. And I was happy to do that, because that's the sort of thing I call "fun." But it does make the reader work. This book deserves to have colour photos and maps to make it a really great reading experience. There were a handful of line drawings, and they were very nice, but this needs more.

Looking up these places on the internet was interesting to see what's changed with some of them since WWII. A few had links to British tabloids, with articles of people or events that would fall into the category of "misbehaviour of the rich and famous." Others had become museums or hotels, but most seemed to be high-end venues to rent for your dream wedding.

And now I've written a review almost as long as the book. Just one more thing:

Fun fact I learned: Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, has been lived in by the same family for almost 900 years. It seems this family has always been good at having sons that live until at least they can begot more sons. New addition to my future travel list.

Recommended for: Anglophiles & armchair architects ( )
  Nickelini | Feb 11, 2019 |
A short history of the evolving architecture of English country houses. Not as interesting to me as it could have been because Miss Sackville-West apparently assumed everyone would recognize all the houses she discussed (as well as their owners, builders, and locations in England). Included wonderful artists' renderings: eight color plates and sixteen black and white drawings of various estates. Unfortunately, they were not necessarily placed anywhere near the point of the book where they were mentioned, although the index helps somewhat if you want to take the time. It's a slim volume, running to only 85 pages, but it's not what I'd consider light reading. I picked the book up used because it was an attractive curiosity, and I just wanted it. As for its readability, that's debatable. ( )
  y2pk | Aug 23, 2011 |
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Part of the Writers' Britain series, first published in the 1940s. This book offers a brief history of the English country house from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and of the people who built and lived in them from common squires to kings and queens.

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