Only last Sunday I was extolling the beauties of Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire following a visit there with 'SoD et al'. This morning, cruising through the book reviews in The Mail, I came across this photo of a rather elegant lady:
Maud Russell shot by Cecil Beaton from the book: A Constant Heart by Emily Russell.
Maud Russell was the chatelaine of Mottisfont Abbey before, during and after WWII. The book, A Constant Heart: The War Diaries of Maud Russell, is an edited edition of her war-time diaries from 1938 to 1945 and the review makes it sound like a compilation by Somerset Maugham, Terence Rattigan and P. J. Wodehouse! As the book reviewer puts it:
Yet another book of wartime recollections by a society hostess? As I opened this book with its painting of Maud Russell sitting up in her flouncy Thirties bed on the dustjacket, I guessed these might be rather shallow diaries jazzed up with a bit of Blitz excitement.
A quick flick through confirmed there was indeed a great deal of ‘lunched with Sibyl [Colefax]’ and ‘dined at the Savoy Grill with Duff and Diana [Cooper]’, and a rolling gallery of posh nicknames: Bim, Bongie, Crinks and Cardie.
But how wrong first impressions can be! I became entranced by these diaries and was deeply moved. To read them is to live through World War II inside the mind and world of an amazingly observant and warm-hearted woman. That the author happens to be the chatelaine of a large country house (Mottisfont in Hampshire) run by a legion of servants, and that she dines at Claridges, the Ritz and the Savoy each week, makes them all the more fascinating.
The book reviewer provides a flavour of the Mottisfont household on just one day in 1941:
Maud tells us who was in the house on the night of June 14, 1941: she and her husband, six house guests, her maid Adele, three housemaids, cook, three kitchen maids, a butler, two footmen, an odd-man, a ‘negro refugee’ from Southampton, five evacuee children and eight officers. Another 14 assorted batmen and evacuees were in the stables.
Not the least of the delicious ironies to be enjoyed in this book is the fact that Maud Russel was of German-Jewish stock! Another interesting facet of the book is to be reminded that we all look back at WWII knowing how things turned out but, of course, the participants at the time had no idea. Thus, when Belgium fell, everyone pinned their hopes on France holding out.
Anyway, this 'creepy coincidence-thingie' is obviously sending me a message and I will have to buy the book.