Harold Nicolson (1886-1968) was a man of manifold talents: a diplomat, politician, journalist, broadcaster, historian, biographer, diarist, novelist, lecturer, literary critic, essayist and gardener. Perhaps most celebrated for his Diaries (reissued by Faber Finds in their original three volumes), they run the risk of obscuring the excellence of his other books. He wrote over thirty: Some People, Sir Arthur Nicolson, Peacemaking, 1919, Curzon, The Last Phase, 1919-1925, and The Congress of Vienna are all being reissued in Faber Finds. Harold Nicolson was educated at Wellington and at Balliol College, Oxford. He joined the Foreign Office in 1909, and in 1913 married the writer Vita Sackville-West. He was a member of the British delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. He left the Foreign Office in 1929, and in 1935 he was elected National Labour Member of Parliament for West Leicester. In 1940 he was appointed a Junior Minister in Churchill's wartime government.In his eulogy, John Sparrow, with affectionate aptness, described Harold Nicolson as 'a nineteenth-century Whig leading an eighteenth-century existence in the twentieth-century.'
Some Peopleby Harold Nicolson
On the face of it, bracketing Harold Nicolson and Vladimir Nabokov seems unexpected but the latter paid a remarkable tribute to Some People. When speaking to Harold Nicolson's son, Nigel, he confessed that all his life he had been fighting against the influence of Some People.' The style of that book is like a drug', he said. The critic/i>/b>/i>/b>
On the face of it, bracketing Harold Nicolson and Vladimir Nabokov seems unexpected but the latter paid a remarkable tribute to Some People. When speaking to Harold Nicolson's son, Nigel, he confessed that all his life he had been fighting against the influence of Some People.' The style of that book is like a drug', he said. The critic and biographer, Stacy Schiff, has also admitted 'Some People has exerted more influence than I care to admit. I would reread it any day of the week.'
Ever since first publication in 1927 it has been attracting this sort of praise. It is an unusual book comprising nine chapters each one being a sort of character sketch: Miss Plimsoll; J. D. Marstock; Lambert Orme; The Marquis de Chaumont; Jeanne de Henaut; Titty; Professor Malone; Arketall; Miriam Codd. The author himself writes, a little disingenuously, 'Many of the following sketches are purely imaginary. Such truths as they may contain are only half-truths.' In fact, it would be difficult to point to one, other than Miriam Codd, that was 'purely imaginary', some were composite portraits, others skilful amalgams of divers traits from a variety of different people, and others much more overtly drawn from one real-life figure, for example Lambert Orme clearly represents Ronald Firbank, and Arketall Lord Curzon's bibulous valet.
There is nothing else quite like Some People and in its own playful way is beyond category. To be tedious for a moment, we have to call it fiction but are then immediately thrown by Virginia Woolf's deft summary, 'He lies in wait for his own absurdities as artfully as theirs. Indeed by the end of the book we realize that the figure which has been most completely and most subtly displayed is that of the author . . . It is thus, he would seem to say, in the mirrors of our friends that we chiefly live.'
Fiction? Biography? Autobiography? - the category doesn't matter, the result is spellbinding however you choose to read it.
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