The New York Times
Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father's Houseby Miranda Seymour
"Dear Thrumpton, how I miss you tonight." When twenty-one-year-old George Seymour wrote these words in 1944, the object of his affection was not a young woman but the beautiful country house in Nottinghamshire that he desired above all else. Miranda Seymour would later be raised at Thrumpton Hall-her upbringing far from idyllic, as life revolved around her father's… See more details below
"Dear Thrumpton, how I miss you tonight." When twenty-one-year-old George Seymour wrote these words in 1944, the object of his affection was not a young woman but the beautiful country house in Nottinghamshire that he desired above all else. Miranda Seymour would later be raised at Thrumpton Hall-her upbringing far from idyllic, as life revolved around her father's odd capriciousness. The house took priority over everything, even his family-until the day when George Seymour, in his golden years, began dressing in black leather and riding powerful motorbikes around the countryside in the company of surprising friends.
A biography and family memoir by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, Miranda Seymour's Thrumpton Hall is a riveting, frequently shocking, and ultimately unforgettable true story of the devastating consequences of obsessive desire and misplaced love.
The New York Times
Seymour, who's written biographies, fiction and children's books, now tells a more intimate tale, the story of her father, George FitzRoy Seymour, and the home, Thrumpton Hall, that was his great passion. In this well-told family saga, Seymour begins by noting that her father enjoyed royal lineage, even if it was only to King Charles II's mistress. Thanks to George's father's career in the foreign service, George was barely two when his parents left him with childless relations at Thrumpton Hall, which became his Eden. His need for money to secure actual title to Thrumpton may have inspired his marriage to Rosemary Scott-Ellis. Daughter Miranda doesn't shy from George's less honorable moments. When she was an awkward teenager, her father didn't hesitate to tell her how fat she looked or that her hair was so ugly she should wear a wig. And as he aged, George openly indulged his passion for young men. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Seymour, whose prolific output includes novels, nonfiction, and children's books, here blends autobiography and memoir to tell the story of her family's-namely, her father's-obsession with a house. In 1944, 21-year-old George Seymour finally found a way to finance purchase of Thrumpton Hall, a Nottinghamshire country estate he'd spent his early life coveting. From then on, everything in his life revolved around keeping the house in pristine order, keeping up appearances, and keeping the family in line. The author wisely warns readers that she's only telling her version of the story; while she does interview her mother and allude to her brother, she does not assume she has access to all the family ghosts. It's left to the reader to determine how exacting her father's emotional abuse must have been and whether his relationships with various younger and younger men might or might not have been overtly sexual. This book explores the angst of upper-class, post-World War II English life, offering the reader an intimate look at one family's dynamics amid declining financial security. Recommended as interest warrants.
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A Memoir of Life in My Father's House
In My Father's House
'Three obituaries!' a fierce old relation wrote after my father died. 'What on earth for! What did he ever do?'
The point was fair. Her own late husband, a handsomely moustached man with an outstanding war record, was of the type who earn such tributes. But George FitzRoy Seymour he was concerned that the FitzRoy, recording some royal bed-hopping in the seventeenth century, should never be overlooked had done no such service to his country. He had no war record. Long and dutiful service as a magistrate had earned him commendations and praise, but no official honour. The fat red handbooks in which he listed his London clubs Pratt's and Brooks' in the issue of 1982 offered no history of worthy activities, while revealing (father 'great great great grandson of Marquess of Hertford'; mother 'sister of 10th Duke of Grafton'; wife 'daughter of 8th Baron Howard de Walden') that here was a man who took exceptional pride in his connections. It saddened him that he had no title. His links to those who did were a solace.
Eccentricity has not always been encouraged by the prim editors of Debrett. Invited to list his recreations, my father omitted motorbikes and wrote instead: shooting, deerstalking and tennis. Identifying himself as Lord of the Manor of Thrumpton provided a greater source of satisfaction.
His address provides the clue to George FitzRoy Seymour's most substantial achievement. Deposited with its childless owners as a baby, he fell in love with the House that always seemed to be his natural home. His vocation was announcedin one of the first roundhanded essays he wrote as a schoolboy. When he grew up, he wrote, he wished to become the squ'arson of Thrumpton Hall, combining the role of landowner and parson as his uncle, Lord Byron, the poet's descendant, had done before him. He would look after the tenants. He would be kind to his servants, especially when they grew old. He would cherish and protect the home he loved. The master who marked the essay, repelled by such priggishness, scribbled a terse comment in red crayon, advising young Seymour to find a style and topic more suited to his years. The following week, my father handed in eight pages on the importance of preserving the family monuments in Thrumpton's village church. He was eleven years old. No suggestion had been made that he would ever inherit the House to which he had vowed his love. Uncertainty was not one of his failings.
My father died in May 1994. A gust of wind blew in through a newly opened window, rippling the yellow hangings of the bed on which he lay. My brother went along the landing to find our mother and consult her about hymns for the funeral. I walked out into the garden. Reaching up into the swaying branches of the lilacs, I snapped them off until I stood knee-deep in the heavy swags of blossom I had never, until that moment, been licensed to cut. Returning to the House, I pushed at the wooden shutters of the rooms on the ground floor, parting them to let in a flood of lime-green light. Standing, hands on hips, at the far end of the garden, I hurled shouts at the red-brick walls and arching gables until they echoed back their reassurance: Free! Free!
In the little village church later that week, the vicar spoke of my father as 'a man with a wound in his heart'. The description, which startled nobody, could have been a reference to the anguish he had recently experienced. It seemed more likely that the vicar, a man who had known my father for thirty years, was thinking of his aching need for a love greater than any one person had been able to provide.
We buried his ashes privately, in the garden of the House to which he gave his heart. The wording on the tablet that marked the spot was borrowed from Christopher Wren's epitaph. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. The pride of it, loosely translated here, felt right: If you wish to know me, look around you. Here I am.
We chose the words and here, still, he is. On troubled nights, he comes to me in dreams, stalking back through the front door to survey his home and take charge of it once more. He complains that unknown people are sleeping in his room; that his cupboards are filled with the sordid clothes of strangers. Speaking in a flat voice, thinned by resentment, he explains that he intends to put the House, his home, not ours, to rights. We buried a phantom, a creature of our own wishes. We wanted him dead. Our mistake. He never died. He just went travelling.
A white hand reaches out to pull down a parchment-coloured blind at one of the library windows. Wearily, he reminds me of the need to protect precious leather-bound books and rosewood tables from the glare of daylight. Helpless, I watch him take his familiar place at the head of the long dining table. Awaiting instructions, I find myself dismissed to a side seat, far away. He observes, looking pained, that the silver is tarnished, that the wine has been insufficiently aired, and that the soup plates are cold. Standards have slipped, but all will be well again. Everything, once again, is under his control.
I watch his body harden into the familiar lines of authority. I long for him to leave. I know he never will.
It takes days for the sense of dread to wear off, not only of his reproachful spirit, but of having failed the House, of having been unworthy of his expectations.
His taste was not always for objects of beauty. This morning, I came across a battered white plastic chair in the courtyard at the back of the House, turned east to face the morning sun. The seat is soiled, the shape is ugly. I want to throw it away. Sam Walker disagrees. Sam and I read our first books together at the village dame school where Sam's aunt kept order with a ruler and a whistle. Sam has grown up to be a true Nottinghamshire man, plain-spoken and reserved. He's worked at the House for forty years.
'You can't get rid of that,' he says. 'It's your father's chair.' 'The seat's broken. I'm sure he didn't mean us to keep it.' Sam Walker's belief in preservation is legendary. Old lamp fittings, massive radiograms, towel racks, broken deckchairs; they never disappear.Thrumpton Hall
A Memoir of Life in My Father's House. Copyright © by Miranda Seymour. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are saying about this
“Miranda Seymour’s wonderful memoir is a kind of posthumous conversation with her father. The ending is particularly powerful. What a gripping, poignant, dramatic, emotionally searing book she has written.”
“A brilliantly crafted true story, In My Father’s House gains depth and complexity from its willingness to explore the ethical dilemma of revealing painful family secrets. There is more to learn about human nature in this short memoir than in many novels two or three times its length.”
“This is a brilliant, original, and intensely readable book. . . . I cannot recommend it too highly.”
“Few books capture the pain and laughter of upper-class English life as vividly as this one. It is a gem of a memoir, and I wish there were others like it.”
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