Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father's House


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.

"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 ...

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Thrumpton Hall: Elegy of an Obsessive Love

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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.

"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.

For fans of Downton Abbey—the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, called it “brilliant, original, and intensely readable”—Thrumpton Hall is a poignant and memorable true story of family.

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Editorial Reviews

Joyce Carol Oates
“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.”
Pat Barker
“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.”
Alexander Waugh
“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.”
Julian Fellowes
“This is a brilliant, original, and intensely readable book. . . . I cannot recommend it too highly.”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"A memoir that reads like a fairy tale gone wrong." –Joyce Carol Oates, Times Literary Supplement, (named one of the best books of the year)
The Guardian
“An extremely well-told tale of an unexceptional man. . . . For the reader, it is a treat to catch an author at the height of her descriptive powers, exposing the agony of parental disappointment with honesty, sensitivity, and touches of brilliance.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A memoir that reads like a fairy tale gone wrong.” –Joyce Carol Oates, Times Literary Supplement, (named one of the best books of the year)
New York Times Book Review
Beautifully written. . . . It’s also the story of her father, and not the least of its accomplishments is that it instantly catapults him into the front rank of impossible and eccentric English parents. . . . Both comic . . . and immensely touching.”
The Spectator
“Disarming in its honesty, endlessly surprising and oddly touching.”
“A rich and entertaining account of the upper classes in the early to mid-twentieth century. There are endless family tragedies, trysts and twists. . . . Needless to say, perfect for anyone who’s ever obsessed about a beautiful house in the country.”
Charles McGrath
[Seymour's] odd and oddly affecting book, beautifully written, is in part a story of house-love that borders on madness…To Miranda Seymour's credit, she is not much easier on herself than she is on her father. The author of several novels as well as biographies of Mary Shelley, Robert Graves and Lady Ottoline Morrell, she brings a historian's scrutiny to her family's story, and walks a careful line between sentimentalizing her father on the one hand and turning him into a monster on the other.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.
—Pam Kingsbury

Kirkus Reviews
Seymour (The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a Motor-Racing Legend, 2004, etc.) recalls her idiosyncratic father and the unbreakable bond he formed with his country estate. Located in Nottinghamshire, Thrumpton Hall once belonged to Lord Byron. Young George Seymour, who spent a year there with his childless aunt and uncle when his parents were dispatched to a diplomatic post in Bolivia, was the first child to have lived there in 300 years. Though the Byrons never suggested he would inherit it, the boy vowed Thrumpton Hall would one day belong to him. His daughter's lively recollection of George's love affair with the house includes candid reflections on the trials of taking over such a grandiose building, as well as some beautifully descriptive details. Her chronicle of young George's discovery of the Hall's hidden spaces, shown to him by a kindly electrician in 1927, is among the book's many highlights. But the real interest lies in Seymour's account of her parents' relations with their daughter and each other. She wonders whether her father married her wealthy mother for the money. Their engagement occurred as the Byrons were considering selling Thrumpton Hall, and later in life George formed close, possibly homosexual bonds with two local men. The author speculates on her father's overwhelming fondness for these characters, which included sharing beds with them. She records some strained remarks on the topic from her mother but doesn't draw any firm conclusions. Interjections from the guarded but always beguiling Rosemary Scott Ellis Seymour make a lively addition to the text; she seems to be constantly looking over her daughter's shoulder as Seymour writes, offering a crusty runningcommentary. The story takes a sad turn toward the end, as George's obsession with his house is ultimately overshadowed by an even greater fixation on the ill-fated Robbie. Creatively and entertainingly written family memoir. Agent: Anthony Goff/David Higham Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061466588
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Miranda Seymour is the author of many acclaimed and bestselling works of fiction and nonfiction, including biographies of Mary Shelley, Robert Graves, Henry James, and, most recently, the pioneer French racing driver Hellé Nice. She lives in England.

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Read an Excerpt

Thrumpton Hall
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.
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Table of Contents

Family tree


Pt. 1 The House: Obsession

1 Dick and Vita 11

2 Exile 24

3 The House 30

4 The Boy 43

5 A Public-School Boy 56

6 A Good War 60

7 Literary Connections: 2006 77

8 Shadows under the Cedars 86

9 False Trails 98

10 Welsh Connections 106

11 Reading Romance 116

12 Nearer, My House, to Thee 125

13 The Fulfillment of a Dream 141

Pt. 2 The House: Possession

1 I Hate and I Love (The Lists My Father Never Made) 157

2 Family Snaps 162

3 A Question of Appearance 177

4 Betrayal 189

5 On the Road 205

6 Cherry Orchard Blues 220

7 Ganymede 236

8 The House Divided 252

Epilogue 269

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