29 June 2009

Genius Loci: Madresfield, the real Brideshead

For many, the word "Brideshead" conjures up a deeply held nostalgia for the English arcadia. Written during a time when the English Country House faced extinction due in part to calamitous death taxes and the irrelevance of the aristocracy in a new modern age, Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited was a swan song to the glory days of the country's great landowning families and their private princely palaces that were built and furnished when Britain ruled the world.

The Staircase Hall at Madresfield

Even though Castle Howard has become so identified with Brideshead, it was the mock-Elizabethan stately home of Madresfield and its owners, the Lygons, who provided the inspiration for Waugh's tale (and where he even wrote long stretches of it). The story of the house and the family from Tudor times onwards is enchantingly told by Jane Mulvaugh in Madresfield.

The nursery at Madresfield where Waugh spent time writing BR

Mulvaugh ingeniously weaves each chapter around an object or feature of the house, such as "The Embroidery" or "The Red Heels" and wends it with the different generations of Lygons so seamlessly that it is hard to say where the house leaves off and the family begins. An excellent point made by Mulvaugh is that Madresfield was built over generations and became a rambling pile the better to retreat to - MUCH the opposite of Castle Howard, a Whig monument to power and pageanty, where life was lived on display.

So what was the scandalous reason that the Flytes'/Lygons' father lived in exile? What did the family make of the book that put them on a salver? You'll just have to read- and savor - to find out.


P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Oh! That is wonderful, I know now everyone will be wanting to read it- thanks again for a delicious treat. la

FrenchGardenHouse said...

Thank you for the recommendation! I'm always up for a good read. Fabulous photograph of Madresfield Hall.

home before dark said...

I just ordered this and think it will be a good read. Am disappointed, however, someone beat me to the idea of focusing each chapter on a treasure and weaving a story around it. My mother-in-law who wanted four boys, had only two, was so starved to have a girl in the family. She'd sit me down, put an object in my hand, and tell me the story her boys never wanted to take the time to hear. She died less than five years after I met her at the age of 59. Objects do carry history, as I know you know so very well.

Change of subject: I think you should have some outfits made from MC fabric! So much fun to wear on your lecture circuit and you, would of course, be
modeling MC's predilection to do the same!

Anonymous said...

My reading list just keeps getting longer and longer - this looks grand. KDM

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

I know you all won't be disappointed! And Home Before Dark, very interesting idea - it would certainly get some attention and be a better homage to her than wearing stirrup pants and a wig. My swing coat lined in Coppelia.....sigh....

And yes, objects do become so imbued with sentiment and memory, a rose is not just a rose. Those people like Le Corbusier who are able to ruthlessly edit their surroundings must have a completely different matrix...

dterrydraw said...

Anyone interested in either "Brideshead Revisited" or Madresfield should enjoy reading the recently published "Mad World: Evelyn Waugh & the Secrets of Brideshead".

It's quite interesting.


David Terry