Book: The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication date: 2006
Summary: The summer of 1911, in England, began with the crowning of King George V, an event attended by his apparently friendly cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. The aristocrats and politicians took the occasion for glittering parties and to establish the relationships that, unknown to them at the time, would carry them through World War I. The sparkly start, though, didn’t last. High summer heat fueled the rage of underpaid workers and under-represented suffragettes.
Thoughts: My book is fluttering with post-it notes. I read it during NaNoWriMo while writing a section set in England in 1914. There are dozens of details from The Perfect Summer that add reality to my fictional setting — the shops, the parties, the theater, the transportation, and the holidays.
My year of reading books on England has led me to this theory: when British writers think about diversity, the impulse goes to upstairs / downstairs or, slightly more broadly, upper class and workers. Occasionally, it might stretch to a thought about the Irish. This book missed a great opportunity to explore a diversity as broad as the British Empire.
A description of black-faced entertainers used the N-word three times in two paragraphs, quoting contemporary accounts. I think an American writer would have found a different way to present the material — one piece of printed ephemera would have done the trick. And, then, I think an American writer would have thought to explore what the real darker-skinned people were doing in 1911. I just did a bit of research and learned that by 1911 there were black, Indian, and Chinese communities in many port towns in Britain. I’m going to take an educated guess that they weren’t part of the dockworkers’ union that went on strike that summer — and that would have been an interesting story to read in this book.
Challenges: The Perfect Summer is my 13th book for the British History Reading Challenge. It’s my 21st book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge of 2014, which means I met and exceeded my Master Level goal of 16 to 20 books.
Have you read this book? What did you think?