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In Darling Monster, John Julius Norwich collects the letters his mother, the screen actress and society darling Lady Diana Cooper wrote to her only son at school and through his early adulthood. Covering the period 1939 to 1952, the letters take in the first rumblings of World War II – which Lady Diana and her husband, cabinet minister Duff Cooper, spent holed up at the Dorchester before retreating to rural Sussex – and Duff’s appointment as Ambassador to France which saw the couple move to the gloriously appointed British Embassy in post-Liberation Paris.

A fascinating portrait of privilege, stoicism, easy wit and motherly love, Lady Diana’s perceptions, advice, gossip and admonishments are interspersed with a self-deprecating selection of the young John Julius’s despatches from disperse lodgings including his Canadian prep school, Eton, Oxford, transatlantic liners and Navy ships.

Bookanista asks if there are other collections of letters he admires…

 

Bram Stoker, Dracula
Nobody seems to realise what a brilliant novel this is. It is cast entirely in letter form.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
The greatest letter-writer of his generation. An old family friend, and the subject of a hugely successful biography by my daughter Artemis Cooper.

George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis
George was a retired Eton housemaster, who met Rupert at a party and complained of loneliness. Rupert promised to write to him once a week, and the result is one of the most delightful exchanges of correspondence that I know.

Mr_Wu_and_Mrs_StitchEvelyn Waugh
He too was an old family friend, and a dazzling letter writer. Mark Amory edited his letters some years ago. His correspondence with my mother, Diana Cooper, (Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch) was separately edited by Artemis in 1991.

Nancy Mitford
She too was a close friend of Evelyn. Her letters to him are every bit as good as his to her.

Edith Sitwell
She never published her letters as such, but marvellous specimens can be found in biographies, including the wonderful one by Victoria Glendinning.

Freya Stark
She was most famous as an intrepid traveller, winning the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society while still in her twenties; but it is as a writer that she will live. Her letters (8 volumes) were edited by Lucy Moorehead, 1974–82.

Roger Mortimer, Dear Lupin – Letters to a Wayward Son
Published last year, and – to me at least – hilariously funny.

John Keats
There is an almost unbearable poignancy in these letters, Keats having died of consumption at the age of twenty-five. His letters are very nearly as great as his poetry; one can’t say more.

Henry James
His letters range over his own life, his work, his ideas, his travels; they give a wonderfully three-dimensional portrait of the man himself.

 

Author portrait by Martin Pope

John Julius Norwich is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire, the Mediterranean and most recently The Popes. He has also written on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and has presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television. Darling Monster is published by Chatto & Windus. Read more.

Author portrait © Martin Pope

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