Item 177 - Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

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MONT II/A/1/177

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Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

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  • 21 Nov.-3 Dec. 1917 (Creation)

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24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—(21 Nov.) Breccles needs a new hot-water supply, so she has planned to go down with Lutyens to the Nobles’ [Wretham Hall] to investigate. Will consult Surtees about further mortgages. This afternoon she went with Phyllis to see Viola's first night, and dined at home with guests.—(22 Nov.) She lunched with Nancy and Sydney, whom she dislikes. She dined [at home] with guests, including Coates, who is still in love with Diana.—(22 Nov.) Is dining with Cardie, K, and Asquith, which she thinks is a good sign. After the hospital she played tennis with Edgar and lunched with Hankey and Masterton, who is increasingly ‘soppy’ about Winston. Both seemed disappointed by the failure of the latest attack. Has just heard that Edward has been killed. Reflects on the number of friends who have been, and may be, killed.—(24 Nov.) Has not seen Diana yet, as she was at K’s and did not come to the hospital. Last night she dined with only Cardie and the Old Boy, and she and Asquith reminisced about Sicily. Today she lunched at the Curzons, where Hardinge and Curzon made friendly remarks about Montagu. She had tea with Viola and Hugo, who plans to start a small theatre with Nigel Playfair. She dined with Duff, and Patrick and Phyllis arrived later. Patrick is worried that he may have to marry Phyllis, but she has a new lover, Edgar Vincent.—(25 Nov.) After the hospital she saw Diana, who is wretched but determined to give Duff as much fun as possible. She lunched and dined with Pat, Duff, and Diana, and were joined by Phyllis and Hugo came in later.—(26 Nov.) She lunched with de Noailles, and went to see K and Frances. Discusses the effects of Edward’s death. She dined at Mansfield Street. Refers to the progress of Montagu’s bed.—(27 Nov.) She lunched at home with guests, including Birrell and Freyberg, whom she could not get to talk to each other; then, after visiting Frances, she went to the cinema with her ‘futurist friend’ Wyndham Lewis, and then to Cardie’s for a farewell party for Oc, though he has now got a fortnight’s extension. It is rumoured that he is engaged to Betty Manners.—(28 Nov.) She had lunch with Waxworks and Mikky, then sewed and read with Diana and Duff. She dined at Claude Lowther’s with Goonie, the Duke of Marlborough (who Duff thinks may be Goonie’s lover), and others. Lowther’s house is lovely, but his bedroom is ridiculous. ‘If you had wanted to caricature a bugger’s bedroom you couldnt have done it differently.’ She returned home to find Diana, Duff, and Pat reading.—(29 Nov.) Lord Lansdowne’s letter [to the Daily Telegraph, calling for a negotiated peace with Germany], more because she doesn’t want to lose anyone else than because she thinks it right. K[atharine] and Viola, who, with Diana, dined with her, disagreed violently on the subject.—(1 Dec.) The King and Queen visited the hospital yesterday and asked after Montagu. The King referred to Mrs Besant as an ‘odious woman’. Afterwards she visited Montagu’s mother and went to a party at the India Office to meet some Indian officers. Birrell, Phyllis, and Blanche dined with her. She and Lutyens are lunching together today, then going off with the Nobles.

Wretham Hall, Thetford.—Describes Wretham Hall and its estate.

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—(2 Dec.) She drove with Lutyens to Breccles and they examined the house and discussed what needs to be done. They returned to Wretham for lunch, and are now off to London. (3 Dec.) Has received his letter from Aden [B1/146].

(The first sheet was rewritten on 1 December, the original having been lost.)

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TRANSCRIPT:

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.
Wednesday 21st 1917 (really Dec 1st

My only darling Ted, a tiresome thing has happened. I’ve lost, during the time which has elapsed while this is being written the first sheet of my letter to you. I havent a notion what I told you or what I had been doing so I shall just have to go on where I was. The only thing I do remember is that I’ve had a horrid shock about Breccles. Namely that an engineer has reported on the hot water supply and he says it is wholly out of date and inadequate and that it will cost about £800 to put it right and to add the new baths. Isnt it beastly, but I’m sure its absolutely essential that is should be done, we shall never be happy without it. I’m going down on Sunday week (that is today really but you must bear in mind that I’m writing as tho’ on the 21st! Do you follow?) with Lutyens to stay with the Nobles and we shall find out all about it. Lutyens is very anxious that while the house is being pulled about for hot water we should wire it ready for Electric light, then it will be quite a small job after. I dont quite know what to think of this or whether we can afford it. I must consult Surtees as to further mortgages when improvements have been effected, because of course it cant be done out of income can it?

I suppose doing it bit by bit we might save a £10,000 mortgage on the house and get it going thoroughly, its horrible not having you to consult.

Also its quite possible that the Govt may stop all private work and we shall be saved that way. {1}

It was Violas first night this afternoon and we all flocked to it. I went with Phillis but almost everyone you can think of was dispersed about the house. Its the worst play I’ve ever been to and the dullest, really nothing but an anti Bolo play {2}, written by a member of the National party. However Viola looked so lovely that one could stand the play on that account. She was divinely dressed, and beautifully coiffée. It was over by 8 having begun at 5 and we came back here and had a nice dinner. Diana, Birrell, Goonie, Duff, Phillis Oc, me Olga Lynn (I have her to this house I’m afraid now that you are gone!) Osbert, Viola, Cardie.

Thursday. I lunched with Nancy & Sidney, a very grim meal, I really cant go to their house, I dislike Sidney so much, and he gives one the impression the whole time, that he feels you are much honoured, or should be, by receiving his hospitality, and that he has been put to a considerable expense by your presence. {3} In the evening we had rather an amusing party. At dinner. Hugo Wemyss, Rosemary, Ivo Cynthia, Cardie, Norah Lindsay Lutyens, me Nellie, Coates Diana and after we played firstly Sandown and then Duff Oc, Willy de Grüne came in, and a friend of Duffs and finally Hugo and we went on till 2.30 Here I am just in bed after it. Coates still seems very ardent as Diana’s lover.

Friday. I was rather pleased at getting a message from Miss Way asking if I was dining at home tonight and if so might the old Bird come. I replied yes with enthusiasm and so he & I Cardie and K are dining together. Dont you take it as a good sign. I played tennis this morning after the hospital with Edgar, very high class too good for me & I fear I rather spoilt the set, but it was great fun tho’ I played pretty badly even for me. I dont know who my partner was, very good, but Edgars was first class, a Mrs Sattersthwaite or some such name. Hankey & Masterton have just been to lunch. Masterton is getting more and more soppy about Winston, he can talk of nothing else. Hankey was rather complacent, not about the war particularly (I think they are disappointed at this last attack which like so many others just missed being a big thing) but about his own work and achievements. Still he was rather nice and I was very glad to see him again. The worst news has just come. Edward was killed on Wednesday, Graham has just telephoned to me. Isnt it awful. I can only think of Katharine Frances & Diana. Is nothing going to be left us, is it merely a question of time, must they all go. Duff next I suppose, and Scatters too. One felt after Raymond that nothing more could happen and then as time went on one thought with what was left one could still build up a certain life and now that is being destroyed too. I’ve heard no details. I know you and Alan will both be sad. One can only be thankful now that Mells was burnt as it gave him 3 very happy weeks with them. I cant write more now I feel so utterly low.

Saturday. I’ve not seen Diana yet as she was at K’s and didnt come to the hospital, but I’m afraid she is very wretched. Cardie the old boy and I dined together as I hadnt the heart to try and get a 4th. It was rather a success, we sat and talked till about 11 in the dining room and then played some skip till 12.30. He was very unhappy about E but perked up during dinner. We talked a lot about our time in Sicily about which he was almost sentimental. He had seen Frances, but of course there is nothing to hear yet. She is, as you can guess, absolutely down. I did a very strange thing for lunch today, went to the Curzon’s where I found a vast party. Jellicoe, Cowans Fisher, Margot old B and many many others. I sat between Hardinge & Jellicoe who I thought most uninteresting. Harding was very friendly about you so was Curzon who spoke very warmly of you. I think he was pleased that you had written to him about his speech. Lady Curzon is a tiresome chattering woman but a very pretty one. Viola came to tea between her 2 performances. She was rather happier about the play as they had had a very good matinée, but they fear it wont run for long. Hugo also came, there is talk of Nigel Playfair and him starting a small theatre together, Hugo to do the production, it wd be lovely but I fear will come to nothing. Duff & I dined together meaning to go to the Opera Figaro the last night, but when we were half way through dinner a message came from Phillis saying Patrick wd be back any instant and cd they come round. Accordingly about 20 minutes later they did. I liked him far better than usual, he was subdued and unhappy over E. He is staying here till tomorrow when he goes to Hugo’s flat. I think he is rather horrified at the thought that he may have to marry Phillis, tho’ I’m sure he likes her. She adores him, tho’ she has now a new lover in the shape of Edgar Vincent! She gets them young doesnt she.

Sunday 25th. Icy day, I staggered to the hospital and after saw Diana, she is very wretched, poor darling, but marvellously brave and determined to give Duff all the fun possible during his time here. We lunched together, Pat, Duff, Diana & I at the Café Royal. It reminded us so much of Beauty {4} & I felt terribly lonely for you. Pat there too was the one I could most easily have dispensed with, but poor sweet he is really very nice and we have so few friends left we cant afford to be {5} beastly about him. We all again dined together and Phillis and Hugo came in after. Hugo was in very good stunting form, only went on a little too long, but that was my fault.

Monday 26th. I ought to have lunched with that ghastly little de Noailles yesterday but at about 1 o’clock I couldnt face it and chucked so I had to do it today. He was far worse than ever and monumentally boring, he adores me and I cant shake him off however after that meal I’m resolved not to go near him again. I curtailed the meal as much as possible and directly after went and saw K & Frances. I’m so bad on those occasions but F is so wonderful that its quite easy to be with her. She only wants to talk about Edward and of course I can do that easily and just remind her of scraps of conversation. But the desolation of hers and K’s lives now strikes one very much. There seems nothing left for them now. She spoke with great affection of you and said you had always been so nice to E and that he loved you. We did have great fun didnt we and I know you liked him too tho’ you thought him rather worthless. Still he’s a very vital figure gone from us and we shall all live less joyously without him.

In the evening I dined at Mansfield St, Sylvia, Goonie, Cardie, a brother of Eric Serocolds & Heineman. A most vile evening out, hurricane and sheets of rain and of course I couldnt get a taxi & had to walk from Oxford Circus. It was a nice quiet evening without any very special incident.

Your painted bed is getting on, I’ve nearly done the top valances, but it leaves a devil of a lot. 3 huge curtains, 3 bottom valances and the windows. Shall I ever finish. But I adore doing it and think a lot of you the while.

Tuesday 27th. Had a lunch here for Birrell to meet Freyburg (who he’d never heard of) Diana, Birrell Goonie, Oc me Freyburg. As usual they neither of them exchanged a single word, either Birrell talked divinely of Lamb and Johnson and other kindred and quite anti war subjects, or else F talked in an earnest aside to me of the outcome of the war, and said “Pardon” too often. I went and saw Frances again for a little moment, she was even sadder I thought than yesterday, I think the first shock is passing a little and the full desolation is being brought home to her.

I then went to the Cinema with my futurist friend Wyndham Lewis, I rather like him but like all that type of man he talks the most amazing rot. Dined with Cardie in the evening, by way of a farewell party to Oc, but he’s now got a fortnights extension. Oc, me, Hugo Eliza Cardie, Phillis, Pat, Freyburg Goonie were the party. Quite fun, tho’ Eliza was too awful, talking to everyone as tho’ they were deeply in love with her. We gambled late into the night and I lost £23! Isnt it vile. Here I am only just home at 2.30. I’m dying for a letter from you. I’d hoped to have heard from Aden. There is a rumour, fairly well founded I believe that Oc is engaged to Betty Manners. I hope its true.

Wednesday. Ghastly lunch with Waxworks and Mikky but the afternoon a little redeemed it, as Diana & Duff came round and we spent a happy 2 hours sewing and painting while Duffy read aloud to us. Duffs sweetness is truly great and I love him more and more daily. In the evening I dined with Claude Lowther (you can see what bad habits I’m getting into during your absence). The party Claude, Goonie Duke of Marlboro’ (Duff thinks he may be Goonie’s lover) me, General “Meat” Lowther, Birrell, Phillis. The house is too lovely, full of things that I longed to have but his bedroom is the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen. If you had wanted to caricature a bugger’s bedroom you couldnt have done it differently. You enter by an anti chamber hung entirely in rose-crimson velvet, then through 2 golden gates you approach the holy of holies. The walls are hung in goden stuff and it is nearly empty except for a silver bed (4 poster) {6} draped in purple embroidered velvet and on the wall is a marble fountain from which, through a lions mouth water falls into a basin in which roses are floating. It sounds dreadfully like a Dizzy ideal of a room, and is not really successful. Certainly the worst room in the house. I left fairly early and walked back with Birrell to 24 where I found Diana, Duffy & Pat (who had been dining with them) happily reading Othello, having had a divine evening. They have just gone, fairly early I’m glad to say so I’m in bed betimes.

Thursday. No great personal news but the whole world is buzzing with varying opinions on Ld Lansdowns letter {7}. I’m in complete agreement with it, but that may be more because I’m afraid to lose anyone else than because I think it right, tho’ it seems high time that someone other than Charles Trevelyan or Ramsay or other tainted sources voiced that opinion. K & Viola who with Diana dined with me tonight nearly came to blows. K, like many people who have lost everything is an anti pacifist on the whole, and it irritates her to hear Viola reiterating how marvellous the Germans are and how they have achieved their object. I suppose it was an unfortunate moment to choose too at which to launch these proposals, just as Russia has made peace.

Saturday. Yesterday was such a full day I hadnt an instant to write. In the morning when we were calmly slouching thro’ the ordinary hospital work a message came from Buckingham Pal saying the K & Q were coming to see the hospital that afternoon. At first we took it reasonably, calmly and rather bored but gradually we got more and more excited and nervous and finally we were just as bad as Gladys might have been. I was ashamed of it all. It shows how impossible it is to eradicate Royalty snobbishness.

They arrived in due course and were shown all round. Both the K & Queen asked after you. The K said “I’m {8} afraid Mr Montagu will have a very hard task in front of him, but I’m sure he will do it very well. Do you know that odious woman Mrs Besant.” Diana complained that my conversation was too ambitious with them! Princess Mary was ghastly, never spoke to a single officer and remained stiffly in the background. They stayed about 3 quarters of an hour! Then I went and saw your mother then to a party at the I.O to meet some Indian officers (the perfect official wife, worthy of Pamela!) Where I saw all the old busters, Abrahams, Holderness etc. I shocked Abrahams rather by asking if he’d heard if you were having fun in India and he replied very sanctimonioiusly “they are having what is far more important than fun, a very interesting and I trust fruitful time”. Idiot! I tried to talk to the Indians but they none of them spoke any known language so it was rather a halting performance. Birrell, Phillis and Blanche dined. A funny little party, but I’d failed to get anyone else.

Today Lutyens and I are lunching together and going off after today with the Nobles. I ll write from there

Just arrived. A huge new Georgian brick house, hideously furnished, with Japanese horrors and the bedrooms Maple suites. They are wretched about it and long to either alter or sell. But there are 2 meres quite close to the house with marvellous duck shooting so I hope you will be asked to shoot if I’m very sweet. Its only about 4 miles from us. They are very kind, she’s a rather querulous woman who exists entirely on raw vegetables, brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes etc in a dish which she devours. A lot of talk about rations, sugar weighed out and labelled which has the effect of making one doubly hungry. I hear the mail leaves Monday so I shall have to finish tomorrow.

Wretham Hall, Thetford
Sunday 2nd

An icy day. We got a motor from Thetford and L and I went off to Breccles at about 11.30. Were greeted by that glorious fire blazing in the hall which cheered us a little. We then went over the house with the plans room by room and settled about bathrooms fireplaces passages etc. The work is to be put in hand at once and will go on bit by bit. All the preparations for heating will be done and wiring for electric light (this not a very large item only about £180) then if we think we are spending too much we need only put in one extra bath and leave the others till later. All the essentials will have been done. We have settled on no decoration scheme, leaving that to be done room by room when we are living there. The Hall partition is coming down, but for structural reasons he thinks we shall have to have 2 oak pillars supporting a new beam. [There follows a rough plan of the hall.] We could then have a lovely curtain which could be drawn when dinner was being laid or cleared away and yet wd still leave a large room. The architectural part is tiny otherwise, but L is frightfully sweet & takes endless trouble. 2 of my beds had arrived so I can go and stay there if I want. The Nobles often used to go over and have a picnic there and are terribly envious of the place. We both (L & I) thought it looking divine and liked it much better than before even. We got back to lunch and in the afternoon walked round three meres. Hundreds of duck you will die of envy when you see it. Now we are just off back to London I couldnt face another evening & also have to be at Arlington St to-morrow early.

Monday Goodbye my angel. Divine Aden {9} letter found on return last night. Bless you a million times. All love

V.

—————

{1} The first sheet ends here. The first line of the second (‘not being able to get such work done.’), which was evidently the end of a paragraph begun on the original first sheet, has been struck through.

{2} i.e. anti-Bolshevik. The play was Loyalty, by Harold Owen.

{3} The pencil was changed here.

{4} This is the apparent reading, but the significance is unclear.

{5} A page ends here, and the pencil was changed. ‘to be’ is repeated at the top of the next page.

{6} Closing bracket supplied. A page ends here.

{7} Lord Lansdowne had written to the Daily Telegraph, arguing for a negotiated peace with Germany.

{8} Inverted commas supplied.

{9} B1/146, dated 3 November.

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