The Perfect Summer

England 1911, Just Before the Storm

By Juliet Nicolson
(Grove Press, Paperback, 9780802143679, 290pp.)

Publication Date: May 2008

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The Perfect Summer chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago, when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change. Through the tight lens of four months, Juliet Nicolson’s rich storytelling gifts rivet us with the sights, colors, and feelings of a bygone era. That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing. The country was brought to a standstill by industrial strikes. Temperatures rose steadily to more than 100 degrees; by August deaths from heatstroke were too many for newspapers to report. Drawing on material from intimate and rarely seen sources and narrated through the eyes of a series of exceptional individuals--among them a debutante, a choirboy, a politician, a trade unionist, a butler, and the queen--The Perfect Summer is a vividly rendered glimpse of the twilight of the Edwardian era.

About the Author
Juliet Nicolson is the author of "The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm "and "The Great Silence: Britain From the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age". She has two daughters and lives with her husband in Sussex, England.

Conversation Starters from


  1. What is the paradox in the title of Nicolson's book? "It was a summer when, as the Countess of Fingall put it, 'We danced on the edge of an abyss.' There was a sense of urgency about the summer. Socialites crammed in their gaiety as intensively as the poor made their grievances apparent. It was as if time was running out" (p. 2). Talk about examples of the sense of urgency…and the lack of it. This life on the edge had one expression in Vita Sackville-West: "Why worry? Why not enjoy the present?...We may all be dead tomorrow, or there be a war or an earthquake…I think one never enjoys life so much as when it becomes dangerous" (p. 88). Is this attitude usually or always associated with those of privilege? Can you think of exceptions?

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