A Legacy by Sybille Bedford

Published 1956  Part 3  chapter 6

There was a flurry by the door, the swish of thrown-off furs, and there came forward into this overlighted room a young woman in her early beauty. Her dress was the colour of night-deep violets, her face was a clear oval, veiled and alight with an expression of untouchable serenity, and there was snow in her hair.

‘Caroline - ’ said Sarah, and rose.

‘Darling – monstrous.’ Her look, like her voice, was quick, warm, yet it was withdrawn; the regard was unseeing. ‘How can you ever forgive me? That endless Brahms - you know the way that never stops. And then of course no cabs, there’s a blizzard - ’ She faced the company with easy, absent imagination…

Julius quickly went up to her. ‘I believe I am taking you in,’ he said.

observations: This is the second half of the book, and Julius’s first meeting with his second wife – Melanie, the first, featured in a previous entry (which should be read in conjunction with this one). Caroline is a character straight out of Edith Wharton, and as it happens the concert wasn’t Brahms, she is not being careful enough with her cover story.

A Legacy is very readable, but you do have to concentrate because the story is so allusive, you have to pay a lot of attention to the dialogue: where the ends of sentences go missing and important ideas are not directly expressed, you have to take inferences. But it is a joy to read: the jokes, the ideas, the snatches of conversation – all are wonderful.

Evelyn Waugh described A Legacy as ‘a book of entirely delicious quality’ – he and Nancy Mitford were great fans, and at one point Waugh pretended to believe that NM’s Colonel (the original of Fabrice) was secretly the author. NM knew Bedford and her circle in Paris, and confirms that the book is supposed to be more than somewhat autobiographical. Bedford wrote two other novels, A Compass Error and Favourite of the Gods, and I don’t recommend them, personally – you feel perhaps she had that one great story in her. But her non-fiction work, and the hard-to-classify Jigsaw, are well-worth reading.

Two characters have a rather large and grand 50th birthday party, something that doesn’t come up much in novels written or set in that era. Were they not mentioned or not celebrated?

The dresses from this entry could well have been worn by Caroline, particularly the one above.

An odd connection: In Saki’s Cousin Teresa,  a man gets an honour intended for his brother (‘services to literature’), and exactly the same thing happens in this book.

The top picture, by Charles W Hawthorne,  is from the Athenaeum website.


  1. I need to think about my own outfit for my impending 50th later this year, something rather splendid would be in order I think.

    Other breaking news, I just read a book by the written by the female of the species! Songburst...."Oh happy days, oh happy days...."


    1. Col: I think something in violet would be nice. And very excited about this breakout into Lady Authorettes. Will seek out immediately.

  2. Moira - You know, it's interesting how people didn't do much of a big thing for the 50th at that time. At any rate, I know just what you mean about having to pay attention to dialogue and make some inferences. Those books are usually well worth the reading, but they can be tricky to read.

    1. I know - I'm quite intrigued by the age thing, trying to think when you first get 30th or 40th events starting to be mentioned in books...


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