Authors: Elizabeth Jane Howard
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Sagas
For Dosia Verney
THE CAZALET FAMILY AND THEIR SERVANTS
, known as the Brig
, known as the Duchy (his wife)
Rachel, their unmarried daughter
, eldest son
William, known as Wills
, second son
, known as Villy (his wife)
Roland, known as Roly
, third son
(first wife; died having Neville)
Clarissa, known as Clary
Mrs Cripps (cook)
Peggy and Bertha (housemaids)
Dottie and Edie (housemaids)
Billy (gardener’s boy)
Bracken (Edward’s chauffeur)
The following background to this novel is intended for those readers who are unfamiliar with
The Light Years
William and Kitty Cazalet, known to their family as the Brig and the Duchy, have shut their London house, and spend all their time in Sussex at Home Place. The Brig’s sight is failing, so
he is less active in the family timber firm which he heads. They have three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and one unmarried daughter, Rachel.
Hugh is married to Sybil and they have three children. The eldest, Polly, does lessons at home with a cousin and is fourteen at the opening of this novel; Simon is thirteen and has joined his
cousin Teddy at a public school; and William (Wills) has just had his second birthday. The middle son, Edward, is married to Villy (Viola Rydal, whose widowed mother, Lady Rydal, is something of a
martinet). They have four children. Louise, aged sixteen, has ceased to do lessons at home with her cousins, and has spent one term at a domestic science school; her brother Teddy, who is very
athletic, has been at a public school for two years now, while Lydia, who is eight, has been going to a small day school. Roland, the baby, is four months old.
The third son, Rupert, was married to Isobel by whom he had two children: Clary is the same age as Polly and is doing lessons with her, and Neville, now eight, has been attending a day school in
London. Rupert’s second wife is Zoë who, at twenty-four, is twelve years younger than he. They have no children.
The unmarried daughter, Rachel, who occupies herself looking after her nearly blind father, also helps to run a charitable Babies’ Hotel that at the start of this novel has been evacuated
for the second time to a nearby house owned by the Brig, her father. Her great friend is Margot Sidney, known as Sid, who teaches the violin and lives in London, but pays frequent visits to Home
Edward’s wife, Villy, has a sister, Jessica, who is married to Raymond Castle. They have four children – more cousins for the Cazalets. Angela, whose first, hopeless love was for
Rupert Cazalet, is now twenty, and works in London; Christopher at sixteen is passionately interested in nature and against war, and Nora, a year older than Christopher, has been at the domestic
science school with Louise. The youngest, Judy, is nine and goes to a boarding school.
At the end of
The Light Years
the Castles came into a house and some money inherited from a great-aunt of Raymond’s, as a result of which they were able to move from mean
accommodation in East Finchley to the great-aunt’s house in Frensham.
Miss Milliment is the very old family governess: she began with Villy and Jessica, and now teaches Clary and Polly.
Diana Mackintosh is the most serious of Edward’s many affairs. She is married with three sons.
Apart from the grandparents’ house, Home Place, the Brig has bought and converted two other nearby houses: Mill Farm, which is now used by the Babies’ Hotel, and Pear Tree Cottage,
which serves as an overflow for the Cazalet and Castle families. In addition they have a house in London, Chester Terrace, now more or less shut up.
The three Cazalet sons also have London houses. Hugh and Sybil’s is in Ladbroke Grove, which Hugh is still using during the week when he is working in London. Edward and Villy’s home
in nearby Lansdowne Road is used by them during the children’s term time. Rupert and Zoë have a small house in Brook Green.
There are a number of servants working for the Cazalets, but the principal ones in this novel are: Mrs Cripps the cook, Tonbridge the chauffeur, McAlpine the gardener and Billy the
gardener’s boy, Wren the groom, Eileen the parlourmaid – all of Home Place – and Ellen, Rupert’s nurse for Clary and Neville, who finds herself busier than ever after the
late births of Wills and Roland.
The Light Years
ended in 1938 with Chamberlain’s speech after Munich – ‘peace with honour’.
begins a year later, after the invasion of
Poland when war is clearly imminent and unavoidable. Children are being evacuated from the cities and everybody is waiting for Chamberlain to announce the result of the British ultimatum.
Someone had turned off the wireless and, in spite of the room being full of people, there was a complete silence – in which Polly could feel, and almost hear, her own
heart thudding. As long as nobody spoke, and no one moved, it was still the very end of peace . . .
The Brig, her grandfather, did move. She watched while – still in silence – he got slowly to his feet, stood for a moment, one hand trembling on the back of his chair as he passed
the other slowly across his filmy eyes. Then he went across the room and, one by one, kissed his two elder sons, Polly’s father Hugh and Uncle Edward. She waited for him to kiss Uncle Rupe,
but he did not. She had never seen him kiss another man before, but this seemed more of an apology and a salute. It’s for what they went through last time there was a war, and because it was
for nothing, she thought.
Polly saw everything. She saw Uncle Edward catch her father’s eye, and then wink, and her father’s face contract as though he remembered something he could hardly
remember. She saw her grandmother, the Duchy, sitting bolt upright, staring at Uncle Rupert with a kind of bleak anger. She’s not angry with
, she’s afraid he will have to
be in it. She’s so old-fashioned she thinks it’s simply men who have to fight and die; she doesn’t understand. Polly understood everything.
People were beginning to shift in their chairs, to murmur, to light cigarettes, to tell the children to go out and play. The worst had come to the worst, and they were all behaving in much the
same way as they would have if it hadn’t. This was what her family did when things were bad. A year ago, when it had been peace with honour, they
all seemed different, but Polly
had not had time to notice properly, because just as the amazement and joy hit her, it was as though she’d been shot. She’d fainted. ‘You went all white and sort of blind, and you
passed out. It was terribly interesting,’ her cousin Clary had said. Clary had put it in her
Book of Experiences
that she was keeping for when she was a writer. Polly felt Clary
looking at her now, and just as their eyes met and Polly gave a little nod of agreement about them both getting the hell out, a distant up and down wailing noise of a siren began and her cousin
Teddy shouted, ‘It’s an air raid! Gosh! Already!’ and everybody got up, and the Brig told them to fetch their gas masks and wait in the hall to go to the air-raid shelter. The
Duchy went to tell the servants, and her mother Sybil and Aunt Villy said they must go to Pear Tree Cottage to fetch Wills and Roly, and Aunt Rach said she must pop down to Mill Farm to help Matron
with the evacuated babies – in fact, hardly anybody did what the Brig said.
‘I’ll carry your mask if you want to take your writing,’ Polly said while they hunted in their bedroom for the cardboard boxes that contained their masks. ‘Damn! Where
did we put them?’ They were still hunting when the siren went again, not wailing up and down this time, just a steady howl. ‘All Clear!’ someone shouted from the hall.
‘Must have been a false alarm,’ Teddy said; he sounded disappointed.
‘Although we wouldn’t have seen a thing buried in that awful old shelter,’ said Neville. ‘And I suppose you’ve heard, they’re using the war as an excuse not
to go to the beach, which seems to me about the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard in my life.’
‘Don’t be so stupid, Neville!’ Lydia said crushingly. ‘People don’t
to beaches in wartime.’
There was a generally quarrelsome feeling in the air, Polly thought, although outside it was a mellow September Sunday morning, with a smell of burning leaves from McAlpine’s bonfire, and
everything looked the same. The children had all been sent away from the drawing room: the grown-ups wanted to have a talk and, naturally, everyone not classed as one resented this. ‘It
isn’t as though when we’re there they make funny jokes all the time and scream with laughter,’ Neville said as they trooped into the hall. Before anyone could back him up or
squash him, Uncle Rupert put his head round the drawing-room door and said, ‘Everyone who couldn’t find their masks bloody well
and find them, and in future they’re to
be kept in the gun room. Chop chop.’