• U.S.

Books: Great Uncle

2 minute read

HELEN’S TOWER — Harold Nicolson— Harcourt, Brace ($3.50).

When Harold Nicolson (Paul Verlaine, Portrait of a Diplomatist) was a small boy, he believed that the greatest man in the world was his uncle. Lord Dufferin, Queen Victoria’s slight, swarthy, long-haired, dreamy-eyed Governor-General of Canada, Ambassador to Russia, Turkey, Italy and France, Viceroy of India, amateur painter, architect, Greek and Persian scholar, author. Lord Dufferin died in 1902, when Harold Nicolson was 16.

Last week Author Nicolson published his uncle’s biography, Helen’s Tower. He now recognizes a number of contradictions in his uncle’s career; his Liberalism and his love of property, his pity for the Irish peasantry and his opposition to Home Rule, his artistic bent and his fantastic taste in furnishing his country house, Clandeboye, which included everything from cannons to totem poles. These contradictions he treats with disarming irony, wit, charm of style. In his typically English dialect of delicate understatement Nephew Nicolson limns Lord Dufferin’s “generosity of soul,” his touching love for his mother (for whom he built an elaborate shrine which he called Helen’s Tower), his extraordinary charm, his genius for winning colonies without battles. He gives, in short, a strong suggestion that his childhood opinion of his uncle has not changed very much after all.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com