H. H. ASQUITH: Letters to Venetia Stanley by H. H. Asquith

H. H. ASQUITH: Letters to Venetia Stanley

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The story of British Prime Minister Asquith's passionate attachment to Venetia Stanley, the keen-witted friend of his daughter Violet, and her shattering marriage to ""the Assyrian,"" Edwin Montagu, figures tantalizingly in British memoirs of the WW I period; and Asquith's compulsive, all-confiding letters to ""My darling"" Venetia have been ransacked by biographers and historians. So, paradoxically, the first publication of the letters is more of an event for Anglophiles than for scholars. In that sense, the Brocks' very thorough annotation is both a boon and an impediment. At the start of each section, they make some sensible observations as well as laying the ground for what's to come, (They don't think Asquith and Venetia were actually lovers--and there is indeed a confirming sameness in Asquith's professions of adoration.) But Asquith's daily reports to Venetia on the Irish Home Rule crisis or the course of the war--which she, raised in an intellectual Liberal household, actively solicited--occasion paragraphs of preliminary explanation and columns of footnotes. The letters themselves are tart running commentaries on everyone and everything of moment. August 11, 1914: ""We had a long Cabinet, in which e huge part of the talking was done by Winston & Kitchener: the former posing as an expert on strategy, end the latter as an expert on Irish politics."" October 30, 1914: ""It is natural you should think the King has no say in such misters. . . . But by an odd convention all our Sovereigns (I have now had to dill with three) believe that in Army & Navy appointments they hive a special responsibility. . . ."" March 6, 1915: ""there have emerged two molt infernal problems. . . . What I tell you shout them is most secret."" (One was Russia's objection to Italy al the fourth Ally; the second, ""if possible more secret""--Russia's designs on the Dardenelles and Bosporus straits.) For those less interested IA history than in the principals, the best comes last, with interspersed letters from all three. Asquith, under wartime strain, has come to rely on Venetia--while aha, perhaps liberated by nursing, at last accedes to Montagu's suit, end will convert to Judaism to secure his Inheritance. (""As you well know,"" A. writes, ""this breaks my heart,"") Truly a remarkable correspondence--though Americans may be reminded that, within the next few months, Woodrow Wilson would write at openly end foolishly Lid fervently to Edith Bolling Galt.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press