IN SEARCH OF A PAST: The Manor House, Amnersfield 1933-1945 by Ronald Fraser

IN SEARCH OF A PAST: The Manor House, Amnersfield 1933-1945

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Fraser (The Blood of Spain, In Hiding, Tajos) grew up in a Somerset manor house in the Thirties and Forties--surrounded by servants, somewhat neglected by his unhappily married parents. So, in recent years, eventually in conjunction with psychoanalysis, he has sought out the manor-house servants of those bygone days, recording their memories of the Fraser household. Ilse, the German-born nanny, recalls the lack of parental interest: ""I don't remember him ever picking you up or playing with you. . . I don't remember your mother kissing you, there was no physical contact."" (She also reveals her rather intense approach to toilet training--and to overall discipline: ""I used to tie you to a laundry pole or a tree in the garden if I had something to do close by."") Other ex-servants, while rummaging through old backstairs feuds, comment on the tension between Fraser's hunting/philandering father and his remote, romantic mother: ""He was the underdog, had to kowtow to her because she had the money."" And, throughout, there's emphasis on the contrasting attitudes of the workers toward the whole master/servant relationship--a setup which left the ""little master"" feeling uncomfortable, defensive, with a ""profound sense of nullity."" (Hence, presumably, Fraser's later interest in the radical Left.) Fraser's conclusion from these early-childhood years, then, is: ""The house was divided and so was I. . . ."" Next, to explore the WW II years, when his parents divorced and his mother fell in love with an RAF commander, Fraser goes to Italy--where his brother Colin helps to bring back memories of first boarding-school, first awareness of sex, refugee servants, his father's departure, and Oedipal tensions. And finally, after the death of his old, senile father, Fraser and his analyst assess what he's learned thus far (""'It was the unity of love you yearned for,' he says""). . . and what he hasn't: ""All we've done here is to pick up the bits every now and again. Examine the fragments. We've never seen the totality, the causal relationships between them."" The result is a fragmentary book indeed, further disjointed by Fraser's irritating, often-confusing use of pronouns. (Sometimes he's ""I,"" sometimes he's ""you."") But, if far from satisfying as a psychoanalytic exploration, this mixture of oral-history and murmurous memoir does have its evocative, amusing moments--especially in suggesting the texture and variety of mid 20th-century servant life in rural Britain.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum