DON'T LOOK ROUND by Violet Trefusis


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In spite of the intent to charm, Trefusis's collection of observations, anecdotes, and aphorisms--hitherto published only in England, in 1952--reveals again that deeply disturbed and disturbing personality that appeared in Echo (1990), the autobiographical novel of the author's romance with Vita Sackville-West. ""Places make me happy,"" Trefusis complained, and ""people make me miserable""--which accounts for her annoying mannerism of personifying countries (""France is cerebral, Italy sensuous, Spain passionate"") and objectifying people (hair ""the color of potato chips""). To her complaint, her husband replied, ""Come off it!...[Stop] strutting about in front of the looking glass."" Trefusis, the rich, restless, frivolous daughter of a royal mistress, records the first 50 years of the 20th century as merely a reflection in her personal mirror, with herself--her trivialities, opinions, and prejudices--at the center: During an interview with Mussolini, one of the most feared and powerful men in the world, she dropped her purse and, she claims, as he crawled about the floor picking up her lipstick, love letters, and cigarettes, they discussed the personality of the French--by which she means the urban upper class she identifies with. Occasionally, Trefusis shares the scene with some of her seemingly empty-headed friends--Emerald Cunard, Sybil Colfax--and her favorite author, Nancy Mitford. But, above all, Trefusis admires her mother, whose cruelty to strangers she offers as an example of wit: to an old Jewess crying during an air raid, Trefusis's mother said, ""Madam, this is not the Wailing Wall."" Air raids, casualties, the deprivations of others--all disappear behind the ""gaiety"" of war in London, a minor inconvenience to Trefusis, cutting off her access to French cosmetics. She is, as Quennell says, a ""mythomaniac,"" an inventor, but a very unpleasant one, like the irrelevant, slightly grotesque ""decorative"" line drawings scattered throughout.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking