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Julian Grenfell

by Nicholas Mosley
Persephone book no:

10 11 12

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9780953478095

This biography of the First World War poet Julian Grenfell, first published in 1976, is, we believe, one of the best biographies of recent times – partly because so much of it is about his mother, the fascinating but maddening Ettie Desborough. It is quite short compared with many modern biographies, and very readably written: Nicholas Mosley's career has been as a much-acclaimed novelist, yet for this work of non-fiction he was also able to draw on extremely interesting and previously unused family papers.

The subtitle is 'His life and the times of his death' and by that, as Mosley explains in a new Preface, he 'meant to convey the idea that Julian Grenfell's short life was circumscribed by the time into which he was born; that to a young man from Julian's background who grew up in the years leading to the First World War, the style and attitudes of the society around him were such that the chance of death was something almost to be welcomed as a way of dealing with the predicaments that confronted him.'

Julian and his generation seemed to want to die in battle: to help the reader towards an understanding of this is the main theme of the book. It also brings Edwardian society to life, as well as describing in detail his relationship with his mother: this is the strongest element in Julian Grenfell, stronger even than the theme of the welcoming of war.


The fabric for Julian Grenfell was designed in the year of his birth, 1888. It is a blockprinted cotton velveteen attributed to Thomas Wardle, who had worked with William Morris, a favourite of Julian's parents' friends, 'The Souls'. It is called 'Poppies' – the flower that would later become the symbol of the millions killed in the 1914-18 war.

Picture Caption

Julian Grenfell with his mother Ettie Desborough

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Categories: Biography History Men (books about) Men (books by) Mothers WWI

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