Richard Davenport-Hines

Dark Arts & Coronets

Scenes and Apparitions: Diaries 1988-2003

By Roy Strong

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 549pp £25 order from our bookshop

There are many reasons to keep a diary: to mitigate loneliness; for introspective self-abasement; as an aide-mémoire; as a historical record of interesting times or places; as a safety valve when exasperated; as a repository of doubtful gossip; to drop names; as a money-spinner in old age; and as a way to perfect an artful myth-image of one’s character and accomplishments. Sir Roy Strong is too self-sufficient to feel lonely, and prefers preening to self-abasement, but otherwise this second instalment of his diaries meets the remaining criteria. It is in the mould of Chips Channon’s gossipy history of his times, of Frances Partridge’s records of her special milieu, and of Anthony Powell’s device to have the money to pay plumbers to mend burst pipes. Above all, Strong’s diaries are an exercise in ‘life-illusion’, to use John Cowper Powys’s coinage: ‘that secret dramatic way of regarding himself which makes [a man] feel to himself a remarkable, singular, unusual, exciting individual’.

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