Caves of Ice by James Lees-Milne - review by Max Egremont

Max Egremont

Dreams of Autocracy

Caves of Ice


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‘If a man has no constant lover who shares his soul as well as his body he must have a diary – a poor substitute, but better than nothing. That is all there is to it in my case.’ Thus writes James Lees-Milne at the beginning of Caves of Ice, extracts from his diary for the years 1946 and 1947. We are not told Mr Lees-Milne’s age at this time, but I should imagine him to have been in his late thirties. He works for the National Trust as its Historic Buildings Adviser. He lives in London, first in rooms in Alexander Place, then in Thurloe Square. He is curious about people, if a little petulant in his reactions to them; architecture and poetry are his chief passions. Although not nostalgic, he leans towards the idea of a benevolent autocracy that would preserve courtesy, taste and private patronage. He does not feel at home amid the privations of Mr Attlee’s Britain.

‘Of course I am a snob,’ Mr Lees-Milne writes, ‘not a social snob but an intellectual one. I like the company of my intellectual superiors.’ Yet he is forced to spend a lot of time with stupid people. He travels all over the country to inspect properties, consult area agents

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