David Astor: A Life in Print by Jeremy Lewis - review by Donald Trelford

Donald Trelford

From Cliveden to Fleet Street

David Astor: A Life in Print

By

Jonathan Cape 416pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

This is the portrait of a saint, warts and all. Jeremy Lewis has achieved something I didn’t think possible: a convincing and highly readable life of a man whose evanescent and complex personality has tantalised and ultimately defeated previous attempts to pin him down.

Born into a family of unimaginable wealth and unrivalled political contacts, David Astor chose to turn his back on the family home at Cliveden and his formidable mother, Nancy, which created an inner turmoil that never left him and could only be managed by sessions of psychoanalysis, often daily, from Anna Freud. His agonised relationship with his mother is caught in painfully articulate letters sent home from Eton and Oxford. These private tribulations are clearly a source of the problems he had in settling down to his academic studies at both places.

In rejecting his background, Astor was kicking against three separate but connected things: the privilege and elitism of the Downton Abbey-like world in which his family lived and moved (‘I live a shallow, vapid, cotton-wool life’); the obsessive hold his mother sought to retain over all her children; and the

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