“What was ‘the wound in his heart’, so painful to see, so difficult to comprehend?” – Thrumpton Hall, by Miranda Seymour

December 31, 2008 at 7:13 pm (Book review, books)

seymour-thrumpton-hall Thrumpton Hall is subtitled, “A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House.” Thrumpton Hall is, in fact, the stately home in Nottinghamshire in which the author and her brother grew up. But there was never any question, really, about whom the house actually belonged to. That person was George Seymour, one of the most self-obsessed and difficult people I’ve ever encountered, in fiction, nonfiction, memoir – anywhere!

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The south front of Thrumpton Hall, c.1910.

The reviews I read led me to believe that this book was primarily about George Seymour’s obsession with Thrumpton Hall. The property had actually belonged to Seymour’s aunt and uncle; Seymour spent a great deal of time there as a child. His own father was in the foreign service, and he and Seymour’s mother spent long stretches of time out of the country, often at uncongenial posts. As a young boy, George Seymour conceived a passion for Thrumpton Hall, but this emotion did not exist in isolation. It was part and parcel with his obsession with the rich and titled of England and his desire to be counted as their equal. He was an incorrigible snob.

Poor daughter Miranda! always longing to please this remote, preoccupied, controlling man. It was a goal rarely, if ever, achieved. George Seymour had rigorous standards of propriety, especially where his wife and daughter were concerned.  If he disliked any aspect of their appearance, he told them so in no uncertain terms. He criticized everything: clothes, weight, even hair. When sitting for a 1967 painting of the family taking its ease at Thrumpton, both Miranda and her mother Rosemary were required to wear wigs.

During the postwar era when George Seymour courted her, Rosemary Scott-Ellis was a woman possessed of beauty, liveliness, and grace.  As the years passed, she made the concessions necessary for life with an unimaginative, withholding autocrat. In the doing so, her once proud spirit was almost completely subdued. As Miranda grew to adulthood and was able to view this process with a critical eye, it became yet another reason to resent her father’s stranglehold on his family’s emotional life.

Rosemary Scott-Ellis Seymour was in her eighties at the time that Miranda began work on this book. Mother and daughter eventually arrive at a sort of truce concerning the portrait of George Seymour that gradually emerges in Thrumpton Hall. Rosemary has made it clear that she sees no point in the writing of such a book, and her persistent tendency to defend her late husband’s seemingly indefensible actions exasperates her daughter. (It exasperated me too.) In the midst of a session of reminiscences, Miranda comes to a realization:

“Married to a volatile man with high expectations and a short fuse, my mother had already embarked on the path she kept to throughout her marriage: to comply or keep quiet. When hurt, unnerved or in doubt, she smiled. I do remember smiling more than seemed reasonable. I can’t remember her voice.

Ultimately, Thrumpton Hall is more about the troubled family inhabiting that august edifice than it is about the Hall itself. It is an absorbing, beautifully written, ultimately very poignant story. As I finished the book, a huge tide of sadness welled up in me.

And what about the wounded heart alluded to in the title of this post? George Seymour harbored a secret longing whose nature he concealed from everyone including himself. Gradually, as he entered middle age, it found expression – a rather eccentric expression, involving as it did a new found enthusiasm for motorbikes and motorcycling!

George Seymour

George Seymour in 1945

In conclusion, Miranda Seymour informs the reader that through the machinations of fate (and some tinkering with final bequests),  she now finds herself mistress of Thrumpton Hall. And she is doing what others in a similar position in Britain are doing: throwing the doors open for weddings, parties, conferences, and the like. Come one, come all, to Thrumpton Hall!

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Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour

3 Comments

  1. BooksPlease said,

    Happy New Year, Roberta.

    This book is intriguing – what an awful man and what a lovely house.

  2. Favorite nonfiction of 2008 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House, by Miranda Seymour, the reader is taken behind the facade of a stately home to learn the true cost […]

  3. Jim Burgess said,

    I have an oil painting of the south front of Thrumpton Hall.
    the artist was one, A. Jack Keene
    It is dated 1893

    Could you possibly tell me more re this painting I have.
    Thank you
    Jim Burgess

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