James Lees-Milne: The Life, By Michael Bloch

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The Independent Culture

A detailed, chatty biography of an author who wrote detailed, chatty diaries may seem superfluous, but, as with Pepys, a fuller picture emerges.

Initially, Lees-Milne is not the easiest of subjects – at Oxford, "he failed to scintillate whether drunk or sober" – but this stalwart of the National Trust went on to enjoy passions with an astonishing gallery of characters, from Robert Byron to John Gielgud.

His initially resentful wife Alvilde, obliged to share Lees-Milne with many (including the author of this biography), eventually accepted this odd marriage. If some pages of this work are slightly clogged with lists of aristocrats and "amusing aesthetes", Bloch's close scrutiny of the spiky Lees-Milne retains the reader's interest throughout.