Cover image for The Château de Résenlieu
The Château de Résenlieu
Berners, Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Baron, 1883-1950.
Publication Information:
[Chappaqua, N.Y.] : Turtle Point Press and Helen Marx Books, [2000]
Physical Description:
84 pages ; 18 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6003.E7425 Z463 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



An incredibly witty and charming addendum to First Childhood and A Distant Prospect about an out-of-kilter youth in the late 19th century British Aristocracy, who finds himself in a French Chateau populated by bizarre characters.

Author Notes

Lord Berners (1883-1950) was a composer, novelist, painter, memoirist, conspicuous aesthete and the real life character on whom Nancy Mitford based Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love. This versatile peer has been called the English Satie. His ballets have been choreographed by Balanchine and Ashton.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lord Berners's stories and memoirs have recently enjoyed a revival, to which this slim volume of reminiscences forms a pleasant addendum. Like Saki, Berners takes his themes from the revolt against the solemn pieties of the late Victorian drawing room. In 1899, when the memoir begins, Berners, born Gerald Tyrwhitt, is 16 years old. Just graduated from Eton, he happily agrees to be sent to polish his French at a school in Normandy, the Chƒteau de R‚senlieu. Accompanied there by his mother, who fears that her son might be fatally tempted by Catholicism, he arrives at the chƒteau a month before the influx of other students. Berners has brought his paints and sketchbook with him, and in a sense, this memoir is another sketchbook. The prose drawings include Madame O'Kerrins, the proprietor of the house; Berners compares her attitude toward human beings with that of an entomologist toward insectsÄshe is curious about their behavior, without necessarily being sympathetic. For example, O'Kerrins is perfectly conscious of the malice Madame Bonnet, a widow and frequent visitor, veils beneath her protestations of Christian compassion. Bonnet also has the unusual habit of advertising for dead cats, which she uses to fertilize her begonias. O'Kerrins's nephew, Gerard, patronizes Berners because Berners is a virginÄGerard, on the other hand, is carrying on with the village doctor's wife, a very dumpy version of Emma Bovary. The other boys eventually come, and Berners, at the end of the book, returns to England with more confidence in the peculiarity of his sensibility. As he puts it: "I had often heard foreigners, and particularly the French, criticized for not being sporting, for frivolity and laxity of morals, all of which deficiencies at that time appealed to me." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Château de Résenlieu I left Eton at the end of 1899, and in the spring of the following year I went to France, as a first step towards preparing myself for the Diplomatic Service.     In the first years of the Twentieth Century, the diplomatic examinations were a good deal more elementary than they became later on, foreign languages being the only subjects that required any very high degree of technical knowledge; and it was customary for embryo diplomats, instead of going to the University after leaving their public schools, to embark on a sort of protracted Grand Tour, spending several months in France, Germany, Italy or Spain in order to get a thorough knowledge of the languages of those countries. In those happy far off cosmopolitan days, when international war still seemed a remote menace, and there were no passports, a large number of private establishments on the continent took in young Englishmen for this purpose. One of these institutions was the Château de Résenlieu in Normandy. It had been strongly recommended to my mother. The Chatelaine, Madame O'Kerrins, was the widow of a French-naturalized Irishman and the daughter of a Comte de Nollent, an impoverished aristocrat who had further impoverished himself by extravagance and unfortunate speculation, so that, when he died, he had little except the Château to leave to his daughter. Monsieur O'Kerrins, who was a scholarly man, had the idea of converting the place into a sort of superior "pension" and after his death Madame O'Kerrins continued to carry on the business alone.     I had never been abroad and my excitement increased as the day for my departure approached. Ever since my childhood there had been shaping itself in my mind an idea of foreign countries that endowed them with something of the enchanted atmosphere of fairyland. Among other delights I believed that I should find there freedom from many things that irked me at home, freedom from parental interference, and above all from the tyranny of games and sport. I had often heard foreigners, and particularly the French, criticized for not being sporting, for frivolity and laxity of morals, all of which deficiencies at that time appealed to me.     My mother announced her intention of accompanying me to France and personally delivering me into the hands of Madame O'Kerrins. I was getting on for seventeen. My school days were over. I considered that I had reached an age when a certain amount of independence was my due and the implication that I could not be trusted to travel alone was a little humiliating. I also foresaw that the journey would not be made easier by the presence of my mother. In matters which lay outside her own particular sphere, which was that of the household and the hunting field, she was curiously inefficient. A railway journey, even in England, was a source of anxiety to her-and also to me, when I travelled with her. It was always attended by muddles and minor catastrophes. I was relieved to hear that her maid, Dawson, was to accompany us. Dawson was the highly competent type of British lady's maid and, although she had never been out of England and had an insular contempt for foreigners, she would, I knew, be capable of coping with any emergency that might arise.     My mother would never admit to any inefficiency on her own part, especially to me, before whom she thought it imperative to keep up the semblance of parental infallibility. She took no advice as to the most convenient mode of reaching our destination. She looked up Résenlieu on the map and decided that the most direct route was via Newhaven and Caen. It was perhaps the most direct route on the map, but it was decidedly the most complicated and uncomfortable. It would have been simpler and quicker to have gone by Paris and one of the shorter channel crossings. However, as I subsequently came to appreciate, my mother's errors of judgement sometimes turned out to be blessings in disguise, and the route she had chosen was by far the most picturesque and romantic method of approach. At the end of the second week in April we set out. The crossing was by night and it was already dark when we got to Newhaven. The boat we found awaiting us must surely have been the smallest of all the channel steamers. It looked hardly seaworthy. There were no private cabins, only a rather dirty saloon that smelt strongly of food and engine-oil. After my mother and Dawson had settled themselves on bunks in the saloon I went up on deck with the idea of making the most of my first experience of going abroad, but any hopes I may have had of conjuring up an adventurous spirit of eighteenth century travel were frustrated by the growing motion of the boat which, although the sea was what is described in weather reports as "moderate," was beginning to rock and toss about in the most alarming manner. I returned to the saloon where I found my mother and Dawson both sound asleep. There were not too many passengers. All of them were French except for an English clergyman and his wife with whom I was sure that my mother would make friends on the following day, if she had not done so already. The French passengers had a good deal to say to one another and were rather noisy. Particularly voluble were two men in mackintoshes and bowler hats. I was mortified to find that I was unable to understand a single word of what they were saying. After a protest from the clergyman they quieted down, and I was able to get to sleep. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Lord Berners c/o THE BERNERS TRUST. All rights reserved.