Diana Holman-Hunt’s “My grandmothers and I” is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable memoir.
As her name suggests, she is the grand-daughter of William Holman-Hunt who has given us iconic and beloved images like Light of the World. She was also, on her mother’s side, the great-niece of Millais.
Nothing guarantees happiness, of course, not even the most exalted Pre-Raphaelite lineage.
Diana’s father is young, adolescent and absent, in India. She is farmed out between two families–her very wealthy, self-absorbed, coddled, absent-minded maternal grandmother who lived a life of Edwardian privilege in what sounds like the most amazing, romantic and dreamy country house, and her equally wealthy but psychotically stingy paternal grandmother, Mrs. Holman-Hunt.
Mrs Holman-Hunt was a character. She was the painter’s second wife, and bitterly jealous of his first. When things are demanded of her, survival money for instance, she gets tearful thinking of her husband cavorting in heaven with her sister, who again got him first!! Her life is dominated by clever and ingenious shrifts to save money.
Mrs. Holman-Hunt suffers from the mental illness of extreme parsimony, which particularly inflicts the old. (This is perhaps not a well-recognized or diagnosed mental illness, but it should be!!). Her house is full of priceless paintings and precious treasures, all unguarded. Meanwhile, she shepherds her considerable wealth, crying if Diana requires pocket money from her.
Diana invents a style of her own in narrating this charming memoir. First person, present-tense, novelistic techniques (techniques which are commonplace in our generation, of course.)
It reads well, is absolutely winsome and charming, partly because she narrates her poor little rich girl story dispassionately, without self-pity but which much humour.