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The Angel of Charleston (hardback)

Published Date:
October 2013
British Library Publishing
Bibliographic Details:
Hardback, 160 pages, 216 x 140mm, also includes 20 colour and 20 b&w illustrations
Stewart MacKay
Free UK P&P for orders over £15

Grace Higgens Housekeeper to the Bloomsbury Group

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Grace Higgens (1903-1983), described by Duncan Grant as 'the angel of Charleston', arrived at the Gordon Square house of Vanessa Bell in June 1920. She was to remain with the family for 50 years as housemaid, nurse, cook and finally housekeeper at Charleston, the country house in Sussex where the Bell family spent their holidays during the interwar period and then lived permanently until the 1970s.

This book tells Grace's story for the first time and is based on her diaries and correspondence. Grace was high-spirited with a robust sense of fun; she read all she could and often sat for her painter employers, who much admired her looks. Her numerous diaries recount her years in Gordon Square, Charleston and the South of France and their vivid picture of life with the Bells and their friends complement what we know of the 'above stairs' world of the Bloomsbury set.

With great humour, Grace describes the varied denizens of Charleston, such as Duncan Grant, Lydia Lopokova, Roger Fry, E. M. Forster and, of course, Virginia Woolf: 'I met Mr and Mrs Leonard Woolf, riding on their bicycles to Charleston. They looked absolute freaks.' There are moving entries about the death of Vanessa Bell in 1961, and of Grace's final years at Charleston looking after the elderly Duncan Grant.

This charming book describes a little-known side of the Bloomsbury world and illuminates a lost era of domestic service.

About the author
Stewart MacKay is a writer, archivist and cultural historian. He studied at St Andrews University, City University of London and Leiden University in the Netherlands before training as an archivist at Glasgow University. He has taught Art History throughout Italy for the past seven years, guest lectured in English literature at several American universities and has worked as an archivist at The British Library.

'A new book with an unusual perspective on and insight into the Bloomsbury group' BBC Radio Scotland

`[Stewart MacKay] has mined gold. Grace's observations are so fresh and vigorous that they leap off the page... Few have had their lives chronicled as assiduously as the Bloomsberries but Grace's observations add an often unwittingly humorous layer, throwing new and unforced insights into the general scene.` Lucy Lethbridge, Canvas `As Grace's interpreter, Steward MacKay is sometimes intrusive, but his odd book tells a delightful story.` Country Life
`The Angel of Charleston is an engaging and informative read, its black-and-white pictures bringing the key figures to historical life.` Colin Steele, Bayside Bulletin/ Redland Times

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