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This report is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Violet Gordon Woodhouse Jessica Douglas-Home

There was a beautiful, fragile musician at the tum of the century who could so spell-bind her audience with her playing on scarcely known instruments that, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, her listeners were obliged to follow and obey. Men fell in love with her, women worshipped her and even her pets seemed enchanted by her.

In the middle of her life her circumstances changed. Following the simultaneous double murder of her sisters-in-law she and her husband became beneficiaries of a large fortune. Free from financial constraint she promptly retired, no longer to perform in public but only in the places most suited to her delicate instruments - the drawing rooms, bedchambers and halls of her seventeenth-century house - Nether Lypiatt Manor. Musicians from all over Europe flocked in homage to her salon.

I was only four when Violet Gordon Woodhouse died - and not excessively musical. Nevertheless, I was taken into her drawing room to hear her music before she faded and I, too, fell under her spell.

At her death Violet had no intention of releasing the retinue whom she had so charmed while living. Quite soon she reappeared at Lypiatt, a house already haunted over the centuries by three other presences. It was clear to everyone that there were things still to be settled, and that in death as in life we must bow to her wishes.

At the time I did not understand what she was ...


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