Osbert Sitwell’s Nurse

Apart from her antipathy to bananas as “a very common fruit indeed”, her intense devotion to Aberdeen granite as a divinely-ordained medium for tombstones and memorials, and her devotion to the particular Queen under whom she lived, she was, in other respects, just as true to the reign of Anne or Elizabeth as to that of Victoria; a Shakespearian character, a nurse of all time. Although, perhaps, she belonged to the age of Webster more than to any later one, for there was a certain quality about her at once robust and morbid. She loved the sea, and all its smaller fruits, shrimps, prawns, and winkles (here her aristocratic prejudices, as evinced in her horror of bananas, broke down); she loved the lanes, then fuller of wild flowers than of charabancs, and could name any flower, bird, or tree with its proper English name; she loved theatres and any form of pageantry; but more, I think, than anything, did she love to read of a murder – though it was only in the Bible – visit a friend dying of some lingering disease, or roam at her ease in a well-ordered cemetery, observing every inscribed and floral detail… it was this woman, with her “invincible ignorance”, as those responsible for the welfare of the present writer termed it… together with the old house in the shelter of which he lived, that nevertheless joined everyday life for him on to that of previous ages, prevented the nineteenth century from cutting itself off entirely from the past, and provided a healthy current of red blood to that which otherwise might have seemed a dull, bloated, yet anemic age.

Osbert Sitwell, in the preface to Sober Truth : A Collection Of Nineteenth-Century Episodes, Fantastic, Grotesque And Mysterious, compiled and edited by Margaret Barton and Osbert Sitwell (1930)

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