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The fact of their Jewishness was of course what changed everything for the Fould-Springers. This Austro-French family — which occupied grand houses, and the space between the grand-bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, in both countries — had their world destroyed by the Nazis and the Anschluss of 1938. Their Austrian properties were seized and their art looted. Alan and Poppy found their way to England, but young David — born in 1936 — was ensconced with various Rothschild relatives in France and then, in search of safety, roamed through Spain with his nanny, Jessie. At one point, rather bizarrely, David and Jessie re-entered Vichy France from neutral Spain. Eventually, in September 1941, David got to England and was reunited with his parents.

Throughout this time he did not know that he or his mother’s family were Jewish. He only discovered this at the girls’ prep school he unusually attended. There, David’s favourite teacher — the epitome of a blonde, blue-eyed Aryan — let it be known that she thought that Jews were responsible for the war and all the troubles of the world.  When David passed this news on to his mother, Poppy finally confided in him that they were Jews.

David was with her for the last time when he was 16, in January 1953, on a skiing holiday in Seefeld in the Tyrol, then an isolated village, now a tacky package destination. Not long after returning to Eton, he learned that his beloved mother had cancer; she died that same month.

Six years later, aged 23, David married Clarissa, the daughter of Harold Caccia, then the British Ambassador to Washington. On the day of their wedding he learned that old Pratt-Barlow had died, leaving David $500,000 — roughly equivalent to $10 million today — with the income from it going to Alan during his lifetime. In the end, Alan had obtained the independent income he had always felt he deserved. The money was not left outright to him because Pratt-Barlow — however fond he was of his “musical” travelling companion — did not believe that Alan could be trusted not to blow it all. 

Pratt-Barlow was clearly right in his estimate. Alan established himself in the United States and even with this income managed to run into financial difficulties — his house in Newport, Rhode Island, was to be foreclosed — and took to extreme measures; he found another wealthy woman to marry.  She too died of cancer, within ten months. After this interlude Alan took his much younger chauffeur Larry Hudson as his lover. The younger man died of hepatitis; Alan survived until 2000.

Fault Lines gives a brilliant account of one man’s extremely tortuous relationship with his father, who comes across in the book as a world-class shit. 

This is, however, only one aspect of the book. There is very much to enjoy in it, not least David Pryce-Jones’s brilliantly dry turns of phrase. When discussing his grandmother’s postwar financial affairs, he writes: “Mitzi had arranged the three foundation stones of fiscal freedom: British nationality, Italian domicile and Swiss bank accounts.” 

He provides a wonderful account of a visit to Covent Garden as a guest of Sir Isaiah Berlin. At the time, David was receiving much flak for his book on Unity Mitford, in which he laid bare the full extent of her Nazism. He writes: “A guest once more in the royal box at the height of the Mitford clamour, I suggested that he intervene. You and your book have been shamefully treated, he said as we were taking our seats. Give the word, he went on, and I’ll lean out of this box to appeal on your behalf to all the good people down there. Which was his way of saying that he wouldn’t lift a finger.”

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