Charley’s Woods: Sex, Sorrow, and a Spiritual Quest in Snowdonia

Charles Duff


A Spectator book of the year – This exquisitely vivid memoir draws a detailed and unidealised picture of the fascinating spheres Charles Duff has inhabited.



Charles Duff grew up in many worlds at once. Like an enfilade, one led into another, but each was distinct and self-contained.


At his family’s country house, Vaynol, Royalty mingled with eccentric relations and glamorous socialites, supported by a colourful ensemble cast of cooks, nannies and butlers. In London, Charley met his father’s boyfriends and his mother’s lesbian lovers, as well as leading artists, musicians and directors. Through the theatre, he discovered his vocation in academia and teaching.


But these worlds did not co-exist in harmony. As the estate faced ruin and his parents’ marriage fell apart, Charley’s relationship with his family festered. He was known to be adopted, and speculation about his identity fanned rumours that many still believe today.


This exquisitely vivid memoir draws a detailed and unidealised picture of the fascinating spheres Charles Duff has inhabited. But more than anything, Charley’s Woods is the moving account of the personal and spiritual development of an adopted son: a touching meditation on class, culture and the search for a sense of belonging.

Additional Information




Trim Size

216 x 138mm

About the Author

CHARLES DUFF was born in 1949. His first book, The Lost Summer, was a history of the West End in the 1940s and 1950s. He is an actor, a lecturer in Shakespeare and theatre history, and a contributor to the national press on arts-related subjects. He has lived between Los Angeles, London, Paris and Tangier and he is now a Brother of the London Charterhouse.

Praise for Charley's Woods

There is an intelligence and nobility in the clipped, unselfish attitude on show in this book that reveals something of a way of being that is fast fading from the collective memory. It is, in many ways, a gift of a book.

The Oldie


Charley’s Woods is tart, arch and crisp. It recalls a strange, lonely childhood with brisk frivolity and a ruthless perception of other people’s oddities, vices and humours… Charley’s Woods is rueful rather than boastful. It abounds in lordly and theatrical anecdotes, waspishness and mordant intelligence. … a tender-hearted, prickly, resilient and life-enhancing memoir.

The Spectator


An engrossing account of unconventional adoptive parents and an equally unconventional upbringing. Extraordinary and touching by turns, it draws a vivid picture of upper class life, especially in the 50s and 60s, and boasts a cast of characters that includes royalty, the nobility, and leading figures in the world of the arts. A survivor’s memoir told with acute observation and a dry sense of humour.


This is a remarkable memoir of an extraordinary life. … In Charley’s Woods the author shows himself to be not only a talented writer but one with unusual perception and emotional understanding. For all the hardship he has undergone, he tells his story with wit, sympathy and an admirable lack of self-pity. The worlds revealed – in England, Austria, Morocco, France — are unlike any other and his book will stay with me for a very long time.

Selina Hastings, Biographer


This powerful memoir could easily have been a misery one, written, like so many others, with self-pity, rancour and anger…It really is a harrowing story, yet it is told with wit, grace and acceptance. And much humour. It is elegantly written, with many extraordinary, vividly evoked characters encountered at home and abroad, and much camp gossip… The writer, as well as being very entertaining company for this reader, possesses a quality not exhibited by his adoptive family: kindness. A fine and remarkable book.


…deep, amusing, candid, tormented, lively, and insightful…without flinching and with great honesty and such generosity of spirit.

Mitchell Owens, Decorative Arts Editor at Architectural Digest


The sense of the casual cruelties which that generation inflicted on the young so powerfully conveyed. Flawless prose, but a very personal voice passim.

Rupert Christiansen, critic

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