In my earlier post on Persephone a few days ago, I said that I wondered how I managed before this publishing house arrived and after reading Patience by John Coates I will say it again. We all know what it is like to come across a book which beguiles us, leaves us unable to put it down and have a lovely satisfied feeling when it is over. It has happened to me many times, but I have had this experience on more occasions with Persephone books than any other.
Patience is a Catholic and, therefore, Sin looms large in her life. As a Catholic myself, though not a very good one, and an ex-Convent schoolgirl, I am all too familiar with Sin. The nuns at my school were very hot
on this subject I can tell you now and it made for some muddled thinking so I can fully sympathise with Patience's dilemma. The book starts with her brother, Lionel, who seems even more down on Sin, comes to visit her and informs her that her husband Edward is being unfaithful to her and she should confront him about it. She is reluctant to do so and it seems as if Lionel feels she may be to blame "A wife has a duty in these matters...she has to preserve the marriage. If by refusing to submit to her husband she drives him out of the house for satisfaction elsewhere, she must accept some responsibility for the Sin"......'I know' said Patience feeling there were very few people who could teach her about submission"
Edward is a husband who likes his life nice and orderly, comes home expecting his dinner, calls Patience 'old girl' and slaps her on the bottom. He is quite fond of their three daughters but would rather like a son and, in the eyes of the world, would be regarded as a good husband. Considering that she was told by her mother that married people 'got into bed together for one primary purpose - to have a baby' she finds herself more puzzled than upset over Edward's infidelity 'extraordinary was the mere fact that a woman should love Edward like that, so that she slept with him when she wasn't married to him and consequently needn't".
By this stage I was giggling away on the sofa and agreeing with Maureen Lipman, who wrote the preface, and called this book 'delicious'. It certainly is and it goes on and on becoming more and more delicious. At a dinner party given by her sister, Helen, who had left her husband and therefore, in Lionel's eyes was steeped in Sin, Patience meets Philip and by the end of the evening they are madly in love, she goes to bed with him and decides to divorce Edward and marry him. Philip seems more than happy with this despite the fact she has three children and has discovered that she is expecting a fourth. The pair of them are delightfully dotty and touching and it is this newly discovered love and her sexual awakening that makes Patience determined change her life.
"The six and a half years had been with Edward doing her duty and so it hadn't been very nice and the last half hour had been spent with Philip in a state of Sin, and had consequently exceeded anything she could have possibly imagined about the pleasurableness of the sins of the flesh"
The newly determined Patience waits until Edward is asleep and steals the keys to his desk and unearths not only evidence of his current mistress, but letters showing that this is nothing new. She also discovers that his first wife is still alive - Edward told her he was a widower when they married. It transpires this was an honest mistake on Edward's part, his wife had left him and gone to the USA and was reported dead. Edward had divorced her so there was no legal bar to him marrying Patience and then she turns up alive and kicking. Patience worries about this - surely if Edward married her when Betsy was alive, though he thought she was dead, he was not a widower, he was only divorced and the Catholic Church did not recognise divorcees and in the eyes of the church she was not married to Edward at all, their children were bastards and she was living in Sin and should leave him immediately......... 'phew'
As a Catholic I understand this train of thought completely and fully comprehend its mad logic. I am a double divorcee but in the eyes of the Catholic church neither of my marriages would be recognised as they both took place in Register Offices. My children were born out of wedlock and if I wanted to remarry at some stage and decided I wanted a Catholic church wedding, they could not say me nay as according to their law, I am a spinster and always have been. Yes you work that one out.....
Oh dear poor Patience, now that she has found her love, knows what sex is all about and wants lots more of it, she sets about getting shot of Edward and does it in a thoroughly devious way. She has pangs of conscience, yes, but she has got the bit well and truly between her teeth and nothing is going to stop her now.
I am not going to give any further details away as I so want you to get hold of this book and read it for yourselves. Sheer delight from start to finish, witty, amusing, touching and sad, I read it straight through in one sitting. I pay this book the compliment of saying that I was very sad when I had finished Patience, and
that feeling of discovering something wonderful and new was gone left me feeling a bit lost. However, I am pretty certain I will read it again and again as its subtle style of writing and humour will benefit from another look.
Absolutely staggering that this book is written by a man, so spot on is he on the the feminine thought process and attitudes. I repeat what I have already mentioned above, Maureen Lipman calls this book 'delicious' and evnies those of us who have yet to read this book. She tells us to 'savour it' and I did - every single word of it.
And be prepared for a most matter of fact statement of an ending that took me totally by surprise.
Wonderful wonderful wonderful.
No need for me to say that, as ever, it is an extra pleasure to hold a Persephone book with its wonderful dove grey covers and to see the gorgeous end papers and matching book mark.
Pearson and Bertelsmann hope that joining forces will give their publishing assets the scale they need to compete with the growing challenges to their business, by catapulting them ahead of rival Hachette to become the biggest publisher in the world.
One hundred is such a nice round figure and always represents a benchmark or an achievement and, in this case, I am simply delighted to say that Persephone Books, has just published their latest two books which takes them up to this magic figure.
I look back pre-Persephone and cannot imagine how I managed without them. The kind of books they publish are MY kind of books, books which had vanished from book and library shelves and could only be tracked down my rummaging in second hand bookshops or putting in a request at the local library and praying. Internet searches would sometimes throw up an odd copy or two but they were pretty thin on the ground and always expensive.
So when I discovered Persephone (from a newspaper article I came across by chance) and telephoned and were put on their mailing list and then bought the first book, William an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton and gobbled it up, secure in the knowledge that there were more delights to come, it marked the start of a wonderful venture. So many unexpected discoveries, so many authors I had never heard of, some authors I had but had dismissed as being 'old lady reads' when I saw them on the shelves when I worked in the library system, but all of them with one thing in common, they were worthy of being rediscovered and placed in front of the public once again.
I have my favourites and I am sure you have too. These are mine listed below and I have linked, where I have reviewed, to my earlier posts. There are many others which I also love, but these really are the top choices. They are:
If I had to pick just one out of all the Persephone list it would be The Homemaker - I have lost count of the number of times I have read this since I purchased it several years ago - it is read at least once a year and every time I read it I love it all over again.
My congratulations to Persephone Books (do check out their new website) on reaching 100 Books. This publishing house has given me hours of pure reading pleasure and delight, not only in the content of the book, but the sheer joy of looking at the end papers and the beautiful dove grey covers. Persephone also has a delightful shop in Lambs Conduit Street in London, hosts lunches with great speakers and other events throughout the year.
Here's to the next 100 and many more wonderful delights and discoveries to come.
Don't forget to let me know which are your favourite titles....
Find that the number of visitors to Random drops at the weekend - well, naturally you all have better things to do which I hope include slobbing about and having a lie in. I have a couple of bookish posts ready to thrill you with but will hold those over until Monday when the week begins once more.
So today I am giving you my thoughts on this year's Strictly Come Dancing. Exciting no? Oh, ok...
My first thoughts are that despite the annual assertion from Len that this is the 'best series ever' it is not. We have the usual Eastender (Sid Owen) which seems obligatory, somebody from a series called Tracey Beaker of which I know nothing, a breakfast presenter called Richard, again of whom I know nothing and who is incredibly creepy, and other assorted luminaries. I won't go through them all but just pick up on a few.
Jerry Gosh I have such a sexy Texan Drawl Hall - ex super model ex Mrs Jagger. Freely admits to putting in the minimum amount of practice hours as set by the BBC, describes herself as laid back (bone idle is the term I use) and is doing a lot of flouncing around the stage, posing and flashing her legs which we all know she can do supremely well. But can she dance? Well the answer is no she can't. Her partner is poor old Anton du Becke, aka The Berk, always with a smile and oozing charm, who is beginning to look increasingly tightlipped each year and his patina of aforementioned charm is beginning to wear thin. Who can blame him? His last three partners have been Anne Widdicombe (the less said about her the better); Nancy del Olio (even less said about her the better - she was on It takes Two this week totally unintelligible as ever and flashing her legs about and licking her lips at the camera) and now he has Ms Hall. Triple whammy. Ms Hall is relying heavily on her sex appeal to get her through. Won't cut the mustard - neither Craig nor Bruno are going to respond to her allures, Len gets fed up at her lack of technique and Darcy, well not sure what Darcy thinks. I predict she will go out soon as feel the public are not warming to her either.
The creepy breakfast presenter Richard is so smarmy and tactile and keeps hugging and kissing Erin and going over the top and though she has a sunny smile on her face not sure she is too keen on it. We shall see. Did a good routine last night to Nine to Five and I predict he will survive another week.
Brendon was initially thrilled when he was given Olympian Victoria Pendleton as a partner but not sure he will be much longer. First week she did the cha cha cha and it was a disaster; second week fox trot which was better and judges so relieved at this they greeted it as it if was the second coming. Last night she had to do a rumba and be sexy - as it was Hollywood week Brendan was dressed up as Richard Gere a la Officer and a Gentleman. She had a 'wardrobe malfunction' with the chiffon on her dress catching on her heel and generally getting in the way (Wardrobe - why does this happen on such a regular basis? sort it out for heaven's sake) and it all went pear shaped. Tears threatened but I think the public will vote her through.
Better not go on too long else this post will stretch out for ever and will write further next weekend. All I do want to say is that Denise Oh I really really can't dance Van Outen is clearly the judges's favourite which might do her no good in the long run. She has no business being on this show; despite her protestations that she has had no dance training and 'ballroom dancing is so different to anything I have done before' the fact that she was in a run of Chicago for a year gives her an unfair advantage. Her dance muscles are trained, she has the moves and is streets ahead of anyone else. Judges are drooling over her performances - this may put the public into Bloody Minded mode eventually, it always happens when they show their preferences too clearly so fingers crossed.
Lewis Smith, the Olympic gymnast, whose latest hair style is grotesque, has clearly got the women going. Not quite sure why but then I am hardly in his age category ('sigh') and his rippling muscles pass me by. Not exactly a sparkling personality on the floor, but well aware that Darcy has gone all soppy on him, and as he is partnered with Flavia, should do well. Memo to Lewis: Flavia has form. She ditched her long term partner Vincent a few years ago for her Strictly partner, then ditched him a couple of years later for her next Strictly partner so if I were you I would be very very careful....
Fern Britton - warming up nicely to her. She is with Artem, aka the Miserable Sod, but they seem to be
getting on well and I think she is the Dark Horse of the competition. We shall see.
And finally cannot end without mentioning Lisa Riley. She is LARGE, very large though shrinking by the week and like all large ladies is very light on her feet and has a personality that lights up the room. Came out the first week and did a cha cha cha which brought the audience to their feet (not hard to do admittedly but deserved this time), a charming Viennese waltz last week, and last night did the jive. I saw her in the last series of Scott and Bailey (detective series) recently and she turned in a stunning performance so she is a multi-talented lady. She is partnered with Robin who seems to have a knack with more mature ladies, Patsy Kensit and Anita Dobson being his last two, and they obviously hit it off very well. A favourite with everyone and she will make it through to the semis in my opinion. A far more worthy contestant than Miss van Outen.
Results show tonight - why they bother I do not know as everyone knows it was recorded last night. The only people who do not know who is leaving are the studio audience who are stuck in the studio and so their reactions are genuine (I did hear a rumour that they have to hand in their mobile phones so they cannot track down the result). The rest of us wait until about 11 pm, log onto a well known website and find out who is going. This makes the result show great fun as we all know who is getting the boot and so can relax.
I love Strictly. All the naffness of it all, the sequins and the fake glamour and the crazy mix of slebs we have each year who, whether I have heard of them or not, I get to know and like/dislike in equal measure. Of course we could all do without the vacant space that is Tess Daly (the memory of her part in the BBC coverage of the Jubilee still brings me out in hives) and, much though I love Bruce, I wonder how much longer he can get away with it.
Judges are as ever with the bonus that this year we no longer have Alesha Dixon and are thus spared her penetrating insights 'that woz wicked' 'I commend you' etc etc. Instead we have La Bussell and at least she has knowledge of the dance world and can make suggestions as to how the contestants can improve but she has the most irritating Sloane type drawl with an upward inflection at the end of each sentence, and the first week said 'Yeh' so many times the commentary boards on various newspapers were awash with complaints. She has obviously had this pointed out to her as she has reined herself in, but you can see it is a struggle.
But Saturday nights up to Christmas are now set in stone. 6.30pm I am there in my armchair ready with the mute button which I use when Bruce and Tess are yakking and I would not miss it for the world. Now tonight it will be Downton Abbey (still recovering from the trauma of last week) and then Homeland.
.... except that we do. It is the first thing we spot when browsing in a bookshop or online and it can make or break the buying decision. Sometimes the covers are wildly inappropriate for what is actually inside and can really trivialise a story. Others can be totally deceptive. It is a Fact Universally Acknowledged that all books in shades of pastels, be it pink, or lime or mauve are chick-lit and are for women only. They are lumped together in this genre which can make readers turn up their noses (I know I have been guilty of doing this) when sometimes a really good and well written story is lurking there and is missed. Over the last few years we have had a proliferation of books with headless women on the front. I could never fathom out why and nobody I have spoken to can work it out either. One assumes that it is to make the female mysterious and remote and it certainly works as nobody can see the expression on her face but it has now become a bit of a cliche and think it time it was dropped.
I have mentioned on Random the Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and the decision by the author's publishers to stop printing them as 'they don't sell enough'. I gather they have back tracked a bit but the future of these books is still a bit uncertain. I simply cannot understand why some bright spark in the marketing department hasn't suggested re-designing the covers, which are now a bit boring, and republish with a big marketing push. There are so many people around who would simply love to read these books
but they are increasingly difficult to find and the earlier ones seem to be only traceable in libraries. Delighted to hear that Source Books in the US are publishing these titles starting at No 1 and hope they managed to do the lot in due course. Their covers and designs are lovely.
Which brings me to my next point. Sweeping statement coming up. Why are American paperbacks of better quality than those in the UK? Whenever I visit America and find myself in Barnes and Noble or wherever, I love looking through their paperback editions of books I already own. I find them in all ways so much better. The paper is of a much higher quality, the print is clearer and, most important of all, they open and fall back wihtout that awful cracking and bending of the spine which we seem to have to do all the time over here.
A prime example of this and one which links in with the cover design, are two books by Sarah Bower. A few years ago I read Needle in the Blood by this author, all about the Bayeaux Tapestry and simply loved it. One of the best historical novels since Kathryn by Anya Seton in my humble, and then her second novel The Book of Love all about Lucrezia Borgia. Both these books suffered badly, again in my opinion, from the quality of the design and publishing process, particularly the Book of Love which had small print used on low quality paper. The story was wonderful, but its presentation poor.
It is not just me saying this. Earlier in the summer I had lunch with Sarah in Aldburgh and we discussed this matter of covers. These two books are being published in the USA, again by Sourcebooks, and as a series all about the Borgias was on TV over there, the Book of Love was renamed and a new cover designed and the book did well. OK the TV tie in would have helped, I know but Sourcebooks very kindly sent me copies of Sarah's two books and the difference in production values is most marked. You may well think that the UK cover designs are better or more tasteful and I can agree with you to some extent, but the paper and the fonts used were the stumbling block for me.
I know that the death of the hardback has been foretold for many years, but with the advent of e-readers and the change in the market over the last few years, I think that hardback fiction will gradually diminish. Many new books are published as a 'paperback original' and skip the hardback edition completely which makes economic sense so, in that case, why can't paperbacks be produced with a bit more care and attention? I am talking popular fiction and non-fiction here, those titles with a certain time limited turnover not the core library such as the classics. OUP World Classic paperback series is a shining example of how a paperback should be produced and I will always seek out a classic title with this publisher more than any other. Then of course we have Persephone books which are paperbacks though it is hard to believe as they are just so beautifully produced - great thought and care went into the decision making process when this publishing house was founded and it has paid dividends.
I would be really interested to hear readers views on this subject. Let me know if you think I am totally wrong or if you agree with me.
My blogging has been a bit spasmodic of late, for which I apologise, but now two grandchildren are demanding my attention I seem to be belting up and down to London and in between catching up on all manner of things. I feel pleased I managed to review a book this week....expect the publishers are as well.
So today a catch up day and I have been doing some baking and cooking. I have decided to expand my new baking blog to include other cooking as well as I am finding I am doing much more these days, and not just restrict it to baking. I was going to change the title as well but it seems that if I do that I lose all the settings and links etc and it was such a faff getting it up and running I simply cannot face doing it again, so Great Colchester Bake Off it will remain - may change the header though and use text instead of a pic. We shall see.
Up in London on Wednesday and had a lovely day. Helen and I went to the park with children as normal and I put on my trainers as it is quite a long walk there and back. Florence picked one grubby shoe up 'Grandma these are slightly dirty' she said. It was the 'slightly' that made me laugh. Off we went and I took charge of the buggy when we arrived at the park and Helen took Florence onto the swings, slides etc and got her running around and tried to tire her out. HAH! After we had done this, seen some squirrels and picked up some conkers we walked in Victoria Park Village as it is called just outside the park gates. Lots of nice little shops, a good bookshop and toyshop and lots of coffee bars. There is one we go to every time now as
there is room inside for buggies etc and the staff are very welcoming and helpful. Last week when we wre there about five Yummy Mummies arrived with their offspring and it all got a bit squashed.
On the way Florence asked 'Can we buy a magazine please?' so we nipped into the paper shop and bought the latest In the Night Garden/CBeebies or whatever and then off to get coffee. We sat there for about an hour, I was drinking my cappucino, Helen her latte, and Florence her apple juice. She was colouring in and putting stickers in the magazine with our help, Beatrice peacefully sleeping and suddenly I was overwhelmed with emotion as I remembered the days when my mum and I used to do the same with me, Kathryn and Helen. I had a hard job not to burst into tears, but though I wished my lovely ma was still with us, it was happy tears. Being a parent opens one up to all sorts of feelings and a grandmother even more so.
So home and next day a really exciting day as I went to have my flu jab. O joy o rapture. I have not had one for years because when they were dished out at work years ago every time I had the injection I felt vile for about three days. However, for the last three winters I have had the 'flu and felt as if I was at death's door so I hied me off to the GP. Huge queues and lots of people chatting and talking and it was all quite fun. Had the jab and then the doctor said Would I like the pneumonia jab (a one off) as well? Well, in for a penny in for a pound, so the other arm was duly done. The receptionist, with a dead pan face, said I had been so good I could have TWO jelly babies.....
As you can see I lead an exciting life, but it is a good one and as the winter draws in and I am sitting writing this with curtains drawn in a nice warm room, I feel very content with my lot. I feel it even more when I wake up at 6am, as is my wont, and realise that it does not matter if the mornings are dark any more, I can stay in bed.
Over the next few weeks I have a couple of publishing events to attend and I am also going to the Wivenhoe Book Shop to meet up with Liz Trenow whose wonderful book, The Last Telegram, I reviewed this week. Have not seen her for a long time so that will be fun and that particular bookshop is always a pleasure to visit. The annual NSPCC book fair takes place next week and I usually come away with a haul from there, I am doing some baking for Rosemary as she is holding a tea party for Amnesty International and shall be helping out as well, my sister is coming down for a few days to meet Beatrice, and I have a meeting coming up to discuss the Felixstowe Book Festival which is being organised at the moment and is shaping up nicely. More of that later. A busy few weeks.
In between all this giddy dissipation I shall endeavour to read and review some books, Yes I Will, I promise and do some more baking and cooking. I am currently watching Strictly Come Dancing and will favour you with my views on that as well. Now there's something to look forward to......
The eagle eyed among you will have seen that on the right hand side of the blog this title is my book of the month. I normally give this accolade at the end of each month and review those I have read in the last few weeks and pick a title, but pretty sure that I am not going to find another book that I will enjoy more than this in the next few weeks so up it goes.
When The Last Telegram dropped through my letterbox last week I thought it looked promising and right up my street. I then took a note of the author and thought 'Gosh I used to know a Liz Trenow very well' and when I checked and saw that she lived in Colchester realised it was the Liz I used to know - our children went to schoool together, played together, we belonged to the same babysitting group, Liz sang, probably still does, in one of my ex-husband's choirs and for some years our lives were intertwined. I was simply delighted to see that she had written her debut novel, but then had a sudden qualm. 'Oh my God, suppose I don't like it'. I need not have worried - within five minutes I knew I was going to love this story and so I did.
Set at the outbreak of the Second World War it tells the story of Lily Verney forced into becoming an apprentice at her father's silk weaving factory as her original plans to study in Geneva had to be abandoned because of the international situation. At first resentful, she gradually becomes fascinated with the silk making
process .."it was heavy, the texture of matt satin, the colour of clotted cream and wonderfully sensuous. It felt deliciously soft and warm, like being stroked with eiderdown, and almost without thinking I lifted it to my cheek......I realilsed I'd never before properly appreciated silk, its brilliant lustrous colours, the range of weaves and patterns....I was already hooked, like a trout on a fly-line, but I didn't know it yet"
With the departure of her brother John who volunteers to fight, Lily is drawn more and more into the running of the mill with her father and takes on a greater share of responsibility for the production of the parachute silk which is helping the company survive where others had closed. During this period Lily persuades her father to sponsor three 'Kindertransport' Jewish boys who have come to England , one of whom is Stefan "...he hadn't shaved for a couple of days and a dark shadow grew thickly on his slim face. His voice was more baritone than tenor and deep set eyes peered out warily through his floppy fringe of untidy hair". He and Lily fall in love but with the outbreak of the war this is frowned upon and Stefan is taken away and interned and they endure a long period of separation.
While their love for each other is at the heart of the story, it is Lily who takes centre stage. Lily, who grows in stature and authority as the years pass by and who ends up running the company. Nervous and unsure of herself at the beginning of the story she is accepted in a male world and proves her worth - this journey is not without tragedy and heartbreak along the way and I freely admit that I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye on a couple of occasions.
The story begins in the present day at the funeral of Lily's husband and then the narrative slips back in time. As all readers of Random know by now, mainly because I keep telling you, this is one of my favourite devices - we meet Lily at a point in her life on page one and then learn the story of how she got there and then the denoument when a secret heartache and sorrow which has haunted Lily all her life is resolved.
A really excellent story, beautifully written and beautifully told with a grip on the reader than does not let go and made me unable to put the book down until I had read the final page. Simply delighted to hear that a second is in the pipeline and looking forward to it already.
I know comparisons are odious, but there was something Rosamund Pilcher'ish about this book and I do assure the author that this is a compliment as far as I am concerned. Anybody who has read The Shell Seekers or Winter Solstice knows the lovely feeling of being totally immersed in a wonderfully told story so that the outside world goes away and all that matters is the events in the lives of the characters in the book you are reading. I found this in The Last Telegram and loved every word of it.
This is the Year of Dickens and you might think by now that you are Dickensed out and that there is nothing left to say. Well, there might be for a while but pretty sure that sooner or later some scholar somewhere will unearth some intriguing bit of paper or document that will start us all off again.
The title The Great Charles Dickens Scandal is guaranteed to catch the eye, the main scandal in Dicken's life being his association with the actress, Ellen Ternan or Nell as he used to all her. And the thrust of this book by Michael Slater, author of a superb biography published a few years ago, is to trace this story and how it was suppressed for so long and how the truth finally emerged into the light of day. OK Famous Writer leaves Wife Takes Mistress - these days would not make an eyelid bat, but while Dickens was alive and for a long time after his death, a scandal surrounding the great man would have sullied his reputation for ever and, as Ellen had reinvented herself as a woman ten years younger than her actual age, married and had a son, it was vital that her story was kept secret. It is quite remarkable that it was only after her death that her son discovered his mother had been Dicken's mistress.
The rumour and gossip about Dickens and his relationship with Ellen Ternan started soon after he and his wife Catherine separated and really, it was Dickens who started it all off with a letter to The Times in which he denied all such wrongdoing, thus ensuring that most people who had never thought of this before certainly did now. Because Dickens was so famous and so revered his family, friends and supporters fought to maintain his reputation and to put these rumours to flight and this continued for some considerable time until a book was
published, by Mills & Boon of all people, by one C E Bechofer Roberts in which a fictionalised love affair between Dickens and Ellen was the main subject. Shock horror "had he preached cannibalism" the author was purported to have said, it would have proved less shocking than the revelation that Dickens was a "man of the world". The Dickens Society rubbished the book and its allegations and Sir Henry Dickens, Charles's son threatened to horsewhip him.
Once the cork is out of the bottle it is very hard to put it back in and so it proved. As the years went by more and more research and digging was done, more witnesses came forward and it gradually became impossible to cover up the fact that not only was Dickens not the paternal kindly paterfamilias so beloved of Victorian society, but he was an adulterer to boot and he had tried to cover it up all his life in order to maintain his spotless reputation.
The author of this fascinating book mentions, once again, to my joy, the episode when Dickens entered a draper's shop in Hull to buy some silk stockings and the young draper wondered who they could be for. The young assistant, a fan of Dickens, was given a ticket to Dicken's reading that night. He had not recognised the author and found himself sitting amongst the best seats on the stage and that Dickens read from what he, the draper, had told him earlier in the day were his favourite pieces of his writing. That young man was Edward Simpson-Long, my great great (not sure how many greats) grandfather and this story has been passed down through the generations. It is a tenuous link, I know, but as I love Dickens and his writing, it is one which gives me great pride, slight though it may be. And I know I have mentioned this before, so my apologies.
Michael Slater works though all the evidence produced over the years by
various writers and scholars, some of which can be dismissed as flimsy
at best, but there is a solid body of writing about this aspect of the
Inimitable's life over the last twenty twenty years or so. Peter Ackroyd
in his 1990 biography holds that a 'consummated affair' between Nelly
and Dickens is 'almost inconcievable'. Claire Tomalin in her life of Nell The Invisible Woman takes the line that of course there was sex, though when reading this book I did feel that Nell was not really happy with this aspect of their relationship at all. Slater, in this fascinating book, and in his earlier biography does not come down
on one side or another regarding the affair or not between Ellen and Dickens, but merely stating the facts that are indisputably
known. He does predict that the story 'will run and run'.
And it will....
A mine of information and facts for all Dickens lovers from Michael Slater whose knowledge and expertise on all aspects of Dickens life never fails to amaze. His earlier biography which I reviewed here, has pride of place on my shelves.