Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp

I’ve loved Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings since I stumbled across them one weekend in an art gallery in Chicago and felt the effect of them, rather than saw them as such, for they are indeed imbued with feeling and when you see one of her large canvases with its bold visual statement, well for me anyway, you can’t help but be moved by it, struck dumb by it, to stop and appreciate how this artist communicated something deep within you, without words or reality. I felt it almost like a punch, I didn’t quite understand what it was, but I wanted to know who is was that had created that effect on me.

Although I bought a beautiful book about her paintings, it was something less intellectual and more personal I was after. I found a very old, yellowed copy of Laurie Lisle’s Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe.

It provided an excellent framework of her life, her childhood and introduction to art, her various shows, her marriage and need for solitude and her eventual move to that part of the world that most resonated with her, New Mexico.

However, O’Keeffe comes off as a rather distant, aloof character, seen from the outside, rather brusque, detached. The biography filled in her life, but left me still wanting to know who she was, sure there was much more to her that we would benefit from knowing.

One of the things that makes Georgia O’Keeffe such an interesting character is not just her work, but her essence, her self-knowledge and ability to act upon it, to ensure that she lived in a way that allowed her art to express itself in an authentic way. When she wasn’t able to do this, her mental health declined, however she knew how to resolve it and in acting accordingly, lived to the age of 98.

She married the well-known gallery owner and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, something of a scandal as she was 25 years his junior and he left an unhappy marriage for her, but she never collapses into the relationship, they find a way of supporting each other, that also allows them be individuals and to pursue (most of) their own ambitions wholeheartedly.

Inevitably there would always be compromise, Stieglitz accepted that O’Keeffe needed to spend a portion of the year in New Mexico without him and O’Keeffe had to accept that Stieglitz did not want to become a father again.

GeorgiaWhich all leads me on to say it was with quiet anticipation to learn that Dawn Tripp had the courage, respect and admiration for O’Keeffe to decide to venture into creating a work of fiction, that attempts to channel the voice of Georgia O’Keeffe. What might she have really been thinking if it was her voice relating the story of this life and not someone from the outside.

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe does exactly that.

Dawn Tripp similarly came across her story through her art, after seeing an exhibition of her abstractions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009. She had been aware of her work, but experienced something different that day.

As early as the fall of 1915, at twenty-nine-years old, she was creating radical abstract forms when only a handful of artists were bold enough to explore this new language of modern art. Her abstractions of that time – and those she continued to create throughout her life – were ambitious, gorgeous shapes of colour and form designed to express and evoke emotion, and they were stunningly original.

It provokes in the author, a desire to want to know this woman, the artist, the creator of these stunning works and why she was not recognised for the visionary power of these abstractions during her lifetime. There were excerpts from letters as part of the show:

The language of those letters was sharply intimate, vulnerable, complex. O’Keeffe’s letters revealed a woman of exceptional passion, a rigorous intelligence, and a strong creative drive. Her letters had a raw heat that felt deeply aligned with the abstract pictures I was seeing on the walls, but at odds with the image of O’Keeffe I’d grown up with: the aged doyenne of the Southwest, poised and cool, holding the world at arm’s length.

My Faraway OneWhen the novel was almost complete, the correspondence of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz was published, having been sealed for twenty-five years after her death.

It was a pleasure to read this novel that attempts to get inside that mind and share something that feels more genuine in terms of what her work intended, than the easy reference that so many of the male critics of the time jumped to, insinuating the sexual by responding to the visual elements of Stieglitz’s nude photos of her and the soft interior of her giant flowers, rather than the essence of life itself pushing forth.

This is the Georgia O’Keeffe I’ve wanted to know, and suspected existed, from someone who has tried to absorb her childhood, upbringing and place in the world, attempting to understand what she was trying to express and how it was both uplifted and repressed by the decisions she made.

To explore those initial choices, few of which were her own, the effect of Steiglitz managing and directing her career, their relationship, her need for a child, their life between New York and Lake George until the moment when she allows herself to visit New Mexico with her friend Beck and begins an annual pilgrimage to a place that will eventually consume her entirely and become her home, both physically and spiritually.

We see O’Keeffe as a young independent woman, learn about her family background, their vulnerability to TB, the shock of meeting Stieglitz’s wife and family, the abundance of material wealth and food, she so close to nature – and yet so attracted to him, his mind and his person.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1920

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1920

She resents her art being seen through his lens of her, by the critics, that association with gender, the feminine. The thing that builds her up, blinds them to the work as she sees it. She seeks solitude. She resists being photographed, unable to convince through other means. By the time Stieglitz divorces, Georgia is lacklustre on marriage.

Her mental decline from accepting it all, the inevitable, necessary turning point, turning away from her husband, though forever connected to him.

Dawn Tripp has us completely immersed in a perception of the life of Georgia O’Keeffe that feels as real as if it were the artist herself speaking, though we all know how private she was, and through this novel we understand that need even more so.

People can be sceptical of the fictional biography, but when it is well researched, and the author has found the appropriate voice, and treats the subject with respect and understanding, it brings history alive and makes it accessible to a much wider audience than the more traditional, detached form of narrative.

I highlighted so many paragraphs and sections in the book, it would make the review too long to show them. All the better to discover the words for yourself.

Absolutely brilliant, loved it.

Notes on the Paintings Depicted

OKeeffe painting“Pink Tulip”, 1926, Georgia O’Keeffe, oil on canvas, 36” x 30”
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in memory of her husband George Siemonn.
©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Untitled (City Night) (Untitled – Night city), Seventies © 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O

Georgia O’Keeffe White Iris, No. 7 (White Iris # 7), 1957 © 2009 by Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills,” 1935, Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in. Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Click on the link to buy this book.

Buy Georgia: A Novel at Book Depository

Note: The book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Eugene Onegin – Chapters Three & Four

Elle était fille, elle était amoureuse.

Jacques-Charles-Louis Clinchamps de Malfilâtre

Tatyana Eugene Onegin

January 25 – The Feast of Tatiana

What better day to write about these chapters, January 25 being the feast day of Saint Tatiana in Russia, a symbol of women and celebrated as a student festival. Both the name and the day have become even more popular since Alexander Pushkin made her the love interest of his epic poem.

Chapters Three & Four

Eugene Onegin inquires as to how his friend the poet spends his evenings and thus finds himself invited to join him for a family evening at the home of Olga and Tatyana, where they receive warm, old-fashioned hospitality, though afterwards he cannot remember which girl was Olga and which Tatyana. While the evening failed to ignite significant interest in our hero, it did set tongues wagging among the locals.

Conjecture found unending matter:

there was a general furtive chatter,

and jokes and spiteful gossip ran

claiming Tatyana’s found her man;

The girl who spends her hours immersed in romantic novels let her imagination run wild and fell for the insinuations, if not the man himself, suffering from a love sickness of her own making, culminating in a letter (in French) to the imagined hero she has shaped from the form of Eugene Onegin. A baffled Onegin, clearly does not read the same literary genre.

Who taught her an address so tender,

such careless language of surrender?

Who taught her all this mad, slapdash,

heartfelt, imploring, touching trash

fraught with enticement and disaster?

I can’t help but laugh, it is perhaps the poetic form combined with the ignorance of the hero, this bringing together of polar beings, to create such a discordant clash of romantic versus pragmatic. And so we wait to learn what will pass, when by chance the two meet, and Tatyana must listen to the unfeeling hero speak from a detached but well intended heart, warning her against baring her soul so easily in future. Though it is true, he tolerates and listens easily to similarly themed devotions from his friend the poet, for whom such outpourings are his raison d’être.

But I was simply not intended

for happiness – that alien role.

Should your perfections be expended

in vain on my unworthy soul?

Saint TatianaAnd finally the long autumn and winter bore him and he agrees to a second visit, one that will fall on Tatyana’s name day celebration!

Impressions of Tatayana and Olga

Tatyana is distant and aloof socially, yet vulnerable to the roller coaster of emotions she reads and studies at length in her romantic novels. Her falling in love is not as such inspired by meeting Onegin or anything he says or does in their first encounter, it is by the idea of him inflamed by the wagging tongues of neighbours, that allow her, now that she has some distance from the man himself, to imagine herself in love. She has a need to express herself and because she hesitates to ever do so in person, pours her emotion into the written word – a letter.

Olga we only see through the eyes of the enraptured poet Lensky, he is always with her, walking with her, reading to her, writing poems about her, he gives and receives love easily and neither of them appear subject to the more tumultuous vagaries of passionate love.

Onegin’s Reaction to Tatyana?

An almost fatherly response, he was concerned that she should not respond in the same manner when next she looks for love, outwardly he shows little emotional response to her revelations, however there is a hint that the words may have affected him at a more sub-conscious level that has yet to make its way into his more intellectual self. Fortunately, he does show careful consideration for her feelings, by refraining at least from criticising her too harshly or outrightly rejecting her. Ironically, it is his constant boredom that will lead back to the warm hospitality of her family home.

Le Grand Meaulnes

Le Grand Meaulnes

How Does it Contrast With Another Classic Romantic Novel?

I can only compare it with the most recent classic romantic novel I have read, though it was written nearly 100 years later, Alain Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes whose male characters are more afflicted by romantic notions in the vein of Tatyana, than Eugene Onegin. In Fournier’s novel and in his own personal experience, it is the women who dole out the practical advice and suggest that the young man is too young, only for him to become completely obsessed with her.

Overall, these chapters are much more dramatic and throw us deep into the story, they entertain, they shock and delight. It is a pleasure to read and I am looking forward to what the next two chapters will bring.

Click here to read the follow up review of Eugene Onegin Chapters 5 & 6

Lost Cat, Found Humour

There’s little enough humour in our lives and when there is, we don’t always appreciate it or even get it. I admit there is a lot of humour that doesn’t work on me, it’s not enough to know the English language, the cultural  and political context is critical and as for French humour – way too difficult! – however I do admire anyone able to write with humour, speak with it or just be it!

012413_1956_LostCatFoun1.jpgCaroline Paul has something of the gift, in a kind of self-deprecating way, and her book Lost Cat, allows us to have a few laughs at her expense, although they are situations that could equally apply to many of us and especially cat and dog owners.

She has written this light and entertaining tale which will appeal to all ages, a story of love, desperation and the many tools available to obsessed animal lovers in search of a missing pet. It is a true story which comes with a caveat, three in fact, (1) painkillers, (2) elapsed time, (3)normal confusion for people of a certain age.

Knowing that the author has previously written a book about her job as a fire-woman,  it came as less of a surprise to learn that she was involved in a light plane crash in an ‘experimental plane’. Her sense of humour is established not long after this revelation when hospital staff inform her that she has broken her tibia and her fibula.

“The Tibia and Fibula?!” I said, tasting the blood in my mouth, feeling the bruises on my arm, laughing through my morphine haze. When I explained that these were my cats, the staff just nodded, expressionless; to them, I was just another numskull hallucinating on a gurney. But it was true. Two thirteen –year-old tabbies, affectionately nicknamed Tibby and Fibby, were now wondering where the heck I was and why I hadn’t come home.

The accident leads to a period of enforced convalescence and a bout of the blues ; she is unable to venture out, most likely taking up too much space, both mental and physical in what had been the cats’ territory. The home dynamic has also changed since the author became involved in a new relationship, her partner not exactly a cat lover, although as a graphic artist, she has contributed sketches to the book that add to its entertainment value.

Then, a month into her recovery, without warning, something terrible happens. Tibby disappears.

Caroline panics and in the aftermath of his disappearance indulges every possible theory to find out where he is, from walking the neighbourhood to visiting the pound, from prayer to consulting a psychic. Then five weeks after his disappearance, Tibby returns, just like that.  In perfect health.  He’d even gained half a pound and his coat was as shiny as silk.

Confusion. Jealousy. Betrayal. I thought I’d known my cat of thirteen years. But that cat had been anxious and shy. This cat was a swashbuckling adventurer back from the high seas. What siren call could have lured him away? Was he still going to this place, with its overflowing food bowls and endless treats.

012413_1956_LostCatFoun3.jpg

Allia’s cat Noisette

Rather than accept the fact he is safe and has returned, the author then turns detective to try to figure out where he has been, some place he’s clearly still visiting as he is no longer interested in his food. This when I discover things about animal behaviour and the obsessions of animal owners that have me laughing out loud and wanting to tell everyone about  all the crazy things it is possible to spend your hard-earned cash on when you are under the influence of an animal obsession.

And then I quieten down, remembering I have a ten-year-old who is heading in that direction, big time. I’m just thankful that dinosaurs are extinct or he’d be begging for a pet one of those too! I’m afraid of what will happen when he becomes financially independent, the ‘overflowing with life’ rooms, in the virtual home he has created online, possess no furniture or accessories, unless you call a peacock in the living room an accessory.

Camping Neighbours cat – can you believe this cat goes camping!

Where do our pets go and what do they do, when we’re not around? And why? Aren’t we enough for our furry companions? For animal lovers, these are the ultimate questions. And so began a quest familiar to anyone who has realised that the man in their life isn’t who he seems: the quest to find out where Tibby had been for those five weeks.

This book landed on my lap in a busy work period a little while ago and was the perfect antidote, even if you are not a fan of animals, it is worth reading for the enlightenment of the lengths people will go to, to understand their animal.  I wish this book had been available just before Christmas, it’s the perfect gift. There’s always next Christmas! I’ll be buying multiple copies.

Highly recommended.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley on behalf of the publisher.

Mom & Me & Mom

Maya Angelou starts her conversation book by mentioning something people often ask, how it is that she became the women she is, a question she says she has been tempted to respond to using lines quoted from Topsy, the young black girl in Uncle Tom’s Cabin who said, “I dunno, I just growed.”

Mom Me MomInstead, Angelou has written this thought-provoking tribute, sharing a slew of matriarchal experiences among the many others already shared in her remarkable series of autobiographies, to highlight a little of how she did become that brave, sensitive, adventurous and caring women she is, in part due to the grandmother she loved and the mother she came to adore.

It is a story written with utmost compassion and forgiveness, for this is a woman whose mother admitted when she and her husband separated that she could not mother young children, so sent them to live with their grandmother for ten years. Angelou closes the prologue reminding us that love heals and throughout the book will prove that kindness is the greatest gift we can ever give and foster in others.

Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins.

Vivian Baxter, Maya Angelou’s mother, was the eldest of a large family of mostly boys, for whom threats, intimidation and violence were a part of their way of their life and this petite force was often at the forefront of their skirmishes. Their father encouraged tough boy talk and tasked his daughter with ensuring the boys didn’t soften. Little wonder that after falling in love, marrying and realising that it was a mistake, they were also unable to agree on who should raise their toddlers, they separated and sent the children to their father’s mother in Stamps, Arkansas. Maya was three and Bailey five-years-old.

Ten years later, when their grandmother felt that Bailey had grown too old for Arkansas, when he had reached a dangerous age for a black boy in the segregated South, it was arranged for them to return to their mother in California. Bailey was enthusiastic, Maya much less so. It would be difficult, but for all her flaws, their mother knew how to communicate with her children and didn’t push her mother status on them. Maya decided she would call her ‘Lady’ and her mother’s response to this is one of many small pleasures Angelou offers up in her book.

Maya has a baby very young, without the foundation of a loving relationship, however with the love and support of her mother, this event in no way prevents her from pursuing her life’s dreams and ambitions.

I thought about my mother and knew she was amazing. She never made me feel as if I brought scandal to the family. The baby had not been planned and I would have to rethink plans about education, but to Vivian Baxter that was life being life.

Some years later deciding to marry Tosh tested the mother daughter relationship, Vivian didn’t try to stop her daughter from making what she thought was a mistake, but she chose to leave San Francisco, not wishing to witness the fallout. Like any young women living off the heady ambiance of newly married love, Maya wished to prove her mother wrong.

To begin with she continued doing all the things she loved, the things that made her Maya Angelou, seeing her friends, attending a dance class, going to church and speaking freely about God. However her activities slowly became issues between the young couple, so she stopped them in an attempt to maintain peace between herself and her husband.

At first the dimness is hardly noticeable but not alarming. Then with a rush, the light is vanquished by darkness.

This gem of a book, complete with gorgeous photos, is a wonderful addition to her already masterful collection of autobiographies and chronicles that one relationship that runs through our entire lives, that with our mother. It may not always be easy, but Angelou shares those moments that tested and ultimately strengthened the love and respect they had for each other. She accomplishes it with incredible honesty and selflessness, something that shines through in the brief interview I have linked here. What a wise and loving soul she is.

Interview – Learning to Love My Mother: Maya talks about her mother with a BBC interviewer.

“Exercise patience with yourself first, so you can forgive yourself for all the dumb things you do. Then exercise patience with your children.”

Note: The book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

What We Expect When We Don’t Expect Much From Love: Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

LudmillaThere Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, And He Hanged Himself. The title itself is intriguing, though if you have read the author before, you will recognise the tendency, she is the bestselling author of There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby.

I took the book with me on a recent visit to London, as my alternative to the kindle, since I have been caught out a couple of times with that little machine dying on me even though the battery wasn’t run down. I have since discovered the 20 second rule. When the kindle fails to come to life when it should, hold it in the on position for 20 seconds to reboot it. Like many gadgets today I’m not sure these things are designed to last, not as long an old-fashioned book anyway. And I have Penguin to thank for sending me a bona-fide book!

The blurbs quote Chekov, Poe, Beckett, Tolstoy and various others to entice you in, making promises that will no doubt encourage dissent; it is a tall order to be compared to literary greats. I haven’t read all those greats, but there is one collection I am reminded of, not because she writes like him, but because the voice is clear from story to story and at the end I am left with the notion that “there is consistency in that voice” and “she says it how it is”.

Carver LoveIf Ludmilla Petrushevskaya reminds me of any writer, it is Raymond Carver and his collection what we talk about when we talk about love. Ironically, when pulling this volume off the shelf, I also find tucked in its last page, a boarding card for a flight from Marseille to London, dated June 2008.

So back to the book.

Seventeen episodes of attempts at love or connection with another, in all their dysfunction, set within the context of post revolutionary Russia when private ownership of housing was forbidden and many family apartments were divided and sub-divided and the space people came to occupy diminished, along with many of their hopes and expectations of each other.

By 1972, when Petrushevskaya published her first story, Moscow was ringed with concrete buildings containing these overcrowded units where the majority of these love stories take place.

Born in 1938 in Moscow, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya never knew family life. Evacuated with her mother to Kuibyshev during the war, she was left there in the care of her aunt and grandmother while her mother returned to Moscow to attend college. Members of the family of “an enemy of the people”, they were treated as pariahs – and were slowly starving. At age eight, Petrushevskaya began to run away from her temporary home and spend summers as a street beggar. Her mother returned after four years and brought her back to Moscow, where they were officially homeless. As a young girl there, Petrushevskaya and her mother lived under a desk in her insane grandfather’s room, while occasionally renting cots in nearby communal apartments. It was an unsettled, unhappy childhood, one experienced without the consolation of siblings.” Extract from Introduction by translator Anna Summers

The stories are collected into four sections, the first A Murky Fate contains stories of characters who consider entering relationships that are flawed or doomed, in readiness for a chance at that diminished flutter of something that may resemble love. It is not to be moved by these circumstances that we read these stories, it is to bear witness to another’s reality. They are uncomfortable, fatalistic and near-true.

She’ll wait for his long-distance call in a phone booth at the post office. For ten prepaid minutes they’ll become one soul again, as they did over the twenty-four prepaid days of their vacation. They’ll shout and cry across thousands of miles, deceived by the promise of eternal summer, seduced and abandoned.

As we read the stories, our own expectations are so low for these women, that it is possible to experience our own small pleasure in expecting nothing and finding delight in an obscure change in their fortune, even if only for a short period.

I mentioned to Cassie, who reviews this collection here on her excellent blog Books And Bowel Movements, that for me it was as if I was sitting across the table from the writer listening to an oral narration of people she knew, that it reminded me of other tables I have sat at, listening to stories of other women from different cultures and how they found themselves living in this or that country or city, so often lead by the allure of love or the promise of an improved lifestyle.

dollsEach community, era, culture has its stories to share, it disappointments to shed and its eternal hope for future generations, that they may do better. Reading these stories is like reading another chapter in the evolution of humanity and reminds us that we have a long way to go before arriving near any kind of nirvana.

…the day is burning its last, and Milgrom, eternal Milgrom, sits in her little pensioner’s room like a guard at the museum of her own life, where there is nothing at all but a timid love.

Note: This book was kindly made available by the publisher.

Episode 4: Where’s My Baby and Why Isn’t She With Me?

We laughed as the doctor left the room and I tried to remember how to breathe.

I even slept a little throughout that long night until around 5am when we reached the moment when the baby finally arrived. A beautiful tiny baby girl, an almost pained look of relief on her face, happy to have escaped I thought, or is it the other way around, I wonder, pained by that physical confrontation of birth into our harsh world? I only held her for a short while before she was taken away to be further checked, taken to a ward on another level.

We knew that there was a problem in the intestine, the hospital had picked it up at 22 weeks after the scan revealed fluid in the intestine making it balloon slightly. Due to this effect, they had been able to observe peristalsis, the smooth muscle contraction of the intestine wall, which moves food or liquid along the intestine. Ordinarily, we should not be able to see this, but if there is some kind of blockage, it is possible to observe.

It had caused us significant anxiety, particularly because the doctor could neither guarantee nor predict an outcome. There were two options he had said. Either the baby will require an operation immediately after birth, or you will take the little one home and at some time in the near future it will be necessary to return to the hospital, because it will be a problem for him or her to keep food down. In this case, the baby will vomit continuously because the bowel will have ceased to function.

We preferred that the problem be dealt with as soon as problem, but we were not given sufficient information to feel in any way empowered to make any kind of decision. So it often is with hospitals, perhaps believing that too much information can only increase anxiety, it seems as if they withhold it. I’m not so sure it’s a good strategy, being aware of one’s ignorance and feeling powerless are more painful symptoms of anxiety than the harsh dose of reality, complete information might bring, at least in my mind.

I mean, why send a baby home and wait for something terrible like that to happen? What were the risks of the operation? Every question always ended with “It depends. We can’t know exactly until we can see inside.” There was no reassurance, we just had to wait and so I had tried not to absorb too much of the anxiety already flooding through my veins.

Now that the moment had arrived, they seemed to be acting quickly, there was no suggestion of any “wait and see” now. The baby was gone, they’d cleared her breathing passages, shoved a tube up her nose, tied off her umbilical cord, weighed her and taken her out of the room. I know I did get to hold her, but I have no memory or feeling of the bliss of holding my baby after birth; the rush and feeling of panic and anxiety obliterated all that and I only remember the helplessness of not being able to follow and wanting to make sure that someone who I knew and could trust would keep an eye on my baby girl. I hadn’t held her long enough to even remember what she looked like!

The baby is in the post natal ward they told me. I sent Susan immediately to go and find her, I was too weak to get out of bed, but I was desperate for someone to go and see my daughter, to find her and tell me that everything was okay.

“She’s okay” said Susan. “She’s downstairs in an incubator and she’s quiet, you can go and see her once you are up and showered.” I dragged myself to the shower, washed then went down to the ward to see her for myself. There was a place to insert my hands but I couldn’t actually touch her. Barriers, barriers, I sent her all the love and maternal energy my heart could generate; I sent it to her in abundance, through my mind, my heart, my hands, from every cell in my entire being. And I decided to call her Allia.

The nurse came to tell me that Allia would be transferred in a few hours to Great Ormond Street Hospital. She advised me that she would be transported in a specially equipped ambulance designed for babies.

“It is not possible for you to travel with the baby” she continued. “It would be better for you to stay here for the night, you need to recover. Your baby will be okay.”

My baby would be okay she had said. I was not okay. I did not want to be there alone, I did not care about recovering, I wanted to be with her, she needed me, she was about to face something drastic and invasive and they were recommending she do that alone, without me even being in the same building.

I told Susan to go home and get some rest. Other people came to visit me and were shocked to find me there alone. I hated lying there watching the other women with their babies, feeling as if I had abandoned my own, powerless to have kept her. I remembered that my husband was due to arrive back in London that day. We had been unable to reach him.

Someone called from Great Ormond Street Hospital to ask me for parental consent to conduct surgery on our daughter.

“Ordinarily, we would get you to sign a consent form, but as you are not here, we need to get your permission over the telephone” the Doctor explained.

“When will the operation be?” I asked.

“At about eight thirty this evening” he answered. I looked at the clock; it was nearly 6pm already.

“Wait” I said, “I’m coming now.” I went back to the ward to find my husband and my Aunt waiting there for me.

“I need to get out of here” I said. “They’re going to operate on her in two hours and I’m not waiting here while that is about to happen.”

“I’ll take you in my car” said my Aunt. I grabbed my things and the three of us sped out of the Royal Free Hospital and raced towards Russell Square to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

Next Up in the mother/daughter collaborative story A Silent Education: Our Quiet Challenge in Provence

Episode 5 : GOSH – A Kind of Neverland

Previous Episodes: Introduction

Episode 1: The Benefits of Insomnia

Episode 2: We are not Living in France!

Episode 3: The Benefits of Contra-Indicated Essential Oils

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace – The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady

Kate Summerscale likes to take ordinary people who have been noted for doing some extraordinary thing, though not usually something to be admired – and shares their story in a way that reads like compelling fiction.

Her previous book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House reads like a detective novel and coincided historically with the introduction of the adapted role of a certain type of police officer – that of the detective.  This person was required to use specialist skills to investigate suspicious deaths, such was the case with Mr Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, assigned to investigate the gruesome death of a young family member of a supposedly respectable household in a quiet Wiltshire village, putting all members of the family under suspicion and creating an unprecedented public sensation.

Now she has turned her pen and research skills towards the diary and letters of a Victorian lady, Mrs Isabella Robinson, an impulsive, intellectual woman, widowed young and remarried to an uninterested man who seemed to require nothing more of her than to keep house and children in order, a role she fulfilled, but was not content to be limited to and thus her attentions strayed towards the happily married Dr Edward Lane.

Throughout most of her diary entries he appears not to return her amorous feelings, but Mrs Robinson has the skills of Flaubert (who was prosecuted in the late 1850’s for corrupting public morals with Madame Bovary – a novel considered ‘too repulsive’ for publication in Britain) in expressing both her angst and sexual frustration and perhaps even her fantasies (were they?) with regard to certain men hovering in her vicinity – certainly, as with Flaubert’s prose, there were pages deemed unsuitable and unfit for the eyes of anyone outside the court and the media banned from laying eyes on it for fear of corrupting the public.

Her dramatic verse, which employed few filters would prove to be her undoing and became the sensation of a highly publicised court case, which also straddled a moment in history, when divorce laws were changed to make them easier to obtain, particularly as the law discriminated against women and allowed some terrible situations to endure as a result.

The law stipulated that to secure a divorce, a husband needed to establish just his wife’s infidelity, whereas a woman needed to prove that her husband was not only unfaithful but also guilty of desertion, cruelty or sexual misdeeds such as bigamy, incest, rape, sodomy or bestiality.

Ironic, in that no one questioned Mr Robinson concerning his mistress and two illegitimate children, clearer evidence of infidelity than anything penned by his errant wife.

Queen Victoria

Allowing these situations to be resolved through the Court created a predicament with the population concerning reportage in newspapers, an issue to which even Queen Victoria was said to have addressed.

On 19 December, Reynold’s Weekly, observed that the cases in the Divorce Court ‘seem to indicate that among the high, the moral, the respectable, and the Christian classes…adultery is in a highly flourishing, if not exceedingly rampant, condition.’ A week later Queen Victoria wrote to Lord Campbell, the chief designer of the Divorce Act, to ask if he could suppress some of the stories coming out of the court.

It seems the Queen had no power to stop the presses and received a reply indicating that they were unable to limit the newspaper stories.

Overall, an interesting read and historical context and no doubt opinion continues to be divided on whether Mrs Robinson was hard done by or plain foolish to have committed such desires, whether fantasy or fact to paper.  A woman fifty shades before her time perhaps.

Note: This was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.