Tuesday 26 April 2011

Elizabeth Jenkins

I recently read Elizabeth Jenkins' wonderful memoir The View from Downshire Hill (published in 2004, but inexplicably difficult to find - I read it in the Bodleian). Sooner or later I might write about it at greater length, but for now I will simply mention that it is a wonderful source of literary anecdotes, and often quite funny. Here's a bit I thought you might like, about her novel The Tortoise and the Hare.
This was, in terms of financial success, my best novel, but I encountered some severe, personal criticism from readers who felt that the interest of the book was too much confined to one class, not to say one income bracket. I was told by a young man, a student in a university society to which I had been asked to give a talk, that what was wrong with the book was that it wasn't about anything that really mattered. As I felt that the suffering caused by the break-up of a marriage was something that did matter, I asked him, in surprise, what were some of the things that really mattered? After a pause, he said: "Well, trade unions."


  1. I'd like to read this book, that quote is brilliant. I still have to read the Tortoise and the Hare. I loved her Austen biography.

  2. Hilarious! I love that quote!

  3. I'm curious to read more Jenkins - does anything else come close to the tortoise and the hare?

  4. Perfectly timed post for me as I'm reading The Tortoise and the Hare at the moment. And I can honestly say there is not a single book on my shelves about trade unions.

  5. Nicola - I don't know why it's so scarce - it must have had a tiny print run initially.

    Mystica - well, that kind can stay away from me (!!) Can you imagine a novel about trade unions? Eurgh!

    Rachel - isn't it wonderful? Jenkins has a lovely wry sense of humour.

    Susan - :D

    Hayley - Tortoise and Hare is the only novel I've read by EJ. I liked it a lot, but not quite to the extent that everyone else seems to... but I do have Robert and Helen on my shelf too. She didn't mention that at all in her book.

    Darlene - I did wonder whether any of the hundreds of unread books I've got might feature trade unions... but I doubt it! I've got to confess, I'm not sure I know what a trade union is...

  6. Has anyone read "An Agitator' by Clementina Black

    Clementina Black was a suffragist and trade unionist who campaigned to improve industrial conditions for women. She was a co-founder of the Women’s Labour Bureau, which led to the formation of the Women’s Industrial Council in 1894. Black wrote seven novels, including "The Agitator'about a socialist strike leader.

  7. Ruth - well, there you go, there is one!


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