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review 2017-10-12 23:00
Josephine Tey: A Life
Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

Ian Rankin is among the contemporary authors who cite Josephine Tey as an influence, and Tey is often cited as ‘Fifth’ after the ‘Big Four’ crime writers of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh – the essential exponents of crime fiction which all aficionados of the genre have at least a passing acquaintance with. Readers and critics talk about her books and recommend them to others.

And, yet, not much is generally known about Josephine Tey, or rather Elizabeth MacKintosh, because she was a very private person who kept her private affairs strictly separate from her work, and even in that she used several pen names to work in different genres. 

 

With all of these smoke and mirrors, it is even more enjoyable to read a biography that does not just regurgitate the little that has been known about MacKintosh but that evidently presents the results of new research and the authors efforts to really dig through the archives and interview the few remaining people who knew MacKintosh. 

 

Henderson also provides a wider view into the historical and literary background to MacKintosh's upbringing and the issues that influenced her writing - notably some of the hypocrisy of Inverness society. 

 

In an earlier review of Tey's novel The Man in the Queue, I wondered whether "Tey may actually have tried to dispel some of the stereotypes found in the pulp fiction of her time". 

Having read this biography, I believe that she indeed struggled with people's assumptions about other people of any difference to them, and that did use her books to dispel various assumptions. 

 

Her upbringing and training instilled in her a love for history and a propensity for researching and questioning accepted facts. Her love for England at a time of the rise of Scottish nationalism, for which her very own home town of Inverness at the centre, caused her to question the importance of national identity. Her friends included people of all walks of life and this together with her disdain for the snobbishness of her neighbours in Inverness, only supported her approach to meet people on the basis of their character, not their background. 

 

When I first picked up this biography, I had some concerns about whether Henderson, herself an Invernessian, would put forward a certain bias of town pride, but this concern was quickly abandoned. Henderson's description and analysis of the existing sources about MacKintosh, her writing, and the historical situation during MacKintosh's life quickly proved a fair and balanced assessment. And, let me say this again, Henderson's efforts in bringing up primary sources to back up her descriptions and statements about MacKintosh, has been really impressive.

 

This was a brick of a book and I loved every page, and I am now even more eager than before to investigate the works Elizabeth MacKintosh aka Gordon Daviot aka Josephine Tey.  

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text 2017-10-11 23:14
Reading progress update: I've read 310 out of 426 pages.
Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

Interesting:

In 2013, the dramatic discovery of Richard III’s remains under a Leicester car park was widely reported, with a documentary following the entire process broadcast on Channel 4. The documentary had to set the scene by doing what Tey achieved in The Daughter of Time: show the average viewer just why a group of people (the Richard III Society) cared so much about a dead king’s reputation that they were willing to put enormous time, effort and money into the seemingly impossible task of finding his body. The Richard III Society exists to promote the revisionist ideas about Richard which Tey puts across so forcefully. They more generally aim to promote balanced historical research, rather than allowing history to be written by the victors, an admirable aim which even the least Ricardian can understand.

The Richard III Society has been around since the 1920s. Josephine Tey was never a member, though, as The Daughter of Time shows, she was of course aware that other historians shared her view of Richard. Tey’s 1951 novel brought the views of the Society to a more general audience and increased their popularity so much that the Richard III Society website still dedicates a special section to Tey’s life and work for all enthusiasts who come to their society by that route. After Josephine Tey’s death she left the copyright to all her novels to the National Trust, who then had to field many queries about The Daughter of Time and its authenticity.

Coincidentally, the person who took those queries, volunteer Isolde Wigram, was also the secretary and a prime mover in the revival of the Richard III Society, and so was well able to answer any question on the topic, and took great joy and pride in doing so. Since the 2013 discovery of Richard III’s body, Josephine Tey’s novel has attracted attention again. The novel has never been out of print, and is a constant fixture on bookshop shelves and in lists of the best-ever crime novels, and, in 1990, was voted the number one crime novel of all time by the UK Crime Writers’ Association.

On a different note, I have about 45 pages left in the book. The sensible voice in my head is telling me to finish this tomorrow and get a good night's sleep. 

The other voices tell me that sleep is overrated when there is such a book to be finished.

Hm.

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text 2017-10-11 20:04
Reading progress update: I've read 216 out of 426 pages.
Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

Still liking this book a lot, and the potential issue I expected I might have when I read the first few chapters has all but dissolved. 

 

 

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text 2017-10-08 22:20
Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 426 pages.
Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

So far, this book is fascinating. Henderson does not just give us the family history, but also provides a full picture of life in Inverness at the beginning of the 20th century, and does not shy away from criticising some of the "romanticised" versions of life in the north of Scotland at that time:

"The education given at the IRA [= Inverness Royal Academy] was rigorous and to a high standard and there is evidence throughout all of Beth’s later writing of this excellent academic grounding, from her thorough knowledge of history and religious education to her use of French and her wide-ranging and open-minded interest in a variety of subjects. When she is interested in a topic, she explores it thoroughly, reading up on its background and asking for help from those who know more. In The Singing Sands when Grant wants to know more about the Hebrides, he immediately goes to a library, where he peruses a selection of books and asks the librarian for advice. In The Daughter of Time, Grant sifts through historical evidence using both primary and secondary sources, and is able to argue from cause to effect, rather than repeating a series of facts. Girls like Beth MacKintosh and Mairi MacDonald expected this sort of education – questioning, rigorous and encouraging private study – as standard, and the image of the ill-educated Highland girl – or the exception fighting against the rule – shown in some contemporary early twentieth-century literature (e.g. by Lewis Grassic Gibbon) is just plain wrong. It was a stereotype Beth MacKintosh would fight in both her private life and in her writing. The popular idea that in the 1900s girls maybe learnt a bit of drawing, French and music was simply not true in Scotland."

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text 2017-10-08 16:39
Halloween Bingo: My last Bingo square...
Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

is the Free / Raven square.

 

Would it be too tenuous to allocate Henderson's biography of Josephine Tey for this square?

 

Strictly speaking, there is no murder, romantic suspense (although who knows?), no vampires (a more definite nope than romantic suspense), etc. Tey did spend a lot of time in London, but I would not call her haunts "dark". Her other home, Inverness, is a smallish town, but is actually the biggest city in the region, ... while her fictional alter ego in Nicola Upson's books is an amateur sleuth, I have my doubts that the real Josephine Tey was.

 

I would say, if we accept Christie and Sayers for the Terrifying Women category, Tey would fit, too, but...this is a biography not a book with a thrilling plot.

 

I am probably over-thinking this, but I do want to find a justification that may fit.

What I do know about Tey so far is that she is a woman shrouded in mystery. She used several aliases (even "Josephine Tey" is an alias), never combined her professional and private lives, and even her friends did not know much about her.

 

What are your thoughts? Does the biography fit the square?

 

(Btw, I haven't started the book, yet. It's just been hanging out on my currently reading shelf to remind me that I have this from the library...)

 

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