LAST MONTH, JOSCELINE Dimblebv's debut biography, a study of her great-grandmother and great-aunt, May and my Gaskell, attracted a great deal of gentle teasing in the-press. I was one of those critics who poked fun at Dimbleby's gushy, though undoubtedly sincere, revelation that in the course of her research she felt herself increasingly possessed by her story. Dimbleby, by her own account, only had to wander down an Oxford side street to be convinced that she could see her early Victorian ancestors walking in front of her. She only had to touch a dry, stiffened paintbrush in order to be rushed straight back to the days when Edward Burne-Jones, the grand old man of second-generation Pre- Raphaelitism, sent her great-granny up to five love letters a day and painted her great-aunt Amy in what became one of the most famous portraits of the late nineteenth century.
Time and space collapse obligingly for Dimbleby as she floats around the more attractive parts of the British countryside in an increasingly dense atmosphere of her own making. A young woman whom she encounters by chance in a museum reading room turns out to be her cousin; an elderly canon