A Bright Remembrance: The Diaries of Julia Cartwright by Angela Emanuel (ed) - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

In Her Black Books

A Bright Remembrance: The Diaries of Julia Cartwright


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 307pp £16.95

Imagine a philistine England; imagine a country estate in Northamptonshire, an Eden encumbered by debt; imagine the conversation of women, dominated by ‘the three dreadful D’s of dress, domestics and disease.’ Then imagine a little girl of sixteen or eighteen who desperately wants to be good, and has the duties of her time and class: ‘Visited all the cottages in Church Lane and scolded parents about not sending children to school regularly.’ She is enjoying a genteel education at home with her sisters. Over it, one feels, hovers the unborn soul of Miss Prism: ‘Mr Philips corrected our characters of Beckett and Wolsey … both more remarkable than great.’

But she is conscientious, and in thrall to her intellect’s demands. Books plunge her into a torment of excitement and longing. She dreams of strong southern sunshine, lemon trees, marble piazzas and High Art. Reading Byron, Shelley and Keats, ‘One’s heart and brain seem nearly bursting with enthusiasm.’ Aged sixteen,

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RLF - March