Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’ by Ian McIntyre - review by Claire Harman

Claire Harman

The Best of Friends

Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’


Constable & Robinson 352pp £20

In 1776, the brewer Henry Thrale made a gift to his wife Hester of six quarto notebooks, labelled ‘Thraliana’, in which to record ‘ev’ry thing which struck me at the time’ about life in one of the most troubled but interesting households of the day. Whether it was anecdotes about their resident friend, Samuel Johnson, or others of their circle, Arthur Murphy, the Burneys, Boswell, Garrick, stories about her beloved, difficult daughter Queeney, verses, asides or acerbic commentary on her marriage, the six notebooks soon took on the role of a much-needed confidential friend.

The witty, vivacious Hester Salusbury, as she was born, was always a lonely figure, the only child of spendthrift and miserable parents who encouraged her to ingratiate herself with rich relatives in the hope of catching legacies and preferments for them all. When their schemes fell through, an advantageous marriage

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