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.”

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth Jenkins

  • April 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm
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    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.

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  • April 26, 2011 at 10:21 am
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    I'm curious to read more Jenkins – does anything else come close to the tortoise and the hare?

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  • April 26, 2011 at 10:50 am
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    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.

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  • April 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm
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    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…

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  • April 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm
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    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.

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