Sunday, August 16, 2015

An Impossible Marriage

Occasionally I become aware of yawning gaps in my knowledge. This week, still reading my way through the books that I found in my father's loft, I came across a copy of Pamela Hansford Johnson's An Impossible Marriage, published in 1955 for The Companion Book Club.

I had never before come across the author and was impressed and intrigued by the book to the extent that I delved into the internet. I found to my surprise that Pamela Hansford Johnson once enjoyed what we might nowadays call celebrity status. In fact, her life was so interesting that a biography has recently been written about her - 'Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times', by Wendy Pollard.

Ms. Pollard divorced her first husband in 1949 in order to marry the novelist C.P. Snow and eventually became Baroness Snow. The couple are described in the Spectator's leader to a review of Wendy Pollard's biography as Literature's least attractive power couple. I won't go into detail of here, as if you are interested you can find out more by clicking the link to the review.

Pamela Hansford Johnson 1912-1981


I wonder if to some extent Ms. Hansford Johnson drew on personal experience when writing An Impossible Marriage, which gives a fascinating insight into what life was like for middle-class girls and married women in the first half of the twentieth century. The novel's narrator and protagonist lived at a time when the man was the head of the household, and his word was law. He could control whether or not his wife could hold a job outside the home, which of her former friends she was allowed to see, and took little part in raising children of the marriage (young women nowadays can thank the development of the contraceptive pill and likes of Germaine Greer for their emancipation ). The story is of a young girl who marries a man despite lingering reservations and quickly realises that she is not in love. The reader is taken through the stages of the breakdown of the marriage.Yes, the modern reader will find the language dated and euphemistic but, nevertheless, an interesting glimpse at social history.

In addition to 27 novels the writer produced literary criticism and much more. She received numerous literary accolades and a CBE.

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