Aged eleven, I had discovered Trollope in a huge green-and-gold edition in my parents' house. (I learnt later that there was a lot of wartime Trollope reading among the grown-ups 'to get away from the war.') Thus I was temporarily obsessed by the character of Lady Glencora Palliser in Can You Forgive Her? The tiny, tousle-haired heiress and her fatal love for the wastrel Burgo Fitzgerald occupied most of my waking thoughts. I was however baffled by one significant development in the plot. We all knew that Lady Glencora must dutifully provide an heir for her husband Plantagenet Palliser, himself the heir to the Duke of Omnium, because that was what the Duke requested. I turned to Felicity Wilding, slightly older than me, for help.
'When Glencora says with a blush that she's not quite sure, she thinks, maybe ... I mean, how can she not know whether she's having a baby? Either they did it, in which case she's having a baby. Or they didn't, in which case she isn't.'
'Oh, no,' said Felicity in a world-weary voice. 'You don't understand. Grown-ups do it all the time.'
I was stunned and fell into incredulous silence. Nothing in the frequent appearance of babies in these years at 8 Chadlington Road had prepared me for such a — frankly embarrassing — revelation. ...
At the time I turned away from Felicity and went back to the safety of the written word and Trollope's political Pallisers. Instinctively, I much preferred them to the then fashionable Anglican bishops, bishops' wives and deans of Barchester. I was determined to ignore any possible connection with reality and stick with the lot of them. Phineas Finn, Lady Eustace, Laura Standish, Madame Max Goesler and so forth. ignoring anything unpleasant that might disturb me in my rapt contemplation of their fascinating social fortunes.
It was probably a long way from what [her headmaster] Hum thought a She Dragon should be thinking about. What would that be? Something to do with the Classical World, no doubt. But at this point, in my imagination, Lady Glencora was a great deal more interesting than Helen of Troy because she was my private heroine... For the time being, it was she who accompanied me as I walked moodily on the banks of the Cherwell, flowing past the playing fields and the school barge.
October 31, 2015
The birds and the bees
from My History: a memoir of growing up, by Antonia Fraser
(The painting is by Janet Hill.}