'The Lie' by Helen Dunmore pub: Windmill Books 2014
In a postscript Helen Dunmore describes how she was working on another book when her main character, Daniel, came to her so vividly ‘that it was as if he had stepped onto the room’. She had to write about him.
In fact, Daniel is the first character we meet when we start the narrative (after a Kipling quote: If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied) He tells us, in very matter of fact language, of being visited by a silent ghost that is covered in thick smelly mud. The time is Spring 1920 in Cornwall. The ghost is Daniel’s childhood friend Frederick, they had declared themselves ‘blood brothers’ and signed as such in letters they wrote when apart.
Daniel and Frederick came from very different backgrounds. Daniels mother was a widow who earned a meagre living as a cleaner, while Fredrick lived in the only ‘big house’ of the area, where she worked. Daniel used to go to the largely unused library where he loved to read.
Frederick's affluent father was a bully and Daniel protected and supported his friend. The class difference led to them experiencing very different educations. Frederick was sent away to boarding school, but Daniel’s schooling was cut short. His mother became too ill to continue working so Daniel, then aged 11, had to earn a living to support them both. But the boys continued to be ‘blood brothers’.
If it not been for the family’s extreme need, Daniel, who was the brightest boy in the village school would almost certainly have won a scholarship to the grammar school, but his meagre wages were essential to their survival.
And now, in 1920, Daniel describes how he is supporting his late mother’s frail aged friend, Mary Pascoe, in her cottage outside the village. He is living in a constructed shelter on the edge of her land. When Mary dies, Daniel cleans and moves into her cottage, continuing to take her eggs and other produce into market. Much of the narrative is Daniel’s detailed description of his daily tasks, the occasional nightmare flashbacks to the war he survives, but his visiting ghost of Frederick didn’t. He re- meets Frederick’s sister Felicia who not yet 20 is a war widow with a young daughter living alone with her child in the family big house. At one point with Felicia, Daniel knows Frederick’s ghost is going to come. He ponders; ‘something’s gone wrong. Things ought to stop, once they’re finished, but this won’t stop. They say the war’s over, but they’re wrong. It went too deep for that. It opened up a crack in time, a crater maybe’.
It all looks set for a happy ending, but the spite and petty jealousy of the village, combine to find out the original well-meaning lie on which Daniel’s precarious new life is based. The outcome is tragedy. A moving and timely read for the centenary.
'Feminism, Gender and Universities - Politics, Passion and Pedagogies by Miriam E. David pub: Institute of Education, University of London
From the Publisher: ‘Drawing on the ‘collective biography’ of leading feminist scholars from around the world and current evidence relating to gender equality in education, this book employs methods including biographies, life histories, and narratives to show how the feminist project to transform women’s lives in the direction of gender and social equality became an educational and pedagogical one. Through careful attention to the ways in which feminism has transformed feminist academic women’s lives, the author explores the importance of education in changing socio-political contexts, raising questions about further changes that are necessary.’
‘Miriam David celebrates the way that feminism has changed the landscape of higher education forever while asking forensic questions about the future of gender studies in a corporate neoliberal landscape. One of her significance achievements is to draw on the voices of several generations of feminist intellectuals to both deepen and enliven her broader arguments.’ Melissa Benn
‘This is a passionate and fascinating book: lucid, engaging and fluently written it not only documents the histories of individual women in higher education, it also makes the case for the difference that their presence makes – both to universities themselves and to our wider expectations and aspirations about gender relations. It is an important, indeed essential, contribution to our understanding, and the making of, democratic education.’ Mary Evans, London School of Economics.