Ridley, Jane 1953-
RIDLEY, Jane 1953-
PERSONAL: Born May 15, 1953, in Northumberland, England; daughter of Lord Nicholas (a politician) and Clayre (a writer; maiden name, Campbell; present surname, Percy) Ridley; married Stephen Thomas (a writer), 1986; children: Toby, Humphrey. Education: Oxford University, B.A. (with first class honors), 1974, D.Phil., 1985. Politics: "Tory." Religion: Anglican.
ADDRESSES: Home—Flat 6, 31 Dorset Sq., London NW1 6QJ, England. Offıce—Department of History, University of Buckingham, Hunter Street, Buckingham MK10 1EG, England. E-mail—[email protected] buckingham.ac.uk
CAREER: Historian and author. University of Buckingham, Buckingham, England, lecturer, 1979-94, senior lecturer in history, 1994—. London Library Committee, member, 1987-91, 1992—.
(Editor with mother, Clayre Percy) Letters of EdwinLutyens, Collins (London, England), 1985.
Fox Hunting, Collins (London, England), 1990.
(Editor with Percy) Letters of A. J. Balfour and LadyElcho, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1992.
Young Disraeli, 1804-1846 Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Jane Ridley is a professional biographer best-known for her study of her great-grandfather, the famous British architect Edwin Lutyens. Ridley told CA: Much of the history published today is not really meant to be enjoyed. I want to write history and biography that is both good history and good to read. Many critics, such as the Spectator's Christopher Woodward, believe she has done just that. "Ridley writes beautifully, with a particular gift for describing the physical presence of a character and the visual texture of a scene," observed Woodward.
Ridley's Young Disraeli, 1804-1846 recounts the early life of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. When he was only twenty, Disraeli lost a borrowed fortune and began a battle with creditors that would span two decades. A novelist, epic poet, and journalist, Disraeli suffered a nervous breakdown, but recovered and married a rich widow, twelve years older than he, to help pay off his debts. Though baptized a Christian, Disraeli asserted his Jewish heritage and developed a theory of racial superiority. A reviewer in Queen's Quarterly noted that Ridley reveals no new facts in this biography. "Ridley warms up some more recent speculations for which she, like her predecessors, cites no supporting evidence," remarked the reviewer. However, a Publishers Weekly critic described Young Disraeli as "a captivating, full-bodied portrayal."
Ridley's biography, The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, grew out of Lutyen's letters, which Ridley edited, along with those of his wife, Emily. Lutyen was a brilliant architect and the designer behind much of Imperial New Delhi. While his marriage to aristocrat Emily Lytton opened doors for the young, ambitious architect, their union was stormy. Emily was disinterested in her husband's profession and unable to convince him of the worth of her own interests, mainly theosophy, literature, and feminism. Ridley describes Emily as excessively needy, selfish, and often depressed. Her personality clashed with that of her husband, who was known to be selfish, greedy, and racist. While their marriage lasted forty-seven years, Edwin and Emily led separate, parallel lives, riddled with extramarital affairs.
Ridley has been criticized for overemphasizing sex in the biography, a move which some reviewers felt detracted from the writing as a whole. Writing in the English Historical Review, reviewer William White remarked that while sex may have been lacking in the marriage "there is more than enough in this book." To back up this assertion, White cited examples from the book including Ridley's claim that "The Freudian significance of tunnels in Lutyen's work is undeniable, and the entrance tunnel at Homewood was like a vagina, opening on to a womb-like house: but in winter it acted as a wind-tunnel, funneling an icy blast into the house." The Observer's Deyan Sudjic felt Ridley's "preoccupation with sex verges on the comic." Sudjic elaborated, "Ridley is perhaps more enlightening on money, class and racism that she is on sex." Woodward interpreted Ridley's sexual references differently, saying, "What Ridley does better than in any architectural history I have ever read is to show how Lutyens' architectural form was as warm and potent as a human embrace: the spreading wings of a great house were as alive and loving to him, he said, as a family." A Contemporary Review critic termed The Architect and His Wife "a thoroughly enjoyable biography that brings not only a man's art but his life and era back to life." Woodward also praised the biography, saying, "This is an outstandingly good book, the best biography of an architect that I, at least, have ever read and as sad a story as Ford's The Good Soldier."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Review, October, 2002, review of TheArchitect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, p. 252.
English Historical Review, April, 2003, William White, review of The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, pp. 545-547.
New Statesman, June 24, 2002, Lynn Barber, "At the Feet of Genius," pp. 48-50.
Observer, June 23, 2002, Deyan Sudjic, review of "The Architect and His Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens," p. 448.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 1995, review of TheYoung Disraeli, 1804-1846, p. 46,
Queen's Quarterly, Spring, 1996, review of Young Disraeli, 1804-1846, pp. 172-181.
Spectator, July 6, 2002, Christopher Woodward, "The Hero on a Pedestal," pp. 33-35.
Time International, August 5, 2002, Robin Knight, "Behind Every Great Man," p. 49.
Times Educational Supplement, July 5, 1996, review of The Young Disraeli, p. 7.
Sunday Express,http://www.indianexpress.com/ (November 23, 2002), Atul Chaturvedi, "Spaces between Ourselves."*