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Seymour-Jones, Carole

SEYMOUR-JONES, Carole

PERSONAL: Born in Wales. Education: Attended Oxford University.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Constable & Robinson Ltd., 3 The Lanchesters, 162 Fulham Palace Rd., London W6 9ER, England.

CAREER: Writer.

MEMBER: PEN.

AWARDS, HONORS: Paul Mellon visiting fellowship, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

WRITINGS:

Beatrice Webb: A Life, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1992, published as Beatrice Webb: A Woman of Conflict, Allison & Busby (London, England), 1992.

Journey of Faith, the History of the World YWCA, 1945–1994, Allison & Busby (London, England), 1994.

Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot, Constable (London, England), 2001, published as Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot, and the Long-suppressed Truth about Her Influence on His Genius, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2002.

JUVENILE; "PAST AND PRESENT" SERIES

Refugees, New Discovery Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Homelessness, New Discovery Books (New York, NY), 1993.

SIDELIGHTS: Carole Seymour-Jones has written books for younger readers, particularly two for New Discovery's "Past and Present" series. In Refugees, Seymour-Jones traces the histories of groups that include the Israelis in their flight from Egypt and the Cherokee who were displaced on the Trail of Tears. She also wrote Homelessness for the series.

Seymour-Jones's biography Beatrice Webb: A Life was called "a lively introduction to one of the most articulate and influential women in modern British history" by Washington Post Book World contributor Seth Koven. In England, the book is subtitled A Woman of Conflict, and Webb certainly was. Born Beatrice Potter (1858–1943), she was the beautiful seventh daughter of a wealthy liberal father and religious mother. Raised primarily by governesses, she was an excellent student with a good mind and was mentored by economist and philosopher Herbert Spencer. With all her sisters married, Beatrice remained single at age twenty-four and studied economics and mathematics in order to manage the business affairs of her industrialist father. She fell in love with Joseph Chamberlain, the twice-widowed president of Britain's Board of Trade. In addition to the twenty-year difference in their ages, the two held very different views, and never married. Beatrice hoped for an alliance with a man whose socialist ideals matched her own; she worked to improve conditions for the poor of London, even dressing in tattered clothes and working in sweatshops. Talking with a cockney accent, she smoked and drank with the workers and related the details of their lives to her brother-in-law, Charles Booth, who recorded them in his seventeen-volume Life and Labour of the People of London. She also testified on working conditions before the House of Lords in 1888.

Beatrice's friends included Irish writer George Bernard Shaw and Shaw's friend, Sidney Webb, the man she would wed. Although poor and unattractive, Webb was a warm and open-minded man who fell deeply in love with Beatrice. She made it clear, however, that their marriage was one of convenience, based on their mutual socialist leanings. Continuing her public works, Beatrice was instrumental in establishing the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, the London School of Economics, and the New Statesman. Sidney rose from being the son of a hairdresser to serving in several government positions on behalf of the Labour Party and eventually entered the House of Lords. Beatrice kept a diary for fifty years and published her autobiography in 1982.

Seymour-Jones concentrates, in her biography, on the choices Beatrice, including her obsession with Chamberlain, her choice in marriage, her life among the poor, and her decision not to have children. The author shows Beatrice as a woman who set her own course, discarding the restrictions placed on Victorian women to do so. As Martin Pugh wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, "Seymour-Jones has charted Beatrice's search through life in a perceptive and sympathetic way."

Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T.S. Eliot, and the Long-suppressed Truth about Her Influence on His Genius focuses on Vivienne Haigh-Wood (1888–1947), who was married to the American poet T.S. Eliot from 1915 until 1933, when he left her. Their marriage was a tumultuous one; he was sexually confused and Vivienne was unwell, both physically and psychologically. Eliot did not object to his wife's clandestine affair with Bertrand Russell and, in fact, profited from the alliance; Russell later destroyed Vivienne's letters and denied the relationship publicly and in his autobiography. Vivienne later attempted to reconcile with Eliot, but he would have nothing to do with her, and her own brother, who benefited financially as heir to the family estate, had her committed to an asylum in 1938. Vivienne died in 1947, the year before Eliot won the Nobel Prize for poetry.

According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Though its length may intimidate some," Painted Shadow, "this could break out beyond the hardcore poetry crowd to readers interested in women's lives, particularly in efforts to rehabilitate maligned muses." Ray Monk wrote in the Spectator, "If Vivienne is seen as the 'bag of ferrets' described by Virginia Woolf, Eliot's treatment of her looks natural and forgivable. If, however, she is seen as a person in her own right—an intelligent and likeable woman, who provided unstinting and necessary support to Eliot in his literary ambitions and whose unqualified devotion was of great benefit to him—then he emerges from the story of their marriage looking quite monstrous. It is perhaps partly for this reason that Eliot was anxious to discourage biographers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Contemporary Review, January, 2002, review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot, p. 60.

Historian, spring, 1996, John B. Osborne, review of Beatrice Webb: A Life, p. 698.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1992, review of Beatrice Webb, p. 1117; March 1, 2002, review of Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T.S. Eliot, and the Long-suppressed Truth about Her Influence on His Genius, p. 318.

Library Journal, April 1, 2002, Denise J. Stankovics, review of Painted Shadow, p. 109.

Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1992, Carolyn See, review of Beatrice Webb, p. 3.

New Statesman & Society, May 1, 1992, Jan Marsh, "An Abbess and a Cannon," review of Beatrice Webb, p. 38.

New York Times Book Review, April 21, 2002, William H. Pritchard, "The Hollow Man and His Wife," review of Painted Shadow, p. 13.

Observer (London, England), March 8, 1992, Roy Jenkins, "Not Spooning but Yearning through Her Very English Life," review of Beatrice Webb, p. 63.

Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1992, review of Beatrice Webb, p. 70; March 11, 2002, review of Painted Shadow, p. 62.

Reading Teacher, October, 1993, review of Refugees, p. 151.

School Library Journal, June, 1993, Susan W. Hunter, review of Refugees, p. 123; August, 1993, Rosie Peasley, review of Homelessness, p. 181.

Spectator, March 21, 1992, Frances Partridge, "Committed to Committees," review of Beatrice Webb, p. 38; October 27, 2001, Ray Monk, "More Sinned against than Sinning?," review of Painted Shadow, p. 36.

Times Literary Supplement, April 10, 1992, Martin Pugh, "How to Succeed and Marry a Filing System," review of Beatrice Webb, p. 25; November 30, 2001, Hermione Lee, "Guilt by Dissociation," review of Painted Shadow.

Washington Post Book World, November 22, 1992, Seth Koven, "Forthright Fabian," review of Beatrice Webb, pp. 3, 10.

ONLINE

Richmond Review Online, http://www.richmondreview.co.uk/ (May 22, 2005), Amanda Jeremin Harris, review of Painted Shadow.

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