Gladstone: "A woman not quite of her time"
The Alpha Press £14.95
Church Times Bookshop £13.45 (Use code CT852
AS HER husband's secretary,
Sir Edward Hamilton, recorded, Catherine Gladstone, née Glynne, was
"unquestionably a remarkable woman": "Her first consideration was
her husband - how to spare him and how to advise him to spare
himself. Her second consideration was the poor and the sick, and
her third consideration her friends. She had considerable
And then there were the
eight children, to whom she was devoted, when not fund-raising for
the charitable homes that she established, or sitting through
William's titanic speeches in Parliament and out in the country
during general elections.
The daughter of a baronet,
she was a talented pianist who brought to a famous marriage the
graces of her class and eyes that enchanted Disraeli. It was her
energy and drive, however, that set her apart: she had the knack of
refreshing herself with power naps. Unlike her highly sexed
husband, she did not like women very much: they rather annoyed her,
and she much preferred the company of (clever) men. She was no
administrator, and hated committees, an aversion that she had to
conquer when she became President of the Women's Liberal
Association in 1887, almost by mistake.
The problem with studies of
"great men's wives" is that the great men keep upstaging them.
Mrs Catherine Gladstone is a loosely constructed account
of the main events of Victoria's reign, from which are hung the
main events of William's career, with Catherine's life tacked on.
Only secondary works have been consulted, with the result, for
example, that a description of William's "rescue work" and
friendships with "the great courtesans" of the day sheds no new
light on the subject: "How did Catherine view these women? We do
not know." One would also like to know about her religious
No opportunity for an
irrelevant aside is missed, however: we learn that 203,655 panes of
glass were used in building the Crystal Palace, for example. Basic
grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and non-sequiturs abound.
Chapters are chopped up into very short sub-sections, ensuring that
there is no narrative flow. Favourite phrases, such as "whispers
behind fans", recur like nervous tics. Neither the author nor the
publisher - Alpha is an imprint of Sussex Academic Press - has read
the final copy, prepared by an IT specialist, with care.
Those who are interested in
Catherine Gladstone are recommended to turn to the several earlier
lives of her, the numerous biographies of her husband, or to Ros
Aitken's recent life of her son, Stephen.
Dr Michael Wheeler is a
Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton.