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Roads to freedom

Books | By Valerie Grove | September Issue

Joining the Dots: A Woman in Her Time by Juliet Gardiner

The historian Juliet Gardiner was born illegitimately as ‘Olivia’ to an unknown Italian woman. At two, she was adopted by a childless couple in Hemel Hempstead – Charles Wells, local authority sanitary inspector, and his wife, Dolly. They were in their late 40s, stuck in their ways, and renamed the baby ‘Gillian’, a ‘regrettably suburban’ choice. ‘I exist in a personal historical void, oficially filius nullius,’ Gardiner writes. She never tried to track down her mother; so she could not know if her family had a history of insanity, or high blood pressure. The adoption was ‘not terribly successful. My mother and I were a disappointment to each other.’ Dolly did not conceal it, ‘I’m afraid you are growing up to be like your birth mother.’ Like many mid-20th century housewives, Dolly, with her Mothers’ Union meetings and church choir, had had much to disappoint her – leaving school at 13...

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