Celebrating our alumnae – Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Lucy-Hughes-HallettcropThe next in my occasional series of blogs about the most distinguished alumnae of St Mary’s Calne is Lucy Hughes-Hallett who recently became a debut novelist at the relatively late (but these days quite young in most other ways) age of 65. As many of you will know she has been a journalist and non-fiction writer for many years, and had a major success in 2013 with her book The Pike about the Italian poet (and demagogue) Gabriele D’Annunzio. (To help you place him, D’Annunzio was an associate of Mussolini, who set up his own city-state in Florence, as a precursor to fascism ‘proper’).

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s new novel is entitled Peculiar Ground and centres around the history of an Oxfordshire estate. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Lord Woldingham has returned from exile to Wychwood, where he has commissioned the building of a wall around the park. The fall of the Berlin Wall has particular echoes in the book, linking the 1660′s with the 1960’s when much of the story takes place. But another wall – that proposed on the Mexican border by Donald Trump – can’t be far from readers’ minds today either, as Ms Hughes-Hallett recognises.

That’s a fascinating parallel, and there are many other fascinating themes in what is a lengthy novel. But I have to admit that what really caught my eye in the interview with the author in The Guardian on 13th May this year (as the Headmistress of her alma mater) was how she was ‘miserable at boarding school’ and allowed to leave before her A Levels. As you can see, this news has not prevented me from claiming Lucy as one of our own (!) but it is a salutary reminder that there are quite a few boarding school alumnae who were decidedly unhappy with their experiences. This is certainly not something that’s limited to St Mary’s Calne, of course, but it’s also not something that I take lightly – I have met a number of women who bear some real emotional scars from their school days at a range of well-known institutions. In fact, in a piece that I have just recently written for a boarding school magazine, I tackle the legacy of these experiences head-on and explain just how much has changed in boarding in general over the years (though a lot of the change has been in relatively recent times). I really hope that today, with the skills and expertise that good boarding schools now have and their far more flexible and tailored approach to pastoral care, they would be able to recognise and encourage the talents of a woman like Lucy Hughes-Hallett – and indeed any others who had unhappy times in years gone by.

In a future blog, I will be celebrating another of our alumnae, Rosamund Strode, who was at the school from 1939 to 1945 and was music assistant to no less a figure than Benjamin Britten and the first archivist of the Britten-Pears collection. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the school, copies of the book, Consider the Lilies by Elizabeth Christie are available from the school. Please contact Arabella Unwin on arabella.unwin@stmaryscalne.org for further information.


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