A quick glance at an e mail containing the words Tennant and David in the subject line and it's a mistake there for the making.
Once I'd realised it wasn't David Tennant I was still very grateful to David Waller for ensuring that I read The Magnificent Mrs Tennant.
I love it when consecutive reads connect because I then moved on to Frances Partridge, The Biography by Anne Chisholm.
I'll explain Gertrude Tennant in a minute, but amazing to discover that by marriage she was connected to Frances Partridge.
Now you'll need to focus here...Frances Partridge's father's cousin, Frederic Myers- the psychical researcher and essayist, was married to Gertrude's daughter Evie.
There, a small world even in 1880.
In many ways Gertrude Tennant's life bears comparison to that of Frances Partridge, not only for its longevity, spanning almost an entire century from 1819 to 1918 (beautiful symmetry of numbers there), but also for its links to the literary milieu of the time and for Gertrude's own record of that life.
I can't begin to imagine what this must have felt like, but author David Waller was given access to two oak chests, unopened for half a century and stashed in the family attic containing,
'layer upon layer of books, bags, envelopes...bundles of letters...old newspapers, diaries of parchment and leather...manuscripts...someone had tied a blue ribbon around one particular bundle of letters , and in an antique hand labelled them : Correspondence From Various Distinguished Persons, Do Not Throw Away...and thousands of family letters.'
Born a few weeks before the death of George III, in the same year as Queen Victoria and just days before George Eliot, Gertrude was one of seven children adding to the extensive ranks of the
Collier family, spending her childhood largely in France when the tide turned on the family's naval fortunes.
It was here that Gertrude not only met Victor Hugo but also became a lifelong friend of Gustave Flaubert.
Returning to England and now happily married to Charles Tennant, Gertrude gave birth to six nicely alphabetical children Alice, Blanche, Charles,etc and then proceeded to live her life in the shadow of many great men.
As the London hostess extraordinaire, Gertrude created a literary and artistic salon at her Richmond Terrace home. The salon, based on those she had come to know as a young woman living in France became a magnet for just about every 'it' name of the nineteenth century.
Anthony Trollope...'a large burly, bald-headed man, with a thick grizzly beard, and a strange expression about his mouth, as if continually puffing out smoke.'
Tennyson, George du Maurier, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin, Mark Twain, Robert Browning and many more all crossed the threshold.
What makes the book such an interesting read is not only Gertrude's many literary connections and her life events all so carefully recorded, joy at the births and then unbearable sadness and grief at lost children, but also the history ticking along quietly in the background.
'The Queen is becoming very unpopular' writes Gertrude in her diary , 'they now call her The Woman in Black.'
David Waller adds further historical context, grounding the book even more firmly in the nineteenth century.
As if it wasn't enough to entertain the rich and famous, Gertrude's daughter Dolly married that nineteenth century intrepid explorer himself, Henry Morton Stanley of 'Dr Livingstone I presume fame'.
Think of the biggest celebrity wedding of recent times and there you have Dolly and Henry's.
This all makes for very revealing reading because all was not as it seemed with this hero of the times. Stanley, despite a knighthood, was snubbed by the establishment and permission was refused for his burial next to Livingstone in Westminster Abbey.
A book I might never have found and a read I have really enjoyed for its difference, the voice of an ordinary woman who was actually quite extraordinary in her provision of a social record of the times.
Never one to mince her words I'll give you one guess as to which of Flaubert's novels, a signed first edition sent as a gift, is causing our hostess such anguish,
'but I will tell you straight that I am astonished that you, with your imagination, and your admiration for everything that is beautiful, that you have written, that you have been able to take pleasure in writing something so hideous as this book! I find it all so bad! '
Now an afterthought suddenly occurs, might book blogs be the literary salons of the 21st century?
Might they be those virtual trunks in the virtual attics?