My aim … to rescue from oblivion the lives of ordinary people
– Athol Fugard
In 2005, Patricia Neate inherited a dusty Regency desk that had once belonged to her husband's great grandfather, George Augustus Macirone. Sagging under the weight of papers, it sat in the spare room, shedding rosewood veneer. Something had to be done.
Patricia took a deep breath and opened it up. She pulled out a packet of yellowed letters, brown at the edges – scores of tiny envelopes addressed to George Macirone, George Augustus’s father, at a place called Heigham Hall. On an impulse she looked it up straight away. It had been a private Lunatic Asylum. She sat down to read there and then.
Patricia began to pick her way through a treasure trove of family letters spanning the reign of Queen Victoria. It contained vivid stories – from a first hand account of the young Queen’s wedding to a plan to spring Napoleon from St Helena via brushes with cultural icons like Dickens, Keats and Mendelssohn. But, the most gripping were the personal ones – of mental illness and manic invention, grand houses and debtors’ prison, flawed hopes of colonial emigration, and the religious schisms that almost tore the Macirones apart. And through them all ran the lives of George Augustus’s sisters, Clara and Emily, who sacrificed any hope of romantic love or children to support their family – two enterprising, resilient, talented women, two notable omissions from “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”!
More than a decade later, Patricia completed “All My Darlings”. It is a remarkable achievement: a quotidian tale of Victorian life, a vital social history, and a simple family portrait - open-ended, unguarded and brimming with humanity.