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Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir Paperback – 4 Jul 1996


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Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir + Precious Lives + Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 July 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904902162
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904902164
  • ASIN: 0140239820
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 50,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Author

A warm and evocative autobiography
After reading Margaret Forster’s autobiography one might wonder how she was able to escape from a background which could have in the end made her as much of a "prisoner" as it did her mother, and her grandmother - locked in lives of poverty and duty. Whereas her grandmother (born in 1869) might not even had had the chance to dream - illegitimate and "in service" - unable to escape the daily domestic drudgery from dawn to dusk, her mother’s own life was a little better but many young women of her generation were still not sufficiently liberated to allow them to break away from what seemed a certain domestic inevitability. Marrying more because she wanted children rather than feeling any great love for the man she was marrying (we don’t learn too much about her husband) - she felt she could have been a vicar’s wife, a doctor’s wife, with a lifestyle more appropriate to her aspirations - but she accepted her condition (although not without a frustration which never seems to have left her). Locked in a daily routine which largely concentrated on looking after her husband and bringing up her children, this pious woman did find some solace in doing "good works". But Margaret Forster had seen the "writing on the wall" - not for her the stifling routine of domestic obligations - she was an avid reader, did well in school - and peering through the railings of the grammar school dreamt of better things and above all, no marriage, even more importantly, no babies. However, with her motivation and academic competence she not only went to the grammar school, but also went on to Oxford - and (despite her anti-marriage stance when younger) did marry in her early 20s and the babies did arrive after all. Rebelling against her upbringing with a determination not to share the same sort of life as that of her mother, she was able to fulfil herself finally when she left home - and doesn't appear to have ever strayed from her initial ambition - that of becoming a writer.

There are some exceptionally poignant moments towards the end of the book when her mother has now become an older, sick woman - a mother to whom she was never able to entirely relate - and vice-versa - although one feels there had always been a strong bond of love between them which neither of them had much success in articulating. The "fault" of that perhaps lay neither entirely with Margaret Forster nor her mother, but maybe it was because of the overlapping generations. Both her mother's generation and that of her grandmother were ones in which many things were left unsaid (for example, she never did know why her mother had disappeared mysteriously into hospital when she was a child - never did know why her grandmother seemed to have disowned an earlier daughter) - questions had been left without any answers throughout her childhood and indeed, even as an adult, she was unable to find the answers to them. Leaving home permitted her to enter into the liberated world of the 60s where everything was changing for the younger generation. For Margaret Forster she was in the right place at the right time.

A touching book - a book one doesn’t want to put down until the last page has been reached.


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 Aug 1999
Format: Paperback
This is the best biography I have ever read. It really demands that the reader takes stock of their own life as well as that of the the author's mother whose history it relates. Whilst not agreeing with all her analysis it really gave me food for thought and, having passed it on to both my sister in law and father, it created the basis for lots of family discussion.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 Mar 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most remarkable, poignant, suspenseful and readable family histories ever published. Margaret Forster's chronicle of the contrasting lives of her grandmother, mother and self form a fascinating microcosm of the choices--and risks--shared by British women over the last century. Charged with immense reserves of perspective and compassion, Forster's narrative becomes a gripping detective story of how she discovered some of the truth about her female forebears and the lives they lived. This is a wonderful, truly feminist true-life tale--and just the volume to offer to that female (or better yet, male) adolescent who cannot imagine or appreciate the conditions and choices faced by our ancestors.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 July 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a excellent book. I took it away on holiday & couldn't put it down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By GILLY on 17 April 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved this book because it really brought the past to life. Being of a similar age, the events in Margaret's life resonated with me so deeply. I could picture the houses, people and problems so clearly. She is a brilliant writer and to write so candidly about her family was fantastic. Her relationship with her mother was so typical - we only really understand our parents in later life, often when they have died. An inspiring book for anyone researching their family tree.
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Format: Paperback
Margaret Forster tells the story of three generations of her family, beginning with her grandmother Margaret Ann, moving on to the life of her mother Lillian and ending with her own experiences growing up in Carlisle, as a student at Oxford and as a working mother in London. Forster's grandmother's life was shrouded in mystery. She worked as a servant, and at some point had an illegitimate daughter, Alice, who she gave away for adoption and who only made herself known to the family years later after Margaret Ann's death. With her first daughter adopted and out of the way, Margaret Ann was able to live as a single woman, and made a successful marriage to a Carlisle butcher (Forster drew on all this for Leah's story in her novel 'Shadow Baby', though Leah does even better, and ascends into the ranks of the upper middle-classes). Consequently, Margaret Ann's three daughters Lillian, Jean and Nan grew up in relative comfort. But their father died fairly young and left little money, and all three girls had to go out to work. Lillian, the cleverest, got a job working with the local council, while her sisters ended up doing more menial work. Lillian enjoyed very much having a career and being the one to support her mother - but she also yearned for children, and as in her day few women could be both mothers and career women, she ended up sacrificing her job for marriage to the stalwart and slightly eccentric Arthur Foster (among whose memorable adventures was a trip to London from Carlisle, when he walked round King's Cross Station, decided he didn't like it and went on home again). Meanwhile Jean married a Glaswegian who Forster wittily refers to as 'the bold, singing Dave', and Nan, the family beauty, made an advantageous marriage to a businessman.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TangoCharlie on 12 Feb 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You'll be moved by this powerful account of three generations of women's lives. It will leave you thinking about how your own mother's and grandmother's lives must have been like and you'll be glad we have it so easy today by comparison. This was the first book of Margaret Forster's I ever read and it got me hooked - without doubt my favourite author now. I lent it to somebody and never got it back so bought it again second hand - I suspect the same will happen again. Like many of hers, at first you are not sure if it is fiction, but then it turns out to be true, or th eother way round!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By clairerice on 28 Jan 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very good read, if, like me, other people's lives interest you. Written from a detached point of view without sentimentality. A vivid picture of times past and the way people lived.
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By Claire Dylan on 28 Dec 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The honesty with which this book is written is breathtakingly. The author never attempts to gloss over her feelings of frustration at her family circumstances as a child and her burning ambition to lead a very different life to her mother's as an adult. Whilst she does lead a far more fulfilling life than her mother she begins to acknowledge the similarities whilst knowing how fortunate she has been to have lived in a time that is so much better for women.
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