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Looking for Mrs Livingstone Hardcover – 24 Sep 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St Andrew Press; Reprint edition (24 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0715209647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715209646
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 3.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 650,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


‘Beautifully written...a book alive with the sights and scents of Africa.’ (Sally Magnusson)

'This is a fascinating and revealing book. It skilfully combines a fresh account of Mary Livingstone with wonderful evocations by Julie Davidson of her travels in the heart of today's Africa in search of the places and peoples touched by Mary's life and death.' (Professor Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh)

'Mary Livingstone - Dr Livingstone's neglected wife - richly deserves to be remembered. Not enough material exists for a full biography, but Julie Davidson has skilfully interwoven her own adventurous travels in modern Africa with a record of Mary's journeys, as well as all the known facts of her life, her surviving letters, the places where she lived and the later history of her family in and out of Africa. The result is a haunting and insightful voyage around a truly remarkable person who gave birth in the Kalahari and was the first white woman to reach the Upper Zambezi valley.' (Tim Jeal, David Livingstone biographer)

'I was swept away by it.' (Neal Ascherson)

'A truly absorbing extraordinary journey, beautifully written. Mary Livingstone deserves this book.' (Kirsty Wark)

‘Julie Davidson … has created in this remarkable work of historical and geographical reflection a fascinating picture of a remarkable life. I find the resulting story very moving. It is moving because it gets under the skin of a beguiling part of the world that so often claims the hearts of those who engage with it. It is moving, too, because it is sensitive to the spirituality that one finds in that part of Africa and that is so deeply affecting. This book achieves a real understanding of that spirituality without in any way romanticizing or sentimentalizing it. When she eventually found Mary Livingstone’s grave, Julie Davidson laid four small flowers upon it. In this lovely memoir, she lays on that lonely grave more flowers yet.’ (Alexander McCall Smith)

'The fate of Mary Moffat, resurrected and explored in this wonderfully rich book , was to marry David Livingstone. Julie Davidson asks whether this was an opening to happiness or the beginning of a long ordeal of exploitation and neglect which only ended with her early death on the banks of the Zambezi. Livingstone saw ‘a little, thick, black-haired girl, sturdy and all I want’. Others saw only a heavy, hard-working, uncommunicative woman - ‘a queer piece of furniture’. It’s Julie Davidson’s achievement to bring her into the light and out of the fog of disparagement by her husband’s adorers. She reveals somebody of powerful feelings, not always suppressed. Mary was strong enough to endure the death of children and the miseries of missionary life in the remote African bush and yet vulnerable to depths of depression and self-abandonment when left on her own with the children.
Another writer said that ‘she had no choices, only situations’. Davidson speaks of Mary’s ‘morbid dependence’ on her husband, who left her behind for years at a time as he headed further into the unknown. And yet the author cleverly shows that behind the grim toil and the resentments, the pair concealed private delight: jokes, pranks and clownings, and – it would appear – plenty of sex.
What makes this book such compelling reading is that it plaits two strands together: Mary’s biography and Julie Davidson’s own pilgrimages to seek that life, journeys at once merry and learned, across that immense and empty landscape of south-western Africa. It’s a place she knows well. To read Davidson on lions, ( beasts she has much knowledge of,) or on trackless bush or rivers run dry or the grunting of eagle owls in the night is to be brought close to Mary and David Livingstone. Davidson shows that Mary did not make her self a nothing by giving up everything for her man. Seldom understood, no communicator but no mere victim either, this woman fought through her ‘situations’ and tried to shape her own world. ' (Neal Ascherson)

'This is a marvelous study of a forgotten woman. I greatly admire Julie Davidson's wide reading, extensive travel, and scrupulous research. Justice for Mrs Livingstone at last, and an immensely satisfying book. ' (Paul Theroux)

'This volume knows its limits, but when the facts run out, Davidson wisely inserts stories of her own exciting journeys in search of Mary's deeds. Here we encounter the author's profound love for her subject and Africa. Davidson travelled to Mary's grave on the banks of the Zambezi and laid down a few flowers. Some might say Mary deserved a dozen bouquets, but I found Davidson's gentle, heartfelt tribute both touching and appropriate. I felt much the same about this wonderful book.' (The Herald)

'In truth, we cannot know, but Davidson’s portrait of Livingstone is not entirely unsympathetic. If he was impulsive, ambitious, selfish, he was also idealistic, and could be kind. He was no hero, but no monster either. And his wife, while strong, steady, courageous, was no angel. Both emerge from this book as complex and contradictory, in other words, real, messy, fallible human beings. In that sense, this book honours both of them.' (Scottish Review of Books)

About the Author

JULIE DAVIDSON’s varied and award-winning career in journalism, includes work for The Times, Observer, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Aberdeen Press & Journal, The Scotsman, The Herald (Glasgow), Cosmopolitan and House & Garden. Winner of 5 Scottish Press Awards, she was a TV presenter and has won several awards for travel writing.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book because I have always been interested in David Livingstone and the early missionaries to Africa. Also I found the extracts of the author's modern retracing of his travels of interest mainly because I spent almost three years in South Africa. My only real knowledge of his wife Mary, apart from the usual facts of her ancestry and birth, was based on the negative comments of Dr.Kirk just prior to her death. He dismissed her as a rather coarse, fat and vulgar woman with a liking for the Brandy bottle. In many ways her life was a sad one. She was totally emotionally dependent on her famous husband, and in the early years of her marriage she was eager to accompany him in his restless and increasingly dangerous travels. She was the first white woman to cross the Kalahari Desert. She did this when she was heavily pregnant. What he submitted her to, and their growing family, was heroic in one sense, but it seems almost cruel and abusive to the modern reader. When he decided to make his historic crossing of the African continent in 1854-6 he sent the whole family to stay with his parents near Glasgow. She was lonely and increasingly depressed in this cold and wet environment. Her life had been spent under the vast warm skies of tropical Africa. Added to this she found that she did not get on well with her in-laws. As the months went by she gradually became more and more unable to control her finances. It was probably at this time she turned for solace in alcohol. When Livingstone asked her to join him during the disastrous Zambezi expedition she decided to leave her children in England and join him. While she was there, in an obscure corner of Mozambique, she contracted a fever and after a short illness died. Her early death was caused in part by her dilemma: she wanted to accompany her husband and at the same time bring up a growing family. She gap between the two was too wide.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Julie Davidson has a unique and beautiful way with words and she immediately engages the reader in this remarkable story and takes us to the heart of the Livingstones and their life in Africa and in the UK. Thank you for opening my eyes to a world of which I knew little and now wish to know more. Through Julie's own journey we ourselves are touched by her discoveries and observations and leave us knowing there is much as yet unexplained and yet more to discover about Mrs Livingstone.
There is a queue to read this book in our household and I have bought two copies!
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book really fascinating. Julie Davidson brings vividly to life the story of a courageous and steadfast woman who lived in the shadow of her famous husband, missionary explorer David Livingston. Mary may have been self-effacing, but this book shows that she was made of heroic stuff. She coped with pregnancy, childbirth, sickness and lack of female support and company in the isolation of the African bush. Later, in Scotland, she faced years of separation from her beloved husband,putting up with chronic poverty and the hostility of unsympathetic relatives. What with all she went through, it's hardly surprising that she died at the age of 41, leaving her husband inconsolable. I found the most moving part of the book was when the author visits Mary's humble grave on the bank of the Zambesi River. This book, in fact, isn't a simple biography, but a quest. Julie Davidson describes how she crosses Africa, the people she meets and the wildlife she encounters as she retraces Mary's life story. A "must" for anyone looking for a travel story with a difference.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an intriguing, moving and fascinating story which not only explores the life of Mary Livingstone, the wife of the iconic 19th century explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, but also follows the author, as she attempts, in modern Africa, to retrace the journeys made by Mary Livingstone, the places she lived in, the deprivations and tragedies she endured culminating in her premature death and burial at Chupanga in a now lonely and neglected grave.

Despite there being little in the way of primary source material about this often sad, lonely, put upon and for the most part uncomplaining wife and mother trying to be of succour and support to her husband and ever growing family, Julie Davidson paints a evocative picture of her leaving her readers with the strong feeling that Mary Livingstone has indeed "left her ghostly spoor" in the African bush despite being a casualty of her "eminent husband's restless curiosity"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My attention was drawn to this book by the ex-Malawi female missionaries in Edinburgh.

I'm delighted with the thoroughness of the research - very well done!

Enough account was not taken of the African cultural aspect however - eg. African respect for her as a person in her own right, AND the shame of returning to her parents' home after marriage - apparently unhappy and neglected/skinny.

Mary would have been steeped in local cultural nuance in a way neither her father, morther or husband would have been, having spent her playtime listening to discussions by the 'big-girls' when she was growing up.

All in all I really enjoyed this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I finished this book some weeks ago but it has stayed with me. Julie Davidson's empathic and honest account of this remarkable, complex woman leaves you with a host of questions: how did she do all this? why did she do it? Like the author, I have yearned for Mrs Livingstone's own accounts and reflections. I have wondered at her years of endurance knowing that I, probably like most people I know, could not have lasted a week of her daily life, let alone her extraordinary journeys across Africa.

And because Julie Davidson tells us also about the Africa of today, so different from the country that Mrs Livingstone loved, and sometimes feared and dreaded, readers have a vivid introduction to parts of that continent which are almost unknown to most of us.

So if you like to wonder, and think and be inspired then read this book.
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