THE OAK AND THE IVY: An Intimate Biography of William and Catherine Gladstone by Joyce Marlow

THE OAK AND THE IVY: An Intimate Biography of William and Catherine Gladstone

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KIRKUS REVIEW

William was the ""oak"" and Catherine the ""ivy""; and after wearying the reader with the minutiae of their household affairs, Catherine's insatiable charity enterprises, the vagaries of her relations, and the redoubtable political career of ""The People's William""--Marlow pronounces them the fulfillment of ""the Victorian dream of matrimony."" There is room for doubt. Even if Gladstone's notorious ""night business"" with West End prostitutes is given the most benign construction possible, the ""sin-laden introspection"" of his diaries is morbid, to say the least. Though Catherine wrote solicitously and fondly of missing her ""dear old thing,"" their marriage was marked by frequent, lengthy separations--usually at her initiative. Was she, perhaps, trying to ward off his powerful, repressed sexuality? Did she know about the self-inflicted whippings by which the four-time Prime Minister tried to expunge his sense of unworthiness? Since his lengthy correspondences with ""fallen women"" have yet to be published, the question must remain moot. Marlow just assumes Catherine took William's imprudent ""Christian mission"" in stride. Having assiduously culled the letters and memoirs of the Gladstone children, she insists on her balmy view of the domestic scene: mutual devotion and separate spheres of activity made for a perfectly complementary relationship. Along with his family life, she gives a creditable account of Gladstone's evolution from high Tory to Liberal champion of oppressed peoples from Ireland to Bulgaria; though it's no match for Phillip Magnus' Gladstone (1964), the breadth and vitality of the man are readily apparent. The problem, apart from Marlow's occasionally cloying, claustrophobic style, is that she is no psychoanalyst. And Gladstone, more than the average Victorian worthy, needs an analyst's touch.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday