Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles by Amy Licence (2015)

Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles by Amy Licence.


I have just read the second biography on my reading list. This biography immediately piqued my interest with its reference to an ‘Ophelia-like suicide’ so, with my Hamlet knowledge being a bit rusty, I had to investigate further. Please see my ‘Getting Sidetracked’ page for more on this.

What have I learned?

Amy Licence spends some time writing about Virginia’s illness. She refers to the family doctor, Dr Savage and his diagnosis of neurasthenia and his recommendation of rest cures. She mentions that Virginia and Leonard faced the dilemma of whether to have children or not because of Virginia’s poor mental health. Dr Craig advised against motherhood on the grounds that Virginia’s poor health may be hereditary. A second doctor, Hyssop, confirmed Craig’s opinion that Virginia should not be a mother. It seems though that at some stage, shortly after her marriage, Virginia may have wanted to have a baby.

Licence discusses Laura, Leslie’s daughter by his first wife Harriet Makepeace Thackeray. Laura had difficulties that were misunderstood by her family and it is likely that she had Down’s Syndrome. She had been born three months prematurely. Her father’s attempts to teach Laura to read left him frustrated and impatient and led him to consult Langdon Down in 1885 who thought it unlikely that Laura would improve. Laura was sent to an institution when she was aged 21 and she died there aged 75. It seems that Virginia was less than sympathetic and described her step sister as ‘a vacant eyed girl whose idiocy was becoming daily more obvious’.

Virginia’s mother died in 1895 and Virginia was uneasy and angry abut the way she was expected to behave as a result.

Amy Licence describes the social code as, ‘a choking morass of veils and crepes, dark heaviness, the pungent scent of lilies and women weeping into handkerchiefs’

Rituals were to be adhered to, as outlined in Victorian household manuals, which covered details such as who should wear what and for how long. All the theatricality associated with grief alienated the teenaged Virginia. She felt like she was acting a part and the lack of freedom to grieve probably resulted in her first breakdown.


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