Published On: Sun, Aug 13th, 2017

Joining The Dots review: A lyrical and perceptive book

Joining The Dots: A Woman In Her Time by Juliet Gardiner (William Collins, £16.99)

She left her pebbledashed house in the Home Counties, ditched her education at a minor girls’ public school and was more than ready for the heady freedom of being a grown up at long last.

But as she ruefully admits: “Progress over the next few years would be bumpy, interrupted, contradictory and frustrating.” 

In this lyrical, perceptive book, Gardiner “joins the dots” in a memoir that describes life from the end of the Second World War to the 1980s – “years which I consider transformed the landscape of women’s lives in unprecedented ways”.

A committed feminist, she sets her own experiences against “changes in the wider world”, from attitudes to contraception, birth, adoption, education and work, showing how life has changed for women in the last six decades.

Among the things that changed for Juliet was her name. She was born Olive, adopted as Gillian and chose Juliet for herself as a way of making herself anew. “It sounds an unkind, and certainly an ungrateful thing to say, but I came to rejoice in my status as an adopted child. The traits that I found difficult or irritating about my mother were characteristic of her, not part of my make-up”. 

Both mother and daughter were disappointed in their relationship. Her mother wanted someone sweet and traditional, and disapproved of Juliet’s relationship with her boyfriend George, who was eight years older.

“When he sent me a present of a skirt, my mother told me that men only brought women clothes if they intended to undress them subsequently, and sent it back to George.” 

Juliet wanted to “strike out a new route to fulfilment and happiness, far from the high laurel hedges… and remarks about the weather”. But at the age of 17 she got married in a bombed-out church in Bristol, had three children and spent a lot of time on the Conservative campaign trail on behalf of her husband George, who had political ambitions.

But once Juliet returned to education, her way became clearer. She did a degree at University College London, got divorced, landed a job on History Today magazine and in 2005 published the critically acclaimed Wartime: Britain 1939-1945.

As second-wave feminism argued that the history of family structures and emotional concerns “were every bit as important as waged work and political systems”, Juliet found the way to tell her story and the stories of so many other women in the 1960s.

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