A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt – Book Review

Title: A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt

Author: Jean Lucey Pratt

Edited by: Simon Garfield

Genre/Themes: Non Fiction, Diary from 1925 to 1986, Journals, Living History

Blurb from Goodreads

In April 1925, Jean Lucey Pratt began writing a journal. She continued to write until just a few days before her death in 1986, producing well over a million words in 45 exercise books over the course of her lifetime. For sixty years, no one had an inkling of her diaries’ existence, and they have remained unpublished until now.

Jean wrote about anything that amused, inspired or troubled her, laying bare every aspect of her life with aching honesty, infectious humour, indelicate gossip and heartrending hopefulness. She recorded her yearnings and her disappointments in love, from schoolgirl crushes to disastrous adult affairs. She documented the loss of a tennis match, her unpredictable driving, catty friends, devoted cats and difficult guests. With Jean we live through the tumult of the Second World War and the fears of a nation. We see Britain hurtling through a period of unbridled transformation, and we witness the shifting landscape for women in society.

As Jean’s words propel us back in time, A Notable Woman becomes a unique slice of living, breathing British history and a revealing private chronicle of life in the twentieth century.

My Review

How can you review someone’s diary? Their life? I’m finding it a nigh on impossible task.

How do you talk about the kind of incredible woman that Jean Lucey Pratt was? To explain that this person was extraordinary in her ordinariness. And that she was also unique in how at just fifteen years old she decided to write a journal that she hoped would one day be published after her death. And that in those journal pages she laid her soul bare. She didn’t try to write the best version of herself…she just wrote about life. Her life. And that life was sometimes mundane, sometimes exciting, tragic, joyful….the whole gamut of human emotion poured into the pages of her journal.

I have never read anything like this before. And have never connected so much with a writer.

And when I read her final journal entry written just a short time before her death… I can’t even begin to describe the emotions I felt. It was as if I had lived this woman’s life with her. I was there for all the important events.

  • I was there reading when she was sad and lonely, when she was happy and excited.
  • I was there when she did stupid things and I wanted to give out to her and point her towards the better path in life…
  • I was right there with her through all her years. Reading her words…

It truly felt like she was talking to just me. That we were two life long friends conversing through the means of the written word.

So when the book inevitably concluded with her death… I experienced a level of grief that I did not know I could experience from reading a book.

I wish I could write the full and proper review this book deserves. I’m not a natural writer and my feelings and emotions are so deeply connected with this book that it’s difficult to put into words how much I loved this book, and how much it affected me in the greatest of ways possible.

Just a few thoughts I’ve had about the read as a whole:

  • the book was amazingly edited
  • Jean’s observations throughout the war were so insightful
  • her forward thinking views on sex, love and marriage were a revelation
  • her experiences with loneliness and insecurity were written with such breathtaking honesty
  • her life long love of cats; please let’s throw out this notion of ‘crazy cat lady‘!

Lastly I want to disagree with the full title of this book. I don’t like the ‘romantic journals‘ part as it can be interpreted in such a narrow way, and you absolutely know that the journals of a man would never be described as romantic. What Jean showed is that yes we all desire to have love in our lives, but romantic love us just one interpretation of that. Love comes in many forms and romantic love isn’t the only way to feel fulfilled in life.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something honest. Something true. Something that may be rather long but completely worth the time you invest in it.

Because by the end of this reading experience you will have found a friend in Jean Lucey Pratt.

Absolute brilliance

These are just a sampler of some of the entries:-

Friday, 21 February 1936
I am 26, still feel myself neglected, still wanting to be in demand, surrounded by admiration and attention, I want the homage of men and the respect of women – but peace, peace – I don’t really want these things. They are but abstract symbols. It is time I stopped chasing these shadows. What I want is quality – quality in everything I do and possess.

Monday, 27 July 1936
It will not matter: war and death and the spoliation of one’s loved possessions. Whether we live violently and die damnably, or long and die in peace, we die. We die and our loved possessions must become possessed of another’s love or crumble away unloved. Only the love we can give out in passing matters; it is the only thing that lingers after a person dies.

Thursday, 2 January 1942
For the sort of jobs I am after I lack, at the age of 33, experience. Oh God, those wasted years! If ever this is read by posterity, let posterity ponder on this: You cannot run away from life. If you try, life will only catch you in the end, and the longer you’ve been running the more it will hurt. Learn to be hurt as early as possible, welcome being hurt; face pain, humiliation and defeat in your teens; accept them, let them go through you, so that you cease to be afraid of them.

Saturday, 27 August 1955
Several people have said within the last few months that I look so much better, and that the life I am now leading – meeting people – must be so much nicer for me, meaning that it is unhealthy or anyway not quite right to live so much in narrow circumstances that I did. This makes me boil inwardly, and also leaves me sad. What the commentators fail to see is their own terror of loneliness. That anyone can live alone and like it makes them feel uncomfortable. ‘So good for you again to be out meeting people instead of staying home all the time.’

My Socials

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