Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020
Bearing out the common belief that fact is stranger than fiction, Robert Wainwright’s biography of Enid (born Enid Lindeman) treats the reader not only to a fascinating personal story but to an insight into the history of the era in which she lived.
Robert Wainwright’s background in newspaper journalism has held him in good stead for this type of project. This is the latest of his historical biographies. He has also written about crime and politics, but always with the spotlight on the people behind these stories.
His capacity to engage the reader is prodigious, with a fine attention to detail and presentation of well-researched fact, whilst also allowing us glimpses into the way rumour mills grind.
Enid’s four marriages frame the story, which reads more racily than any fiction could, and begins in earnest in 1913 when Enid was married by arrangement a wealthy American, Roderick Cameron. Cameron is described as ‘a man old enough to be her father’.
Up to that time Enid had led a sheltered life on the Hunter Valley estate of her well-heeled wine growing family, but travelling to the USA was the start of what was to become a life of travel, moving in wealthy, government and aristocratic circles in Britain and Europe.
Despite the nature of this first union, it seems that Cameron was a good man who was bent on leaving his wife and any children of the marriage in a very comfortable financial position.
Like her first marriage which left her a wealthy widow and mother of one child, Rory, her second marriage was similarly arranged by those determined to curb her what were considered to be wanton ways, and elevated her socially into the British aristocracy. More children and two more marriages brought both wealth and upheaval, tragedy and scandal. Enid continued to develop herself as a woman of prominence in high society.
Her war work is a particularly fascinating aspect of this book. During WW1 she drove ambulances and brought in wounded soldiers to safety. In WW11 she protected French Resistance fighters in the famously grand Riviera home La Fiorentina and then collected lost dogs when back in London.
Enid clearly had a great love for animals and countryside. Both with husband Marmaduke Furness and later with her daughter Pat, Enid spent time in Africa, which she loved; her adventuring also took her to remote parts of Australia.
The lives of her children are included in this saga – what we see of these points clearly to a woman who to some extent defied the conventions of the aristocratic and wealthy classes of the time by maintaining close relationships with her children.
In the end for me it was not the scandal and glamour of Enid’s life that held my attention, but rather her chameleon-like capacity to adapt to her circumstances. It must be remembered that the agency of women in that time was very limited and to buck the rules inevitably meant one would be the subject of public gossip and the voyeurism of the press.
Lives so very distant from those of the ordinary citizen were bound to attract attention, critical and otherwise. Jealousies amongst members of the glitterati were rife and a different set of standards existed above and below stairs.
It’s still true today I think, perhaps with the substitution of movie and rock stars, but even now there is an inordinate curiosity about the lives of royalty, no matter how minor. Trash journalism reflects the idle curiosity of those excluded from wealth and privilege.
Robert Wainwright’s pacing of this story of Enid née Lindeman mirrors the life and times about which he writes, beginning with a sense of youthful freedom, moving to the wild and fragmented uncertainties of the years from WW1 through to the sixties.
Perhaps this is one reason that the book keeps us reading so urgently, bucketing along with the inevitable vicissitudes of such a history – I found myself hoping that Enid would somehow find her way back to her Cawarra childhood and that the times would somehow mellow scandal into exigency and bring us all to a more peaceful and private place.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy of Enid.