I have just done my first reading of Claire Weiss’ biography for I always skim non-fiction first then go back and appreciate better the pages I’ve marked. It’s an old student way.
I am reviewing the work, the book, because I am celebrating a Leyton woman author who was intrigued by a woman born in 1896 in ye olde Leyton enough to research her and write about her in terms of feminism, strength and business aptitude.
The book is enjoyable and written informally enough for all to appreciate the delvings into birth records and baronetcies. It’s dotted with humorous asides as the writer discovers more about a particular clan of landed gentry and sides with the protangenist.
It is easily readable with many sections so that the reader can keep track of what goes where and who was doing what and when.
Zoe Hart Dyke neé Bond was stinking rich in today’s terms, lived in posh houses and had servants. She had a rebellious streak polished at a French finishing school and did what she liked under as a child and as an emerging debutante or young rich woman and later on in her journeys into Bohemian London. She saved her family from financial ruin with the help of her adulterous husband. She lived in a castle. In her own autobiography Dyke never referred to Leyton as home. Which four year old could remember her first years? She forged silk-worm breeding as an industry in England. And that’s why she’s notable.
Claire Weiss began married life in Dyke’s Leyton home which had been a Doctor Bond’s surgery in 1896. Zoe Hart Dyke was the daughter of an eminent doctor. From the first Weiss gives warmth to a character who has all the opportunities to choose her destiny and who chooses to follow her own passions and interests rather than follow the structured path given over to rich eligible women in the early part of the twentieth century when it was rare for women to set up their own enterprises let alone work when there were servants to do all of that. Weiss celebrates Dyke’s independent streak.
She follows every hint of a fact to the end by scrupulous research accessing Government records and in her yarn, follows up each suspicion or curiousness about any small but very coincidental possibility. Nothing is left out so that we see Dyke as an incident in a huge sprawling network of family characters, all defined by status and money. We get to understand the humanness of her father and a certain coldness about her mother. Outside in the business world we see the entrepreneur who has to fight from her soapbox with a tinge of spite as she drops hints about how businesswomen are a twentieth century reality.