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Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky

24 January 2004

12:00 AM

24 January 2004

12:00 AM

Anny: A Life of Anne Thackeray Ritchie Henrietta Garnett

Chatto, pp.322, 18.99

The engagement diary of Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919) reads like a Victorian Who’s Who. Dickens, Trollope, Browning, George Eliot and Mrs Gaskell were all among her acquaintance. While holidaying on the Isle of Wight she went on long walks with Tennyson, struggling to keep up with the poet, ‘listening to his talk, while the gulls came sideways, flashing their white breasts against the edge of the cliffs, and the poet’s cloak flapped time to the gusts of the wet wind’. She was photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron, met Gladstone for breakfast, spent a weekend with Charles Darwin just a few days before he died, and was entertained by Ruskin at Brantwood.

Her life was enviably comfortable — as the daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, Anne (known as Anny) along with her younger sister Minny inherited almost a million pounds. But it was also mournfully tragic. When she was not yet three years old her mother dragged her into the sea at Margate and tried to drown her.

Something stopped her mother from holding Anny under the water until she breathed no more; ‘perhaps the terror in Anny’s eyes,’ says Henrietta Garnett in this engaging new portrait. Anny’s mother was deemed to be irretrievably mad and packed off to Camberwell, where she was looked after by a Mrs Bakewell, never to return to her family. (Charlotte Bront


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