Monday, August 3, 2015

Patricia Wentworth: A Life of Mystery

In Mussoorie, India, located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Patricia Wentworth was born Dora Amy Elles in 1878-a year during which Thomas Edison made electricity available for household use, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” premiered in London, and the first attempt at motion pictures was made. Her father, Lt. General Sir Edmond Roche Elles, sent Dora and her two brothers back to London for schooling. After graduation, she returned to India where she met and married Colonel George Dillon in 1906. Unfortunately he died soon thereafter leaving her with a daughter and three stepsons.
What I find fascinating is that in order for Dora to provide for her family, she moved back to England and established a successful writing career. Her first novel, A Marriage Under Terror, was published in 1910 and awarded the Melrose Prize which came with a purse of $400-a significant amount of money in those days.
An author of seventy mystery novels, she led a private life about which little is known. That makes me wonder about “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. Why did she think she could earn a living as an author? Did she already have contacts in the publishing world? Did she live with family until her books sold? As many yet-to-be published authors will tell you, nowadays the road to publication can be a long one.
In 1920, Dora married for a second time, again to an Army officer, Lt. George Oliver Turnbull, who by all indications was a strong supporter of her career. She continued to write and publish mystery stories, thirty two of which featured Miss Maud Silver about which Dora wrote: “Miss Silver who knits her way through one mystery after another and flavours detection with moral maxims is quite unlike anyone else in this field and has become a favourite.”

I must say I agree.

Have you read any Patricia Wentworth stories? What do you think?

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