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Hostages to Fortune

by Elizabeth Cambridge
Persephone book no:

40 41 42

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155318

This autobiographical first novel follows the life of a young woman from 1915 when she has her first baby until early 1933 when it was published. Catherine's husband, invalided out of the army in 1917, buys a doctor's practice in an Oxfordshire village and here the young couple bring up their three children and are deeply involved in the life of the village. It is a surprisingly hard life, full of difficulties and disillusions, but a satisfying one nevertheless. Hostages to Fortune is a brave and unusual novel in its description of both the realities of parenthood and its attendant disappointments - there is no plot as such, and yet the reader becomes absorbed in a life which is in one sense faraway and in another, because this is a domestic novel par excellence, not very different from many such lives today.


The endpaper is a 1933 hand-printed linen designed by Edwin Parker for the Silver Studio.

Picture Caption

Frederick William Elwell 'The First Born' 1913

Read What Readers Say

Beyond Eden Rock (blogger)

‘Hostages to Fortune’ follows the lives of Catherine and her family until the early 1930s and is utterly absorbing. Although I was reading about lives lived a very long time ago there was so much about the feeling and concerns of the people I was reading about that was both timeless and universal. Catherine finds that her children bring her happiness, puzzlement and worry, and I understood it all wonderfully well. Each child was beautifully and distinctively drawn, and I think that this might be the finest account of children and their family life that I have ever read. And I was impressed by the portrayal of Catherine and William’s marriage. A picture of a family that is finely drawn and utterly real.

Harriet Lane, 'The Observer'

Deals with domesticity without being in the least bit cosy.


'Hostages to Fortune’ has the best opening chapter ever, best birth ever, and I enjoyed the practicality of it all. Amusing, and a nice fat book!

Categories: Childhood Country Life Family Mothers Woman and Home

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