I'm now a university lecturer in English Literature, though struggled with reading from about the age of 9 through to 13. Patricia Leitch's books kept me reading and thinking during that time and, most importantly, they kept alive in me the notion of a life of the imagination. The book that I loved most was Dream of Fair Horses, which I still reread.... it is really a book about what it means to have relationships that aren't driven by possessiveness.
One of the rather melancholy aspects of Patricia Leitch's work that I think I sensed as a child, but that I see much more clearly now, is her anxiety about what it means to be live as an adult woman. The books sometimes seem to share Jinny's disappointment in seeing characters like Sue getting interested in boys and makeup, and this process of growing up, or at least growing up in a particular way, is almost always represented as a loss of real identity.
In terms of the adult women in the books, Gill's rather spectral mother is happy so long as she can support her brilliant father; Jinny's mother doesn't even have a first name, only coming alive in the glimmers of memory she has about her own girlhood. Miss Tuke is a strong and valuable character in the Jinny books, but a caricature, really, with very little psychological depth. There is a telling moment in Dream of Fair Horses where a girl comments on the woman who runs the down-at-heel riding school, saying how 'terrific' she is. Gill says, 'I was cold to think what it must be like to wake up in the night and know that you were Jennifer'. It's very poignant, and striking, that adult women who are in relationships seem to lose themselves, and those who hold on to their own passions usually find themselves alone.
Only Gill and the end of Dream of Fair Horses offer the barely glimpsed possibility of another kind of relationship, in which her identity can remain intact. Perhaps one of the things all these girls are waiting for is the opportunity to lead adult lives where they can continue to think and work and love passionately and imagine and create. I'm grateful for the fact that feminism made it more possible for girls brought up in the 70s to make such lives for themselves than those brought up in the 40s/50s, as Leitch was.
|The American printing of Dream of Fair Horses|
I'm also grateful to Patricia Leitch's books for bringing to life girls who refuse to give up their passions. This demand for something other than what society was handing out and which seems linked to Leitch's wild and sometimes frighteningly unforgiving sense of landscape – a sense that oddly reminds me of Moby-Dick as much as anything (a book that Ken tells Jinny she'll appreciate when she's older, I seem to remember) – is one of the reasons why Jinny, in particular, can be so irritating and impossible. It is also the reason why I value her, and Gill, and Patricia's work.
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Ride Like the Wind, the eighth Jinny book, has just been republished by Catnip. It's £5.99, and is available from the usual sources.