Sarah Caudwell is the author of some of the most gloriously entertaining comic novels written since the war, but she seems to be almost unknown in this country. My relatives and friends have not heard of her, she is not to be found in bookshops and she may well disappear from public libraries once their present copies disintegrate.
Caudwell is regarded as a writer of crime fiction and this has meant that, despite critical acclaim, her books have seldom come to the attention of those who might appreciate their wit and elegance, their wide range of literary reference and interplay of character. It is rather as if Jane Austen had been published by Mills & Boon. Like Austen, Caudwell bears reading and rereading. This is as well since she was even less prolific than Austen and her books are considerably shorter.
Sarah Cockburn, who wrote under the name of Sarah Caudwell, was the daughter of the crusading left-wing journalist Claud Cockburn and of Jean Ross who, according to Isherwood, was the model for Sally Bowles in Goodbye to Berlin, though her family can see very little resemblance. After taking a Classics degree at Aberdeen, she read Law at Oxford and played a major part in securing the admission of women to the Oxford Union. She practised for some years at the Chancery Bar at Lincoln’s Inn before becoming an adviser on international tax planning at Lloyds Bank. She makes full use of this background – classical, legal and financial – in her novels.
The narrator in all four is Professor Hilary Tamar, Fellow and Tutor in Legal History at St George’s College, Oxford. Through a former pupil, Timothy Shepherd, she has come to form close friendships with four of his fellow junior barristers at Lincoln’s Inn. Hilary believes that to one trained in the techniques of scholarship no mystery is impenetrable. She is, however, hardly diligent. The great work on Causa in the Early Common Law which is to consolidate her reputation ma
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