07 February 2013

A tribute to Elizabeth Mackintosh (Josephine Tey)

With all the fuss and publicity this week surrounding the identification of Richard III's skeleton, I think it's appropriate to stop for a moment to remember the author whose book first got me interested in Richard's life.  The best online biography I found is at Josephine Tey - A Very Private Person.
Josephine Tey [1896-1952] was the pseudonym under which [Elizabeth] Mackintosh published mystery novels. Miss Mackintosh used a second pseudonym, Gordon Daviot, for plays and also in her personal life, which she guarded jealously... Tey avoided the press, shunned photographers, and never granted interviews. For this reason, and the fact that she kept a small circle of friends, Tey is a difficult subject for biographers...

She was educated at Inverness Royal Academy, and, from 1914 to 1917, at the Anstey Physical Training College in Erdington, Birmingham...She taught briefly in schools in Liverpool and in Oban where she was injured in a gymnasium accident which she later used as a murder method in her novel Miss Pym Disposes...

Josephine Tey, which combines her mother's name with the surname of her English grandmother, was first used in 1937 for Tey's second mystery, A Shilling for Candles...

Her detective novels are classics of their kind, deftly constructed with strong characterisation and a meticulous prose style. Six of them feature as their main character the slightly built, dapper Inspector Alan Grant, a gentleman police officer... It is Grant who, in Tey's most original story, The Daughter of Time (1951), while immobilized in hospital, satisfies himself by reading and reason that the infamous Richard III of Shakespeare, school history books, and folk memory, is a Tudor fabrication...

She died of cancer of the liver... on 13 February 1952. Many of her theatre friends attended the funeral service, including Dame Edith Evans and Sir John Gielgud. Josephine Tey left her entire estate, valued at £26,718, along with the proceeds from her writings (which has amounted to about half a million pounds) to the National Trust for England.
In August of 2011 I posted a link to the "top 100 crime novels ever written."  I am pleased to note that according to the British-based Crime Writer's Association, Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is #1 on their list.

See also Is this the face of a murderer?


  1. She used the pseudonym Gordon Daviot for one of my favorite one-act plays, "The Pen of My Aunt," which I have only ever seen in two places. The first time was in my 8th-grade English class textbook, a decade ago.

    The second time, when I was trying to find it again a few months ago, the only place I could find it was in a book at the main research branch of the New York Public Library, and I had to wait for it to be brought there from offsite storage and couldn't take it out of the library.

    Why has such a good play nearly vanished from... the literary world, or whatever you want to call it? Some of the other plays in that book were very good as well.

    It makes you wonder what else is lost in the dusty stacks of some library somewhere.

  2. I loved her books, and as I have previously mentioned, she made a Ricardian out of me. Alan Grant's process really impressed me in that examining evidence and using the intellect constitute the best way to approach history.

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  4. I read The Daughter of Time years ago and that definitely influenced my thinking about Richard III. I liked the evaluation of supposed facts in light of the time, place and prejudice of the person "stating" the facts. I also liked the idea of a policeman studying an historical figure and looking at them as a possible suspect in a murder long gone cold.

    After reading Turtle's comment, I googled The Pen of My Aunt and found text for the one act play. Never having read it myself, I don't know if it is complete or just a sample, but you might try searching online for a source if you want a copy.

  5. Funny how working in libraries both makes one familiar with many authors, and ignorant of their works. I knew the name, both names she worked under, but never read any of her books.

    Until today, just finished Daughter of Time, thanks to you. I like her style, and the argument for Richard III as a good king is set out like a mathematical proof - but charmingly. I'd heard as much before, but never so cogently expressed, and as a novel. Anyway, thank you very much. I have several more of her books that I will be reading now.

    1. Me too. I read Daughter of Time decades ago; now I want to read some of the other ones.

      Glad you enjoyed it.



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