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Gladys Mitchell

The following biography is taken from the article ‘In Praise of Gladys Mitchell’ by B. A. Pike, published in the Armchair Detective, Vol. No. 9
4th October 1976.

Gladys Mitchell was born in the village of Cowley, near Oxford in April 1901. She is of Scottish descent on her father’s side. Her early years were spent in Oxfordshire and Hampshire, but in 1909 her family moved to Middlesex, where she was educated at the Rothschild School, Brentford and at the Green School, Isleworth. She went on to Goldsmith’s College and University College, London, qualifying as a teacher and gaining an extra-mural diploma in European history.

She became a teacher of English, history and games and though she found success as a writer, she remained in the teaching profession until her first retirement in 1950. Her first post was in a small Church of England school, St. Paul’s, Brentford where she stayed for four and a half years. She then taught at St. Ann’s Senior Girls School in Hanwell, remaining there until the outbreak of war. Mitchell specialized in history and athletics and she coached, among others, a county hurdles champion in the mid-1930’s. After a year’s enforced absence from teaching owing to illness, she joined the staff of Brentford Senior Girl’s School where, in addition to her usual history and games, she taught elementary Spanish and where she remained until she retired in 1950.

After nearly three years of retirement, Ms. Mitchell was invited to the Matthew Arnold County Secondary Schools for Girls to judge an inter-House gymnastics competition and to address the school. At the conclusion of her speech, the headmistress invited Ms. Mitchell to join her staff the following term, and although she had no intention of returning to teaching, the omens seemed favourable and she accepted the post offered her. In addition to teaching history and English, she wrote a number of plays for the girls to perform, including versions of the Greek legends of Theseus and Jason, the story of Jonah and the Norse legends: an adaptation of ‘The Frogs’ by Aristophanes; and a musical called “Alice Again” based on the Lewis Carroll classics. Miss Mitchell finally retired from teaching in 1961 at the age of 60.

During her teaching career, Ms. Mitchell lived first in Brentford and then in Ealing, but on her retirement she moved to the country, to Corfe Mullen in Dorset, where she was able to pursue two of her principal interests, the investigation of pre-historic sites and the study of mediaeval architecture. She had long been an enthusiastic student of Freud; and she attributed her interest in witchcraft to the influence of her friend, Helen Simpson. Ms. Mitchell received membership in the British Olympic Association, a testament to her enduring interest in athletics.

Miss Mitchell wrote her first novel in 1923, but it was rejected, as were three others afterwards. In desperation, she tried her hand at a detective story and the result was Speedy Death. Victor Gollancz agreed to publish the book despite the fact that it ‘had every fault under the sun’. That book’s detective, Mrs. Bradley would be featured in sixty-five more novels and several short stories until her creator’s death in 1983.

For more information on Gladys Mitchell and her prolific body of work, then log on to the marvellous, which, has been compiled by Jason Hall and has fascinating facts about the writer and critiques on all her books.

Review: Brazen Tongue

Willington is a town where not much happens at all. Except when three murders are committed on the same night. One is an alcoholic Councillor, another a young woman working at the local Report Centre and the third an unidentified woman found floating in a galvanised iron cistern. Inspector Stallard feels that the murders are somehow connected but cannot imagine how. Step forward Mrs. Bradley, (this is many years before Beatrice was made a Dame), to fathom out how the murders are connected and, more importantly, who was the perpetrator of such heinous crimes.

This novel was written during the Second World War and it is steeped in wartime memorabilia. You really get a feeling of wartime with the blackouts and petrol rationing. Even Mrs. Bradley sometimes has to leave George at home and take the bus! Gladys Mitchell described Brazen Tongue as ‘a horrible book’. Maybe she felt she had bitten off more than she could chew by trying to juggle so many characters, plus three corpses. My only niggle is that Mitchell sometimes phonetically wrote characters dialogue. For example, for Mrs. Zacharias, Mitchell writes as the words sound. It does get a bit tiring as we can all imagine an accent when the need arises.

However, I will say that as this is an early novel of Mitchell’s it still comes across as very fresh. The plot is highly complicated, and the array of larger than life characters certainly keeps the reader guessing. This book, which has a beautiful wrap around cover, will make any bookshelf proud. With Mitchell’s novels being sold at ridiculous prices, it is grand that Minnow Press have decided to reprint and produce Brazen Tongue, which is a book not easily obtained. On the front of the cover it states this is the first of The Mrs. Bradley Collectors series. Other hard-to-get titles are planned. The next in the series is The Devil at Saxon Wall. It is commendable that Minnow Press has decided not to produce the same titles that have been done numerous times by other publishers. As a fan I am very excited by these new printings, and whether you are an ardent fan or new to the world of Mrs. Bradley I urge you to support this marvellous series and buy yourself a copy from the Minnow Press website:

Reviewed by: C.S.

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