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What is a good wife? The bestselling author of Hidden Lives explores four marriages, including her own, in different times and societies to find the answer. In 1854, in Africa, Mary Moffatt became the wife of the missionary, David Livingstone - and her obedience and devotion eventually killed her. A hundred and fifteen years later, Margaret Forster married Hunter Davies and interpreted the role very differently. Between those two marriages is a huge gulf in which women's lives and the notion of marriage changed immeasurably. Forster traces the shift in emphasis from submission to partnership, first through the marriage of the unconventional American, Fanny Osbourne, to Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 19th century; and then through that of the charismatic Jennie Lee to Anuerin Bevan in the 1930s. Jennie, a politician in her own right, was never submissive, rejected all notions of inferiority, and yet she found, as does the author, that aspects of being a wife remained as problematic as ever.
Born in Carlisle, Margaret Forster was the author of many successful and acclaimed novels, including Have the Men Had Enough?, Lady's Maid, Diary of an Ordinary Woman, Is There Anything You Want? , Keeping the World Away, Over and The Unknown Bridesmaid. She also wrote bestselling memoirs - Hidden Lives, Precious Lives and, most recently, My Life in Houses - and biographies. She was married to writer and journalist Hunter Davies and lived in London and the Lake District. She died in February 2016, just before her last novel, How to Measure a Cow, was published.