REVIEW by Claire Pickard

NWR Issue 103

Amy Dillwyn

by David Painting

That this new edition of David Painting’s Amy Dillwyn is a reissue of a work originally published twenty-five years ago highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the biography. In her introduction, Kirsti Bohata, a leading contemporary scholar of the life and work of Dillwyn (1845-1935), argues that it was Painting who first drew attention to the extent of Dillwyn’s achievements as a businesswoman, writer and social reformer. The wide-ranging approach that made Painting’s biography the basis for all subsequent scholarship in this field remains the greatest strength of the work today. Yet, the foundational nature of the volume is also its greatest problem. As Painting himself acknowledges in his preface to the new edition, Dillwyn scholarship has moved on considerably in the quarter of a century since the work first appeared. Largely as a result of Bohata’s own research, we now know enough about Dillwyn’s private life to be aware of the omissions in Painting’s account. Most significant of these is Dillwyn’s relationship with Olive Talbot, a woman Dillwyn referred to in her diaries as her ‘wife’. Talbot appears not to have reciprocated Dillwyn’s feelings, a fact that Bohata links to the recurrent theme of concealed, and unreciprocated, love in Dillwyn’s fiction. Despite having access to the diaries, Painting makes only a single reference to Olive Talbot, describing her as Dillwyn’s ‘close friend’. His decision to ignore this relationship, focusing solely on Dillwyn’s heterosexual relationship with her fiancé, Llewellyn Thomas, who died in 1864, inevitably restricts, and arguably distorts, his presentation of Dillwyn...

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previous review: Everything I Have Almost Forgotten
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