Jane Mary Pearson Gardam was born in the small town of Coatham on the North Yorkshire coast, where her ancestors had lived since the eleventh century. The town is situated between a rural moorland with small fishing villages and Teesside, with its huge steel and chemical complexes. This mixed landscape forms the setting for a number of her earlier novels of adolescence, particularly A Long Way from Verona, her first full-length novel, where Jessica Vye, the thirteen-year-old heroine, is taken “exploring” from her sheltered resort town to the backstreets of a nearby industrial town. While there, she is nearly killed by a bomb dropped by an enemy aircraft. The incident points to the fact that during World War II, when Jane Pearson was a schoolgirl, this strategic area was the target of German air attacks.
Pearson’s father was a schoolteacher, and this too is reflected in much of her children’s fiction, where the heroines’ fathers are invariably teachers, clergymen, or teachers turned clergymen. Jessica Vye’s brilliant father falls into this last category, and some of the novel’s humor stems from the unconventional behavior and views of her left-wing, unconventional Church of England clergyman father. In The Summer After the Funeral, Athene and her sister “Beams” come to terms with the death of their elderly clergyman father; here, too, the setting is North Yorkshire, with an added literary identification on Athene’s part with Emily Brontë, who was also one of three daughters of an elderly Yorkshire vicar.
Some of Gardam’s stories have a boarding school setting, as in Bilgewater, where the boarding school setting is central; here the heroine, Marigold Green, the daughter of one of the resident teachers, seeks to come to terms with who she is and where she is to go in life. Marigold is a budding scholar with the prospects of an academic career.
Such a career was also a possibility for the author. She gained entry to Bedford College, London, one of the most prestigious colleges for women at the time. She was an undergraduate there, 1946-1949, and then stayed for graduate study until...
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