Putting a Good Story in Context

Putting a Good Story in Context

"The historian in me will always put a good story into its context - what else was going on at the time?" Sean Lang tells us more about his new play, 'The Ghostly Gift of Miss Constance Couper'.

Miss Moberly's and Miss Jourdain's jaunt took place at the time of the Suffragette campaign for Votes for Women. Moreover, at the same time Oxford and Cambridge were deep in the controversy over whether or not women should be eligible for degrees: all attempts to change the rules were met by loud and boisterous male opposition. A major argument against allowing women to graduate was the claim that women's minds were not as rational and objective as men's. It was all very well arguing against this prejudice - but then along came a book by two senior female academics claiming that they had travelled back in time and met Queen Marie Antoinette. It really didn't help.

There's an intriguing postscript to the Versailles story. St Hugh's, like the other Oxbridge women's colleges, was a fairly small, intimate community, where deep affection and bitter jealousy often went hand-in-hand. Miss Jourdain, who had been Vice Principal under Miss Moberly, was a charismatic but deeply divisive figure, who demanded absolute loyalty from all around her. She tried to sack a young history lecturer for personal disloyalty and the resulting battle between the two women tore the college in two and ended up before the University Chancellor, Lord Curzon. 

Photo by Paul Ashley

Fast forward to the 1950s, when a journalist and St Hugh's graduate called Lucy Iremonger did her own investigation into the famous tale. Her conclusions were difficult to counter: the women had made the whole thing up, and had continued making it up, adding to their invention with each succeeding edition of their book, for years. The obvious question is - why?

This story was certainly getting curiouser and curiouser. I was beginning to see a play taking shape.

Combined Actors of Cambridge present...
The Ghostly Gift of Miss Constance Couper
Tuesday 16 - Saturday 20 April at 7.45pm
Saturday 20 April at 2.30pm

Click here to book your tickets