She may be alive, she may be dead, but either way she haunts you. She’s the Other Woman… by Rachel Hore
But you can do nothing about her relationship with your man, for it happened in the past. She might have been his first wife, his childhood sweetheart or a live-in girlfriend, but you can’t help thinking: ‘Did he love her more than me?’ Or – worse – ‘Does he love her still?
These days we’re generally more relaxed about our partner having a romantic history, and expect him to be accepting of ours, too. It’s unusual now to find a man with ‘no previous owner’, so to speak; commonplace for them to have been actually married. This doesn’t mean though, that we don’t occasionally feel mild irritation, a frisson of rivalry, if our man even mentions his ex-, never mind if she actually appears at the front door to drop off the stepchildren. Sometimes hot jealousy can damage our relationship with him, or in some cases destroy it.
There’s a long and fascinating tradition of fictional first wives. In Jane Eyre (1847) Rochester’s first wife Bertha is still very much alive and kicking, a madwoman held captive in a Victorian attic. It’s interesting that this storyline still works in the 1920s for Edith in Downton Abbey. It wasn’t until 1937 in the UK that one could divorce an insane spouse. And what of the poor mad first wives? In Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) the novelist Jean Rhys gives rein to her imagination about Bertha Rochester’s story.Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic Rebecca (1938) owes a huge debt to Jane Eyre . In it the second Mrs de Winter, a plain mouse of a girl, fearful, over-protected, believes herself a poor successor to the beautiful and talented Rebecca, whom she’s certain that her husband Maxim still mourns. A modern version of Maxim would be sufficiently unbuttoned to explain properly, I hope. At least these days he would probably have divorced Rebecca as soon as he’d found out how monstrous she was.
My new novel, The Silent Tide, concerns a beloved first wife who dies young. In 1950s London the novelist Hugh Morton marries his editor, Isabel, but although they adore each other the marriage quickly runs into trouble. The twist is that Jacqueline, who is to become Hugh’s second wife after Isabel is lost in the floods of January 1953, is already waiting in the wings, dumbly adoring of Hugh and married to someone else because she couldn’t have him. Although Jacqueline eventually nails Hugh, the memory of Isabel is to haunt their marriage. Hugh Morton may have loved his first wife, Isabel, better than his second, but both wives had an even more formidable rival for this affections: Hugh’s mother. Friction between mothers- and daughters-in-law – there’s a knotty subject for another time!
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When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards.
But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…