Page Two of CultureWatch
The plot of their relationship could have been written by the author of a modern soap opera. The courtship was an on-again, off-again affair that would have driven most young women far from the man in question. Suffice to say that it all ended well — after more than five years and infuriating hesitations — in a long and satisfactory marriage.
The Forbes Dennises lived in Europe, particularly Switzerland and Austria, through most of the twenties, until the gathering storm forced them back to England. The most important influence on both Phyllis's life and Ernan's proved to be Alfred Adler and their introduction to his psychological theory when they met him in Vienna's ruins after the end of the First War, where Ernan was a passport control officer.
The theory of “individual psychology” captivated them both and influenced their work for the rest of their lives. Eventually Ernan became a professional Adlerian psychologist and counselor.
The more the world situation simmered hotter and hotter towards WWII, the more intently Phyllis and her husband endeavored to offer advice and assistance to the British government, and to aid refugees. Doctors having warned Phyllis never to become pregnant, she had perhaps more time at her disposal than most women of her age. Her energy was impressive. She and her husband were very busy people through the years leading up to Hitler's accession. Their devotion to the Adlers may have saved the lives of the Viennese family. Ernan worked for the government in intelligence, since he had been trained for it during the First World War. Phyllis wrote, lectured, produced pamphlets and articles, and novels and stories.
Hirsch's ability to provide such a wealth of detail is impressive, but the best part of the long story is the sense she gives her reader of the personalities involved. Truly three-dimensional images emerge of a couple who would be remarkable in any era. Phyllis's political and moral convictions and penetrating analyses of their times showed her to be far ahead of most of their contemporaries.
The book's chronological divisions are titled with an eye to orienting a reader who may want to revisit history. Any long life is complicated merely because so many things have happened in it and there are so many people to learn about. The Forbes Dennises lived in so many places, knew so many famous people, were involved in so many real social upheavals between 1882 and 1963 when Phyllis died, and 1972 when Ernan followed her, it's surprising that the book is not longer than it is.
A perhaps minor cavil is the unfortunately poor reproduction of about half the photographs included. They are almost ghostly. Too bad to see some really famous faces unrecognizable except for their captions, and so many others too vague to decipher.
For those of us who have also lived through much of the same period, this is a fascinating return dip into history. This remarkable woman's life is well worth the suspense-filled time it takes to read it.
Brava to the author. Highly recommended.