Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

published 1953   chapter 3







He looked up from his book to find Matron standing in the middle of the
room. 

'I did knock,' she said, 'but you were lost in your book.'

She stood there, slender and remote; as elegant in her way as Marta was;
her white-cuffed hands clasped loosely in front of her narrow waist; her white veil spreading itself in imperishable dignity; her only ornament the small silver badge of her diploma. Grant wondered if there was anywhere in this world a more unshakable poise than that achieved by the matron of a great hospital… 

‘When I was a probationer I used to spend a lot of time in the   
National. I had very little money and very sore feet, and it was warm in the Gallery and quiet and it had plenty of seats.' She smiled a very little, looking back from her present consequence to that young, tired, earnest creature that she had been… 

She had not moved from the position in which he had first caught sight of her. Now she smiled her faint, withdrawn smile, and with her hands still clasped lightly in front of her belt-buckle moved towards the door. She had a transcendental repose. Like a nun. Like a queen.


observations: Inspector Alan Grant is asking the Matron what she thinks of Richard III – who is in the news (in real life) because his skeleton has just been positively identified. The book is an attempt to clear Richard’s name with historical facts, and this cameo is very typical of Josephine Tey – the Matron does not have much of a role, we never learn her name, but it’s a nice character sketch. Tey has a line in memorable details, snatches of dialogue that stick in the mind – and although her books are full of tangents and red herrings, it’s often only on re-reading that you notice.

The role of matrons in UK hospitals cannot be over-estimated. They have mythic status as the keepers of order and cleanliness (it’s widely perceived in the UK that a decline in standards in hospitals here is directly linked to the downgrading of matrons, and that this can be reversed), and also an important role in cultural life – several of the farcical Carry On films featured Hattie Jacques as the archetypal Matron, and the Doctor in the House books – as featured here – always liked a good matron story, as did the films based on them. And in detective stories, PD James’s Shroud for a Nightingale, set in a nurses’ home, features a memorable matron.

Links on the blog: The previous entry on this book featured more about the dead king, along with the picture of him that Matron gazed at, and the book is also discussed here. Richard III’s Queen - The Kingmaker’s Daughter from Philippa Gregory’s book – is shown in this entry. A different kind of matron is in charge at the boys’ school in this book.

The picture is of the matron at a Brisbane hospital and is from Wikimedia Commons.


3 comments:

  1. Moira - What a clever idea to focus on Matron for this post. Very creative. And I love it that you featured this book. It's such an interesting look at an old case...

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  2. Thanks Margot - I was struck, on reading it, by the Matron being like a queen or a nun, it seemed to fit in with the rest of the book in some way....

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  3. I'm afraid that I have a soft spot for Carry On films. They remind me of my childhood and I love Sid James and Kenneth Williams. I absolutely love this book by Tey and it is one of my all time favourites.

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