Obituary: Sarah Gainham

SARAH GAINHAM is best-known for her novel Night Falls on the City, an intense tale of love and betrayal set in wartime Vienna, which was published in 1967.

This work (the first part of a trilogy which included A Place in the Country, 1968, and Private Worlds, 1971) overshadowed not only the several novels that followed, but also Gainham's highly regarded journalism in such magazines as The Spectator, The Economist, Encounter and Atlantic Monthly. The novel was remarkably successful, managing somehow to catch the mood of the time - especially in the United States, where it remained top of the New York Times bestseller list for several months - and it was translated into many languages.

All bar one of the dozen novels that Gainham wrote were set in central Europe, a region she knew intimately, having moved to Vienna in 1947 - initially to work with the Four Power Commission - never to live in England again. She also lived at various times in Berlin, Bonn and Trieste before returning to Vienna. Such experiences were invaluable when, in urgent need of earning her own living after the collapse of her marriage in 1956, Gainham became the Central and Eastern European correspondent for The Spectator, largely due to the efforts of Cyril Ray - whose plea that she needed the money became a catchphrase in the office.

The magazine, then enjoying a golden age under the editorship of Brian Inglis, was an ideal place in which to hone her skills, and it wasn't long before Gainham produced her first novel, Time Right Deadly (1956), a largely autobiographical work written in an effort to get an unhappy emotional affair out of her system. Four other European-based thrillers followed before she hit the jackpot with Night Falls on the City.

Gainham's last novel, The Tiger, Life, was published in 1983; an autobiography in all but name, its 400 pages were largely impenetrable except for the closest of her friends and the most devoted of her fans. In 1984 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an honour in which she took immense pride.

Gainham, who loathed talking about her early life, was born Rachel Stainer in 1915 (not 1922 as she liked to claim) in Islington, north London. Her father, Tom, died in the First World War, and she and her brother and sister (who survives her) were brought up in straitened circumstances by their mother May in Newbury. When she started writing fiction she took as her nom de plume the name of her maternal great-grandmother - Sarah Gainham.

Whilst the success of Night Falls on the City ensured that Gainham was financially secure for life ("It is vital to have money," she would shout. "I know, I've been poor!"), her emotional and private lives were far less satisfactory. Gainham had immense sex appeal, was highly flirtatious - skittish, even - and well aware of the appeal that she had for the opposite sex. She once remarked in late middle age: "I know that I am no great looker, but I've always had a magnificent pair of tits." Indeed, until well into her eighties she would wear dresses with heroically plunging necklines.

An impulsive and unsuccessful wartime liaison was followed in 1947 by marriage to the journalist Antony Terry, the then German correspondent for the Sunday Times, but this ended in divorce. In 1964 she married Kenneth Ames, the Central European correspondent of The Economist. Gainham claimed privately at the time that she was marrying him so that she wouldn't have to spend her old age on her own. Cruelly, however, the combination of Kenneth's suicide in 1975, her failure to have children after a disastrous miscarriage and the fact that the true (and reciprocated) love of her life remained married to another condemned her to just such a fate.

In 1976 Gainham moved from Vienna to a small house in the shadow of Schloss Petronell on the banks of the Danube. Attended by a succession of grossly over-indulged cats, she became in her later years reclusive and somewhat eccentric, in stark contrast to her gregarious and sociable former self. Although she had lived in Germany or Austria for over 50 years, she remained resolutely English, reading The Times, and taking afternoon tea, every day.

Like many self-educated people Gainham was fiercely dogmatic, and her declining number of visitors was apt to be treated to lengthy and highly provocative monologues invariably beginning with the phrase, "Of course, as everyone knows . . ." - and to find curious scraps of paper lying around, clearly written in a fury but referring to heaven knows whom, which said such things as: "he was profoundly subversive!"

Happily, the literary reputation of this gifted, spirited and once greatly lionised woman is strong enough to withstand the frailty of her final work, A Discursive Essay on the Presentation of Recent History in England, a rambling treatise which she was obliged to have published privately.

Jonathan Ray

Under her pseudonym of Sarah Gainham, Rachel Ames achieved a reputation as a perceptive chronicler of the immediate post-war years in Germany and in the German- speaking parts of Central Europe, writes Robert Elphick. Her weekly reports in The Spectator in the late Fifties and Sixties attracted particular attention for their incisive dissection of the growing pains of the newly emerging democracies in western Germany and Austria, as well as of the travails of the countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Fellow journalists especially savoured her reports of the early days in Berlin before the death of Stalin and well before the wall went up, when the espionage and propaganda battle with the Communist dictatorships was in full swing. She was in her element, knew all the main players, and was well connected with the murky world of espionage and counter-espionage. A lot of this experience found its way into her novels.

Journalism was very much still a man's world in those days, but she was capable of more than holding her own. Indeed she enjoyed the clash of personalities in late-night disputes over the meaning of this or that twist in the highly charged political circles in which she moved so effortlessly.

Alas, she was less successful with the men in her life, a matter that she freely acknowledged. Her last letter to me, in March, centred on her days in Berlin and referred to her first husband, but not her second. But the main part of the letter recalled a lost love with another, which survived for 50 years until his death a year ago.

She was oddly sensitive about her appearance. She once confessed to me that she had always wanted to be pretty and felt she wasn't. Her intellectual strengths, though, were formidable, and she was delighted in her eventual success and recognition as a novelist. It gave her financial security and made her a little more serene as she grew older.

Rachel Stainer (Sarah Gainham), writer and journalist: born London 1 October 1915; Central Europe Correspondent, Spectator 1956-66; FRSL 1984; married 1947 Antony Terry (died 1992; marriage dissolved 1964), 1964 Kenneth Ames (died 1975); died Petronell, Austria 24 November 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?