The untold story of him indoors

Click to follow
The Independent Online

About a week ago I was half-listening to a talk on Radio 3 and half-heard the talker say something like: "Of course, she found that her artistic activities had to take second place, and, as the major talent, he demanded that she did the housework while he was creating," and I thought to myself, "Oh, no, not another talk on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes," but before I could change stations, I learnt to my astonishment that the talk wasn't about Ted and Sylvia at all.

It was about Robert and Clara. Robert and Clara Schumann, that is. As I listened, now avidly, the story came back to me. Robert (1810-1856) was a grand pianist and composer and fell in love with Clara Wieck, daughter of his piano teacher, and she was also a grand pianist and not a bad composer, and they got married under very romantic circumstances, ie against dad's wishes, and he settled down to life as a genius, and she was told not to practise piano when he was composing or do anything very artistic at all.

And then Robert went a bit round the bend and was put in a retreat, and never came out again. His friends, like Brahms and the violinist Joachim, often visited poor old Robert in his home but Clara never went to see him there. She was far too busy getting back to her career as a pianist, which she did to great acclaim for another 30 years after his death.

So it was another Ted/Sylvia story, but with a twist, in that in one case the woman committed suicide and the man survived and in the other it was the man who weakened, but in both cases it was the woman who got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Anyway, I was half-listening to Woman's Hour one day this week and I half-heard Jenni Murray say something like: "So his artistic life took place at the expense of hers, did it? She felt her talent had been crushed by being married to a great artist?" and someone else said, yes, she had always felt that, and I thought to myself: "Ted and Sylvia? Robert and Clara?", but it wasn't either, because they were talking about a new play called Caitlin which springs to the defence of Dylan Thomas's wife and shows that it was Caitlin who got the fuzzy end of the lollipop from Dylan...

I now listen to the radio as little as possible, for fear of being flooded with more Ted/Sylvia plotlines, which has given me the chance to start work on the opposite scenario. I have spotted a gap in the market and am now developing a script based on the story of an artistic man overshadowed by a larger-than-life woman.

Trouble is, there aren't many of them. There's Chopin, of course, who cowered in the shadow of the formidable, cigar-smoking George Sand.

There's Branwell Brontë, so overshadowed by his three fearsomely talented sisters that he took to drink and drugs and faded away.

And that's about it.

Milksops, both of them, unfortunately.

But there is one more. The man who is going to make my fortune. Sam Beeton. Sam was the brilliant publisher who married Isabella Dorling and made her into the famous Mrs Beeton. Mrs Beeton couldn't cook, and never made up any recipes, but she was good at managing a household (she was the eldest of 21 children), especially nicking recipes, and her book - magicked into print by Svengali Sam - made her a household name by the time she was 28.

She then died, in childbirth, but her memory was kept alive by the grieving Sam, who devoted the rest of his life to reissuing her works, despite near-bankruptcy, widowerhood, etc etc.

Sam, in fact, did for Isabella what Victoria did for Albert.

I smell a smash hit. Called Mr Beeton. All I need is the finance. So, gents, let's see the colour of your money. Then we can all make a fortune.