In December 1965, when Jeremy Gavron was four years old, his mother dropped him off at nursery school for a Christmas party. She then went to a friend’s flat in Primrose Hill, north London, turned on the oven, and gassed herself. Eerily, the flat was a few streets away from where Sylvia Plath had chosen the same fate just two years earlier.
Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah Gavron left behind two young sons, a husband, an ex-lover, and a manuscript, The Captive Wife, which was published a few months later to great acclaim. Her sons grew up believing that their mother had died of a heart attack. Jeremy Gavron was 16 when he learnt the truth about his mother’s death. When he was 29 he discovered his mother’s suicide note that included a PTO: “Please tell the boys I did love them terribly!”
A foreign correspondent and author, Jeremy Gavron was grieving the death of his older brother when he decided he needed to know more about his mother. In his latest book A Woman on the Edge of Time, Gavron traces his mother’s life and tries to understand her state of mind before her death. As he told the New Statesman: “I’d been brought up with the character. Having lived so long with fairy tales and evasions, what I wanted was the facts.”
He trawled through papers and diaries, and spoke with friends, family, former colleagues, and psychotherapists. Ultimately, Jeremy concludes that many factors influenced his mother’s devastating decision: dysfunctional relationships, previous abuse by her school headmaster, and the suffocating social context of the time.
“I think if she’d survived that day, she would’ve lived,” Gavron told the New Statesman. “She thought her book was no good but the world would’ve opened up for her. She’d have had the opportunity to be like Joan Bakewell, or ultimately Germaine Greer; to speak for womanhood. That’s where the title of my book comes from. She was just a little ahead of her time.”
Hear Jeremy Gavron discuss his memoir and reflect on the suffocating constrictions placed on women in the 1950s and ’60s on Sunday 11 September at 11.30am. He will also take part in a panel discussion on the legacy of inheritance on Saturday 10 September at 2.30, and a panel discussion on the life of foreign correspondents on Saturday 10 September at 4pm.
Hear Jeremy Gavron read excerpts from his memoir on Friday 9 September from 2pm.