It’s a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Lark Ascending by Sally Zigmond, published for kindle by The Conrad Press on 18th December 2019. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support.
Everything about this book – the Leeds setting, the era, the story – told me I’d love it, and it was immensely frustrating that I just couldn’t fit it into my reading list. Take a look, and see if it appeals to you as much as it did to me…
Leeds 1919. The war is over but young Alice Fields, who hates her job in an old-fashioned shop, isn’t celebrating. However, her life is about to change when a rich customer leaves behind an expensive fur stole and Alice makes great efforts to return it. Dark secrets bring not only money but misery, too. During the contrasting worlds of the roaring twenties and the General Strike, love and deep friendships bloom like poppies on the devastated battlefields over which the lark rises again.
So, no review today (hopefully later) – but I’m delighted to welcome Sally as my guest with a fascinating post about the subject of PTSD…
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is today’s name for a wide range of mental health problems. It can arise when people or one person experience a severely distressing event or a succession of them ranging from war, famine and other horrors, both man-made and natural, such as tsunamis, erupting volcanoes and mud-slides. People who have suffered rape or sexual abuse also show the same sort of behaviour.
Little is known to us of PTSD before the 19th and 20th centuries. Doctors then used different vocabulary. For instance, during the America Civil war, soldiers on both sides suffered what was thought to be homesickness or nostalgia. Britain was the first nation to experience industrialisation. People migrated en masse from close-knit rural communities to over-crowded terraces of back-to-back houses or tenements, dominated by chimneys, mills and factories with their chimneys belching coal smoke. Not only were people squashed into slums with insufficient washing and toileting facilities but they were forced to work under draconian working practices. No wonder there was a rise in physical illnesses like tuberculosis, cholera and pneumonia.
What was little understood was the sharp rise in not only drunkenness and violence but idleness, gambling and other things that wasted what little money earned. More enlightened doctors and scientists were aware of a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, irritability and nightmares. Some had theories about railway travel causing what they called ‘railway brain’ because autopsies showed microscopic lesions to the central nervous system.
In time, such behaviour was called neurasthenia. Unable to afford doctors, the poor resorted to bad ways. Wealthy women fared little better, resorting to the chaise-longue and daily visits from a quack. The rich industrialist had every advantage. They could shoot game in the Scottish Highlands, hunt foxes in Leicestershire and enjoy rounds of golf in fresh seaside air followed by the convivial 19th hole with friends.
By the end of the 19th Century, expensive medical facilities such as “The Hydro” built on Western Craiglockhart Hill, in southern Edinburgh treated the “overtasked man of business and the jaded professional” to “throw off and forget for a time their anxieties and receive fresh vigour and new impulses to labour.”
In 1914, the War Office commandeered this Italianate mansion and other such facilities as hospitals for the treatment of what was then called “shell-shock.” More and more officers and non-commissioned servicemen were desperately needed to defeat the German army. Soon many were seen to suffer from lassitude, insomnia, hallucinations, catatonia, blindness, the inability to speak or stammers and other nervous ticks. Despite the idea that they were all caused by exposure to exploding shells, it was also seen in men far away from any bomb shells.
Much has been made of the Craiglockhart hospital and two of its famous poet-patients, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and their close bond with Dr William Rivers, an outstanding shell-shock doctor, anthropologist and psychologist. Pat Barker’s groundbreaking trilogy of novels, The Regeneration Trilogy features this strongly. There is some truth in this but it is fiction nonetheless and the role of Dr Rivers overstated. In truth, the hospital was only in operation as a mental facility for 28 months and Rivers in charge for even less.
His work was actually less significant than that of Captain A J Brock who believed that shell-shock was not a purely war-induced condition but a result of dissociation from the natural world, life and fulfilling labour. He was a keen believer in “a healthy mind in a healthy body” introducing a relaxed regime of physical work in which agriculture was much to the fore. Sport of all kind was also encouraged as well as the arts including the journal, The Hydra for which Owen was its editor. It was by writing poetry for this journal, that Owen became known as a poet, including probably his most well-known, Dulce et Decorum Est with the encouragement of Sassoon.
Men left Craiglockhart much improved and most did not return to the front but to lighter duties, although many did, including Owen who was killed on 4th November 1918, only five days before the Armistice. Sassoon also returned to the trenches and was wounded but survived and later was responsible for making Owen’s poetry so well-known that today his war poems are studied in schools and will never be forgotten.
In The Lark Ascending I have shown something of this enlightened attitude of Doctor Brock in his treatment of shell-shock in the characters of Doctor Hugo Lupton and Walter, one of his patients at Pear Tree Farm.
Thank you, Sally – wishing you every success with the book, and I do hope I’ll be able to catch up with it later and share a review.
About the author
Sally Zigmond was born in Leicester in 1951, has lived in Lincoln, Market Harborough and North London where she attended Queen Mary Collge, University of London. Having studied English Literature, she was a civilian Executive Officer in various departments in The Metropolitan Police (including the London bureau of Interpol).
When she married, she moved with her husband to Harrogate, North Yorkshire where they lived for over 30 years, bringing up two sons. With its stunning countryside and fascinating history, she was inspired to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and write first, articles and short stories, both commercial and literary. The impetus of being published and winning competitions and awards for her fiction, Sally wrote historical novels, set in Yorkshire (Hope Against Hope and The Lark Ascending) and a novella, Chasing Angels, a fictional interpretation of the life of Henriette d’Angeville, a French aristocrat, who was the first woman to willingly climbed to the summit of Mont Blanc in 1838.
After 10 years living in Rosedale Abbey in the middle of the North York Moors, she and her husband now live in Middlesbrough, the vibrant history of which has given her more ideas for future historical novels.