Josephine Tey has written some of my favourite novels, particularly Brat Farrar and Miss Pym Disposes, but I knew nothing of her as a person so I was happy to see that there was going to be a talk about her as part of Nairn’s Book & Arts Festival.
The talk was by Jennifer Morag Henderson who has written the biography, “Josephine Tey: A Life” (2015), who spoke with such enthusiasm and authority that I promptly bought a copy of the book so I could find out more.
Josephine Tey was actually a pseudonym of Elizabeth ‘Beth’ MacKintosh, who was born in 1896 and lived for much of her life in Inverness, Scotland, which happens to be a city close to where my home is. She lived through 2 world wars, never married and died in 1952 of liver cancer.
Beth used several pen-names, the main ones being Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviot, the former almost certainly a dedication to her mother, whose name was Josephine. As Josephine Tey, she became one of Britain’s best loved crime writers, producing unconventional novels full of vibrant characters. As Gordon Daviot, she wrote stories, literary novels and successful plays that were performed in London’s West End and Broadway in America by famous actors such as John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. She even wrote some Hollywood screenplays and had a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and another starring James Stewart.
Despite her fame, Beth lived quietly for most of her life, having given up her career as a P.E. teacher to return home to Inverness and keep house for her widowed father. She visited London now and then, where she mixed with celebrities, but otherwise she drew little attention to herself, modest about her work.
It is only looking back now at all she achieved under the names of Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviot, that she is acknowledged as one of Scotland’s most popular writers.