Blonde and beautiful, statuesque and vivacious with a fine sense of the dramatic, José Dale Lace became the darling of London aristocratic society, at first. Within a short time, the same exclusive circle shunned her for her scandalous indiscretion. Not to be deterred or subjected to a manipulative and titled lover, she became an actress at the famous Haymarket Theatre, her maiden role in Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance. Here women were charmed by her grace and beauty, men quite bewitched by her irresistible allure. She met and married handsome, immaculately dressed John Lace, a Sir Galahad who embraced her and took in her illegitimate son, Lancelot, as his own. And they lived in the roller-coaster world of high finance, diamonds and gold in the early years of South Africa’s mining Randlords. Life in Johannesburg included sumptuous banquets, parties and entertainment in their magnificent Herbert Baker home. José was the talk of the town: she bathed regularly in fresh milk, slept between black silk sheets and drove her coach pulled by four zebra. But Fate intervened in this idyll, took the wealth, burnt the mansion and plunged her from riches to rags like an upside-down Cinderella.
about the author: Pamela Heller-Stern, born in Cape Town, is the writer of poetry, poetic drama, political satire and author of the novels The Pink Slippers, It’s a Red Moon and a Green Man, Who’s Knocking on my Door? and Have a Heart, launched in the UK in August 2018. She lives and writes in Johannesburg. (Website: www.authorpamela.com).
COMMENTS/REVIEW OF JOSE DALE LACE: A WOMAN OF SOME IMPORTANCE BY PAMELA HELLER-STERN
Your novel is excellent; it makes sense to revert to a more conventional and conversational prose style so as not to hamper the narrative impetus and the vast sweep of history encompassed in the whole-life portrait of JDL. It is surely not common for 20th Century authors of historical fiction focussing on famous real-life historical personages to embrace a cradle to grave narrative……
The novel’s chapter headings as per your previous novels serve as signposts/leitmotifs for the unfolding narrative; as always catchy and appropriate and reflecting the carefully mapped architecture. The structure of the book is intricately mapped and planned and bears evidence of the two-year gestation period in the writing and voluminous research.
As anticipated, the novel reads like the wind, short chapters keep the attention from flagging; your novel is meticulously researched and annotated as expected, fascinating, and does full justice to its subject. The well-considered layering and accretion of details are especially enjoyable to read, almost serving as cameos which embellish and burnish the character development and narrative; a skilful picture of the manners and social mores and class distinctions of the late 19th Century Britain and dawning era of the new emancipated woman emerges and equally a most authentic depiction of Johannesburg as an upstart mining town growing at a feverish pace from the late 19th Century onwards and the affluent lifestyles of the Parktown Randlords.
Your novel gives a convincing sense of a distant time and place and the privileged life of its refined but slightly maverick leading lady as well as the numerous people in her social and family ambit. I particularly liked the intricate descriptions pertaining to fashion, apparel, hair styling, corsetry, interior decor, equestrian activities, fine dining, modes of transport and most especially the account of the commissioning and construction of Northwards, and also the various dwellings and gardens JDL inhabited/visited viz hotels, spas and stately homes.
I particularly like the use of prologue and epilogue as a framing device for the novel, bookends to the narrative; the observations of the semi-autobiographical narrator/journalist “Grace Kilmartin” pertaining to the Villa Cimbrone on the Amalfi coast as a mirror and counterpoint to Northwards in Parktown with the contrasting fortunes of Ernest Beckett and John Dale Lace, as is the especially clever and oblique by-the-way reference to Jose Dale Lace in the prologue which piques the reader’s interest. The seminal role of Ernest Beckett in Jose Dale Lace’s life, the roué/seducer who compromises her reputation and whose ignoble renunciation of his marriage proposal propels her rebound marriage to John Lace. The Prologue and Epilogue work effectively as a zooming out and zooming in, and jump cut into the present from a 100-year old narrative. The elemental link between Jose and John Dale Lace, as with many long-time partners, expiring within a few months of each other is quite touching. The chamber music recital at the close of the novel brings the reader up to date with the present-day Northwards restored by George Albu and the lingering charm and atmospherics of the mansion especially the grand entertainment hall, the focus of Herbert Baker’s architectural plan………
There is much to discuss and enquire after; the selective ad imaginative use of source material. I enjoyed the restrained use of dialogue which is plausible and sounds authentic and in-character, the skilful imagination of correspondence between Jose and Nellie, her sister and her various benefactors – the compendious detail of entertainment, lavish dinner menus, suppers and social activities and intrigues befitting the moneyed classes.
The closing of the novel is enigmatic and delivers a witty, tiny frisson with the idea of a ghostly Jose sweeping down the grand stairway towards the Great Hall where she must have made many dramatic appearances.
Like all good fiction, the novel engenders further reading and enquiry…..
It was a stroke of luck to be granted permission by the Northwards Trust to reproduce the iconic portrait on the cover of the book. JDL was celebrated for her beauty, glamour, flair for fashion and vivacious personality. She is the epitome of the Belle Epoque bombshell. Her appeal was primarily to men… The portrait is larger than life quite literally) and exquisite and so was she. The novel is dense with historicity and impeccable researched details relating to inter alia the Anglo-Boer War, Jameson raid, conflicted allegiances and politics of the Randlords, the course of the First World War, sinking of the Galway, eclectic Art and Crafts architecture in Jhb in the early 20th Century, the humble/trade origins of many of the Randlords, the vagaries of personal fortunes and politics in the lives of the Randlords and the intrusion of bad luck in the lives of John and Jose Dale Lace. For a slim novel, it is quite encyclopaedic in scope, not much is speculative or sketchy. The chapter dealing with a grand banquet/dinner at Northwards has the full crowd of Randlords and captains of industry in attendance – Lionel Phillips, George Farrar, Solly Joel, Sammy Marks etc.
As always, a highly visual and compelling narrative which would translate especially well as a bio-pic. I particularly like the chapter detailing the temporary exile/relocation of the Dale Laces to East London during the Anglo-Boer War and the elaborate preparations for bathing, and the chapter depicting the young Jose’s maiden voyage to the UK with her chaperone, snappily dressed and hectoring to visit the blue dining room on the cruise ship.
In summary, well done. I hope you will be approaching Love Books to host a further launch/promotion. I think they have a captive audience for this type of novel……also to make novel available on various online platforms…