Over the last year or so I've read two books by Clarissa, Rifling Through my Drawers and Clarissa's England. Having really enjoyed both I thought it was about time I read her actual autobiography so when I saw it in the library just before Christmas, I nabbed it.
She was born Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise (for the cook) Esmerelda (for her father's favourite pig) in 1947. Her feeling is that her family chose a first name and then all got drunk and went silly choosing names! Clarissa was the youngest of four children, her three siblings all being much older than her, the nearest being her brother who was thirteen at the time and the oldest around twenty.
In many ways it was a very priviledged family she was born into. There was money on her mother's side, lots of it, but not on her father's. Her mother's family generally felt Clarissa's father married her mother for her money. He eventually became a very successful and famous surgeon, unfortunately he was at the same time an alcoholic who was violent towards his wife and children. He beat them mercilessly and, like many families with this kind of problem, it was the family secret. Eventually Clarissa was sent to boarding school and found herself one of the few girls who preferred being at school to being at home. It was a wonderful release for her, so much so she was questioned by the headmistress. Eventually Clarissa, after much pushing, admitted that the reason she didn't want to go home was that her father was an alcoholic who beat the family. The headmistress thought she was lying, wrote to her father about her pupil's lies and naturally, an even worse beating followed. She stopped trusting people after that and admits it was many years before she started doing so again.
Of course, a childhood like that tends to sow seeds of a rather sinister nature, and after the sudden death of her mother, an event which shattered her, Clarissa took comfort in the bottle herself and became an alcoholic. At the time she was the youngest woman to become a barrister, and did manage to continue with her work. But a downward spiral had begun and lasted for many years, and Clarissa tells the story with unflinching honesty and bravery. Some of it makes you want to cry for her. She doesn't put the blame where it belongs until quite late in life, but as a reader reading all of this it's quite obvious whose fault it is. The thing I found shocking - amongst many - was how much alcoholism exists in the world of the well-to-do and wealthy. It seems every other person had a problem with alcohol: I was shocked to discover that her partner on the world famous Two Fat Ladies, Jennifer Patterson, was also an alcoholic. Though by that time Clarissa had been dry for many years.
The Two Fat Ladies cookery shows finished when Jennifer Patterson died. I didn't realise it but she was twenty years older than Clarissa; I knew she was older but not by that much. Since then she's gone on to do another series, Clarissa and the Countryman, championing the countryside and the right to hunt, and we also see her on various food documentaries. She even turned up on an edition of Eggheads at Christmas and won her round... on food of course.
I really enjoyed this autobiography. It sounds a bit miserable but in fact it's not. Clarissa's sense of humour always shines through. She's honest and self deprecating and this is not in any sense an 'Am I not wonderful?' sort of autobiography. In my opinion she is a brave and courageous woman and I'm full of admiration for someone who can survive what she's been through and emmerge intact on the other side. Worth reading.