Mary Young Born 12th December 1924. Died 29th April 2012.
Mary was a long-standing Trustee of Hyphen-21 and so it is fitting that a tribute to her should appear on the charity’s web-site.
Mary Young was a woman of great gifts and profound sensitivity, warmth and insight. She also masked and disguised herself with art and skill and consequently was known to all sorts of different people in a whole range of different ways.
Behind the good cheer was a deeply serious vision of life ; behind the posh accent of the Shires, something of a rebel and anarchist and much of a progressive ; behind the chatter, a serious and fearless thinker, even at times a bit fierce, and an intellectual very widely and deeply read.
Right to the end of her life, she would quote from a whole host of historians and novelists, the famous and the obscure, the past and the present, and look around expectantly in case someone of equal erudition would join her in debate ; and would suddenly recite to her visitor long passages from obscure Scottish ballads, learned by heart years ago and never forgotten.
Unsurprisingly, the story of her life was as extra-ordinary as her personality. She never went to any school, but then in adult life educated herself up to and past the point of a degree in literature, through the Open University. Afterwards, she qualified herself as a psychotherapist. As a young woman, she wrote and published romantic novels and later became a serious, self-taught historian whose wonderfully written biography of Augustin the younger Robesepierre, is regarded as still the most authoritative available.
Her Augustin manuscript lay unpublished in Mary’s succession of London rooms and flats, almost until the end of her life, unknown to most of her friends. Now out at last, with the help of my friend Mevlut Ceylan, Director of the Turkish Cultural Centre in London, another Hyphen-21 Trustee, it is being read by scholars of the French Revolution in universities all over the world. This is thanks to the good offices of Dr Marisa Linton, Kingston University, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, and her colleague Dr Jonathan Smyth of Birkbeck, University of London, who promoted it at an international conference of scholars of the French Revolution, which took place in York in the Summer of 2012.
After that conference, the book was placed in the following universities and libraries : the library of the Institute for Historical Research in London ; UCLA Irvine (California) ; New York State ; Amsterdam ; Queen Mary, London ; Birmingham ; Portsmouth ; Stirling ; All Soul’s Oxford ; Teesside ; the George Rudé Library at the University of Adelaide, South Australia ; the Senate House Library, University of London.
Anyone who would like their own copy of Augustin the Younger Robespierre should approach either Dr Marisa Linton at the History Department of Kingston University, or myself, r.wolf [at] hyphen-21.org
Further, readers of this piece might be interested to read an article about Mary’s book, written by Dr Smyth and published by the Oxford University Press in the Spring of 2013, almost exactly a year after Mary died. We have had special permission to publish the link here, for which we are grateful. The permission is conditional on the link not being displayed anywhere else.
Copyright details are as follows : Jonathan Smyth. Augustin: The Younger Robespierre. French History (2013) 27(2): 291-293 first published online May 3, 2013 doi:10.1093/fh/crt019. © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved.
Here is the link to the article : http://fh.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/crt019?ijkey=a4w0HjFpEN6y2&keytype=ref&siteid=french
With complete and stylish authority Jonathan Smyth’s article places Mary as a scholar among equals, who has added a worthy and even distinguished contribution to historians’ knowledge of the French Revolution and of life in France during that extraordinary period. She would have loved to read the article and know herself recognised and rated in this fashion. That recognition makes her achievement all the more extraordinary, this academic “outsider,” who never went to school and was barely known by her many friends as the scholar and historian she truly was.
For instance, speaking for myself, I have realised since she died that many of the greatest decisions of my adult life were made with Mary’s strong and decisive help and counsel. Furthermore, her support for my own poetry-writing has been rock-solid, and in the light of my chronic self-doubt, even stubborn. As long-standing Hyphen-21 Trustee, she was simply loving and endlessly patient as she followed developments and waited for what might further transpire from the charity.
I believe there are many other members of her wide and varied parish of friends and substitute family, who could cite her benign influence over their lives, to the same extent I can over mine. But all would be very different, in accord with Mary’s own rich and catholic complexity.
Rogan Wolf, Director, Hyphen-21
Tributes to Mary at her Funeral in Notting Hill Gate May 11th 2012
Graham Thorp’s Tribute
“Mary received a new lease of quality life for her last 3 years from the Mary Feilding Guild, where she experienced respect for her individuality, even – dare I say it – her idiosyncrasies, and the discreet support she needed to maintain her independence. I was made very aware of the affection in which the staff held her when they confronted me about my attitude to the army of soft animals that Mary surrounded herself with, including Ermintrude, Mary’s beloved pink hippo, Bunner, the lambs and all the rest.
I found it difficult to reconcile Mary’s often anthropomorphic affection for both soft and live animals with the scholarly acuity she showed elsewhere. But then she had so many facets to her personality. Rogan will describe this more effectively in his poem he will read shortly. One of the many messages I have been privileged to receive about Mary in recent days described her as an ‘original’. Each of you will have found different things in her. Her keen appreciation of literature helped develop her natural sensitivity to what made people tick, and her sense of the humour and irony in life and relationships.
Add to this her gift of listening and you found in her, as so many did, a natural counsellor and therapist, as well as an invaluable friend. The borderline between these two roles did not really exist for Mary – she was intrigued by the person she experienced in front of her and intuitively created a rapport with them. From this often flowed understanding and healing.
She entered into life with zest, generosity and an entirely distinctive voice. She experienced each moment as an adventure, whether indulging her love of travel on a trip to the Gambia, or walking round the corner to the Portobello Road, or empathising with the life of the person in the chair across the room, or welcoming a visitor to Mary Feilding.
Sharing a glass or a meal or having a party were some of her great joys. In this spirit she asked for nips of whisky for each of the guests arriving at her wake, and for us to have a super wake, one she’d enjoy, so I hope many of you will be able to join in this, or if not, to have a nip to celebrate her later on. She asked for some whisky the day before she died and had it prescribed by her consultant after a 5 minute tutorial on the medicinal qualities of whisky, to which she responded with typically wry humour, ‘I’m an old soak’.
The courage she showed in facing up to the onset of death was her hallmark. She left the sheltered life of Wiltshire for the big city with hardly any money, building a life of her own, creating a wide and diverse group of friends. She was pragmatic, for example, drawing up careful instructions back in 2000 for what was to follow her death, including choosing the readings and hymns for this service. She was content to be where she was, even approaching death. This was perhaps not least because she early had learnt to face up to difficult situations and cope with extreme feelings, so that her foundation was on rock.
She kept faith with each of us, she kept faith with her core beliefs in hope, love and life, she kept faith with Augustin Robespierre from the age of 14, even when she felt her research about him rejected. She miraculously came through her first spell in intensive care last summer to hold a copy of her biography of Augustin in her hand at long last. She gave a copy to the consultant she was blessed with in the Whittington Intensive Care Unit in her final days, as he discussed it with her. Typically, this evoked the gift of a book of his own in response.
Mary had fought long to right the injustice she perceived had been done to Augustin and was delighted by the support given her by Dr Marisa Linton, who wrote a foreword to the book. So it is with pleasure that I invite Dr Linton to pay tribute to the author of ‘Augustin, the Younger Robespierre.’”
Dr Marisa Linton’s Tribute
Augustin, the Younger Robespierre”
It was in January 2011 that Graham Thorp sought me out and revealed to me Mary’s secret, a secret she had kept for many years, that she had written a full-length biography of Augustin Robespierre, the Jacobin and revolutionary, brother of Maximilien Robespierre.
I read Mary’s manuscript and was deeply impressed by the quality of her scholarship. She had found many new sources, particularly on the key period that Augustin spent as a deputy on mission in the south of France. She handled those sources with scrupulous care. She demonstrated impartiality and a dispassionate search for the truth, essential attributes for the historian who seeks to understand the world of the Jacobins.
Mary’s book describes both Augustin the man, and Augustin the revolutionary politician. It seeks to ‘do him justice’. It relates Augustin’s life and actions in ways that would have made sense to him. Mary’s understanding comes from her having been deeply immersed as a scholar in the original sources. Above all, with her vivid writing, Mary makes Augustin and his world come alive. The reader follows him through the labyrinthine political intrigues in Paris; on his journey deep into the hostile and alien world of the south with its wild and rugged landscape; with the armies at Toulon; and later with the Army of Italy in the mountainous border regions.
We see all this as Augustin might have seen it. That she continued writing this book, in adverse circumstances, in isolation, says much about her courage, her strength, and her desire for the truth. All qualities that Mary had in abundance.
But she was also self-deprecating. She kept her secret. Few people heard of her achievement. It seemed to me extraordinary that a work of this standard had not previously found a publisher. The answer to this lies in the circumstances of Mary’s life, the way in which her book came to be written, and the fact that she was not part of the ‘history establishment’.
It seemed to me that this was an injustice both towards Augustin Robespierre and towards Mary herself that I determined to put right, if I could. I went to see Mary on a memorable day in 2011. I found her, as you all have known her, gracious, kind, charming, keenly intelligent still, if a bit now forgetful of details in the immediate present, but still recalling so much about Augustin. I told her I thought her book was very scholarly. And that I would do what I could to help her publish it. She wrote to me afterwards that the day I came to see her and told her this, was one of the happiest of her life.
With the help of many people, above all Mary’s great and loyal friends, Graham and Rogan, that goal was achieved. I am so glad that between us we were able to bring about the publication of her book, and that she lived to see it. Those of you who were at her book launch last November will remember her, filled with pride and quiet dignity, with the value of her scholarship recognised at last. It was a long wait, but it was worth it.
I am very happy to say too that we have now made Mary’s book available online. I had told her that I thought we should do this. She didn’t know what ‘online’ meant. I explained that it meant that anyone in the world who wanted to know about Augustin Robespierre would be able to find her book, simply by pressing a button. She gave me a radiant smile. ‘I should like that,’ she said.”
Link (updated Summer 2021) : https://hyphen-21.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Mary-Young-Augustin-Robespierre-August-2021.pdf
Paperback copies of “Augustin the Younger Robespierre” are available from Rogan Wolf. Contact him on r.wolf [at] hyphen-21.org
Rogan Wolf’s Tribute To Mary Young,
Dame of the Parish
Only you know
how many your parishioners
how wide your parish bounds.
Your hub was London –
across different floors of Holland Park,
Kensington, Notting Hill and Highgate.
From these small cells we do our living
windows a-glimmer each winter evening,
aslant each summer night.
We’ll not be seen, by and large, in Harrods
nor feature on the national news
but often look in our minds to you
as we navigate the day’s aloneness and complexity
or “wander aimlessly from floor to floor.”*
We are your parishioners, who now will
take you with us
where we go.
But far beyond one city’s limits
your parish grew each time you travelled.
Every trip made new parishioners
and now people across the world,
touched by you, sustained by you,
will take you with them
where they go.
You – so sharp-sighted,
fiercely witty and disabused,
deeply versed and liberated of intellect –
listened through decades
to our parish wounds and woe.
Like cats caught in a storm
gently you towelled us dry, addressing each
as the world’s sole centre
ours the only hurt to count.
Sometimes I wondered how you managed
to bring together in that one body
your brilliant clarity of seeing
with such fathomless commiseration.
You said one day that you’d begun
to feel a bit irritable at times –
a fault symptomatic of increasing age.
And about time too, I thought.
A touch of the tetchy is good for the health
and old age soon will call on you
for all the health you have.
But then, at the last, Augustin was born,
your foundling child, your secret love.
The parish applauded this unveiling
of a lost self, this coming out,
the authoress and scholar delivered just in time.
Augustin made you whole to us,
and now we have the two of you
the maker and the made,
whom we shall carry with us
onward where we go.
Rogan Wolf May 2012
(Note : *Once, at a party in Graham Thorp’s flat, the late Mike Keogh, part of Mary’s inner circle, was asked, what was he getting up to these days ? He answered : “Just wandering aimlessly from floor to floor.”
At the time of the funeral, it was suggested that others of Mary’s friends might add contributions to an online tribute to Mary Young. Suzanne Pinkerton suggested this excerpt from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a fitting goodbye. Suzanne wrote it out carefully herself, in a good hand.
Puck’s Epilogue, from The Midsummer Night’s Dream
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend :
If you pardon, we will mend.
And as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ‘ere long
Else the Puck a liar call ;
So good night unto you all.
Give one your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
(V, i. 440-455)2
During the Autumn of 2011, amongst the rush and urgency of producing Mary’s book “Augustin – the younger Robespierre” before she died (an urgency increased by the fact that Mary suddenly found herself in Intensive Care at the Wittington hospital), I wrote the poem below. Later, I read it to Mary herself, once she had pulled through, on this occasion. She had lain in her hospital bed, her face obscured and misty behind the oxygen mask, knowing she was close to death, knowing the book was still on its way, but out of her control, this strange late birth of her hidden child, still pending. The image of the machine gunner towards the end of the poem is a reference to civil war in the Middle East, then much in the news and hence on Mary’s mind.
The Aged Authoress
She waits to be delivered
shifting in her pillowed cell
nodding as the words
wander through her mind.
The ground keeps opening
under her feet, the walls
waver and she hears the wailing
“Let me be delivered
before I die !”
She shrieks to the nurse
to the air-raid warden
to the bearded machine-gunner
to the undertaker
about their business –
“Let me be delivered
before I die !”
Rogan Wolf June 2011
And a few months after Mary’s death, a door opened onto another room in the mansion called Mary Young, a room hitherto locked and secret. For quite some time during the last phase of her life, but without talking about it to others, Mary was working on her memoirs with Pat Pegg -Jones, an old friend from her days in the Richmond Fellowship, and another Trustee of this charity. It seems that, for the making of the memoir, Pat was Mary’s listener and scribe. Pat has since managed to get the memoir published in book form. Here is what is written on the front cover:
” ‘The Uninvited Guest – A Memoir’ Mary Young as told to P Pegg Jones.”
The book is now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com In its pages we can read more about that extra-ordinary childhood in a Wiltshire vicarage ; and about Mary’s time in the Richmond Fellowship. In the sixties and seventies, this organisation established itself at a cutting edge of creative excitement, bringing together in practice some new ideas on mental health, healing and community.
Mary worked there for some years and fashioned her own model of mutually supportive mental after-care for people with long-term problems, a model which proved itself eventually more realistic for many people than the short-term “therapeutic community” model then prevailing.
Scattering Mary Young’s remains
Mary had asked to be scattered over or near the marshes by Cley by the Sea, on the Norfolk coast. Her wishes were followed and the scattering took place on Sunday October 28th. Present were Jane and Graham Thorp, and Rogan Wolf with Nicola Knoop, his partner.
Rogan read the following two poems, the first one containing Mary’s own thoughts while wandering in the Surrey woods one Spring, with blue bells all around.
Some Things Mortal
Blue-bells in a beech wood
wave upon wave of them
raise the season to its height
fulfilling in these days
centuries of creation
undisturbed, under ground.
It partly comforts me to know
that these high days here
will be cause for pilgrimage
years after my span
of witness –
year upon year upon year.
It’s partly comforting to know
that some things mortal will endure.
Rogan Wolf May 2006
Mary Young of Cley
Your spirit yearned and burned
and your mind wandered upland and outland
in the company of explorers.
Your words crackled and spun
and stay burning in the minds
of your community who loved you.
From flare you have turned
to grey ashes we carry
and will scatter now among wetlands
and openlands where birds of the earth’s edges
and openings and open reaches
feel at home. You are welcome home,
Mary Young, now spirit
of the mists and anthems, here,
Rogan Wolf October 2012
Then the four of us joined in various combinations to recite the following passages selected from Anglican liturgy appropriate for occasions of this nature.
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were formed, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn us back to dust and say: ‘Turn back, O children of earth.
‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday, which passes like a watch in the night.’
O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up ; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark out my journeys and my resting place and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You encompass me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go then from your spirit ? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night,’
Even darkness is no darkness with you; the night is as clear as the day;darkness and light to you are both alike.
I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
God our Father, in loving care your hand has created us, and as the potter fashions the clay you have formed us in your image. Through the Holy Spirit you have breathed into us the gift of life. In the sharing of love you have enriched our knowledge of you and of one another. We claim your love today, as we return these ashes to the ground in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.In chorus:Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayers The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for all those whom we love but see no longer.As we remember Mary in this place, hold before us our beginning and our ending, the dust from which we come and the death to which we move, with a firm hope in your eternal love and purposes for us, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of hope, grant that we, with all who have believed in you, may be united in the full knowledge of your love and the unclouded vision of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
May the infinite and glorious Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, direct our life in good works, and after our journey through this world grant us eternal rest with all the saints.