17 February 2011

Who was Antonia Ridge?

Antonia Ridge wrote two well-loved popular rose books. They are the biography of Pierre-Joseph Redouté (The Man Who Painted Roses, 1974, Faber and Faber) and the story of the Peace rose - a biography of the Meilland family (For Love of a Rose, 1965, Faber and Faber).

These books seem dated now, written in a breathless style that once characterised popular biography, intent on placing the reader as a confidant of the subject. The struggles and triumphs of the Meilland family are imbued with immense nobility. The pettiness of everyday life is not allowed to obtrude, and the modern reader - used to a bit of modern muckraking in biographies - perhaps feels short-changed.

The style may be out of fashion but it does make for a riveting read. I read "The Man Who Painted Roses" as a teenager, having been given it as a Christmas present, and was captivated. Nearly 40 years later I have recently read "For Love of a Rose". Once one accepts that this is cosy hagiography rather than cinema verité, you have to admit that Antonia Ridge weaves a rollicking good yarn.

The internet is full of her books. They went through many printings and are commonly offered second hand. However the internet has remarkably little to say about the author.

It turns out that there was a lot more to Dutch-born Antonia Ridge (1895 – 1981). She was a broadcaster associated with Children's Hour for which she wrote and read children's plays. She was a librettist, translating the children's songs of Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller (The Happy Wanderer, The Wooden Horse, The Emperor and the Nightingale). And she was a noted childrens' author, translating European children's tales into English. She wrote many, many books including collections of short stories such as "The Handy Elephant" (1946) and "Rom Bom Bom" (1963).

And it is her success as a children's author that gives the clue to the success of her two rose biographies. They are children's stories for adults, and we love them for it.

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