Why Lucy Turner?
Why, you might ask, if I am such a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, would I choose Lucy Turner as my amateur sleuth?
Because, as Gilbert’s wife, Lucy had a ring-side seat when it came to nearly everything that Gilbert and Sullivan did during the twenty-odd years of their working partnership. And because she isn’t as well-known to history as the two men, she might well have had certain adventures that are unknown to history!
What sort of a person was Lucy?
As history tells us, Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on November 14, 1847. Her astrological sign was Scorpio. To paraphrase Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, Scorpios have a crackling, electric vitality about their presence, iron self-control, and an intense and piercing gaze. Well-aware of their own worth, they are unmoved by either insults or flattery. Passionate, loyal, secretive, suspicious, and sometimes vengeful, Scorpio natives are, Goodman says, “deeply interested in religion, intensely curious about all phases of life and death, passionately concerned with sex and violently drawn by a desire to reform.”
Such a personality would be perfectly suited to crime-solving! Not even the rigid decorum of the Victorian era would be enough to discourage a woman who felt an overwhelming need to know the truth of what happened to a murder victim and to see justice done.
Goodman adds, “Most Scorpios have darkish hair and eyes, but don’t discount the frosty blonde types, of which Grace Kelly and Billy Graham are excellent examples. Frosty on the outside, that is. The poised surface calm of the Pluto character is carefully designed to hide the boiling inner nature.” To those two frosty blonde examples, I would add Lucy Turner – and William S. Gilbert (born November 18, 1836) as well.
Lucy, according to Gilbert’s biographers
The following selections have been taken from different biographical accounts. They shed a certain amount of light on Lucy’s family history and on other people’s impression of her personality.
- From Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger
“Lucy’s mother and father had married in India. Her mother, Herbertina Compton, was the daughter of Sir Herbert Compton, lord chief justice of Bombay; her father, Thomas Metcalfe Blois Turner, was a captain in the Bombay Engineers in the East India Company Service. They had two other children, Grace and Samuel Compton Turner, and we expecting their third child when, on 7 July 1847, Captain Thomas Turner died suddenly, at the age of thirty-seven. At that point the Turner family took over. Herbertina’s brother-in-law, Captain Henry Blois Turner, was granted extended leave to take his brother’s family home to England.
“In the house called “The Grove” in the village of Yoxford, (in Suffolk) Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on 14 November 1847.”
“By 1852, before Lucy was 5, Mrs. Turner moved back to London… and they settled into 4 Marlborough Villas, in Victoria Road, Kensington. With little recollection of her Suffolk days, Lucy grew up a true Kensington girl.”
“Gilbert found in marriage a security that he had never known. After his marriage to Lucy, there followed a creative outburst. Only four Bab Ballads had appeared in the first half of the year; twenty more would appear before the end. … Most of the Bab Ballads, and nearly all the famous ones, were written after Gilbert’s marriage, at 28 Eldon Road (their home at the time) and not in his lawyer’s chambers at Clement’s Inn.”
- From Gilbert: His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson
The daughter of an Indian army officer, she (Lucy) was eleven years younger than Gilbert and his counterpart in temperament. With fair hair, blue eyes, a neat figure and lively manner, she was an attractive girl, and everyone voted Gilbert and lucky man when the two were married at St. Mary Abbot’s church in Kensington on August 6th, 1867.
Gilbert called his wife Kitten and always treated her with affectionate playfulness. They remained a devoted pair, their natures being complementary.
There were times when her acquiescent and conciliatory but alert nature had the effect of calming his anger when exacerbated by the behavior of others and lessening the violence of his explosions when stung by ingratitude or dishonesty…
- From S Gilbert, A Classic Victorian and his Theatre by Jane W. Stedman
(In his letters to her, Gilbert signed himself) her “old Boy” when writing to her from camp and calling her Kitten, Kitty and (in letters) Dearest Kits.
She was … small and delicate, ‘dainty’ as contemporaries described her. Even in middle age, her arms and skin would still be lovely and youthful. Depending on who described her nose, it was ‘a little dab’ or a ‘dear little nose’. Her voice was gentle and quiet.
The newly married Kitten looks out at us from a photograph and from her husband’s pencil drawing with a level glance and a prettily determined chin. Elegantly dressed in later pictures, she gives a sense of dignity and erect carriage unusual in small women. “She pulled herself up to look tall,” her gardener’s daughter said of her in middle age.
…Kitty enjoyed riding; she and Willie frequently rode together, and sometimes she kept him on a short rein … As Gilbert once remarked in Fun (17 June 1865) the soupcon of a will her own “makes fair girls still more adorable, because you had not supposed temper compatible with flaxen hair.”
…The Gilbert’s marriage was happy even if Kitty was not the subdued and submerged little person some biographers have imagined. As time passed, not only did she prove an excellent chatelaine of the ever-larger houses which her husband’s increasing income made possible, but she also became the centre of his happiness, indispensable to him, and the one person he trusted unchangingly. *
(*Stedman notes that these final sentiments were included in a letter from Mary Crawshay to “Dearest Kitty,” written just after Gilbert’s death. The writer also says Gilbert told her he would kill himself “if anything happened” to his wife. Stedman adds: “Although this is a gushing letter and under the circumstances, likely to be exaggerative, it is undoubtedly sincere.”)
Lucy the sleuth
When I first contemplated writing mystery novels, I read that an amateur sleuth had to have two personal characteristics: A deep understanding of human nature, and a burning passion for justice. With a personality and history as described above, Lucy Turner Gilbert would make a terrific sleuth.
I hope you will agree with me, and join me as I tell of Lucy’s adventures in Victorian London, from respectable drawing-rooms to glittering theatrical performances!