Elsewhere on my website, you will see that I have cited Josephine Hart as one of my key influences. Like my other heroes, it is both the life and the work that have intrigued me.
I felt compelled to write something now as her grieving widow Maurice Saatchi appeared in several newspapers and magazines recently, both to reflect on his loss and to promote new literary ventures in her name, to commemorate her life. As one might expect, his grief is profound and his loss absolute. As he said in such simple words, she made him. I suppose such extraordinary people do indeed help construct others – or more accurately, bring out in those around them their best and finest qualities. Thereafter they live more vividly and perhaps with a greater awareness of the pain of existence sometimes.
Josephine knew pain in her own early life, having survived the death of three siblings and been astonished to discover she could live through such loss and not be annihilated by it, coming from a close knit family in the Irish Midlands. That poignancy was visible in all she said and did subsequently.
Likewise, her finely honed fiction – that Ted Hughes described as more like poetry than prose – dealt with the big themes in life. You have only to look at the titles of her novels to get a sense of their existential content: Oblivion, Sin and Damage.
She is particularly well known for her famous events that saw leading actors speaking the words of her favourite poets at The British Library and elsewhere. She was passionate about the spoken word and had a true poet’s soul, in my view.
My favourite quote of hers would be “There is an internal landscape of the soul. We search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone, on to its fluid contours and are home”.
Josephine Hart 1 March 1942 – 2 June 2011.