Sharon Tolaini-Sage, Curator, introduces the exhibition:
Memories of Lorna
I remember Lorna always with a book. She didn’t just read them, she devoured them, and at an astonishing rate:
‘Lorna began as an instinctive reader (voracious, indiscriminate) and this trait never left her throughout her life: during the fine contempt of adolescence, the prentice years of scholarship in the Renaissance and seventeenth century, the later years of teaching and constant reviewing, and even finally the last, hand-over-fist period in which she started to edit and write books herself, the curiosity, the primary thrill of the reader, never left her – that what she had in her hand was new; even Don Quixote felt to her passionately curious eyes like a tract of snow that no one else had walked upon…’ [Good As Her Word, 2004]
None of this should create an impression that Lorna was ‘bookish’ in any dusty sense. She was irreverent, funny, creative, racy, irascible, real world - far more alive than that.
As a student, her life was unlike any other young woman’s experience of the time. Married girls (and she was married at 17 with a baby) were not permitted entry to university in England, and Durham University changed their rules in order to admit her.
In writing Bad Blood, Lorna herself described the third part of her memoir as:
‘…the tale of a provincial love-affair between two clever and alienated kids who lived in each other’s heads and also made a baby. Marriage was our idea, not the parents’, who wanted to send me to a Church ‘home’ for unmarried mothers, and put the baby up for adoption. But marriage, we saw, would make us legally independent. They were furious and ashamed. We moved in with them, paid rent, took our ‘A’levels (I had to have a major row to get out of the maternity hospital in time, then another to be allowed to cross the chaste threshold of my school to sit the exams), and got places at university. In those days girls were sent down for getting pregnant, or indeed married – the University of Durham had to change its rules to let me in.’ (See 'Student' collection in the exhibition)
When Bad Blood is coming of age, it seems a very good opportunity to look back on not just Lorna's memoir, but also to draw attention to the breadth of her work. The life of the academic ran side by side with the life of the Reader, Writer and Journalist. The seams between these areas of her life are ragged, there was no clean divide between life and work - Lorna’s university career and her journalism show her writing her reading, bringing it into the world with the panache and assurance that characterised her memoir.
Bad Blood itself describes a time paradoxically remote and immediate and relevant.
The recent MAA campaign (Movement for an Adoption Apology) has highlighted the hundreds of thousands of young girls and women who in the post war years weren’t in a position to resist overwhelming pressure to have their babies adopted, and who have carried that loss for a lifetime. Lorna’s strategy – to marry her ‘accomplice’ and become legally independent from her parents - meant that she took her life on a turn almost impossibly defiant for its time. In a typically Lorna manoeuvre, she turned marriage on its head, transforming it into an escape route to a life of her own invention.
After finishing her MA in Birmingham, Lorna came to work at UEA, and began the life of an Academic at the age of only 23. Later, she was twice the lone female Dean of School among a sea of suits, showing herself to be a talented administrator, responsible for bringing a raft of important women writers to UEA.
Lorna’s teaching walked a tightrope between her shyness and her fierce confidence in her own knowledge, balanced by kindness and generosity. There are several accounts here from ex students, who have provided vivid memories of Lorna, for which I am extremely grateful. (See Student Memories section of the exhibition).
If you were taught by Lorna, and have a memory of her that you would like to share, please add to the archive with your contribution.
I hope that the exhibition illustrates some of the struggles that Lorna faced during her far too short lifetime, but also shows her off as the inspirational figure she was, to generations of students, and other dedicated readers, including myself.
About Sharon Tolaini-Sage
Sharon, Lorna’s daughter, has been her literary executor since Lorna’s death in 2000. Until 2021 she was a lecturer and Associate Professor at Norwich University of the Arts, where she worked with undergraduates studying digital game design. Her areas of special academic interest are the cultural, contextual and storytelling aspects of play and games, and she is a great advocate of the educational value of setting digital games in a framework of critical and art historical theory. She is an Ambassador, Advisory Board member, Researcher and Consultant on education for the not-for-profit CIC Women in Games, working to bring gender equality to the games and esports industries.