BBC Radio 4, 10-14 December 2012
The stories and myths surrounding the Victorian explorer David Livingstone
are legion; but little is known about his wife Mary. In this Radio 4 Book of the Week Julie Davidson tried
to rediscover something about her life by retracing her steps around Africa.
Born to a colonial family in what is now South Africa, Mary spent most of her life
abroad, save for a four-year spell in England from the ages of 18 to 22. She married David at a comparatively young
age, and soon settled down into the expected role as a Victorian wife, producing children on a regular basis while supporting
However Mary's life was blighted by two problems - first, her husband was largely
indifferent to her state of mind in his relentless pursuit of fame as an explorer; and second, that his indifference forced
her into leading a nomadic existence, moving from place to place around Africa with little prospect of settling down and establishing
a family home. Eventually Livingstone left her behind in England while he continued his African peregrinations; as a
result Mary turned to the bottle for solace.
Although constructed as a travel narrative, it soon emerged that Davidson was far
more interested in studying her subject as a stoic, someone who tried to maintain a family home, even though her husband was
never going to be happy in such an environment. Read with precision by Tamara Kennedy, this was the story of someone
to be admired. The producer was Kirtseen Cameron.