The rattlesnake of Dead Man's Place: Henry Hitchings applauds a Life that reveals there is much more to Hester Thrale than her time with Dr Johnson
Hester Thrale might barely be known to posterity but for a meeting that took place one January evening in 1765. The playwright Arthur Murphy brought a guest to dine at her house in Dead Man's Place near Southwark Cathedral. That guest, Samuel Johnson, made an immediate impression on the 23-year-old Thrale, and so began a friendship that would last nearly 20 years. To generations since, Thrale has been little more than "Dr Johnson's Mrs Thrale" - a mixture of ornament and helpmeet - but, as Ian McIntyre's appealing biography demonstrates, she was a formidable and original figure.
There was always a whiff of the absurd about Hester. Her family, the Salusburys, were Welsh gentry, and, proud of her ancestry, she often made extravagant claims of kinship - such as to one Adam of Salzburg, a follower of William the Conqueror. An assiduous chronicler of her own existence, she was always looking for ways to enliven it.
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