As I've blogged about before, I got a couple of books from the library by Cecil Woodham-Smith. The author's full name is Cecil Blanche Fitzgerald Woodham-Smith, and I thought (a) what a moniker! and (b) isn't Blanche an odd choice for a guy's name?
Turns out Cecil wasn't a guy and Cecil was her real name. Her folks named her after a relative with the hope she'd be left some money -- really! And it didn't happen. However, when she later became a biographer (her FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE came out in 1950), it seems having a man's name didn't hurt her career, and when she wrote about the Charge of Light Brigade (THE REASON WHY), it helped. Apparently military men wanted to know what regiment "he'd" been in.
But here's why I really got a grin reading her biography -- she got her start writing "popular" novels and serials under the pseudonym Janet Gordon (despite searching, I couldn't find any titles). The Wikipedia entry referred to them as "pot-boilers."
This is just so cool! She wrote popular fiction, too!
And you know what? It shows. I started THE REASON WHY, and the woman does have a way of describing people and events that's very interesting and entertaining, not dryly academic. After describing all the fine attributes of the young James Brudenell, Lord Cardigan, including good looks, height, excellent swordsman and shot, she says: "He had in addition to courage another characteristic which impressed itself on all who met him. He was, alas, unusually stupid; in fact, as Greville pronounced later, an ass. The melancholy truth was that his glorious golden head had nothing in it."
I wonder if her work would have been nearly so lively and entertaining if she hadn't trained in the Potboiler School of Popular Fiction. Somehow, I think not.