About the book
‘I rode on the stage in such style, that the men in front forgot I was a girl, and also forgot to laugh.’
From humble beginnings as the daughter of a Clerkenwell milliner, Emily Soldene rose to become a leading lady of the London stage and a formidable impresario with her own opera company. The darling of London’s theatreland, she later reinvented herself as a journalist and writer who scandalised the capital with her backstage revelations.
Weaving through the spurious glamour of Victorian music halls and theatres, taking encounters with the Pre-Raphaelites and legal disputes involving Charles Dickens in her stride, Emily became the toast of New York and ventured far off the beaten track to tour in Australia and New Zealand. In The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene, a life filled with performance, travel and incident returns to centre stage.
This book is evidence that truth is, if not stranger than fiction, at least every bit as colourful, dramatic, and scintillating. Set against the vibrant backdrop of Victorian music halls and theatre, Emily Soldene’s is a story you’d expect to find in a blockbuster rather than a biography. There is something novelesque about the way Helen Batten tells it, perhaps because she sprinkles excerpts of Emily’s memoir throughout it; perhaps because she is in the unique position of being one of Emily’s descendants. This detail adds an intimate sheen to the already engaging writing, resulting in a work that is as enjoyable to read for its voice as its extraordinary content.
There is no doubt that the content is indeed extraordinary. Magnificently uncovering the world of 1800s showbiz, it upturns Victorian stereotypes and allows Emily’s character to shine in all its audacious glory. Emily Soldene’s escapades and Helen Batten’s narration are vivid enough by themselves, but the additional photographs add that extra layer of immersion: all packaged in a beautiful book that’s a pleasure to display on your bedside table.