A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIME:

Muriel was born in Preston, the result of an affair between a well-born Lancashire gentleman and a barely literate Liverpool shop-girl. Learning of the pregnancy, her father tried to run away but was caught about to board a ship and forced to marry, whereupon his own family cut him off. Muriel was an unwanted child, made to black the hearths, set the fire in the lounge and scrub the kitchen floor before leaving for school, where she excelled in Maths and English and was nicknamed, ‘Dictionary Muriel’. Once home, she had to do the housework and cooking and was treated like a servant by her bullying father and sickly mother.

From an early age, she was fascinated by psychology, an interest which was to save the lives of both her and her mother. Aged 8, she uncovered and foiled her father’s plan to run off with another woman. Three years later, he had a breakdown, took a length of rope and tried to strangle the two females who had ‘ruined his life’, but Muriel, using techniques she had learned from a book, managed to talk him out of it and he was subsequently taken off to a mental asylum.

Somehow, Muriel’s creative genius survived the nightmares at home. She took up the piano, had singing lessons to train her beautiful voice and began writing poetry. Her headmistress thought she was university material and Muriel had her heart set on becoming a doctor, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it. At the age of 13, she was forced to go to work. Her red-gold hair, blue eyes and stunning looks won her many admirers. In her twenties, she briefly got engaged but her fiancé refused to wait for her to make the decision to leave her sick mother. In her spare time, she did a correspondence course in journalism and began to sell articles, poems and short stories using pen-names such as Marion Dickson, or her initials, M.E.D.

She also loved sport and it was cycling that brought her together with Lawrence Read. They married in 1938, her mother’s health having improved. They had their first child in 1945 and their second daughter arrived in 1948. Muriel didn’t forget her love of medicine. She took some nursing exams and worked as an unpaid nursing auxiliary at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. She was the one friends and neighbours turned to in an emergency or a tragedy and she helped a neighbour nurse her young son through a rare form of cancer whilst nursing her own dying mother. She was, everyone said, an angel.

Her marriage wasn’t a happy one. Her husband crushed her creativity, forbidding her to attend art classes and making her give up a flourishing career as a concert singer. But Muriel kept her successful freelance writing career secret. Lawrence would certainly have disapproved of the sentiments of this article, For Men Only, published in The Bulletin in 1947.

Make no mistake about it, gentlemen, the day is dawning when you must look to your laurels. Merely being masculine will not be sufficient. You will need all the brilliantine, hair brushes, electric razors, shaving lotion and natty ties you can get, not to mention a few daily exercises to fine down that paunch and straighten those drooping shoulders, because we women are slowly awakening.

©Lorna Read