The Paris Review

Re-Covered: A Blisteringly Honest Lesbian Suicide Memoir

In her monthly column Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes the out-of-print and forgotten books that shouldn’t be.

Photo: Lucy Scholes

In April 1962, after a day of sailing in Dorset, the fifty-year-old English writer and teacher Rosemary Manning got into her car and drove inland, up a long river valley and into the chalk country of the South Downs. She stopped briefly, to eat some biscuits and two bananas and to post a letter to a solicitor acquaintance in London, after which she continued up a deserted track. Parking her car under some trees, she took a short walk in the moonlight before burning a stash of personal letters. Manning then climbed back into her car, locked the doors and poured herself a whisky, which she washed down with over seventy sleeping tablets. Waiting for the drugs to take effect, she began to read T. H. White’s The Goshawk, but after about twenty minutes she became worried that the car’s interior light shining in the otherwise pitch-black night might attract unwanted attention. She switched it off and settled back in her seat, and, “with the suddenness of a tropical night, blackness overwhelmed me.”

Manning was discovered the following morning—she would later describe the story of her rescue as “shot through with a positively Hardyesque irony”—and rushed to (1971), the autobiography she wrote in the aftermath of these events—she began it two years later, in 1964, and finished it in 1966. It’s not the complete story of Manning’s life—this would come later, in her second memoir, (1987), published just a year before her death at the age of seventy-six. is an attempt to “come to terms with living.” Manning recounts the events that led up to her suicide attempt: the breakdown of her relationship with her lover, Elizabeth, which Manning believed was proof of her inability to find “a woman with whom I could live a full life, sexually and in companionship,” and her failure to achieve success as a writer. Most poignantly, though, it’s an uninhibited examination of the unanticipated road that now lay in front of her.

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