Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Making of an Agony Aunt

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Making of an Agony Aunt

Article excerpt


THEN AGAIN: Travels in Search of My Younger Self by Irma Kurtz (Fourth Estate, u15.99)

IN 1935, when Irma Kurtz was born, her mother wrote a letter to her own mother saying: "It's a girl, drat it." This inauspicious beginning probably contributed to Irma's rebellious life, which made her the black sheep of the family.This memoir starts in 1954, when the 18-year-old Irma leaves New Jersey for a tour of Europe with a group of college friends.

Finding a long-forgotten journal of this post-war grand tour and gripped by the intense recollection of this adventure, she decides, 50 years later, to retrace her steps and relive her youthful experiences. At the same time she gives advice to her younger self, gently chiding her for her youthful exuberance and romantic dreams in her quest for art, beauty, love and fulfilment.

As she looks back at her childhood she reflects: "As I grew older I realised I was the final generation of females in Western society to be born into an ancient tradition that found each new-born daughter a burden."

She remembers with amusement a school psychologist who wrote in his report: "Irma is a girl of indisputable gifts, she should of course use them one day to make a beautiful home and raise a family in elegant surroundings."

When her brother was born she recalls her mother arriving home from hospital and plonking him in the scales with the words "Irma, meet your seven-pound baby brother, the doctor."

Her flight to Europe was largely an escape from her family and the suburban domesticity expected of girls in her set. Even her five uncles got in on the act, telling her father that she would never find a husband unless she got her nails, her hair and her stuck-up intellectual pretensions fixed.

Though her mother was disappointed in Irma's father, urging her daughter "don't ever, ever get married", Irma found that he was the only man she really trusted, despite the screaming matches that punctuated her teens. …

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