Wednesday 9 March 2022

Ray Aickman

Ray Aickman

Edith Ray Gregorson, known as Ray, was born in 1914 (the same year as Robert Aickman), and was introduced to Robert by a mutual friend, Audrey Linley. Robert and Ray started a relationship ‘based more on their intellectual interests than on any genuine feeling for each other’, according to David Bolton (The Race Against Time). Elizabeth Jane Howard remembers Ray as working at this time as a private secretary to the playwright, Ronald Jeans, although by 1941 Ray was employed by the literary agents World Press Features Ltd as secretary to the editor, Donald Kitchin.

Ray and Robert’s apparent ‘marriage of convenience’ took place on 5th September 1941 at the Hendon Registry office. Robert wrote to Audrey Linley, ‘explicitly stating that he had not married for love, but out of sympathy’. Ray told Elizabeth Jane Howard that they had only married to stop Ray being called up.

Robert and Ray Aickman, Huntingdon, c. 1940s

Together with Howard and Joan Coster, Robert and Ray founded the Richard Marsh Ltd Literary Agency, which appears to have operated from as early as July 1941, and acted on behalf of a number of writers, including the Revd Awdry, author of the very successful ‘Railway’ books. Aickman was later to write about some of the agency’s clients, but did not mention Awdry, perhaps because he had little interest in books for children. This might  partly account for Aickman not mentioning the successful sale of two books for children written by Ray herself, Lemuel (1947) and Timothy Tramcar (c.1950). However, Aickman seems to have had other reasons for cutting his wife from his autobiographical writings.

Lemuel (1947)

Timothy Tramcar (c.1950)

Audrey Linley commented that Aickman apparently ‘deplored marriage for its “Noah’s Ark aspect”—the fact that married couples were expected to appear everywhere together’. But his prejudice was stronger than this. In his autobiographies, as well as other accounts, he edited out all references to his marriage to Ray. This was despite Ray playing an important (and unsung) role in the running, not just of their literary agency, but also of the Inland Waterways Association. Her administration skills were essential and much admired. Furthermore, Ray was at Aickman's side on many of their early cruises on the waterways and related events.

Robert and Ray Aickman were divorced in 1957, which surprised many who knew the couple well. Even more surprising was that in the same year Ray entered a convent, All Saints, at London Colney, taking the name Sister Benedicta. Aickman was furious at this turn of events and did everything he could to dissuade her. When it was clear she had made up her mind, Robert broke off all relations with her. When he came to write The River Runs Uphill, he made absolutely no reference to his ex-wife.

Ray remained with the Convent of All Saints for the rest of her life, moving to Oxford with the mother house when the Colney property was sold to the Roman Catholics. She died of cancer in 1983, and is still fondly remembered there. She was hard working, and later, when her organisational skills were recognised, she was essential to the management of the convent. Her life was not entirely given to God, However. A friend from this time, Mike Garside, recalled Ray 'attending the AGMs of the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust in full religious dress. She would arrange for her holidays from the convent to coincide with the event.'

The above is an expansion of material from Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by R.B. Russell.



With thanks to Heather Smith, and Artellus, Ltd.

All photos, unless otherwise stated, are copyright Estate of Robert Aickman/British Library/R.B. Russell, and are not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.

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