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Mistress and Muse: Ursula –
The Second Mrs Vaughan Williams

A Biography

Janet Tennant


Advance orders being taken for delivery in mid-July, 2017.

This is the first biography of Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911 – 2007), a distinguished poet, novelist and librettist and second wife of the internationally-acclaimed composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Drawing on narratives and important insights from a fascinating collection of papers, diaries, letters and photographs that until now have been in Ursula’s family, Janet Tennant presents Ursula’s story – a journey which covers her background and early years in a peripatetic army family through to her becoming Ralph Vaughan Williams’s muse, lover and, ultimately, his inspirational second wife.

The significance of Ursula’s positive influence on Ralph Vaughan Williams through her creative work and artistic collaboration is emphasised throughout this biography. Following the composer’s death in 1958, Ursula embarked on another rich period of activity until her own death in 2007.

Ursula was a gifted poet and some of the most revealing and intimate aspects of her life are reflected in her poetry which is quoted at length. She was a vibrant, energising force, a powerful personality with a love of life who offered and received the gift of friendship. Her story is one of passion but also of sadness, particularly with the death of her first husband, Michael, and her brother, John, in the Second World War. Janet Tennant traces the remarkably varied life and loves of Ursula Vaughan Williams with affection and objectivity.

Perhaps Ursula, unlike Ralph, had a premonition of what was to come. The night before the meeting, at home on the Isle of Wight where her soldier husband was stationed, she wrote Prologue, the first part of a poem which she said came from an unknown part of the brain or thought, fully complete and at dictation speed. It begins:

“Flesh to this meeting moves,
aware and sensual,
threading between casual
moments and things, to loves
predestined by some choice…”

… and ends, most likely written after she had fallen in love with Ralph:

“I am two fools I know
For loving, and for saying so…”

This meeting was to be the start of a most unlikely but passionate and enduring affair between Ursula Wood, a very young woman from an army background who disliked music, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, an eminent composer almost forty years her senior. They had arrived at this life-changing moment in 1938 by very different paths.

Excerpt from the Prologue

PAGES 393 including index and 45 illustrations
COLOUR Black and white
HARDBACK with dust jacket
ISBN 978-0-9956284-0-3
PRICE £30.00 plus P&P
P&P From UK and Elsewhere: £5.00

Below: The book contains 45 black and white photographs

Ursula Vaughan Williams with seabird



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