The expression ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ may have entered the English vocabulary in the 1950s onwards as a byword for middle class conservative moral outrage, but this elegant spa town in the south east of England has a habit of regularly cropping up in literature well before that. We find references in Dickens’ Bleak House, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Fanny Burney’s Camilla, and Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon for a start.
It’s often depicted as the residence of genteel aunts and maiden ladies – a favourite being Charlotte Bartlett in E M Forster’s 1908 novel A Room with a View: ‘I am used to Tunbridge Wells, where we are all hopelessly behind the times’.
But not all of the good ladies of Tunbridge Wells were like Charlotte Bartlett then, any more than they are now. Just published by Matador is Disgusted Ladies by local author Anne Carwardine. It tells the fascinating story of how the town was home to a series of ordinary yet extraordinary VOTES FOR WOMEN campaigners – remarkable and courageous women who were disgusted for all the right reasons.
Tunbridge Wells in 2018, a hundred years after women were given the right to vote: no longer disgusted but still a town with a distinguished literary presence, past and present…