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It is 1887, and an unsettled London is preparing for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful, bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year she plans to make her own mark on the world.


But her husband's outspoken views inspire enmity as well as admiration - and the wife of a member of parliament should not be hiding the kind of secrets Maribel has buried in her past. When a notorious newspaper editor begins to take an uncommon interest in her, Maribel fears he will destroy not only her husband's career but both of their reputations.


Beautiful Lies is set in a Jubilee year that, fraught with economic uncertainty, riots and tabloid scandal-mongering, uncannily presages our own. 



‘A shining example of historical literary fiction … Nothing less than literary pyrotechnics … Beautiful Lies is a dazzlingly elegant novel steeped in the rich detail of the period.’



‘Sentences that are so lush, so beautifully finished, that one almost wants to stroke her prose.’



‘A wonderfully observed novel which explores both the role of women and the tabloid press in Victoria's jubilee year. Completely gripping.’

Rosie Boycott


‘A beautifully crafted piece of Victoriana.’

Financial Times


‘The charm of Beautiful Lies is that Ms Clark breaks the usual Victorian moral code, exploring both the colourful world outside the drawing room and the depths of her characters' minds. A stirring and seductive novel.’

The Economist


‘A hugely entertaining and generous piece of story-telling.’

Daily Mail



A few years ago, picking up my son from school every day, I found myself listening to a sixty part radio series on Radio 4 about the history of the US. Each slot lasted 15 minutes and one day the subject was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which, after huge success on America’s East Coast, came to the UK in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.Having written about Native Americans in my previous book (Savage Lands) this captured my imagination, especially when the narrator described how the Native Americans were required to dress up in full warrior regalia and travel about London on the red buses as a publicity stunt. Bill Cody was soon the toast of the town. He became friends with the Prince of Wales, who would become King Edward VII, as well as many other high society figures, and London found itself convulsed by ‘cowboy fever’.


I loved the idea of a London that was torn between love of Queen and Empire, and adoration of all things American (and republican). When I started researching I discovered that this period was also a time of great economic hardship – the first and only Socialist riots took place in London at this time – and also a time of emerging modernity. Photography was just beginning to take hold as an art form and the first representatives of an emerging tabloid press were making their first intrusive forays into the previously completely private lives of public figures. It was a world that showed many features of the world we live in today, and yet was also steeped in its own high Victorian culture. I found that mix intoxicating.


The story really took shape when I discovered the story of Gabriella Cunninghame Graham. The wife of radical Liberal MP Robert Cunninghame Grahame who, with Keir Hardie, founded the Labour Party, she claimed to have spent her childhood in Chile. Several of Cunninghame Graham’s biographers (Tschiffely, Faulkner West) knew Gabriella – both described her as Chilean and Roman Catholic, the daughter of a Frenchman, Don Francisco Jose de la Balmondiere, and his Spanish wife. Both asserted that, aged twelve, on the death of her parents, she was taken to Paris where her aunt arranged for her to be educated in a convent. Both claimed that she and Robert met when his excitable horse almost knocked her over in a Paris park. This version of events held long after her death in 1906. Her husband continued to relate the romantic story of their first meeting right up until his death in the 1930s.


It was not until the 1980s that letters were uncovered revealing that Gabriella’s history was a complete fake. She was in fact Carrie Horsfall, the second daughter of a Yorkshire doctor who had run away to London at the age of fifteen to go on the stage. She reappeared three years later, married to Robert Cunninghame Graham with a new identity intact. She spoke with a foreign accent of her own invention which, amusingly, was described by an friend who had no idea of her deception to be ‘neither French nor Spanish but most attractive and charming’.


It is not known what happened to Gabriella in the intervening years. It is plain that her ambitions to become a successful actress came to nothing. Various theories exist, that she married and that her marriage to Cunninghame Graham was therefore bigamous, that she found herself a rich lover, or that she ended up in a brothel. The latter theory is supported by the plentiful evidence that Robert was something of a connoisseur of such places and had a very modern attitude to prostitutes, writing about them often and with sympathy.


Although their story inspired my novel, Beautiful Lies is not about Robert and Gabriella Cunninghame Graham. My characters are fictional. But the Cunninghame Grahams’ story remains an extraordinary – and wonderful – one.

Read Clare Clark’s article about the Cunninghame Grahams for

Foyles website.

Read Clare Clark’s article about the Cunninghame Grahams for

Foyles website.

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