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A Profound Secret
About the book
  • Published: 15 February 2005
  • ISBN: 9780552999816
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $27.99

A Profound Secret

May Gaskell, her daughter Amy, and Edward Burne-Jones

Formats & editions

Josceline Dimbleby's quest to discover the truth about her great-grandmother, May Gaskell, who was the last great love of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.

A chance encounter at a summer party sent Josceline Dimbleby on a quest to uncover a mystery in her own family's past. Talking to Andrew Lloyd Webber about a beautiful dark portrait in his art collection, by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, she undertook to find out more about the subject of the painting, her great-aunt Amy Gaskell. All that was known about Amy, according to family lore, was that she had 'died young of a broken heart'.
In her search, Josceline came across a cache of unpublished letters from Burne-Jones to her great-grandmother May Gaskell, Amy's mother. These letters turned out to be part of a passionate correspondence, of up to five letters a day, which continued throughout the last six years of the painter's life. As she read, more and more questions were raised: why did Burne-Jones feel he had to protect May from an overwhelming sadness? What was the deep secret she had confided to him? And what was the tragic truth behind May's beautiful daughter Amy's wayward, wandering life, her strange marriage and her unexplained early death?
In piecing together the eventful life of her great-grandmother, Josceline Dimbleby takes us through a turbulent period in English history that includes the Boer War, the Great War and the Second World War, and visits the most far-flung corners of the Empire. The Souls, William Morris, Rudyard Kipling and William Gladstone all play a part in this sweeping, often funny and sometimes tragic story. Above all, it is her infectious enthusiasm for a subject so close to home that makes A PROFOUND SECRET a compelling and richly entertaining read.

  • Pub date: 15 February 2005
  • ISBN: 9780552999816
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $27.99

About the Author

Josceline Dimbleby

Josceline Dimbleby is the author of many bestselling cookery books and a winner of the Andre Simon and Glenfiddich Cookery foodwriters awards. She wrote a cookery column for the Sunday Telegraph for fifteen years. She recently turned away from the cookery in favour of travel writing and has written travel pieces for the Mail on Sunday, Conde Naste Traveller and Sainsburys magazine.

Praise for A Profound Secret

“An entirely captivating book...Josceline Dimbleby's greatest gift as a story-teller is her ability to communicate the excitement of her discoveries... compelling.”

Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times

“An engrossing portrait.”

Kate Chisholm, Daily Telegraph



“An unexpected page-turner.”

Independent on Sunday

“A compelling romance (complete with mystery) ... deeply satisfying.”

Michael Holroyd

“A brilliant sleuthing job which will appeal to anyone who has ever found a skeleton in the family closet.”

Daily Express

“This enthralling family romance explores a lost world of hidden love...more compelling than many novels and more informative than most history books.”


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