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City of Books

Dec 9, 2021

“I had to create her out of nothing,” says JR Thorp of her debut novel Learwife, which explores the untold story of King Lear’s wife, written out of literary history.

The idea first occurred to Thorp at the age of eleven when she read Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger. “There’s a girl in that with a complicated relationship with her parents who says as an offhand line, ‘I wonder why Goneril and Regan were like that? What it was like for them growing up?’ It’s just a thought that’s mentioned and then discarded but it stayed with me.”

It started her thinking about family dynamics, and she read and re-read Shakespeare’s tragedy to see what had created those highly-competitive characters. She found only two fleeting references to Lear’s unnamed wife in the entire play.

“Something about her absence was creating this toxicity,” said Thorp.