Project Description

Priscilla, The Hidden Life of An Englishwoman in Wartime France, 2013.

Priscilla was the author’s mysterious aunt, who lived on a mushroom farm in East Wittering, overlooking the Isle of Wight. The eldest daughter of the author and broadcaster S.P.B. Mais, she had spent the war in Occupied France, married to an impotent Vicomte. For four years, Priscilla listened on pain of death to her father on the BBC. All through this time, her father never knew if his daughter was alive or dead; but nor did he ever learn what she had to do in order to survive – and how, as an enemy alien, she was forced to make choices that none of her family or friends in England ever had to face.

A most strange and compelling book driven by the writer’s unsparing search for truth: now an optimistic hunt for a family heroine, now a study in female wiles of survival, now a portrait of one very ordinary person’s frailty in the face of terrible odds
John le Carré
Once I started it I was hooked. And when I realised that she hadn’t been a brave and beautiful spy, I was double-hooked. Its truth is necessary and essential, and makes the last chapters terrifyingly poignant and moving.
Julian Barnes
New York Times Book Review
The story that unfolded is remarkable, and his account of it is riveting… Priscilla is, like almost all biographies, necessarily incomplete, but as a picture of France during the dark years of the occupation it is wonderfully full of light and shade, sympathetic and highly intelligent.
Wall Street Journal
Fascinating… Shakespeare probes his aunt’s wartime years with finesse and pathos….His reconstruction of Priscilla’s life is meticulous and tantalizing.
Boston Globe
This mysterious story of the Occupation in France has all the qualities of a fascinating novel, with exquisite social, sexual and moral nuance
Antony Beevor
Nicholas Shakespeare has employed all his superb gifts as a writer to tell the picaresque tale of his aunt in wartime occupied France. Priscilla is a femme fatale worthy of fiction, and the author traces her tangled, troubled, romantic and often tragically unromantic experiences through one of the most dreadful periods of 20th century history
Max Hastings
Priscilla’s descent into hell runs eerily parallel to that of France itself; Faustian, fascinating and in the end extremely sad
Sebastian Faulks
A gripping excavation of a woman’s secret past, Priscilla is also a fascinating portrait of France during the second world war, and of the many shadowy and corrupt deals made by the French with their Nazi occupiers
Caroline Moorehead
In Priscilla, Nicholas Shakespeare captures the soul of a young Englishwoman who, to survive in Nazi-occupied France, is forced to make choices which few in England ever had to face. She remained her own unflinching judge and jury to the end
Charlotte Rampling
The novelist and biographer relates the extraordinary wartime derring-doings of his glamorous aunt, whose hidden past he discovered when he stumbled across a box of her papers. Glamorous and morally ambiguous, she married a French aristocrat, escaped from a PoW camp and at the liberation of Paris, was having a relationship with a mysterious man called “Otto”. Woven into her life story is a wealth of detail about life in Occupied France. Obvious appeal for fans of Agent Zigzag, Antony Beevor and Sebastian Faulks but also Suite Française. I was enthralled by it
Caroline Sanderson The Bookseller
At first you might think Nicholas Shakespeare’s Priscilla is going to be one of those WWII female spy books we have seen so much of. But this is much darker and more complicated, delving into the murky past of the author’s aunt, who (he discovers) came close to being a collaborator at the same time as being a victim of the uncertainties of war, as so many women were. Another fine book, full of hurried journeys and secret liaisons, by one of Britain’s best writers
Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller