Is it about life or about learning, about facts or meaning?  Do we get it from reading or from experience?  Jenny found out the hard way.  The real lessons of life are never acquired without pain. 

Jenny was 16, clever, bright, confident and ambitious.   She was in line to go to Oxford.  Then she met David.  It was raining.  He offered her a lift in his sports car.  She should have read the warning signs.  Perhaps she did.  Nevertheless she accepted with alacrity.  

David was much older; in his thirties, she guessed.  He was sophisticated, urbane, experienced; he had the money to enjoy the good things in life.  He was fun.  He transported Jenny out of her narrow suburban orbit into a world of plays, concerts, perfume, wine, and jewellery.  He showed her that there was more to life than school work.  She was captivated.  For the first time in her life, she was living, not just existing.  Somebody really seemed to recognise and care about her.  It was wonderful. 

So she ignored the fact that he never took her to his house and she overlooked the way he made his money.  For David was a con man; he  cheated old ladies.  He inhabited a facile domain of make believe, in which he felt entitled to get what he wanted by whatever means that did not require work.  He had no sense of right or wrong, no feelings of shame or guilt, no responsibility.  Money, sex, love; it was all the same.  If he wanted it, he had the charm to get it.  He even charmed Jenny’s rather straight-laced parents into allowing her to go to Paris with him.  It was all so easy, but so meaningless.               

Jenny was seduced, but not unwillingly.  She wanted it as well.  It was more a case of mutual exploitation, but Jenny was the child.  So when David proposed marriage, Jenny relinquished her plans for Oxford with a flash of her engagement ring.  But then she found the letters addressed to David’s wife.  

It was quite an education.  Jenny had learnt at an tender age about life and love and the way people are.  At a stroke, she had lost her innocence and acquired a mature cynicism that made her so adept at seeing what lay behind the charm and sophistication.  This experience  forged her character as much if not more than going to Oxford.  (she retook her last year at school and gained a scholarship to Somerville College). 

Jenny, the character, is the youthful Lynn Barber, the Sunday Times columnist  and queen bee of the celebrity interview, whose autobiography, An Education, was published  last year and made into a film.  When her first collection of interviews, entitled Mostly Men, was published in 1991, The Daily Mail reviewer wrote, ‘it is her flair for stripping a person of all the phoneyness and presenting the bare bones of a character that sets her apart.   Well, she didn’t learn that from Oxford! 

How different things might have been if she had said, No.


‘An Education’ was released late last year.  The young actress, Carry Mulligan was quite superb in the lead role.  She even looked like Lynn Barber and managed to capture just the right balance of intelligence and naivety.  She has just been awarded a BAFTA for best actress.