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Mon 11 Mar 2013 23:00 BBC Radio 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 11 March 2013

Laura Barton tells the story of the passionate, obsessive love affair that inspired the extraordinary poetic novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.

Elizabeth Smart chanced across a book of poems by George Barker in a Charing Cross Road bookshop in 1939. It intoxicated her so much that she decided to marry him there and then, whoever he was. She tracked him down in Japan and embarked on an affair that would last for two decades and which led to Smart bearing four of Barker's 15 children.

She would also produce the passionate prose poem By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept detailing the affair. It was an underground success when it was published in the 1940s but became both celebrated and reviled by the generation of feminists in the late 1960s.

Some might say Smart is an appalling role model for women, as she seemed utterly submissive to Barker. She was a single working mother of four in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. She moved to Europe in wartime and went on to become the highest paid copywriter in London. In many ways she was ahead of her time.

In this programme, Laura Barton discovers the real story behind By Grand Central Station... -- a story of deceit and disappointment, but also, overridingly, of intense and passionate love.

Featuring Christopher Barker, Elspeth Barker, Sebastian Barker, Robert Fraser, Rosemary Sullivan and Fay Weldon.

Producer: Martin Williams.


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