Susan Chitty, ruthless biographer of Victorian notables who stormed with literary assassination of her mother Antonia White – obituary
Susan Chitty was born Susan Elspeth White on August 19, 1929. Packed into a residential nursery soon after birth, she returned after her mother married Tom Hopkinson, a copywriter at Picture Post.
She assumed that Hopkinson was her father, just as he was her little sister Lyndall. But at the age of five, she was disillusioned with this belief, when her mother sat her down and asked her, “Now, honey, if I were to tell you that Tom wasn’t your real father, who do you think you are “
It turned out that she was the daughter of a certain Silas Glossop – “a handsome man who visited her occasionally”. The revelation was a devastating shock.
Susan was sent to Brickwall, Sussex, a girls’ school housed in an Elizabethan mansion, and then to Godolphin School, Salisbury, from where she got a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford.
There she met her future husband Thomas Chitty, the heir to a barony, about whom Antonia was continually obnoxious, calling him “untalented and without washing”. She also suffered a nervous breakdown and almost committed suicide.
Struggling to recover, she moved with her mother to London, but they got along so badly that Antonia chased her away. “It almost seems like what had happened to me for so many years was just Susan,” Antonia wrote in her diary.
They didn’t speak for five years, but during that time Susan was picked up by Chitty, who would make a name for himself as an acclaimed novelist under the name Thomas Hinde. They married in secret in 1951, and although Susan continued to live on the brink of depression (in Who’s Who she classified her club as “Asylum”), it became her salvation.
In 1952, she won a Vogue talent competition and landed a job there when she found out she was pregnant. Determined “not to be like Antonia”, she immediately quits and stays home to raise her children.