Everyone has known of con-men, but how many could name a con-woman? With the publication of this book, Nicholls has made sure that her readers will remember at least one perhaps the most notorious, and certainly the most successful, woman who spent much of her life in Australia, though she was born in Manchester. About the only thing that could be proved by the author when she began her research was our con-woman’s date of birth 24th September 1897 Florence Elizabeth Ethel, though she was to adopt several other names as she travelled the world, living on her looks and her wits.
She must have had charisma in spades, and she was certainly a handsome woman, who spoke with a cut-glass English accent, very appealing a hundred years ago, and bound to have her admitted to high society wherever she was domiciled at that particular time. She even fetched up in Ballarat at in the 30s, where finding her guilty of acting under false pretenses, Judge ZichyWoinarski sentenced her to six months in jail. This was unusual. So skilled was she of tricking people into believing her outrageous stories that she served very few sentences during her long life. It’s a breathless read, as Florence Elizabeth Ethel leads the reader on a roller coaster ride, with impeccable references to reports and letters and photographs which bring the truth into bright relief. She operated under “40 aliases, eight official marriages, five divorces, four children to different men and had travelled throughout the Continent, Canada, the Orient and the Pacific.” …….. She passed herself off as “an actress, an artist, a stowaway, a spy, gambler, an air-raid warden, a nurse, an heiress”. To discover just how she managed all of this you will have to read the book, and believe me, you will thoroughly enjoy doing just that. This reviewer seemed to be incredulous through most of the narrative. There is one deliciously ironic twist to the whole tale Florence Elizabeth Ethel’s real surname was SWINDELLS!!! Just something else that is unbelievable in this saga. (Secretly. please don’t tell anyone, but this reviewer ended up secretly admiring her audacity, not the damage she did along the way, but the sheer daring left me speechless.)
THE AMAZING MRS LIVESEY by FREDA MARNIE NICHOLLS PUBLISHED by ALLEN & UNWIN for a recommended $29.99