Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in my detective work for The Red Witch was my discovery of the likely identity of ‘the Preux Chevalier’ (pictured). It’s the pseudonym Katharine gives a man in her autobiography who had a critical role in her life. He was a friend of her parents who started secretly meeting Katharine in her twenties just before her father died. She learned a lot from him about politics, journalism and culture but he grew more and more obsessive about her. He gave up his job and moved his whole family – including five daughters – to London when she moved there. He made her promise she would never marry, threatening to kill himself. Such was his shadow over her life that she felt compelled to write about it in her autobiography, but his daughters were still alive so she wouldn’t reveal his name.

My breakthrough came when I searched the Australian Dictionary of Biography for prominent Australians born 15-40 years earlier than Katharine who were journalists. I then narrowed down by other clues – he lived in Sydney and Melbourne, had involvement with progressive political causes, was an ‘ardent nationalist’ and had daughters Katharine’s age. One name emerged as a very strong candidate, a man who gave Katharine a job as a journalist in 1908. I started tracing his movements against Katharine’s from my detailed timeline. Over a year of research, I found him taking a boat to Sydney on the precise date Katharine was in Sydney and surprised by the Preux Chevalier in 1906. I found him taking a holiday in France for his health – without his wife – at the same time in 1908 that the Preux Chevalier arranged to meet Katharine in Paris. I found him in the USA at the same time as Katharine in 1910. I possibly found him on the same boat as Katharine from New York to the UK that same year. When he moved his whole family to London the next year, he moved to Chelsea where Katharine was living.

Before publication, one manuscript peer reviewer was dismissive – who cares who he was? I didn’t get to answer them directly, but for one thing, this reviewer seemed to have no concept of the aims of biography. It matters because the particular ideas and causes that this man espoused can be seen echoed in Katharine’s intellectual development between 1906 and 1916. It illuminates her life, making more sense of some of her choices and circumstances. It’s an important part of her story.

More concerning for me are the objections voiced by Katharine’s granddaughter, Karen Throssell, after publication. She wishes I hadn’t revealed his name for several reasons – including, as I understand it, that Katharine didn’t want his name known; the descendants of the man could be hurt and I might be wrong; and it’s a key example of an overall focus in my book on Katharine’s love life. Rather than attempt to justify my choice further, I will just acknowledge this (hopefully fair) summary of her concern, expressed in a review in Labour History Victoria journal.

To read the story of the Preux Chevalier, check out chapter 7 of The Red Witch.