Barbara Hodges - Hostages to Fortune

Rob Forsyth

Hostages to Fortune

Barbara Hodges (née Webber) was an author who wrote under the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cambridge. Her first novel Hostages to Fortune tells of the life of a country doctor's wife living in an Oxfordshire village 100 years ago just after WWI had finally ended. It draws heavily on her personal life because that village is Deddington. Barbara and her real-life husband, George, arrived in 1918 and lived in Brock House (now Featherton House Care Home). However this was badly damaged in 'The Great Fire at Johnson's Timber yard - 1941'. The firre so damaged the house it became uninhabitable and they moved to The Mount on Goose Green. The Doctors' (there was more than one) surgery remained in Brock/Featherton House. They lived here from 1918 until after WWII. Don Walker in his Memories of Deddington (Before the NHS) tells of having a bad cut sewn up by Dr Hodges.

The book received critical acclaim for the way it portrayed the life of a country doctor's wife  struggling to bring up three children, support her husband and run a house larger than they could really afford with the two staff considered as essential - as in real life one imagines may have been the case. They were keeping up appearances to a back-drop of post war shortages with consequential high prices and then the Spanish Flu epidemic to which she devotes a chapter (pdf) telling of how hard it was on her husband who finally fell ill with the flu himself.

Deddington residents will, of course, enjoy trying to work out who or where she is talking about. Their own house and surgery is described in the book as being 'a large house on the Market' and there is reference to 'a narrow lane past a row of cottages'. This could be The Tchure but in fact was The Stile leading out of Goose Green with which she would be very familiar. It is a gentle and very well-written philosophical account of bringing up her children, the ups and downs of being married to a man totally absorbed in his practice - who she loves but does not always agree with - and the gentle pace of country life which her 'townie' friends find hard to understand. A longer review by Deddington Resident Jo Eames was published by Persephone in their 2020 Spring/Summer Bi-Annual magasine.

The book is still available to buy (2020) from Persephone Books who re-published it in 2003 and also on Amazon. A copy is in Deddington Library.

Barbara's Biography

Barbara was a doctor's daughter. She was born in 1893 in Rickmansworth just outside London. She grew up in Plymouth and then in Westgate-on-Sea and went to Les Marroniers Finishing School in Paris. Her first short stories were published when she was 17. She went on writing stories until war broke out in 1914, when she served briefly as a VAD nurse before marrying George Hodges, a country doctor's son. They had two sons and a daughter just as the doctor's wife, Catherine, does in Hostages to Fortune which was her first novel published in 1933; five more followed between 1934 and 1940; all receiving critical acclaim. In Hostages to Fortune Catherine is portrayed as having quite strong feelings about the disadvantages of being a woman in a male-led world. While supportive and accepting of being 'the doctor's wife' there is no doubt as to her feminist views. Wikipedia has a reference to her being listed as a Feminist writer.


After WWII the Hodges moved to a village near Battle in Sussex, where she died of tuberculosis in 1949. She may have caught this from one of their sons who also had tuberculosis and, no doubt because of this, they slept outside in a summer house in the garden.

George's Biography

Ruth Johnson wrote a short article about him in 2005 in her series of Profiles

He was exempted from military service in WWI and served in The Home Guard in WWII. His fictitious counterpart in Hostages to Fortune  was an Army medical Captain in WWI.