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Literary Highgate: In Conversation with… Isabel Raphael

Isabel Raphael


There must be something special in the air in Highgate!  Over the past 500 years It has attracted writers of all kinds, who have found it an ideal place to work and rest outside the bustle of the City. Here men like Coleridge and Housman, and women like Stella Gibbons and Victoria Wood, found their inspiration. My talk on Literary Highgate covers 20 very different authors, who at one time or another made a base there. There will be pictures to see and extracts from their work to hear. Prepare to be surprised and delighted!

Isabel was born in Oxford in 1938. During the war she spent 4 happy years in the USA with her mother and sister. In Oxford, her family lived ‘cocooned, in a kind of shell’. Consequently, she feels she is happiest and does her best work in small places. She felt ‘utterly at home’ at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and she loved her time at New Hall, Cambridge, also very small and ‘blessedly unregulated’. Before graduating she applied for the post of classics teacher at Channing School. At Channing ‘I learned my trade’. In London she met Adam Raphael. They married in a Thai registry office and, in 1964, began living together in Saigon where she taught English and her first son was born. In 1967 they moved to New York where she taught Latin – ‘I went back into something I knew’. They spent time in Paris before returning to London and settling in Hammersmith. Thereafter, ‘things ‘just fell apart.’ Very involved with a national campaign for more nursery schools, and teaching at Putney High School, ’I got my mojo back’. She became head of the classics department at the City of London School for Girls, but ‘I didn’t love it as I thought I would’. When she returned to Channing as headmistress in September 1984, ‘I felt I had come home.’ She retired in 1998 after 14 years. Isabel has always involved herself fully in Highgate life. 
After a lifetime of teaching in schools, Isabel discovered the joys of adult education and in 2002 was elected the first woman President of the HLSI where she still lectures and teaches. She runs reading groups in Latin and Greek and gives regular seminars and talks on a variety of literary and classical subjects. (Mills & Boon in the Ancient World, The Emperor who retired to plant cabbages, Fables from Aesop to Orwell, etc)