LIPSON, Edna (pseud. Gerda CHARLES)   [1915-1996]

Edna Lipson, under her pseudonym Gerda Charles, achieved some considerable eminence as a novelist in the 1960’s, her works depicting various aspects of the Jewish community from which she came. Born on 10th March 1915 at 79 Breckfield Road South L6, she was the daughter of Hyman Harold Lipson, a draper, and his wife Gerty, née Caplan. Hyman Lipson left his wife and daughter whilst she was still an infant and this desertion, and the practical consequences it had for Edna were to fundamentally shape her character and hence her literary output.

Edna and her mother were plunged into a life of some poverty, scraping a living by working all hours of the day and night running a small hotel at 81 Mount Pleasant L3. From an early age required to act as chambermaid, cleaner and cook she attended no fewer than nine schools departing full-time education at the first opportunity with no school certificate. She spoke of her upbringing as “very narrow, Jewish orthodox, provincial”. She was never to marry, her responsibilities to her mother dictating the nature of her personal life. (When I read her second novel, “The Crossing Point” about daughters trapped in a home with a domineering Jewish orthodox father whilst dreaming of escape through marriage, the autobiographical elements were abundantly clear).

After the war Edna and her mother moved to London, again earning their living by running a small hotel. It was then that she began attending evening classes in literature and writing and began to produce short stories. She was successful in selling some of these to magazines and this brought her work to the attention of agent Paul Scott who asked if she had any larger works. Having written about a third of her novel in five years, the encouragement she gained from Scott’s support led to her completing the work in just three months. Her first novel, True Voice, was published in 1959. A further four novels followed, garnering awards and recognition. Her decision to use the pseudonym Gerda Charles was an attempt to conceal her activity from relatives who thought writing was something to be ashamed of.

The failure to add to the tally in her remaining 25 years was at least partly due to her mother’s failing health and the demands this made upon her. She worked as a journalist and reviewer and also edited an anthology of modern Jewish short stories.

Her mother died in 1981 and in her later years Edna Lipson was able to live in some comfort in a roomy flat in Maida Vale, hosting dinners attended by prominent Jewish writers. According those who knew her she was not an easy companion, 'she alienated all her old friends, found it difficult to make new ones, and became as lonely and frustrated in her old age as she had been in her youth – except that she no longer had her mother”. A sad epitaph.

She died following a heart attack on 4th November 1996.

81 Mount Pleasant L3

In the years leading up to the Second World War Edna Lipson and her mother  struggled to make ends meet running a hotel in this house.


There is an extensive biography of Edna Lipson at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.