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Margaret Jourdain (15 August 1876 – 6 April 1951) was a prominent writer on English furniture and decoration. She began her career ghost-writing as Francis Lenygon for the firm of Lenygon & Morant, dealers in furnishings with a royal appointment, who were also the fabricators of carefully crafted reproductions, especially of Kentian furnishings, some of which have been displayed in public collections for decades.
Born in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, on 15 August 1876, Jourdain's father was Francis Jourdain (1834–1898), a vicar and her mother, Emily, was the daughter of the surgeon and pioneer of ovariotomy, Charles Clay. One of ten children, her siblings included the writer and academic Eleanor Jourdain, the ornithologist Francis Charles Robert Jourdain and the mathematician Philip Jourdain.
Jourdain attended the University of Oxford where she studied classics obtaining a third-class degree. While there she met Janette Ranken and the pair moved to London, where they lived together. The relationship came to an end when Ranken married Ernest Thesiger in 1917.
The finely-honed writing that distinguishes Jourdain's work must be partly credited to careful pre-editing by her lifelong friend and domestic partner, the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett. The couple lived together from 1918 until Jourdain's death in 1951. Members of their circle might speculate on whether they were lovers: Compton-Burnett referred to herself and Jourdain as "neutrals". Jourdain's papers are archived at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, but some of her unpublished translations of poems by Jose Maria de Heredia, Pontus de Tyard and Gérard de Nerval are among Compton-Burnett's papers at King's College, Cambridge.
Jourdain teamed with Ralph Edwards, keeper of Furniture & Woodwork, the Victoria and Albert Museum, to produce Georgian Cabinet-Makers (1944, 1951), a series of biographies of the major London furniture-makers from the Restoration of Charles II to 1800, supported by archival work, which had not been a strong feature of previous connoisseurship. As revised by Edwards, it remained the essential standard in the field for several decades until superseded by work by Peter Ward-Jackson, Christopher Gilbert, Helena Hayward, and members of the Furniture History Society.
Her Regency Furniture (1931) covered new ground in extending the classic period of English furniture design forward to 1830.
Most of Margaret Jourdain's works went through several printings.
- English Interior Decoration and Furniture of the Later XVIIIth century 1760-1820 : An Account of Its Development and Characteristic Forms 1922; 1924. (B.T. Batsford)
- English Decorative Plasterwork of the Renaissance 1926; 1933 (B.T. Batsford)
- Regency Furniture, 1795–1820 1931 (1934?) etc. (Revised and extended to 1830 by Ralph Fastnedge)
- Georgian Cabinet-Makers 1944; 1946; revised 1951 (3rd edition 1955) (with Ralph Edwards)
- The Work of William Kent. Artist, Painter, Designer and Landscape Gardener 1948. (Country Life). The first modern reassessment of William Kent, with an introduction by Christopher Hussey.
- Jourdain, Margaret; Jenyns, Soame (1967), Chinese export art in the eighteenth century (2 ed.), Spring Books (First edition appeared in 1950)
- English Interior Decoration, 1500 to 1830 : A Study in the Development of Design 1950 (B.T. Batsford) A brief illustrated survey.
- English Furniture 1950. (Country Life). Another brief popular illustrated survey, several times reprinted.
- Lees-Milne, James; Spurling, Hilary (2007), "Jourdain, (Emily) Margaret (1876–1951)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 10 September 2015 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- McBrinn, Joseph (2015–2016), "Nothing is more terrifying to me than to see Ernest Thesiger sitting under the lamplight doing this embroidery': Ernest Thesiger (1879 - 1961), 'Expert Embroiderer'" (PDF), Text, The Textile Society, 43: 4 (of the PDF), retrieved 27 September 2017
- "Ivy Compton-Burnett", Bright Lights Film Journal, retrieved 7 January 2018
- "The Papers of Ivy Compton-Burnett", Janus, retrieved 7 January 2018
- Hilary Spurling: Ivy: The Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett (includes many personal details of Margaret Jourdain)