by Michael Barton
2022 review by James Loveridge
“FAST LADY – The extraordinary adventures of Miss Dorothy Levitt” may be familiar to some readers as it has been reviewed by Octane, Autosport and The Oldie among others. However, I think it is worth drawing it to the attention of those who may still not be aware of it. It has been written and published by SAHB member Michael W Barton.
Its arrival so soon after fellow SAHB member Simon Fisher’s “S F Edge – Maker of Motoring History” (previously reviewed) as well as Angela R Thompson’s article in our 2022 “Aspects of Motoring History”, is, I imagine, a happy coincidence. Not only does this book tell us a good deal of the life of this early Motoriste, the word she used in the title of her own book, but also gives us added detail of the life of S F Edge and so, along with Craig Horner’s various publications, we now know as much as is possible about these two motoring pioneers.
This short book of 115 pages tells us probably all that can be said about the, sadly, short life of this very remarkable women. From a fairly ordinary middle class background she became a celebrity and that is fully documented. That the book is the product of a great amount of research is evidenced by the numerous references and sources consulted. As Michael admits in his introduction, he fell in love with Dorothy when he bought a painting of her, reproduced in his book, and that clearly shows.
Her early career, starting as a typist for S F Edge, is covered with as much detail of her personal life as can now be found – she gave few details, and some definitely inaccurate, about her personal life in her own book. Incidentally it must be one of the few, if not the only, motoring book to carry an advert for automatic pistols when it was published.
She very quickly established herself as a very skilled and fearless car driver, particularly in Napiers, winning or finishing well in numerous speed and hill climb events and establishing the World Land Speed record for a woman. We know Edge was a brilliant publicist but there can be no doubt that Dorothy, who was a very attractive young woman, did a lot to establish the image of Edge and Napiers.
She became well known in the period 1903 to 1910 but, when Edge decided to get out of motor racing in 1908, the relationship ended abruptly and, as the latter part of the book tells, Dorothy’s life changed dramatically. She fell on hard times, dying alone and almost penniless in 1922 aged 40. Whether the Edge/Levitt relationship was more than a business one has been questioned; what it actually was remains uncertain, though it is recorded Edge did later marry the assistant typist whom Dorothy apparently recruited.
What Dorothy did during the period from 1910 to her death is largely speculation. She may have worked for the Women’s Land Army during World War One or done other war work but what, sadly, seems certain is that she was involved in a police prosecution covering the running of an illegal gaming establishment.
Dorothy Levitt was clearly quite some woman and it is valuable to have her life now recorded. Michael is to be congratulated for his assiduous research to produce this very attractive book.
Publisher: Butterfield Press, at 21 Navigation Business Village, Navigation Way, Preston PR2 2YP www.butterfieldpress.co.uk
Description: Hardback in dustjacket, 207 x 135 mm, 115 pages, photographs in B/W, plus one tipped-in image in colour.