Archive for August, 2011

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match (book #114)

28 August 2011

Wendy Moore, 2009.

What a depressing book. It’s about the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1749 to 1800), and in particular her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney. He deceived her into marriage and was exceptionally abusive even for the time.

Here’s a summary of his treatment of her and her first escape, from the Guardian review:

Her second husband’s relentless physical and mental cruelty left Mary a changed woman. Beating her behind closed doors, he controlled her obsessively in public: she could not dress, eat, or converse without his permission, and was reduced to borrowing stockings from her servants. Jessé Foot, Stoney’s two-faced friend and biographer, described her altered state with uncharacteristic poignancy. Convulsive sideways movements of her lower jaw mirrored Mary’s mental anguish. She was half-deaf from blows, and could barely speak. Redemption came in the figure of a female servant. Stoney’s staff usually ended up his spies, pimps or concubines, but Mary Morgan was different. After seeking legal advice, she recruited a small band of colleagues prepared to help their mistress escape. The support the countess received from retainers, tenants and colliers is stirring – many suffered in the fall-out from the failed marriage. Her loyal gardener tended her beloved plants and hothouses to the bitter end, secretly sending her the occasional consolatory pineapple.

Having escaped from her immediate danger, however, she then had no access to her money or to her children; and in fact was abducted by her husband again before being found and released.

Several of the reviews call it inspiring in that Mary Bowes did finally escape, manage to get a divorce and her fortune and her children back. But her experiences seem to have shortened her life and unsurprisingly left her with extreme anxiety.

Here’s a bit about her ex-husband’s abusive activities whilst in prison:

The teenage daughter of a fellow prisoner, who happened to own a considerable estate, Mary or “Polly” Sutton had caught Bowes’s eye when she visited her father. Applying his customary seduction technique, he charmed his prey with flattery and presents. When Polly fell ill with a fever, he sent Foot to tend her; the surgeon found her ‘feeding a pigeon with split peas out of her mouth’ and described her as ‘a girl of perfect symmetry, fair, lively, and innocent’. Making no attempt to preserve Polly’s innocence by warning her of her admirer’s depravity, Foot observed silently as Bowes duly seduced the girl and brought her to live with him in jail. If his treatment of Mary had made Bowes notorious, his most pitiful victim must surely have been young Polly whose voice would never be heard. Hiring a room for her, to which Bowes alone had a key, he kept Polly confined day and night; she was, effectively, the prisoner of a prisoner. In her lonely cell, she bore Bowes five children, all of whom shared her confinement. Never permitted to attend the dinners Bowes threw for fellow inmates, she lived the life of a recluse. Occasionally Foot caught a glimpse of her, when Bowes called him to treat one of the children, but found it impossible to speak to her since ‘Bowes was always present, hurried the visit as much as possible, locked the door, and took the key in his pocket’. Polly, who would remain with Bowes for the rest of his life, effectively became his third wife and was treated accordingly – subject to extreme domestic violence and blatant infidelity.

There’s an interesting blog review here.

Chrissy’s Endeavour (book #113)

14 August 2011

Pansy (Isabella MacDonald Alden), 1889.

Cover of book

Inscription – “Edith Edwards / For her Birthday / 1921 from a Friend”:


The anonymity is slightly mysterious.

Reading Pansy always makes me think of the farmer in Jean Webster’s Dear Enemy (1915):

And as for Turnfelt himself, though industrious and methodical and an excellent gardener, still, his mental processes are not quite what I had hoped for. When he first came, I made him free of the library. He began at the case nearest the door, which contains thirty-seven volumes of Pansy’s works. Finally, after he had spent four months on Pansy, I suggested a change, and sent him home with “Huckleberry Finn.” But he brought it back in a few days, and shook his head. He says that after reading Pansy, anything else seems tame.

I’m with him there.

As often with Pansy, in this book there’s a soft, diffident type who is previously unregarded by the clever heroine and who turns out to be further down with religion than anyone (Chrissy’s little sister, influenced by her old nurse).

Amazingly, no-one dies – not even the “frail” little sister or the coughing brother, Harmon – though the latter does have a serious illness. His better health after his conversion is caused by “regular hours, and careful habits, and the rigid banishing of cigars and wine, and the grace of God in the heart”.

It’s interesting reading the book against a modern narrative of a woman finding a degree of independence. It’s hard not to feel she’s bullied into her conversion. She’s asked to sign a pledge of Christian life. When she demurs, the hero and love-interest, Stuart Holmes, writes her a different pledge: “ … throughout my whole life I will endeavour not to lead a Christian life”. He says that not signing the first pledge is equivalent to signing the second – the always seductive Pansy logic. Of course Chrissy gives in, finds God and throws herself into organising a Young People’s Society for Christian Endeavour. This goes wrong and turns into a meeting for social purposes, doing terrible things such as getting up theatricals nominally to win the souls of the railmen. She’s rescued by Stuart, who helps her to turn it into what it should be – though to be fair, her own contribution to turning it round is not underplayed. Arguably in the end she has things her own way – married to Stuart of course, and with outlets for her passion, energy, intellect and organising abilities in the reborn society. But Pansy makes clear that this is within standard gender narratives. Chrissy has converted Harmon largely by telling him that she’d like him to be the sort of man everyone respected. At the end Stuart and Harmon disappoint Chrissy and her friend Grace, to whom Harmon is engaged – they had planned to spend the evening together to celebrate the anniversary of Chrissy and Stuart’s meeting, but the men are “begged” by the railmen to hold a meeting for them.

Chrissy turned and looked at her tall, handsome brother.
Some memory of a more recent past came floating over her. How she said to him, once, something like this –
‘Can you think what a joy it would be to me to hear it said, ‘Harmon Hollister does not approve of it,’ and to know that thoughtful people would reply, ‘If such a man as Harmon Hollister does not approve, it needs thinking about’?’
‘His work first, Chrissy,’ Harmon said gently, a shade of regret for her disappointment in his voice.
‘Yes,’ said Chrissy heartily, and smiled.

So Chrissy has in a way created her own tyrant, but in doing so she’s at least given herself some say in what type of man her brother – whom she has to obey in any case – turns out to be.

Slightly oddly, my mother used to belong to a Young People’s Christian Endeavour Society. They didn’t try to bring railway workers to God through theatricals, though. I must ask her what they did do.

Here’s Chrissy’s father rebuking her: “It would be well for that society of yours to endeavour to practice some home duties” –

It would be well for that society of yours to endeavour to practice some home duties

The boarding house where Chrissy meets the young people who convert her:

The old-fashioned house at Western

The young woman who introduces her to the society:

Grace Norton

Stuart Holmes, another Godly type, whom Chrissy marries. He’s looking depressed here because at this point he thinks he may have failed to save Chrissy. He doesn’t know what to say to young women “of her type,” apparently. Not sure if that means he’s there with saving prostitutes. –

Mr Holmes carried home with him a burdened heart

Chrissy looking pensive when leaving Western and about to return home:


Harmon (good moustache):


Emmeline, a servant, who refuses to be converted and, against advice, marries a chap from a circus (circuses are Not Good) who beats her up. That’s ok though because we don’t really care about her and anyway the chap dies, she comes back to be a servant again and sees that it’s much more sensible to do the godliness. Shame though, she wanted to learn to do circus tricks. –


This is just after the first Christian Endeavour meeting they have. The bloke is a skeptic and just joined to get close to Chrissy. –

We have had a Christian Endeavour meeting without doubt

Evenings at the Club. This is Harmon’s life before his illness. I like the surprised and impassioned chap on the right.

Evenings at the Club

Harmon’s illness, with Chrissy sitting by the bed and a doctor thinking about something else:

Harmon ill in bed

And Chrissy throwing herself on the bed. She’s just realised her CE society hasn’t worked for good. Fortunately Stuart Holmes is at hand to help her admit this to the society and get them to agree to try again.

Chrissy threw herself on the bed

Here are the ads from the back of the book:

First page of book ads

Second page of book ads

Third page of book ads

Cherry Ames: Department Store Nurse (book #112)

14 August 2011

Helen Wells, 1956.

Page about the book on the Cherry Ames site.

If you need me, remember my office is right next door

The book is set in New York. Tom and Cherry go “somewhere to dance”: “It was just a small place, with photographs of musicians on the walls, and a dance floor approximately the size of a postage stamp. Only two couples bothered to dance; everyone else sat listening intently to the music of the jazz quintet. Cherry found the coffee here another pleasant surprise. They served twenty different kinds of coffee, from all the countries of the world. Cherry chose Viennese coffee, a big creamy cupful heaped with whipped cream. Tom enjoyed a demitasse of black pungent Italian expresso, [sic] served with a bit of lemon peel.”

The coffee with lemon thing seems odd. Not unique though – here’s a picture of some coffee with lemon in Moscow. I also found this but the writer seems to have invented the recipe.