Pansy (Isabella MacDonald Alden), 1889.
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” –
The boarding house where Chrissy meets the young people who convert her:
The young woman who introduces her to the society:
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. –
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. –
Evenings at the Club. This is Harmon’s life before his illness. I like the surprised and impassioned chap on the right.
Harmon’s illness, with Chrissy sitting by the bed and a doctor thinking about something else:
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.
Here are the ads from the back of the book: