Posts Tagged ‘women writers’

The Victorian Woman (book #131)

28 November 2014

Suzanne Fagence Cooper, 2001. SFC is the author of the biography the film Effie Gray is based on.

This is a picture book using the collections of the V&A.


The Dinner Hour, Eyre Crowe, 1874. There is a good Eyre Crowe site here.

TVW 001

Photograph by Paul Chapuis, Woman painting portrait, c 1860. See this on the V&A site here.

TVW 004

Poster, Convicts and Lunatics … , c 1900, Emily J Harding Andrews. There are some really interesting notes on the artist’s life at Woman and Her Sphere.

TVW 005

The Slade Life-Class, magazine illustration, 1883.

TVW 006

Paul Martin, photograph, Girls Paddling at Cromer, 1892. There is a similar picture here and some other pictures by Paul Martin here.

TVW 007Photograph, 1898, from family album.


Doreen Wallace (1897-1989), Writer and Social Campaigner (book #130)

17 August 2014

June Shepherd, 2000.

Wallace was one of the Somerville School of novelists. I can’t find much online about this group (most links are to lists of all novelists from Somerville, not this more specific group) but Shepherd says they comprise Vera Brittain, Muriel Jaeger, Margaret Kennedy, Holtby and Sayers as well as Wallace. They are discussed in Susan J Leonardi’s Dangerous by Degrees: Women at Oxford and the Somerville College Novelists, which I would like to read.

Wallace wrote 48 novels, starting with A Little Learning in 1931 and ending with Landscape with Figures in 1976. I came across her through How to Grow Food, 1940, recently republished.

Sayers probably caricatured Wallace in Gaudy Night in the person of an old student, Catherine Freemantle / Bendick, who had been brilliant at university but then married a farmer, had children and sunk into domesticity: “a Derby winner making shift with a coal-cart”. Wallace certainly felt this was a depiction of her and was angry about it. It seems odd though as Wallace was already publishing novels by this time – I guess Sayers must have seen this popular writing as of no account weighed against academia.

“It was some three years after her son’s birth [which was in 1927] when, in the later stages of her third pregnancy, Doreen sat down … to start the novel that had been in her mind for months. ‘I was too hefty to do much gardening or other physical work … [ellipsis in text] I felt that by now I had enough experience of life, though limited, and knowledge of country people, though limited, to have something more to say”.”

I like Wallace’s implication that she was “too hefty” to garden so might as well write.

Wallace was very involved in the 1930s Tithe Wars – these were protests by landowners in East Anglia and Kent against paying the church tithe. Again, there’s not much online, but see the summary of this paper, The Tithe War in Kent 1925-36: an Example of English Militant Agrarianism and this article about an East Anglian man’s memoirs, North Suffolk man’s autobiography recalls tithe wars and Mosley’s blackshirts. The Tithe Wars lost their importance when the Second World War started, but compulsory tithes were not ended until the 1970s. Wallace said that it was this issue that ended her friendship with Sayers, who as a vicar’s daughter and Christian was on the other side of the argument.

The biography includes some of Wallace’s poems as an appendix. I don’t think most of them are very good, though I quite like this one, the first verse anyway, for its focus on a mundane activity (and the suggestion of Marvell’s mower):

Cutting the Grass

He is cutting the grass, and it flies like spray
On following wind, in a brilliant bow
With light white bubbles bestarred, the day
Prisoned by trees in this narrow plot,
Bright, scented, hot,
Rings with the noise of the blades that mow
Their ribbony pathway to and fro.
Like bubbles of foam the daisies fly
Before the speed of his industry.

It is done: there lies the impeccable sward,
Silkily striped like a party-gown.
A crushed sweet silence creeps abroad
And night’s first veil comes down.
The cutter is being taken away,
A dwindling tune of jangles and jars:
But the myriad daisies, where are they
That were more and whiter than summer stars?

There’s also this one:


A valedictory whisper, high and rare,
The last note of a hidden violin,
Steals from another world discreetly in
And quietly flowers on the heated air.
Thin is the wall that sunders Here from There,
A membrane only of the mind, so thin
That I can watch the conversation spin
Its web about the room from chair to chair.

And still be drawn by that frail note away
To the unbounded world beyond the wall
Where I can see the littleness of day,
The timely grace of seasons at their fall,
Can see the light go down, the darkness climb,
And hear the cadence of the feet of Time.

As with the mowing one, she’s reaching for deepness in the second stanza, and I don’t think pulls it off. But some of the first verse is more successful, the amazement at the here-and-there-ness of the radio sound.

I want to scan in a picture of Wallace in a wonderful 1920s hat, but my printer won’t let me as it’s out of ink (even though I don’t need ink to scan), and as this is an inter-library loan book I’ll probably have to return it before getting more ink. I’ll photocopy the picture and scan it if it comes out at all usable.

Read since last post:

Jan at Island School, Ethel Talbot
The Case of the Gilded Fly, Edmund Crispin (re-read)
Private Scandals, Nora Roberts
Key of Light, NR (reread)
All Mortal Flesh, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Born in Ice, NR (re-read)
Blue Smoke, NR (re-read)
Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold (re-read)
One Was a Soldier, Julia Spencer-Fleming

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography (book #127)

20 July 2014

Frances Spalding, 1988.

Smith provided an introduction and captions to Cats in Colour, a 1959 book of photographs of cats. She wrote “arch chatty captions, inferring human intent from the cat’s look or pose,” but wrote in the introduction

It is we who have made these little catsy-watsies so sweet, have dressed them and set up them up, in their cultivated coats and many markings, and thrown our own human love upon them and with it our own egocentricity and ambition … Really to look in an animal’s eyes is to be aware of stupidity, so blank and shining those eyes are, so cold. It is mind that lights the human eyes, but what mind have animals? We do not know, and as we do not like to know, we make up stories about them, give our own feelings and thoughts to our poor pets …

Read since I last posted:

The All You Can Dream Buffet, Barbara O’Neal
The Saxon Shore, Jessie Mothersole (which I shall blog)
Her Last Breath, Linda Castillo
Delusion in Death, J D Robb (re-read)
Seduction in Death, J D Robb (re-read)
Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, Arthur Weigall (which I shall blog)
Catching Snowflakes, Nora Roberts (two novels, one of which was a re-read)
The Return of Rafe MacKade, Nora Roberts
Christmas Magic, Nora Roberts (two novels)
The Heir of the Castle, Scarlet Wilson

Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words (book #125)

17 June 2014

The Authorised Biography
Boel Westin, trans Silvester Mazzarella
2007, 2014

An amazing book with a luxurious number of colour and black-and-white pictures. I knew nothing at all about Jansson’s life. The book was a bit puzzling at times as I knew very little about Finnish / Swedish twentieth century history or artistic movements (Jansson was the daughter of artists), but definitely worth reading.

Interesting things include how Jansson related to people, the tension between children’s and adults’, serious / playful art or writing, how her work was seen, and her urge to write and re-write, re-imagine or re-tell her past and present, including using real people and events very clearly in her work. I’ve also been reading a biography of Stevie Smith, and she also uses friends recognisably in her writing (sometimes leading to them ceasing to be friends).

The Moomins became an enormous industry, overwhelming Jansson’s ability to manage it and continue other creative work; in particular, she felt obsession (Westlin’s word) about painting, and guilt about not doing so, or not doing so well enough: “There have been so many attempts and so many failures, endless pauses and trying again. … And my feeling of guilt has increased, year by year, to a constant, compact feeling of indisposition, which has made it harder and harder for me to paint.”

She loved to build things: “This was how she described her ‘latest flight from reality’ and the details of its intricate construction (in front of a cave): ‘It is built so that the cave opens out like a inner room … its back wall is not covered but you look up to see the mountainside and patch of sky … Under the ceiling runs a primitive multicoloured thorn, with a window of plaited osiers, and outside a totem pole … Inside there’s an earth floor with flat stones and a stair up to the cave on whose white sandy floor I have strewn shells and on whose walls I am busy carving mammoths and other animals faithfully copied (from ancient discoveries). … ‘

I liked this poem by Jansson’s mother, Signe Hammarstein:

I was a clergyman’s daughter
Guide leader
Interested in
care of the sick
books and drawing
in religion an idealist

I was loved
an artist
moved to his country
survived four wars
worked hard for
the meatballs of life
gave birth to three wonderful
fantastic children
so really
the whole thing wasn’t so

Mentions a fifteenth century church mural by Albertus Pictor of Death playing chess with a knight.

Albertus Pictor: mural from Täby Church

Jansson wrote to a friend “I’m afraid that all my life I shall be an unpolitical = asocial painter, a so-called individualist depicting lemons, writing fairy tales, collecting weird objects as a hobby and detesting associations and societies.”

Something missing for me – and this may be to do with being an ignorant reader – was little sense of how Jansson came across to people, what people who knew her thought of her. It’s only in the last paragraph of the Acknowledgements that Westin, who knew her well, writes “Tove Jansson was at the same time open and secretive, intimate and distant, in a manner all her own”.

The archive and studio Jansson left sounds incredible for her biographer, containing over fifty years of work and life, and Westin implicitly returns to it in the last few words of the book in a sort of Strachey’s Victoria and the rug way, looking back to Jansson’s parents’ studio where bookshelves reached to the ceiling “and she was free to search all the way from the big art books at the bottom near the floor up to the novels and poetry … as she put it herself, ‘to find the Pictures and the Words: the things that will never end’”.

The Fine Companion: DC Daking and the Log of The ‘Fine Companion’ (book #124)

10 June 2014

DC Daking and Hilary Clare, 2011. The book has two subtitles, the other being “The Journal of a Caravan Trip from Oxford to Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer of 1914”.

Interesting list of items sold by a pedlar. “Cucumbers oil lemons darning wool candles soap bootlaces. Pins scrubbing brushes rabbit food. Starch boot blacking soda metal polish. Tape cottons brushes writing paper. Bananas with picture postcards. Tomatoes plums tea. Foot rules. Suspender elastic. Sandpaper cocoa laundry blue. Safety pins. Nail brushes matches ‘Zam Buk’ jam covers. Tin tacks luggage labels boot laces.” [Bootlaces twice.]

Daking adds “His name is J.H. Townsend. Middle Tysoe. General Dealer – & he has a hat of the same make as Alec’s”.

This is half the journal of Daking and friends’ travels in a caravan in July – August 1914, and half notes by Clare on Daking’s life and the people mentioned in the journal. Daking is the Pixie in Oxenham’s Abbey books. Quite a depressing book.

Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists (book #122)

11 February 2012

Deborah Cherry, 1993.

I’ve had this out of the library for two years now (thank goodness for online renewal) and have thought about it a lot.

In the epilogue Cherry says “Painting Women is full of local stories, snatches of conversations, glimpse out of windows and into rooms, glances beyond the frame”.

There’s something about 19th century creative women that fascinates me, perhaps especially if their work has since been forgotten in a Joanna Russ “How to suppress women’s writing” way. All that busy-ness, the detail of producing work, selling it, networking, support groups, involvement in politics, friendships, families – unreachable now.

I particularly like domestic images – interiors, women doing things, not just being painted, family life. Daily routines, stories.

I’ve scanned some of the images I particularly like below, and talked a bit about the artists, concentrating mostly on what can be found online, as a benchmark of their forgottenness. Even just poking around online you can easily find some unpleasantness about some of them (those that haven’t just totally vanished) – scurrilousness that may be factually untrue but even if not comes across as fairly misogynist.

There are varying stories here in terms of class, nationality, artistic education, career, marriage (though I have skewed towards discussed artists who married), race, how prolific these artists were, what art-related activities they did (eg teaching) and how they were thought of at the time.

Jessica Hayllar (1860-1948)

Jessica Hayllar, Finishing Touches

No Wikipedia page, and very little about her online.

I quite like House Cleaning, wch is unusual for me because of the lack of people.

Joanna Boyce (1831-61)

Joanna Boyce, Peep-Bo



Article by Pamela Gerrish Nunn. Of her death from pueperal fever, Nunn writes “Her sense of herself as an artist was undiminished to the last: ‘She made the nurse place the glass so, that she might see herself with all the paraphernalia of a sickroom about, and so be thoroughly impressed with the aspects of an invalid in a sickroom. She was evidently thinking of turning it to account in her painting'”.

Gertrude Offord (1861-1903)

Offord, Interior of the Old School of Art

The picture below, Nameless and Friendless, Cherry says is the only image of a woman artist selling her work.

Offord, Nameless and Friendless

Daughter of a surgical instrument maker in Norwich. Already describing herself as an artist by age 19 (1881 census), when she’s living with a cousin at a pub in Fulham. Ten years later (1891 census) she’s back with her parents in Norwich and described as “Art Mistress Painting etc”. 1901 census still with parents, “Art Teacher – School”. This was the Art School in Norwich.

She was particularly known as a flower painter and wrote Flowers and berries adapted for brush work, design, and freehand drawing (1903).

May be worth reading: A happy eye: a school of art in Norwich 1845-1982 – Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton with John Stevens.

No Wikipedia page.

The Art Class.

Henrietta Ward (1832-1924)

Ward, God Save the Queen

Daughter, granddaughter, wife and mother of artists.


More detail including quotes from her memoirs here.

Mrs. E. M. Ward’s Reminiscences (1911).
Memories of Ninety Years (1924).

Chatterton, 1873. Same windows as Wallis.

Cherry says that Ward’s husband banned the children from his studio, whilst she tells anecdotes of her daughters “working beside her on the lower portions of her paintings and an account of one occasion when they rubbed out one of her paintings”.

Jane Bowkett (1837-91)

Bowkett, Preparing Tea

Bowkett, An Afternoon in the Nursery

Wife of a painter, Charles Stuart.

Very little about her online (no Wikipedia page) despite clearly prolific (as seen by image search).

In the 1861 census (age 23) she describes herself as an Artist, and is living with her parents and brothers and sisters in Poplar. Her father is an Apothecary and GP. Her 21 year-old sister Eliza is also an Artist, two of her brothers are medical students and there are another 8 younger children (total 12; there were to be 13 in all).

Some of her paintings of children are here, including a classic children-on-beach scene (someone must have done a PhD on this trope). Others here.

Colour version of “Preparing Tea”.

Thesis by Kathleen Laycock online, “Out of obscurity: the artist Jane Maria Bowkett (1837-1891)” (2006).

Laycocks writes that “By 1885, Bowkett and Stuart owned an elegant studio-house in a prime London location. An undated photograph of their studio interior reveals the trappings that were central to nineteenth-century artistic identity. Light floods in through multiple clerestory windows and through the attached glasshouse. Huge beaten platters propped upon the mantelpiece draw attention to the elegant fireplace. Above, a larger circular metal platter, surrounded by exotic looking feathers, catches the light. Pictures are displayed on easels; a stag’s head, birdcage, china cabinet, and Islamic carpets decorate the space. In the foreground, a hexagonal eastern occasional table anchors the scene.”

Laycock argues that mothers in Bowkett’s paintings are rarely fully occupied in caring for their children, with other children often shown taking on this responsibility, and often look away from their family, out towards more exciting things. She argues that Bowkett therefore celebrates women’s increasing freedoms.

Louise Jopling (1843-1933)

Jopling, Weary Waiting


See also research site (under construction).

She wrote a memoir, Twenty Years of My Life, 1867–1887 (1925).

‘I hate being a woman,’ she wrote, ‘Women never do anything.’

Cherry quotes a letter she wrote in 1873 after her first husband, from whom she’d been separated, had died: “By marrying again … I should be loading myself with extra duties, and all these duties would be as iron bars to my success. If I married a man, do you not think he would require some of my time, some of my thoughts? God knows, I have enough to think of as it is.”

Painting “Blue and White” at the Museum of London – very consumerist.

Rebecca Solomon (1832-86)

Solomon, A Young Teacher

Solomon, The Governess


See also biography here and here.

Two brothers were also artists. Worked with Millais.

Colour version of The Governess.

Anna Blunden (1829-1915)

Blunden, For Only One Short Hour

No Wikipedia page and other sites give conflicting information about her background. Her family were originally bookbinders but then started to make artificial flowers and straw hats, which sounds fairly poverty-stricken.

Colour version of “For Only One Short Hour” – the colour scheme surprised me.

In the 1851 census she’s a governess, but by 1861 she describes herself as an artist. Having married (illegally) her sister’s widower, by the 1891 census she’s solely described as a wife.

Alice Havers (1850-90)

Havers, The End of Her Journey

Havers, The Belle of the Village

No Wikipedia page and very little about her online. Her father is described on the 1851 census as a general merchant and they have three servants listed.

Belle of the Village in colour

End of Her Journey in colour.

I like this one – Rush Cutters.

This is also called Belle of the Village (1883) – not sure if it’s supposed to be a later image in a Rake’s Progress way.

Illustrations for Cape Town Dicky (1888). The pseudonymous author (Theo Gift), according to the BL, was actually Dora Havers, presumably Alice’s sister (listed on the 1851 census).

Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes (1859-1912)

Forbes, School Is Out



Discussion on Ellen and Jim.

Slideshow of her pictures (with music).

Some of her pictures of children here.

Other pictures:
Fairy Story.
A Game of Old Maid.
Girl Peeling Onions.

Need to read Cherry’s 2000 book, Beyond the Frame: Feminism and Visual Culture, Britain 1850-1900.

Also Sophia Beale, Memoirs of a Spinster Aunt (1908).

Sisters of Sinai: How two lady adventurers found the hidden gospels (book #121)

28 January 2012

Janet Soskice, 2009.

Fascinating book.

Agnes and Margaret Smith were born (twins) in 1843. Their father was a lawyer. He was left around £7 million by his uncle, and when he himself died in 1866 Agnes and Margaret were unmarried at 23 and very rich. They immediately travelled to Egypt. They are known particularly for their discoveries of early versions of the Gospels at St Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, and their editing and translation work on these texts. Their expedition to Sinai in 1892 was evidently very difficult and there were arguments with the people who went with them – other scholars and their wives. Throughout the sister’s lives they struggled both with public perception that they had fallen over manuscripts by chance, rather than setting out, via extensive planning and study, to find them, and also with press reports that minimised other scholars’ participation and therefore alienated their colleagues. These things may appear to be opposed, but in fact were not – as the press were able to exclude other scholars from accounts at the same time as presenting Agnes and Margaret as untutored.

Soskice’s description of the expedition and the interpersonal stuff is gripping and often wince-inducing, and she also makes it clear what difficult work – physically as well as intellectually – the photocopying, copying and translating of the texts was. But I was less interested in the actual results of their work on the Gospels than in their discoveries in Cairo in 1896 leading to their friend Solomon Schechter’s discovery (if that’s the correct word) of the Cairo genizah:

[Schechter] spent many hours, stretching into days, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee with the Chief Rabbi [of Cairo] until this patient nurturing was rewarded with trust and the rabbi took him, by carriage [not sure why she specifies the type of transport], to Cairo’s oldest synagogue, the Ben Ezra. At the end of one of the galleries was an opening high in the wall and accessible only by ladder. Schechter climbed up and peered down into a ‘windowless and doorless room of fair dimensions’. The sight that met his eyes was one to thrill and appal the scholar: a chaos of books and papers, manuscripts and printed texts, tossed in at random over eight centuries. He had found, as he suspected he might, a genizah.
A genizah, as Schechter explained in a letter to The Times [1897] is an institution that takes its name: ‘from the Hebrew verb ‘ganaz’ and signifies treasure-house or hiding place. When applied to books it means much the same thing as burial in the case of men. When the spirit is gone, we put the corpse out of sight to protect it from abuse. In like manner, when the writing is worn out, we hide it to preserve it from profanation.’
Developed Jewish law determined that no document containing the four letters of the Holy Name, or Tetragammaton, should be destroyed. …
As well as ‘dead’ books, Schechter explained, genizot became home to ailing or invalided books (some of whose pages might be missing) and to ‘disgraced’ books whose contents were deemed not entirely orthodox. In time, any document written in the sacred language – love songs and wine songs, wills, marriage contracts, letters of divorce – might find its way into a genizah. The window high on the wall of the Ben Ezra synagogue was a postbox to nowhere that, for 800 years, had received the offcast Hebrew writings of Cairo’s Jewish community.

Soskice quotes more of Schechter’s letter to The Times:

It is a battlefield of books, a battle in which the literary productions of many centuries had their share, and their disjecta membra are now strewn over its area. Some of the belligerents have perished outright, and are literally ground to dust in the terrible struggle for space, whilst others … are squeezed into big, unshapely lumps, which even with the aid of chemical appliances can no longer be separated without serious damage to their constituents. In their present condition these lumps sometimes afford curiously suggestive combinations; as, for instance, when you find a piece of some rationalistic work in which the very existence of either angel or devil is denied, clinging for its very life to an amulet in which these same beings (mostly the latter) are bound over to be on their good behaviour and not to interfere with Miss Yair’s love for somebody.

Agnes and Margaret joined Schechter in Cairo in January 1897 to work on the archive. Soskice lists some of the finds:

fragments of old Talmuds; old and forgotten hymns; rabbinic Midrash; a draft copy in his own hand of the Guide to the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides … many personal documents, such as a letter to Maimonides from his brother … a letter from a schoolmaster about a child’s bad behaviour, ‘As soon as he comes in, he starts fighting with his sister and cursing her incessantly’ … from a father to a schoolmaster, ‘Please don’t spank my son for being late. His homework delayed him’. There are a young child’s doodles from the eleventh century; letters from wives to distant husbands, ‘We have weaned the baby. Do not ask me what we suffer for him: trouble, crying, sleepless nights’ … A woman from Jerusalem writes [in 1567], in Yiddish, to her son in Cairo, asking him to bring the grandchildren to see her …

The book also describes the sisters’ later lives in Cambridge (they had both married, but neither of their husbands lived long) and gives a sense of that society and some of the problems for women in it, and the sisters’ achievements despite this.

Photograph from 1914 – Agnes and Margaret are the two older women to the left:

Agnes and Margaret Smith, 1914
Good quote from Margaret from late 1890s or early nineteenth century, when they were living in Cambridge and involved with St Columba’s church mission. She “was asked by a young Sunday School teacher to visit a pupil about whom she was anxious. Margaret went at once, and reported back, ‘You are quite right. The father does drink. If I lived in a house like theirs, I should drink too’.”

Wd be interesting to read Agnes’s novels – Effie Maxwell and Glenmavis.

Quotes Florence Nightingale’s reaction to exploring the ruins in Egypt then having to return to mundane conversation: “It is very hard to be all day by the deathbed of the greatest of your race, and to come home and talk about quails or London”.

Relevant links

Genizah in Wikipedia
Agnes and Margaret in Wikipedia, including links to texts of their books.
Article about the Cairo Genizah collection now at Cambridge.
Short film about the Cairo Genizah.

IN THE SHADOW OF SINAI: A STORY OF TRAVEL AND RESEARCH FROM 1895-1897 and How the Codex was found : a narrative of two visits to Sinai from Mrs. Lewis’s journals, 1892-1893

Merle’s Crusade (book #119)

12 December 2011

Rosa Nouchette Carey, nd but the earliest copy in the BL is 1889.

Front cover

"She wept noiselessly towards us"

Merle is a strong-minded woman who wants to work although her uncle and aunt are prepared to support her on their limited income. She can’t become a governess, “‘not even a nursery governess'”, because of “the great difficulty and stumbling block of my young life”:

I had been well-taught in a good school; I had had unusual advantages, for Aunt Agatha was an accomplished and clever woman, and spared no pains with me in her leisure hours; but by some freak of Nature, not such an unusual thing as people would have us believe, from some want of power in the brain – at least, so a clever man has since told me – I was unable to master more than the rudiments of spelling. …
As a child I have lain sobbing on my bed, beaten down by a very anguish of humiliation at being unable to commit the column of double syllables to memory …
For a long time my teachers refused to admit my incapacity; they preferred attributing it to idleness, stubborness, and want of attention; even Aunt Agatha was puzzled by it, for I was a quick child in other things, could draw very well for my age, and could accomplish wonders in needlework, was a fair scholar in history and geography, soon acquired a good French accent, and did some of my lessons most creditably.
But the construction of words baffles me to this day. I should be unwilling to write the simplest letter without a dictionary lying snugly near my hand.

This early account of what seems to be something like dyslexia is interesting.

Merle becomes a children’s nurse, “‘the upper nurse, I mean; for, of course, there is an under nurse kept'”, as her employer says in embarrassment when interviewing her – “‘one feels a little uncomfortable at seeing a gentlewoman desert the ranks to which she belongs'”. Merle thinks that looking after children “would indeed be a gentlewoman’s work”.

In the picture, Merle is sitting down with one of the children in her lap. He has had a life-threatening attack of croup. His mother, who hates the social obligations of her position as the wife of a politician and philanthropist, has just come back from a party to which she went dressed as Berengaria, the wife of Richard I.

Merle is treated differently to the other servants, despite trying to know her place. She says

My mistress was very particular about this. She would never hear of my being out late alone.
‘It is all very well for Hannah or Travers [other servants],’ she would say, but in your case it is different.’

Much religion – Merle persuades her employer to live a less worldly life.

Advertisements at end:

Ads from back of the book

Ads from back of the book 2

Ads from back of the book 3

Ads from back of the book 4

Ads from back of the book 5

Wonder if I’ll ever find a book where I’ve read all the books in the ads. I’ve usually read one or two. I must seek out “Miss Nettie’s Girls”.

A Book of Silence (book #115)

4 September 2011

Sara Maitland, 2008.

Talks about living in silence increasing one’s awareness of taste, of the sublety of sounds (eg the different noises in the wind) and of temperature. Also that it makes emotions more “monumental”, “roller-coaster” – “It seems as though speaking, ‘telling’ one’s feelings, even to the extent of ‘look, look how wet I got’, acts as a way of discharging them, like lifting the lid of a boiling pot”.

Discusses the fairy-tale-like accounts of Marguerite de la Rocque, abandoned on an island in Canada in 1542 for immorality, with her lover and her maid. The other two, and her subsequent baby, died, but she herself was resucued two years later. “We have very few details about how she survived, presumably by hunting and fishing. She killed a bear cub as ‘white as an egg’. We know, too, that she was persecuted by demons – they screamed abuse at threats at her in the darkness, and she shot at them through the roof of her hut, and later, when she had no more gunpowder, shouted bits of the Bible at them. But she survived. Eventually she was rescued by some fishermen. … she went home to Picardy and set up a school.”

Here’s the link to the book of the 16th century Heptaméron where the story was first told.

Here’s an interesting interview with Maitland, where she talks, among other things, about having a dog to anchor herself in reality. In this one she talks about her MH issues. She talks in some detail in another one about hearing voices.

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.