Monday, September 30, 2013

Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale, Fall 2013 (Part 2)

I posted a couple of days ago about the highlights of my purchases at the fall Big Book Sale.  Hopefully you're not TOO bored with hearing about the book sale yet, as this is a sort of sequel, to show you a few odds and ends I also picked up.

Inevitably, at every book sale I come across a few books that I know little or nothing about but which are nevertheless seductive in some strange way and leave me no choice but to bring them home.  Sometimes they turn out to be exciting finds, and sometimes I end up donating them back to the library.  But hey, it's all for a good cause.

This year, I wound up with three of these.

The first is by Elisabeth Ogilvie, and I knew her name was familiar but couldn't recall who she was.  It turns out that she's an American writer I was familiar with from recommendations of her Tide trilogy, set in Maine.  At any rate, I probably couldn't have resisted the cheesy cover:

Though you have to admit the one above is less cheesy than another edition of the book:

Then there was a book called Someday I'll Find You, by Margaret Widdemer, a writer I hadn't come across before who also turns out to be American.  It also turns out that Fleur Fisher recently wrote enthusiastically about one of Widdemer's early novels, The Rose-Garden Husband, which gives me more hope for this book than I would have had based on the cover.  But regardless of whatever other glowing qualities the book could turn out to possess, I don't think I could ever have resisted a caption like this: "The modern story of a young girl who experimented with men, women and jobs, and got what wasn't coming to her." 

The mind boggles.

I was also interested in the back cover, which advertises other titles in the "Triangle Books" series.  Apart from the perky and easily pleased people portrayed at the top, the list of titles and authors is tantalizing.  A few of the women writers, such as Bess Streeter Aldrich and Mary Roberts Rinehart, are familiar.  But my obsession with tracking down obscure writers makes me perversely intrigued by the likes of Judith Kelly's Marriage Is a Private Affair, Faith Baldwin's Office Wife, and Helen Topping Miller's Song After Midnight.  Now, these might not sound like masterpieces, but I would note that I have a copy of Margery Sharp's wonderful and hilarious The Stone of Chastity that was published in the similar, mainstream, low-cost Tower Books series, so I am keeping an open mind! 

In addition, this advertisement reveals why I was never able to find information about Maisie Grieg, a romance writer I added to my list recently, who sounded rather charming based on one contemporary review I came across.  It turns out that that was because the Sydney Morning Herald, wherein I found the review, completely butchered her name, which is actually Maysie Greig.  Sadly, although I can now find information about her, and she does seem to have potential to be a highly enjoyable writer, I also have to remove her from my list, since it turns out she was definitively Australian.  Although I have met many lovely Australians and hope someday to add their many great writers to my list, for now I am quite overwhelmed enough by the Brits!

And finally, I was completely and irrationally seduced by this cover:

At least it turns out that the poetically-named Lane is indeed British (a new name for my list!).  She seems, at a quick glance, to have been a prolific writer of historical novels, many with Catholic themes, and the present title, according to Wikipedia, deals with "Titus Oakes and the 'Popish Plot.'"  I probably should know what that is, but alas I do not.  Drat the American education system!

I also picked up a relatively nice copy of Madeleine Henrey's Madeleine Grown Up.  Henrey was born and raised in France, so she doesn't quite fit my list, but she is still of interest and spent most of her life in the U.K. and wrote extensively about her life there.  Oddly, she wrote most of her books under her husband's name (Robert Henrey), though apparently she was actually the sole author.  Her works included several memoirs of life in London and in other locales during World War II.

And speaking of Australian novelists, although I can't add her to my list yet, Christina Stead has long been one of my favorites, and on Tuesday I found a lovely American first edition of her 1966 novel, Dark Places of the Heart (aka Cotter's England).

The next one was sort of an odd one for me to pick up. I've never even read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but for some reason I picked up a cute little copy of Kate Douglas Wiggin's earlier book, The Village Watch Tower, which some optimistic (or perhaps unscrupulous?) bookseller identified as a first edition inside the front cover.  I'm skeptical.  But does anyone know anything about the book?  Is this just a re-donation?

Beyond these, I picked up the last two volumes of Evelyn Waugh's WWII trilogy, which so many people have recommended to me.  I got volume 1, Men at Arms, a couple of months ago—and still haven't read it—but at $3 per volume for really nice little hardcover editions, I couldn't resist fleshing out the trilogy with Officers and Gentleman and The End of the Battle (aka Unconditional Surrender). 

And I grabbed an Iain Pears mystery, Death and Restoration, for some brain candy.

Alas, no Greyladies.  No Persephones.  Not even any Capuchins or Rue Morgue Press titles.  But still, for $60, a pretty successful excursion, no?  Now I'll be counting the days to the spring sale in April…

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale, Fall 2013

Tuesday afternoon was the biannual event around which I build my life. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration?  

Or perhaps not…

The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale is indeed a “big” event.  It’s held in the Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center, which is large enough to resemble a warehouse and is twice a year stuffed to bursting with books that have been donated to the library.  That the Festival Pavilion is located right on San Francisco Bay with big dramatic views all around—and seems to have magical powers to make every book sale day a gorgeous, sunny, not-too-hot, not-too-cold San Francisco day—only add to the fun.

First, the preliminaries of the sale itself.

Although I did manage to take some pictures this year, I somehow forget to take any of the views, so I have swiped a couple from online.  Here’s a view of the Pavilion which shows some of its surroundings:

And here, just to shamelessly show off the gorgeousness that is San Francisco, is a view from the air—the Festival Pavilion is the left-most building jutting out onto the Bay:

We always leave work early on Book Sale day, and Andy and I arrived an hour early to get in line.  Even so, this was the line in front of us:

And as the 4:00 opening time approached, this was the line behind us:

There are a lot of excited book geeks as opening time arrives and the line starts moving:

And once inside, there are just a few (!!!) tables of books to look over:

And when it came time to check out, this is where we were in line:

FYI, the cash registers are along the entryway near the doors and windows that you can see in the distance.  In previous years, we have sometimes been even further back in line, but every year the sale is extraordinarily well-organized and has about ten checkout stations staffed with cheerful volunteers, so the line moves quickly (and sometimes we use the waiting time to find unexpected items of interest—often discarded by other shoppers in line ahead of us—so the karma all works out).

But now, on to the more important part—the book haul!

This year was a bit of a mixed bag.  For one thing, either the selection wasn't as good as usual or I exercised considerable restraint (hard to believe), as I only spent about half of my budgeted $120.  In past years, I have blown the budget and brought home as many as 60 books (with the accompanying bookcase reshuffling that such extravagance required), but this time I made it out with only 20.  Perhaps I have just developed more discerning (or more obscure) tastes!

However, I have to say that the 20 I came home were probably the best haul, qualitatively, that I've ever made.  So I won't tease you any longer—here are the highlights:

Yes, believe it or not, for the first time ever, I actually found a coveted D. E. Stevenson—an edition from the 1970s, I believe, and not one of the rarer ones, but still, her fans will know how rare it is to stumble across any of her books anywhere, let alone for a measly $3!

Below that in my pile is my second "golden age" Elizabeth Cadell (i.e. from the 1950s, when she seems to have done her most charming work), The Cuckoo in Spring, which accompanies the one I found at the spring book sale in April.  Apart from the fact that I love her novels from this period, this one has the added interest of a book plate from the Francisca Club, which turns out (as a handwritten note says—helpfully added by a previous owner beneath the book plate) to be the oldest women's club in San Francisco, and it apparently still exists, though their website is singularly uninformative.  It also has the dust cover blurbs and author photo pasted inside the cover, with a nice pic of Cadell that I hadn't seen before:

Now, I have to say here that poor Andy, who generally thinks I need psychiatric care for my book obsession, nevertheless always steadfastly accompanies me to these sales, patiently waits in line for an hour, races in alongside the frantic throngs of geeks to get to the fiction and mystery tables, and searches for a whole list of authors on my behalf.  He should quite probably be sainted for this.  Especially since it is usually a thankless task and he rarely finds more than one or two, because my tastes are so obscure.

This year, he searched diligently for over an hour and finally came back to me and reported complete failure. 

But, he said…

There was one book he had picked up just because he thought it looked like my kind of thing, even though it wasn't on the list and he wasn't sure I would be interested.  And he proceeded to pull out what was at least an early—if not a first—edition of Elizabeth von Arnim's Mr. Skeffington.  It's a lovely book in itself, but it also comes complete with an inscription by its original owner (Catherine Lavelle, of San Antonio, Texas), which says the book was purchased on May 23, 1940.  Although I am sometimes annoyed by inscriptions in used books, when they are this old—with war already raging in Europe, though the U.S. wasn't yet a formal part of itthey somehow just add to the character of the book.

So, definitely not a failure for Andy!  (Maybe I don't even need to give him lists in the future—I can just rely on him knowing "my kind of thing"!)

Also in the pile, you can see Elizabeth Goudge's autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, which should be very interesting and which, on the back, has a lovely photo of Goudge.

Near the top of the pile (and almost impossible to make out in the photo) is Monica Dickens' Man Overboard in a cute little edition from the "Companion Book Club."  It amazes me how many book clubs there were mid-century, and it's often hard to track down any information at all about them, but as it would happen, Abe Books has an informative little article on the Companion Book Club, along with an array of its other titles.

Below the Dickens book is my very first Norah Lofts.  I've never really known if I would like Lofts, because I tend to be ambivalent about historical fiction.  However, first, the book is one of those charming (albeit fragile) titles published in accord with wartime restrictions, and I couldn't resist actually owning one instead of merely getting them from Interlibrary Loan all the time.  And second, the opening line of the novel made it seem rather "up my alley": "For nearly fifty years I had performed the tasks and carried out the duties which fall to the lot of the unmarried and not-quite-independent member of a large family."

And finally, some odds and ends in the pile.  I've always meant to read Cynthia Asquith's diary, and this lovely hardcover edition with only slight wear will surely inspire me to do so.  Ditto with Eliza Fay's letters from India.  And the Ivy Compton-Burnett may actually be a first American edition and is at any rate a very nice, reader-friendly little book, so I couldn't resist.

All in all, then, even if this is a smaller-than-usual haul, I certainly can't complain about its quality.  Nor can I complain about having money left in my budget!  Instead of eenie-meenie-minie-moe, it will be Greyladies-Persephone-Amazon-Awesome Books—hmmm, who will get the money that's left?

Since this is already a long post, and since I'm out of time at the moment, I'm going to hold off on writing about a few other interesting (hopefully) tidbits from the sale.  Check back in a day or two for a bit more…

Monday, September 23, 2013

Update: The Edwardians (Part 1 of 4) (!!!)

I have to admit that sometimes I can even overwhelm myself with my obsessiveness. 

Which is what happened in the past couple of weeks as a result of my innocently checking out from the library The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, edited by Sandra Kemp, Charlotte Mitchell, and David Trotter.  This book focuses—in amazing and meticulous detail—on the literature of the years 1900-1914.  It's particularly brilliant in its attention to numerous lesser-known writers of that period, which makes it an invaluable resource for me.  The period covered is really just on the fringe of my own date range, but many of the writers mentioned continued writing well after 1914.  I came across it because it kept coming up in my Google results when I was searching for obscure writers—but its actual content was usually hidden or merely excerpted for obvious reasons of copyright.  So I finally got it from the library, figuring I would find a few new writers for my list, flesh out the earlier years of my time frame, and that would be that.

And indeed I did find a few new writers…

160 of them, to be exact.

Which is all to the good, but nevertheless a bit overwhelming, even for my Overwhelming List.  At one point, I found myself so buried in new names that I flirted with the notion of adjusting the time frame covered by my list.  Suddenly, 1920-1960 started to look like a rather elegant date range!

But ultimately I realized I had to stick with 1910 as my start date.  Most importantly, there are all of those World War I writings by women, many of which eloquently express the sense of combined liberation and trauma of those years for women—and some of which do so in strikingly original, experimental ways.  And then there's also Virginia Woolf's famous if perhaps facetious declaration that ''On or about December 1910 human character changed," which lends me some support for my start date. 

If it's good enough for Virginia

Florence Bell (aka Mrs. Hugh Bell),
whose Miss Tod and the Prophets (1898)
sounds intriguing

So I am powering through my overwhelmedness and will be adding the 160 writers to my list in four updates over the next two or three weeks.  And I have to say I have come across quite a few writers who seem genuinely intriguing and unexpected, and managed to enrich my own perspective on those early years—which I have tended to avoid, imagining only a plethora of scandalous potboilers, earnest social realism about vivisection, the "New Woman," and other social issues of the day, or impossibly pure tales of pristine heros and heroines overcoming impossible odds.

Suffice it to say that there is indeed a healthy mix of all of those types of writers in these updates.  But there are also a surprising number of authors who seem to have been ahead of their time, or to challenge the accepted restraints of the fiction of their day, and I'll try to point out the ones I found most interesting.

Portrait of Ellen Cobden, by her husband
(later estranged), Walter Sickert, whom 
crime writer Patricia Cornwell 
believes was Jack the Ripper--
no wonder they became estranged...

So, in this first batch of 40 writers, which basically encompasses the A's through F's, some of the ones I want to look at more closely include:

Eleanor Acland, whose 1904 novel In the Straits of Hope, about artists in Chelsea, could be interesting;

Florence Bell (aka Mrs. Hugh Bell), who made her obligatory contribution to the "new woman" theme, but also wrote Miss Tod and the Prophets (1898), apparently the humorous tale of a spinster who, taken in by a doomsday prospect, lives it up with her limited resources, and finds herself broke when the world fails to end as scheduled;

Gertrude Bone, whose Women of the Country (1913), with "its decisive but unsensational focus on the experience of women" (as OCEF puts it), tells of a middle-aged spinster attempting to help a pregnant unmarried girl, sounds like an interesting writer overall, and her books were often illustrated with etchings by her husband Muirhead Bone and her son Stephen Bone;

Ellen Cobden, who was not only the author of two well-received novels, The Wistons (1902) and Sylvia Saxon: Episodes in a Life (1914), but was also married for a time to Walter Sickert, the painter whom crime writer Patricia Cornwell identified as Jack the Ripper in her 2002 book Portrait of a Killer (for better or worse indeed!though I should point out that very few people take Cornwell's solution very seriously);

Lucy Dale and Gertrude Faulding, who, in the course of successful careers in other areas of writing (Dale was a historian and Faulding a children's author), wrote two novels together, both featuring strong, educated women characters: Time's Wallet (1913) is an epistolary novel featuring two educated, politically-involved women, and Merely Players (1917) deals with a successful woman playwright's troubled marriage;

and Alice Louisa Dudeney (aka Mrs. Henry Dudeney), whose tales of working class life were compared to the likes of Thomas Hardy and American short story writer Mary Wilkins Freeman (who I also highly recommend).

Also in this part of the alphabet were three writers who really were too early to fit my time frame, but who are each of interest for one reason or another.  I'm not adding them to the main list, but thought I'd mention them anyway:

Charlotte Eccles (aka Hal Godfrey) wrote two humorous novels which seem worth a look: The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore (1897), set in a boarding-house, and The Matrimonial Lottery (1906), about a woman editor of a troubled newspaper who rejuvenates her career by marrying money

Olive Birrell, whose novel Love in a Mist (1900) OCEF describes as a "conventional romance" but also as "an unusual portrait of young working women"

Mary Deane, who turns out to have been P. G. Wodehouse's aunt, and wrote children's books and novels including the romances The Rose-Spinner (1904) and The Other Pawn (1907)

These have all been added to the main list now. Hope you all find some writers of interest here as well!
Etching by Stephen Bone, from his mother
Gertrude Bone's novel Mr. Paul (1921)

Current count: 491 writers

ELEANOR ACLAND (1880-1933)
(aka Margaret Burneside and Eleanor Cropper)

Author of the novels In the Straits of Hope (1904), a novel about artists in Chelsea, and Dark Side Out (1921), a multi-generational family saga, as well as a memoir, Goodbye for the Present (1935).

(pseudonym of Effie Henderson, aka Effie Rowlands)

Author of more than 200 romantic novels from the 1890s until the 1930s, apparently characterized by gushing prose and fainting heroines; title include Poppies in the Corn (1911), The House That Jane Built (1921), and Claire and Circumstances (1928).

MRS. A. E. ALDINGTON (1872-1954)
(pseudonym of Jessie May Godfrey Aldington)

Mother of novelist Richard Aldington and innkeeper at the Mermaid Inn in Rye; author of several novels of Kentish village life, including Love Letters That Caused a Divorce (1905), A Man of Kent (1913), and The King Called Love (1913).

AMY J[OSEPHINE]. BAKER (dates unknown)

Now forgotten author of 40 romantic novels spanning five decades, including I Too Have Known (1911), The King's Passion (1920), Aurora (1928), Never Laugh at Love (1932), Fan Mail (1941), Swing Low, Swing High (1956), and Summer Isles of Eden (1962).

HYLDA BALL (dates unknown)

More research needed; sister of Kathlyn Rhodes and author of several novels from the 1910s to 1930s, including A Vase of Clay (1914), The Unhallowed Vow (1918), Peep o' Day (1929), and A Moorland Vendetta (1934).

(pseudonym of Edith Noel Daniell Barclay)

Author of five romances in the 1910s—Trevor Lordship (1911), A Dream of Blue Roses (1912), The Giant Fisher (1912), East of the Shadows (1913), and The Taste of Brine (1914)—after which she appears to have stopped writing.

JANE BARLOW (1857-1917)

Poet and novelist known for verse and fiction about Irish farm life and often incorporating Irish dialect; titles include Kerrigan's Quality (1894), The Founding of Fortunes (1902), and In Mio's Youth (1917).

E. BARRINGTON (1862-1931)
(pseudonym of Eliza Louisa Moresby, aka Elizabeth Louisa Beck and Lily Moresby Adams)

Having travelled widely for most of her life, Moresby only began writing at age 60, after which she explored themes of spirituality, romance, and the supernatural; titles include The Key of Dreams (1922), Dreams and Delights (1922), and The Exquisite Perdita (1926).

MRS. HUGH BELL (1851-1930)
(pseudonym of Florence Eveleen Eleanore Olliffe Bell)

Stepmother of Gertrude Bell; playwright, children's author, and novelist whose works include the New Woman novel The Story of Ursula (1895), the intriguing Miss Tod and the Prophets (1898), about a spinster taken in by doomsday prophets, and The Good Ship Brompton Castle (1915).

(aka Mrs. Coulson Kernahan or J. G. Kernahan)

Prolific author of popular, if implausible, romantic adventure novels, including The Mystery of Magdalen (1906), Ashes of Passion (1909), The Trap (1917), The Whip of the Will (1927), and A Village Mystery (1934).


Author of nine novels, primarily of exotic romance, sometimes mixed with fantasy; titles include Sons of the Milesians (1906), Out of the Dark (1910), The Temple of the Winds (1925), and Zeo the Scythian (1935).

GERTRUDE BONE (1876-1962)

Author of stories and several books illustrated by her husband Muirhead Bone, as well as three novels; perhaps most intriguing is Women of the Country (1913), about a spinster helping a pregnant unmarried girl.

MARIAN BOWER (dates unknown)

Author of light stories and novels from the 1890s to the 1930s, including The Wrestlers (1907), Skipper Anne: A Tale of Napoleon's Secret Service (1913), The Chinese Puzzle (1919), and Gotobedde Lane (1928).


More research needed; author of at least two novels—Downward: A 'Slice of Life' (1910) and The Honey of Romance (1915)—and two early marriage manuals, Modern Marriage and How to Bear It (1909) and The Love-Seeker: A Guide to Marriage (1913).


Novelist whose work seems—based on contemporary reviews—to have included rather overwrought melodramas; titles include The Dominant Passion (1913), The Shadow on the Stone (1918), and Dear Idiot (1926).

(aka Handasyde)

Author of several chilly high-society romances in the 1900s, Buchanan apparently returned to publish one further novel, Spare That Tree, in 1939, about which I could locate no information.

MRS. M. CHAN-TOON (1872-1922)
(pseudonym of Mabel Mary Agnes Chan-Toon, née Cosgrove, second married name Woodhouse-Pearse)

Married to a Burmese barrister and apparently a close friend of Oscar Wilde, Mabel Chan-Toon wrote novels exploring interracial relationships, including Leper and Millionaire (1910) and Love Letters of an English Peeress to an Indian Prince (1912).

ELLEN COBDEN (1848-1914)
(aka Miles Amber)

Wife of painter Walter Sickert and sister of publisher T. Fisher Unwin, Cobden seems to have begun writing late in life; she apparently published only two novels, The Wistons (1902) and Sylvia Saxon: Episodes in a Life (1914).

(pseudonym of Gertrude Baillie-Weaver)

Poet, novelist, and early feminist; Colmore is best known for Suffragette Sally (1908, reprinted 1984 as The Suffragettes), while several other works passionately promoted her anti-vivisection views.

H[ELEN]. H[ESTER]. COLVILL (1854-1941)
(aka Katharine Wylde)

More research needed; author of nine novels from 1880 to 1928 about which I could find little information; these include The Stepping Stone (1905), Lady Julia's Emerald (1908), The Incubus (1910), and The Lily of Lombardy (1928).

(née Blood-Smyth)

Author of several dozen light romantic novels, often featuring Irish sporting themes; titles include Lady Elverton's Emeralds (1909), The Financing of Fiona (1916), Uncle Pierce's Legacy (1920), Bobbie (1928), and Gulls at Rossnacorey (1939).

(pseudonym of Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett)

More research needed; novelist and crime writer, many of whose works appeared in periodicals and have not been fully documented; known works include the utopic New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future (1890), The Marriage Market (1905), and An Unwilling Husband (1922).

MARIE CORELLI (1855-1924) (pseudonym of Mary Mackay)

Massively successful popular novelist whose bestsellers often featured mystical or religious themes, including Barabbas: A Dream of the World's Tragedy (1893), a fictionalized version of the crucifixion, and The Sorrows of Satan (1895); she continued publishing until shortly before her death.


More research needed; author of eight romantic novels such as Strange Gods (1889), The Virgin and the Scales (1905), The Honest Trespass (1911), The Perpetual Choice (1915), and Chain the Unicorn (1933).

MARGUERITE CURTIS (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of five novels which tended to mix religion and the supernatural, including The Bias (1908), Marcia: A Transcript from Life (1909), Oh! for an Angel (1911), The Dream Triumphant (1912), and The Dividing-Line (1913).

(pseudonym of Eleanora Mary d'Anethan, née Haggard)

Sister of H. Rider Haggard and author of several novels of her own, many of which made use of her time living in Japan with her diplomat husband, including Two Women (1909) and The Twin-Soul of O'Take San (1914).

EDITH DART (1871-1924)

Poet and author of five novels; Likeness (1911), about a typist who is the twin of a millionairess and impersonates her at a ball, sounds almost farcical, but Sareel (1920), about a girl from a workhouse who becomes a servant on a farm on the moors, is surely a bit darker.


Poet, playwright, novelist, and founder of International PEN (and later its historian), Dawson-Scott also wrote rather dark feminist novels, the later of which were influenced by Dorothy Richardson; titles include The Agony Column (1909), Against the Grain (1919), and The Haunting (1921).

(pseudonym of Rose Key Champion de Crespigny)

Painter, mystery writer, and novelist; her early novels featured spunky girls in historical situations, but later work such as The Mark (1912) and The Dark Sea (1927) deal with supernatural and spiritualist themes, as does her memoir This World and Beyond (1934).

LUCY DALE (dates unknown)

Later a successful historian, Dale published two novels in collaboration with Gertrude Faulding (see below)—Time's Wallet (1913), an epistolary novel about two educated, politically-involved women, and Merely Players (1917), about a woman writer's troubled marriage.

ALICE DEASE (1874-1949)

Novelist of Irish Catholic themes; works include Some Irish Stories (1912), The Lady of Mystery (1913), about a man buying back his ancestor's estate, Down West and Other Sketches of Irish Life (1914), and The Debt of Guy Arnolle (1919), after which she seems to have stopped publishing.

THEO DOUGLAS (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of Henrietta Dorothy Everett, née Huskisson)

Author of historical romances and melodramas, often with a supernatural component, from the 1890s until 1920; titles include A White Witch (1908), Miss Maybud: Marriage-Maker (1920), and Malevola (1914), a lesbian-themed vampire story.

MRS. HENRY DUDENEY (1866-1945)
(pseudonym of Alice Louisa Dudeney, née Whiffin)

Earning comparisons in her time to Thomas Hardy and American writer Mary Wilkins Freeman, Dudeney published dozens of novels and story collections focused on working class life, including The Third Floor (1901), What a Woman Wants (1914), and The Peep Show (1929).

K[ATHLEEN]. M[ARY]. EDGE (????-1946)

Living in India with her father and then her husband, Edge wrote four novels, three of which—Ahana (1902), The After Cost (1904), and The Shuttles of the Loom (1909), display her knowledge of India, while the fourth, Through the Cloudy Porch (1912), is set in South Africa.

FLORENCE FARR (1860-1917)

Compose, playwright, actress and novelist; known for a high-profile affair with George Bernard Shaw and her collaborations with William Butler Yeats; she also wrote two novels—The Dancing Faun (1894) and The Solemnization of Jacklin (1912).


Known for children's books about flowers and fairies, Faulding published two novels in collaboration with Lucy Dale (above)—Time's Wallet (1913), an epistolary novel about two educated, politically-involved women, and Merely Players (1917), about a woman writer's troubled marriage.

FLANEUSE (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of ?  Maud Yardley?  Elinor Glyn?)

Pseudonym used for numerous works of fiction between the 1910s and 1930; OCEF speculates more than one author could have written under the name—possibly Maud Yardley and/or Elinor Glyn; works include Scored! (1913) and The Triumphant Woman (1918).

ANGELA FORBES (1876-1950)
(pseudonym of Angela Selina Bianca St. Clair-Erskine Forbes)

Organizer of WWI catering services and author of risqué (for their time) novels and memoirs, including The Broken Commandment (1910), The Other Woman's Shadow (1912), and Should She Have Spoken? (1923).

MRS. WALTER R. D. FORBES (1866-1924)
(pseudonym of Eveline Louisa Michell Farwell Forbes)

Author of nine novels about which little information is available; titles include Blight (1897), A Gentleman (1900), Nameless (1909), and His Alien Enemy (1918).

M. E. FRANCIS (1859-1930)
(pseudonym of Mary Sweetman Blundell)

Author of several dozen novels, both as sole author and, in later years, in collaboration with her daughters Margaret and Agnes Blundell; works focused on rural life, and titles include The Manor Farm (1902), Hardy-on-the-Hill (1908), and Dark Rosaleen (1915).

Alice Louisa Dudeney, compared to Thomas Hardy
and American writer Mary Wilkins Freeman

Eleanor Acland, whose 1904 novel
In the Straits of Hope seems of interest

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EDITH OLIVIER, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley (1938)

Seeing as I am the world's biggest Edith Olivier fan (and for once, considering her current level of obscurity, that phrase might not be much of an exaggeration!), it's odd that it took me so long to get around to her 1938 memoir, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley.  While I'm on my second or third reading of all of her novels (I've discussed the first three here already and will hopefully get around to the other two soon), for some reason my obsessiveness failed me and I've only come to Mr. Walkley belatedly.  Which is a shame, because it turned out to be a joy—like spending a weekend with a favorite old aunt whose quirky sense of humor has a subtle but surprisingly sharp edge.

First and foremost, the book is highly entertaining—anecdotal, humorous and touching by turns, informed by Olivier's special ability to vividly regain "lost time"—perhaps because of her attention to odd and fascinating details that might have passed another writer by.

For example, Olivier's striking recollection of the village postmistress of her childhood:

In those days, Wilton post office was simply one of the ordinary small houses in the Square, and it must have been very difficult for strangers to find it. You opened the door upon a lobby measuring about two feet square, on one side of which was a window of frosted glass. The customer tapped upon this, and then it flew up with a snap to reveal the cross face of Miss Young, the postmistress. She seemed to be overcome with rage if anyone dared to buy a stamp from her, and we were terrified of her. She did, however, once unbend sufficiently to teach my mother how to open an envelope so cunningly that no one could possibly guess that it had been touched. A useful art for a postmistress.

Olivier is also interested in changes in the way ordinary life is lived over time.  For example, she focuses on how different life was in the days when people frequently walked long distances rather than riding or driving.  This might sound uninspiring, or like a cranky old man decrying how the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, but it actually results in stories like this one:

He was before my day; but I well remember Mr. Inman, the Rector of West Knoyle, who fixed a telescope outside his house, so that through it he could scan the immense road which connects his village with the outer world. Through this telescope, he could recognize, many miles away, the walking figure of any of his clerical friends. The clergyman could be seen while he was still three or four hours away, yet, in that lonely neighbourhood, West Knoyle Rectory was undoubtedly the only possible destination of the inevitably approaching dot. Then Mr. Inman ran to the poultry yard to kill a chicken which was roasted and ready for dinner by the time the hungry pedestrian arrived.

I also found Olivier's discussion of poverty in her village fascinating, and there, too, the reality is brought to life by her attention to detail and the thought she has clearly given to the matter:

Mrs. Jeffery was one of the poorest. She 'lived on' the parish, or rather, she received from the Guardians a weekly allowance of half a crown and a loaf of bread, the under part of which she sold, every week, for twopence, to a neighbour who had a large family of children. She paid a rent of two shillings a week for her house in Fancy Row, an L-shaped group of quite well-built houses dating from early in the last century. They stood off the street, round a piece of garden land. Her sitting-room was of a good size, and was well-proportioned, as rooms in the smallest houses still were at that date. Here she sat, facing life on eightpence a week and the top of a loaf. Her case was not exceptional. Hers was the usual allowance given to a solitary woman; and probably the Guardians hoped, by means of this economic pressure, to induce the poor lonely old things to go into the Workhouse. There, even in those days, they would have been cared for as they never could be in their own homes, but they one and all dreaded the prospect. However few and valueless one's personal belongings may be, they make the familiar setting of one's life; and it is hard that the world should prematurely bring home to one that 'we brought nothing into this world, neither may we carry anything out', especially when it invites us to leave this world, not for a Heavenly Mansion, but for an 'Institution'. It must seem like a first and agonizing death thus to be torn from all one's little treasures; and everyone collects a few of these in the course of a long life, even though it may be a long life of unbroken poverty.

I could quote a dozen more such passages, and these interesting and entertaining reminiscences alone would be enough to make me recommend the book to anyone interested in English village life or in good writing about day-to-day life anywhere.

But it's clear that Olivier was much more than a charming, funny, eccentric writer—though she was certainly all of those things too—and I think the apparent simplicity of this memoir might be deceptive.  From her novels, it's clear that Olivier was a woman who questioned and examined "reality" in striking, if subtle, ways, and I think there is evidence of greater depth here as well.  Perhaps this is most clear in the frequency with which her most entertaining stories turn around varying—or outright faulty—perceptions and memory.

This is evident in how brilliantly she recalls her own childhood perspectives.  I'm not sure any other writer has ever brought that out for me so vividly.  For example, she describes the difference between children's and adults' sense of the size of a house:

Then there were numbers of cupboards in the walls, in which we spent our afternoons when it was too wet to go out. In every house, an immense amount of space is lost to the grown-up people who never sit in cupboards. We had first of all the big nursery cupboard where Mildred and I played houses, each on her own shelf, for we were not sophisticated enough to call them flats. There was the vast cupboard in Mamma's room where one could walk about on the floor, as well as clamber on the shelves among her hats. In the attic was the Bird Cupboard, called from a painting of magpies which surrounded it. It was like a long low room, and we heaped pillows at its two ends and pretended to go to sleep in it. And then there was the tiny cupboard high up in the dark wall on the back stairs. It could only be reached fry someone who was very small and very agile. I was both, and so I often got into it, and remained lost for hours. When I remember Wilton Rectory, I think of it as larger by all these cupboards than it ever could have been for  my parents, who only sat in the rooms.

I remember doing exactly the same things in a variety of houses I lived in or visited in childhood, but I hadn't remembered it in decades until reading Olivier's description. 

Then she recalls the glorious sound of practicing with the church choir—until the whole-hearted vocalists are abruptly interrupted by the horrified organist:

But every few bars, this joyous abandon was interrupted by the organist taking his hands off the keys and clapping them smartly. The basses were always enjoying themselves with such tremendous force, that they sang on for several bars before they realized that they had been left in the air without support from the organ. When they stopped, at last, there came an angry shouting voice from the side of the chancel. From where we heard it, it had a doubled, echoing sound. Mr. Ridley, the organist, was expressing his horror at the discords which had sounded to us so magnificent; and the choir had to 'Go back to Letter A'. There was a flutter of paper, and then they sang again. No music has ever had for me quite the same quality as those Handel choruses, swinging boldly along, sharply interrupted, and then gradually falling to pieces, one voice breaking off after another, till a solitary tenor was left suspended on a high note, quite out of his reach, from which he suddenly came down in panic.

But faulty perception or memory is also the precinct of adults, and Olivier seems to have a particular interest in it.  For example, her father's fond recollection of encountering Wordsworth:

Wordsworth was of course our Grasmere hero, and my copy of his Poems is still filled with flowers which I picked in the garden of Dove Cottage in the firm belief that every tree and plant in it had been planted by him or by Dorothy. Papa often thrilled us with the story of his first visit to the Lakes, when he saw the poet himself at the gate of his house at Ambleside and found him not at all forthcoming. Then one day, when we were looking at Wordsworth's grave in Grasmere churchyard and saw written upon it the date '1850', Papa suddenly exclaimed: 'Why, he died years before I ever came here.' So ended a legend; and I wonder how many of the memories in this book are as imaginary as my father's recollection of the poet Wordsworth.

Then there is Olivier's sister Mildred's attempt to collect memories from the elderly of the village produces this entertaining tale about questionable historical perspectives:

Meanwhile, Mildred asked Mrs. Jeffery if she could tell us her real age.

'I were barn', she said, 'in the year afore were all that there hanging and killing.' .

She was exasperated when my sister could not recognise this date.

'You know!,' she said. 'It's in the Spelling Book.'

We hopefully thought of the French Revolution. But no, that would make Mrs. Jeffery at least a hundred and twenty. We guessed again and again, showing ourselves in the old woman's eyes as complete half-wits, and at last found that 'hanging and killing' was Mrs. Jeffery's impression of the Battle of Waterloo.

And I can’t resist throwing in this amusing tidbit about a perception lost even despite being recorded in Olivier's diaries:

This scrap of conversation is very unintelligible:

He said: 'How's your mother?'

I said, most sarcastically: 'Quite well thank you.'

But that delicate sarcasm has evaporated.

Perhaps it's a stretch—though it's a stretch I'm willing to make—but I think that these stories, apart from their charm and entertainment value, could be seen as calling into question—in ways one might more readily expect to see in "highbrow" modernist writers like Woolf or Joyce—the nature of our ability to perceive any definitive reality.

It might seem contradictory, then—or perhaps it fits in perfectly?—that Olivier seems to have no trouble at all in accepting various experiences—her own and those of people she knew—as supernatural.  Olivier's friend Charlotte Moberly and her friend Eleanor Jourdain had become famous as a result of their experience in the Petit Trianon gardens at Versailles, which they subsequently wrote about in their popular book An Adventure (1911—Olivier wrote an introduction for a later edition). It's an interesting story, and if you're curious, you can read more about the "Moberly-Jourdain incident" here. At any rate, Olivier accepts this experience without doubt, as she does the prophetic vision her friend Lady Bath has of patients on stretchers being evacuated from the burning hallway of her house, several years before such a fire actually occurred—and several years before the war which resulted in her house being converted into a hospital even started.

Finally, we hear about Olivier's own experience / hallucination / whatever-you-want-to-call-it, involving the standing stones at Avebury, in which, driving late at night, Olivier found herself in an avenue of stones which had vanished generations before and witnessing a fair that hadn't been held in more than a century.

Fascinating as these stories are—and who doesn't love a good tale about visions of the future, time travel, or ghosts?—I retain some skepticism about them.  But I wonder if perhaps Olivier's wholehearted acceptance of them may go hand-in-hand with her ability to recapture lost perceptions of childhood and to imagine so vividly the characters and events of her novels.

Speaking of her novels (which I can't do enough of), there are some intriguing connections between people and events described here and those which occur, in varied or distorted form, in Olivier's novels.  In particular, she seems to have a fascination with multiple selves, in which one side dominates the other.  She describes the head of her school, the aforementioned Miss Moberly, who is also a family friend (and the friend of Marie Antoinette, apparently, judging from her Versailles experience…)

Beneath the portraits of her two very opposite-looking ancestresses, Miss Moberly sat, reading, writing, or playing the piano, and looking up to greet a visitor with a sudden very brilliant smile. She had a fascinating, mellow voice, with an amusing crack in it. Her colour and the contour of her face resembled those of the stern grandmother, but the welcoming smile must have come from the lovely mother. Miss Moberly had been born with a prejudiced and extremely biased nature, but she had told herself that the head of a college should possess wisdom and impartiality, so she made herself develop those qualities. But the old Adam would sometimes peep irresistibly out.

More importantly, and more significantly for its influence on her fiction, she describes her father:

My father used to tell us that when he left Oxford, he decided that he disliked his handwriting, which was ugly, irregular, and illegible. He therefore changed it, making it firm, clear, and very balanced. So it remained. This too was himself.

There were in my father two people—the natural man, and the man formed by reason, judgment, and a religion based on the Church Catechism, and centred round the duty towards God, and the duty towards my neighbour. He did not ask from the faith which he so firmly kept, any mystical consolations: he demanded a definite line of conduct. Probably the fundamental traits in a character are never wholly obliterated, but by the time I knew my father, the Old Adam in him had become as completely sublimated as was his handwriting. He had adapted himself to the mould which he had made.

This kind of "double personality" may well have provided the inspiration for Olivier's debut novel The Love-Child, but here she describes the influence of her father's personality on her second novel, As Far as Jane's Grandmother's, and in the process sheds more light on her family home life:

I liked this subject. The autocratic grandmother was a type I knew well in my father and his sisters. It is a character which charms me, mostly because I could never be at all like it myself. Such characters are rare to-day. They suggest a life lived in a secure and unshakable setting. The tides of varying opinions may sweep to and fro outside it, but all the time it remains completely watertight. The house of such people is indeed built upon a rock. Fashions and opinions may change, the world look this way and that, uncertain what to believe or how to act, but within those impenetrable walls, life goes on as before. The master of the house remains its master. A personality such as this sounds harsh and forbidding, and it may be so at heart, but in the case of my father, I had seen it veiled in an outer garment of courteous old-fashioned manners, which simply made him impossible to argue with. If one ever attempted such a thing, he could always finally and definitely place one in the wrong. The longer one knew him, the more one came to see that his system worked. He had made his own conception of life as he had decided that it should be lived, and he continued to live in that way, whatever the world around him said, thought, or did. The first reaction of youth was naturally to rebel against this overmastering authority; but in order to rebel successfully, the rebel must have his own conception of life, equally complete and equally believed in. Not many people possess this.

I'm fascinated by the conflict here, which also features prominently in the novels.  She acknowledges here and elsewhere how difficult her father was, and the realities of day-to-day life in his house sound pretty unmitigatedly dreadful to me, and yet she clearly retains not only the affection one might expect, but an admiration for his autocratic nature as well.  This may help account for the peculiar depth of some of Olivier's darker characters—while she may seem on the surface like a sweet, peculiar little authoress with very traditional, conservative values from her canon father, her sympathies are never completely clear.  There is nothing less interesting for me than a pureblood villain with no redeeming qualities, so this may be one of the reasons I love Olivier so much.

Dacres Olivier, Edith's father

Interestingly, while she admits that she used her father in part as a model for Jane's grandmother, she makes no mention of her father in relation to the last of her major novels and my personal favorite, The Seraphim Room, which features a father who is not only harshly autocratic with his two daughters (echoes of Edith and Mildred?), but may actually be causing the death of one of them (not to mention having already caused the deaths of both of his wives!) with his rigid refusal to allow modern drains to be installed in his house. All things considered, it's perhaps understandable that Olivier would not explicitly acknowledge the similarities between Mr. Chilvester and her father—particularly in light of the fact that the former meets a particularly messy end (quite literally)…

Finally, I can't resist commenting on another section of the book that produced some powerful fantasizing on my own part.  Olivier describes living with her father and sister for several years in The Close next to Salisbury Cathedral, with a full view of the cathedral outside their windows.  Having visited Salisbury last year and fallen in love with it, and particularly with the cathedral itself, I would see this as a dream come true.  And yet, as Olivier is so good at pointing out, our experiences are always relative and personal, and for her those years were dark—in more ways than one:

Our time in The Close included the four war years, followed by my father's long illness, and then his death. Perhaps that is why, when I try to remember that house, I think first of darkness. It was a dark house. We were overshadowed fry the cathedral. We had a magnificent view of it, its whole length spread out before our windows. But it prevented any direct light from falling on to my needlework as I sat in the little white morning-room in the winter, except between the hours of twelve and two. Life there had always a shadow upon it—the shadow of the cathedral, of the war, of illness, or of death…

But her descriptions of the cathedral and The Close are wonderful—in particular her memories of a major flood that made a lake of the cathedral's nave.  And for better or worse, my fantasy of life in Salisbury survives intact!

Flooded nave of Salisbury Cathedral

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