Sunday, July 19, 2015

The rest of the story

For those of you who listened to the radio or read syndicated columns in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, the title of this post might remind you of columnist Paul Harvey's columns and radio broadcasts. These were always of some sort of historical or ironic interest: the one I recall is about two impoverished women—Caterina and Klara—both of whom are pregnant with an unwanted child. Harvey asked his listeners to imagine themselves as a doctor consulted by these women about possible abortions (a topic one couldn't imagine a light radio show and newspaper column tackling these days). He explained the difficult situations faced by both women, and then asks what your decision would have been, with the additional consideration of whether the child in question in each case might someday impact the world. Then he concluded by revealing that the two women are, respectively, the mother of Leonardo da Vinci and the mother of Adolf Hitler, adding his trademark closing, "And now you know the rest of the story."

This is really neither here nor there apart from being an enjoyable (for me) reminiscence of one of the earliest kinds of storytelling I learned to enjoy. But I adopted the title for this post because it's a random mix of some of the odd stories or connections I found relating to authors I've just come across and have added to my Overwhelming List recently. With a couple of exceptions, these are not authors I particularly feel the need to read, mind you. I'll be writing about some of those new discoveries in future posts. These are just authors who have something a bit interesting about them.

For instance, there's the case of EDITH MAY MAYER-NIXSON, a rather oddly non-prolific author who seems to have had every opportunity to be more prolific but must have suffered from writer's block or other distracting turmoil in her life (or simply not been very passionate about writing). Mills & Boon created a media spectacle around her when they published her debut novel, Golden Vanity (1912), for which she used the pseudonym "Maisie Bennett." Mayer-Nixson was 21 years old at the time and had been working as a librarian in the circulating library of a large department store, writing her novel in her spare time. Mills & Boon publicized her as the "Shopgirl Novelist," and announced that they were so impressed with her work that they would pay her the equivalent of one year of her salary to give her the free time necessary to continue writing. The press seems to have loved the story, but perhaps the sudden attention caused Mayer-Nixson's creative juices to dry up, because a second novel was not forthcoming.

In fact, it wasn't until 16 years later that Mayer-Nixson made another appearance in the publishing world. This time, in the guise of a male pseudonym, "Edward Lennox," she published The Crowded Year (1928) with a different publisher, E. Mathews & Marrot. A contemporary review sums it up: "Railway accidents, fires, divorces, drowning, earthquakes and romance are the ingredients of this somewhat hectic year." Having made this not-very-triumphant return to bookstore shelves, Mayer-Nixson fell silent again, this time for 26 years, when her third and final book appeared (assuming there are no additional pseudonyms that can be traced back to her). Ring Twice for the Stewardess (1954) appears to be a memoir of her interceding career as a ship stewardess (which could prove quite interesting if one could track down an affordable copy—I've had no luck so far).

This final book seems to have appeared under the name Maida Nixson, so it's even a bit surprising that the three titles have been linked up to a single author. These are exactly the sorts of stray titles whose authors are often never identified at all. In this case, though, I wouldn't mind knowing a bit more about Mayer-Nixson, who seems to have had quite a varied life and to have experienced an array of the professions open to women in the early to mid-20th century.

Peggy Webling

By contrast to Mayer-Nixson, who could easily have been lost to literary posterity, PEGGY WEBLING is, to my surprise, well enough known to have a Wikipedia page, a phenomenon that gets rarer and rarer as my researches get more and more obscure. But she is best known by far not for her novels—of which there were more than a dozen—but as the author of the dramatic adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which was used by Universal as the basis for its classic 1931 film version, directed by James Whale.

Peggy Webling & Lucy Betty Macraye
as child celebrities

Peggy's sister, LUCY BETTY MACRAYE, also a novelist, though a far less prolific one, was never (so far as I know) involved with a major Hollywood film, and so she garners fewer mentions online. But apparently both sisters, along with two more Webling siblings, Josephine and Rosalind, got their start as children doing dramatic recitals, and reportedly were quite in demand. They also, according to Peggy's Wikipedia page, became acquainted with theatrical and literary figures such as Ellen Terry, Lewis Carroll, and John Ruskin, the last of whom, according to another source "petted them and wrote to them, and of whom she [Peggy] published a brief memoir." The Wikipedia page also mentions that some of the sisters continued in theatre after their childhood successes were over, but sadly it doesn't specify which ones. Should we take it that Lucy, whose second and final novel, published in 1938, was called Centre Stage, might be one of them?

Almey St. John Adcock

And then there are several authors I've come across who have connections with women already on my Overwhelming List. You may know by now that I always find such connections of particular interest, though in the case of ALMEY ST. JOHN ADCOCK, who turns out to be the sister of Marion St. John Webb, or JACOBINE MENZIES WILSON, who was the mother of novelist Jacobine Hichens, the connections are not terribly exciting, since I know little or nothing about either member of the pairs.

But there are also some slightly more interesting connections with bigger names:

ROSALINE MASSON was a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and wrote a biography of him (would she also, one wonders, have known D. E. Stevenson, who was a relative of RLS?). MARGARET BARRINGTON was married to Irish novelist Liam O'Flaherty, and poet and novelist IRENE RUTHERFORD MCLEOD wound up as the mother-in-law of Christopher Robin Milne.

PRISCILLA JOHNSTON, about whom I'll be writing a bit more elsewhere, was the daughter of Edward Johnston, whose calligraphy adorned Tube stations across London for many years, until it was finally replaced with a new design in the 1980s. JOAN RICE, who I'm also mentioning in posts on new additions to my war lists and on memoirists, was the mother of lyricist Tim Rice, of Evita fame. And EMMIE ALLINGHAM, who published nine novels in the 1920s, probably romantic in nature, was the mother of another big name, acclaimed mystery writer Margery Allingham.

Sometimes these connections require just a bit of gossipy-ness (but I'm not complaining about a little good gossip). MARY BETHUNE wrote only a single novel, Doctor Dear (1954), which appears to be about a woman doctor (I'm intrigued), and Bethune (the pseudonym of Liliane Mary Catherine Clopet) was herself a practicing doctor (yet another for my eventual list of women doctor/writers). She also happens to have been the lifelong companion of Kathleen Freeman, better known to mystery fans as Mary Fitt.

It appears that no one has previously identified L. C. OGLE, the author of a single girls' school story set in Africa, The School by the Sea (1958), which, according to Sims and Clare in their Encyclopaedia of Girls' School Stories, treats the girls' various nationalities and traditions in an unpatronising, matter-of-fact way. But researcher John Herrington, who is kind enough to look over my unidentified authors and see what he can come up with, found her and a bit of drama too. Sims and Clare had noted that the illustrator of Ogle's book was Theo Hoskyns-Abrahall, who seems to have been credited as "Hoskyns" and was the husband of another school story author, Clare Hoskyns-Abrahall, who published as C. M. Drury and as Clare Abrahall. But in fact Mr. Hoskyns-Abrahall was apparently more than just Ogle's illustrator. In 1944, he was divorced from Clare and was remarried, that same year, to one Lois Jennet Ogle (1902-1998). Other information about Ogle is scarce, but she certainly spent some time in Africa (not surprisingly, in view of the subject of her book) and was probably in the medical profession, though whether a doctor or nurse or other role isn't clear. Thanks again for filling in these details, John!

Coming across MARY ANGELA DICKENS made me finally come to terms (I think) with some of the ins and outs of cousinly relationships, which has been confusing me ever since I started looking into my own family tree. Mary Angela was the granddaughter of Charles Dickens, the daughter of Charles Dickens, Jr. This of course made me look back at Monica Dickens, the much-better-known great-granddaughter of Charles, who was the granddaughter of a different Dickens son, Henry Fielding Dickens (Charles had a stereotypically large Victorian family). I believe that makes Mary and Monica first cousins once removed. Is that correct? At any rate, Mary wrote about a dozen volumes of fiction (sometimes credited, in a sadly mercenary way, as "His Granddaughter"), but it's hard to tell much about the type of fiction they were.

I do have one connection that's really only tentative, though it's the best information I have. BARBARA RUBIEN, who published only a single novel, is apparently the sister of mystery writer Shelley Smith. But in making that claim I am accepting as fact a bookseller's listing of her book, which includes this tidbit of information. Here's hoping that bookseller knew more than I do!

And speaking of tentative (and in this case misguided) connections, at least one online source discussing ROMILLY CAVAN—who wrote several potentially interesting novels just before World War II—reported that she was the daughter of E. F. Benson, which is just completely incorrect. I'll be mentioning her again in a future post as well.

And now you know—such as it is—the rest of the story.


  1. I think it makes them second cousins, if Charles Dickens is great-grandparent to both ... see for more info and explanation within the article the chart is embedded in.

  2. Sorry, just looked at the relationships to Charles again, and you are indeed correct! [covered in embarrassment]

  3. No worries, Ruth. I could easily have been wrong, so I'm glad you were double-checking. I think I'm starting to get it, but at the thought of, say, third cousins four times removed my mind still boggles.

  4. Just wanted to tell you all thanks to this blog, I have just started reading Nan Fairbrother's "An English Year." Liking it very much - as I so often have when Scott has led me to a new writer.

  5. Nice updates!

    A quick note on Sybil Haddock, and thanks to John for his fine detective work.. I found an ebay advertisement for "That Orfull Family" with a scan of pp 44-45. My "Nancy Runs the Show" is definitely a reissue of "That Orfull Family", reset and with the odd minor correction. I'd guess the other Orfull book became a Nancy book too.

    As for Menna Gallie, I recommend her "The Small Mine" as a vivid picture of South Wales mining valley culture and characters. I just glimpsed the last of that way of life when visiting my grandparents in the Fifties. Gallie wrote a similarly vivid but non-fiction booklet about Welsh-speaking North Pembrokeshire: "Little England's Other Half", also recommended.

    Best wishes and thanks again,
    David Redd

  6. Hello Scott,
    I am the great-granddaughter of Josephine Webling Watts, Peggy Webling's sister. I have hundreds of letters written by her and her sisters to my great-grandmother over 40 years. The Weblings are a truly fascinating family. Alas Peggy's books are, in my opinion, extremely dated today; but her letters are far more interesting, chronicling as they do the personal lives of Londoners from the First to Second World Wars, along with the social history of feminism (the sisters were ardent suffragettes and women's rights advocates).
    By the way, Lucy was the only one of the sisters to go on to a stage career as a young adult, after playing Little Lord Fauntleroy (in addition to dramatic recitals) as a child. So you are right that Centre Stage was based on her own experiences.
    You can see some pictures of the Webling sisters if you search under "Ethel Webling Miniatures".
    Thanks for your post about my great grandaunt.
    Best wishes,
    Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum

    1. Thank you, Dorian. I'm so sorry I didn't see this comment when you first posted it. Peggy's letters sound fascinating--have you ever thought of trying to get them published?

  7. Hello Scott,
    I came across your page while Googling "Maisie Nixson". Maisie was my great-aunt, but she died in 1954 before I was born. She seems to have had little connection with my grandmother (her elder sister) and my father and his sister, both now deceased, hardly knew her. Maisie Bennett was not a pseudonym; it was her real name. At some point she married Godfrey Nixson - with an s - but the marriage seems not to have lasted long although they did have a son. The three books hat you list are indeed the only ones that she wrote. Ring Twice for the Stewardess was published in 1954, the year of her death. I have a copy which I found with some difficulty (in New Zealand, via Abe Books) over ten years ago. It is a very readable and remarkably frank account of her life as a stewardess before, during and after WW2. I do not have and have never read her other two books.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Nicholas. I'll update my database and my list accordingly. Great to have some additional information about Maisie. If you think of anything else, feel free to email.

  8. Dear Scott,
    I know Maida M Nixson's book, 'Ring twice' very well because I'm an expert on ship's stewardesses. I've read it a million times and it's brill. (You can buy it online for £5 by the way, I saw just now). She made her first voyage in 1937, when it seems like she was in her 30s There are pix of her in it. So I don't think she is also EM Mayer Nixson, who would have been in her late 50s by then.


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