Friday, 19 December 2014

A Victory Celebration

'Tis the season to be jolly...
so come and join some wonderful authors (and their characters)
for an On-Line Virtual Party!
Browse through a variety of blogs (hopping forward to the next one on the list)
for a veritable feast of entertainment!
And, just as with any good party,
you'll find a few give-away prizes along the way!

A Victory Celebration

An extract from my forthcoming novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery

In the eighteenth century, the war between keepers and poachers could be brutal. In autumn 1796, Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster has been sent to Barcombe in Somerset to investigate the murder of Lord Oldfield's head gamekeeper. Dan's job is to infiltrate the poaching gang believed to be responsible for the killing and bring them to justice. But Dan has walked into a volatile situation. Lord Oldfield has enclosed Barcombe Wood and deprived the people of their ancient rights to gather food and fuel, sparking off violent protest. The latest raid in Barcombe Wood has ended in a battle between poachers and keepers and Dan only just managed to prevent another murder while keeping his cover intact. The next evening Dan and four members of the six-strong gang are in the Fox and Badger celebrating their victory...

Dan, Singleton, Abe and Travell were treated as if they had performed some marvellous feat fighting six against three and leaving one man so badly beaten he might be lame for the rest of his life. Ford's suffering did not soften the hearts of the people of Barcombe. As they saw it, it might easily be one of them lying injured, and there would be no comfortable bed, no physician, no pension from Lord Oldfield for their families.

In between pouring jugs of ale, tapping barrels and slamming tankards on tables, the landlord, Buller, reported that he had seen Doctor Russell earlier in the day and learned that Ed Ford had two broken ribs and a smashed kneecap, and there was no way of knowing what damage had been done to his insides.

"That's proud Ford - now peg-leg Ford!" yelled some wag, to gusts of laughter.

Travell called it striking a blow for English liberties. Everyone cheered and Jem Cox started to sing. Though an ugly, dirty man, he had a fine voice.

"When I was bound apprentice
In famous Somersetshire
I served my master truly
For nearly seven year,
Till I took up poaching
As you shall quickly hear
For 'twas my delight of a shiny night
In the season of the year."

They all took up the chorus and had belted out several more verses when the door opened and in stepped Caleb Witt.

Dan had seen the same thing in a score of London taverns. He would walk into a room and for a couple of heartbeats there would be dead silence. Then it would break with a noise that almost blew him back into the street, everyone talking and laughing, the smokers puffing on their pipes, the drinkers quaffing their ale, the whores wriggling in men's laps. They all knew who he was, though they all pretended not to. And either none of them had heard of the man he was after and his crimes, or they could all swear he was somewhere else at the time.

By the time Witt had fastened the door the villagers were engrossed in their cards and dominoes, their beer and baccy, their chat about dogs and horses. There was even a smattering of "Good evening, Caleb" as Witt pushed his way to the bar and placed one large, red fist on the counter. Dan doubted the gamekeeper had missed the momentary pause, or that he was fooled by the innocent bustle.

"And how," asked Buller, pouring out Witt's beer, "is poor Ford? That's a bad business, a very bad business."

Witt did not answer until he had slaked his first thirst with a long pull at his drink. "He's well enough."

He turned and surveyed the company.

"I'll join you, Singleton."

He strode over, dragged a stool from under the next table and straddled his thick legs over it. He was younger than Dan had realised, only in his late twenties. His face was ruddy, the skin coarse and crinkled around the eyes. He had a large, bulbous nose, a wide mouth, pale eyes set beneath a bony brow.

"Damp night," he remarked.

They all agreed on this. He looked at Dan. "I don't think I know you."

"Dan Fielding," said Singleton. "My new forge assistant."

"Ah, the boxing cove." Witt rubbed his jaw where Dan's knuckles had left a purple stain.

"Nought but a milling cove," said Dan.

Witt nodded slowly and switched his attention to the shopkeeper. "Well, Travell, how's business? Prospering?"

"Times are hard, Mr Witt, for us poor tradesmen," Travell answered, his voice a nervous whine. "Two bad harvests in a row. Money's tight."

"Yes, I dare say the best goods are those that cost you nothing to get but bring a high profit when you sell 'em," Witt replied. "Makes you wonder how poor labouring folk manage to put their dinners on the table, eh Abe?"

"I'm lucky I'm in regular employment," the lad answered, smart but not too jaunty. Witt was a tough man. It would not do to annoy him.

"I hear he's a good master, Farmer Dunnage. Good dog trainer too." Witt drained his glass. "Well then, I'd best be off. Me and Potter will be at the west warren all night."

Leaving them to digest the information that the west warren was precisely where the keepers would not be that night, he rose, wrapped his many-collared coat about him, and made for the door. It was an old game, Dan realised, this bantering between keeper and poacher, where much more was said than was spoken. But it was a grim game, when the stakes were so high on both sides. There was no more singing and the gathering broke up soon after.

Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery will be published by SilverWood Books in spring 2015.

Thank you for joining our party.
Now follow on to the next entertainment...
 (Please note some of the links will not be live until 20 December.)

Helen Hollick You are Cordially Invited to a Ball (plus a give-away prize)
Alison Morton Saturnalia Surprise - A Winter Party Tale (plus a give-away prize)
Anna Belfrage All I Want for Christmas
Debbie Young Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a give-away prize)
Fennella J Miller Christmas on the Home Front (plus a give-away prize)
J L Oakley Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a give-away prize)
Julian Stockwin Join the Party
Juliet Greenwood Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a give-away)
Nancy Bilyeau Christmas After the Priory (plus a give-away prize)
Nicola Moxey The Feast of the Epiphany 1182 (plus a give-away prize)
Peter St John Dummy's Birthday
Regina Jeffers Celebrating a Regency Christmas (plus a give-away prize)
Saralee Etter Christmas Pudding - Part of the Christmas Feast (plus a give-away prize)
Suzanne Adair The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a give-away prize)
Lindsay Downs O Christmas Tree, O  Christmas Tree (plus a give-away prize)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Spotlight on Suffragette Florence Feek (1877 – 1940)

The latest Suffragette Spotlight On looks at the work of Worcestershire campaigner, Florence Feek...

On 31 March 1909, thirty suffragettes attempted to get into the House of Commons to speak to Prime Minister Asquith. Nine of them were arrested after a struggle with the police. Amongst them was Florence Eliza Feek of Pershore. Florence was the daughter of Julius Harnworth Feek, who was the minister of the Baptist church at 2 Broad Street for thirty one years until his retirement in 1903. He was also on the Board of Guardians, and a district and parish councillor. The family lived at Myrtle Cottage, Pershore.  

Florence was a civil servant who worked in the General Post Office at St Martin Le Grand in London, and was also involved in social work with women and girls. It was that social work, she said, that made her a militant, for it “confirmed her in the belief that much of it under present economic conditions must fail”. She became a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union after hearing Mrs Pankhurst and Mrs Emmeline Pethick Lawrence speak in Hampstead in 1907.  

In Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on 2 April 1909, the arrested women were charged with obstruction. They were all sentenced to a month in prison. In court, Florence refused to be bound over and protested that she was not a criminal, but a political prisoner.  

When the nine were released on 30 April, the WSPU held a reception for them in London. The From Prison to Citizenship banner hung on the stage behind Christabel Pankhurst, and Florence and the others spoke about their prison experiences. She said that “the words of the Women’s Marseillaise’ had haunted her in prison (the song included the lines “For what they loved the martyrs died/Are we of meaner soul?”). She added that "it was more than a reward for the time she had spent in prison to know that her two brothers and a man friend had entirely changed their views on the militant methods.” 

Florence was born on 26 December 1876 with a twin brother, Harry. A promising artist, Harry died around 1899. The brothers she converted to the cause were Arthur and Percy. Arthur Julius Feek was born in Redditch in 1869 four years before his father moved to Pershore. He was educated at Tettenhall College, Staffs, and later qualified as an accountant. He married Miss Annie E Milburn in 1920, and died in 1935. Florence attended his funeral. 

The pastor’s youngest son was Percy George Feek, who was also born in Redditch. He studied at Evesham Grammar School, and then the University Colleges of Bangor and Aberystwyth. He was the Director of Education for Derby until his retirement in 1933. At this time, their 86 year old mother, Mary Ann Feek, was still living in Myrtle Cottage in Pershore and Percy went to live with her. He never married, spent his leisure time boating, and in 1910 published The Navigation of the Avon, with Notes on the Worcestershire Bridges and Mills. Like his father, he undertook a number of civic roles including membership of the Board of Guardians. 

Norfolk-born Mary Ann Feek died in 1939 aged 92, leaving Percy and her daughter. Florence was described by the Worcester Journal 16 December 1939 as “a retired civil servant in London, [and] an active advocate, with other very prominent members of the movement, of women’s franchise”.   

I have not been able to find any information about the “man friend”!  

However, Florence moved away from the WSPU as suffragette militancy escalated. She devoted her spare time to working in Canning Town Women’s Settlement. With her friend Miss Laura Stead she founded the West Ham Home and Hostel for Girls.  

Although her brothers remained Baptists (Percy was a deacon of Osmaston Road Baptist Church in Derby), Florence became a Quaker and was secretary of the Wanstead Friends Meeting. She retired from the Post Office in 1936. She continued her social work and went to the County Hostel most weekends.  

In September 1940 London endured a week of almost non-stop bombing, with nearly forty raids and 2,000 bombs dropped. Tragically, Florence was amongst the civilians killed during these air raids when the County Hostel at 35 High Street, Plaistow was almost destroyed by a bomb on 15 September 1940. She was taken to Whipps Cross Hospital and died later that day. Her funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 28 September 1940. 

In October 1941 Florence Feek was memorialised by the provision of two extra room for the County branch of the West Ham Home for Girls at Jordans Village, Buckinghamshire, a Quaker settlement founded in 1919. Over a hundred people attended, including Laura Stead who was Superintendent of the Home. Her brother Percy was in the chair. On the following Sunday during the service at Jordans Friends’ Meeting house there were further tributes to Miss Feek and “her life of useful work”.

You can read previous entries in the Spotlight On Archive at

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Harriette Wilson and John Murray: Surviving the Brutal Rejection

In July I wrote a blog about bad reviews and how they have always been an occupational hazard for writers. (July 2014, Dismal Trash: The Time-Honoured Art of the Bad Review).  This time I’m looking at another literary tradition: the brutal rejection.

Harriette Wilson (1786–1845) was the daughter of a clockmaker in Marylebone who went on to carve out a career for herself as a courtesan. Her clients included some of the most rich and famous men in the land, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, amongst them. Harriette also fancied herself something of a writer. She set about writing her memoirs, but found it a “tiresome” occupation and “a few pages” in grew tired of it. She did not give up her ambition, however. With the encouragement of her friends, she decided to find out if her memoirs were worth publishing. She took her few pages to John Murray, Byron’s publisher. 

Harriette approached Murray “in much fear and trembling”. She explained that she had little confidence in her work, and sought his opinion as to whether she should continue with it. Alas, like many a beginner she was to receive a crushing response. Murray “looked on me with as much contempt as though Ass had been written on my countenance”. He said, “with much rudeness”, that she could leave her manuscript if she liked. She did so, although she was convinced that he had already made up his mind not to look at it. The manuscript was duly returned to her without comment, which confirmed her suspicion that Murray had not even read it.  

She thought it “really cruel to thus damp a beginner” and says she lost whatever shred of confidence she had in her work. She was sure it was “trash” and felt nothing but contempt for it. However, like many a writer before and since, in spite of these protestations she did not quite believe it as bad as all that and she did not give up. Unable to face admitting that the work was her own, she submitted it anonymously to another publisher. She insisted that she did so only to obtain confirmation that it was no good in order to stop herself from again falling prey “to the mania of scribbling”. Four days later she received a letter telling her that he wanted to publish her memoirs. Author and publisher would share the expenses and the profits.  

The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, Written By Herself was published in four volumes in 1825. The book was an immediate success. Thirty editions were printed in its first year, and the publisher’s office was besieged by members of the public wishing to buy a copy.  

And again like many a writer before and since, Harriette dreamed of getting her revenge on the publisher who had so cruelly rejected her. If she had been capable of writing poetry, she declared, she would have sent Murray some verses thanking him for being so rude to her. The man she had thought would be wiser than anyone else, whose decree “I will stand by”, became “old, purblind Murray” as soon as he failed to see the merit in her work.  

Was Harriette’s writing any good? Sir Walter Scott did not think so: “the wit is poor, but the style of the interlocutors exactly imitated”. Harriette’s biographer K D Reynolds describes a subsequent novel (Clara Gazul, 1830), as “weak”.  

I think the truth is that Harriette really did not care all that much about the quality of her work. Her goal – and one she spectacularly met – was to make money. She ensured her book’s profitability even if it did not sell by charging former clients £200 apiece to be left out of it. She kept this lucrative blackmail racket going until 1830. Interestingly, a friend of Harriette’s had advised her to use her own name in the Memoirs as this would ensure it sold – making it an early example of a celebrity best-seller. In the event Harriette was able to retire comfortably on the profits from book sales. 

I can’t help suspecting that John Murray was not so “purblind” to the book’s literary merit after all – though he did miss out on a commercial opportunity!*


* Or perhaps not – I was amused to notice that the paperback edition I have was originally published by John Murray in 1957!


K D Reynolds, ‘Wilson , Harriette (1786–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2010 [] 

Harriette Wilson’s Memoirs, ed Lesley Blanch, (London: Phoenix Press, 2003)


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Xena Warrior Princess v Patient Griselda: Feisty Heroines in Historical Fiction

I had a wonderful time at the Historical Novel Society Conference in London last weekend (5-7 September 2014). There were some great panels and workshops, and it was lovely to meet old friends and make new ones.  

One of the workshops I attended was “Feisty Heroines and Dutiful Wives” which looked at the challenges of writing about women in history when their lives were so often constrained by prevailing custom, ideology and law. The panellists were Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist), Kate Forsyth (best-selling author of thirty books including The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens) and Professor Diana Wallace (Professor of English Literature at the University of South Wales, The Woman's Historical Novel).  

It was a topic that interested me because most of my stories have a male leading character. This surprises even me sometimes! After all, my main perspective in history and literature is a feminist one, and my literary giants are Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith and a host of other amazing women authors, particularly those writing in the eighteenth century (when most of my stories are set).  

But I don’t believe that writing with a male protagonist puts me outside the feminist pale when it comes to thinking about what life was (and sometimes still is) like for women. In a recent on-line discussion with writer Jane Davis, I was asked if the fact that opportunities for women were so limited influenced my decision to write from a male perspective in my eighteenth-century thriller To The Fair Land. I answered:-  

Yes, partly. Mainly, though, it was also part of the point of the thing. To The Fair Land is about a woman who has been somewhere women weren’t supposed to go and done things women weren’t supposed to do, and finding out about her from a male perspective was, I thought, a way of showing up the attitudes that tried to keep women in their place. Ben is no “right on” male...He’s limited by his own conventions, and this limitation is one of the things that makes it hard for him to get to the truth. So it’s about thinking about how both men and women are limited by gender stereotypes.

The HNS Conference Panel was an opportunity to explore the question further. It was fascinating to learn about the origins of the word “feisty”, which has roots in a Germanic word for a small dog and is also related to an Old English word for breaking wind. I hadn’t realised it was so insulting. I checked its meaning in the Oxford English Dictionary which gave: “Aggressive, excitable, touchy”. Of the four examples of usage the OED listed, two referred to male characters, one to a horse and one to a woman described as “feisty as a terrier”.  

As was pointed out during the panel debate, descriptive words are gendered. We don’t call Alexander the Great a feisty hero, for example. And we are all, I am sure, familiar with hearing women who voice their opinions described as strident or shrill. The discussion also touched on the performative aspects of gender – one thing that historical fiction can do so well is show us how women performed differently at different times as ideas of what constitute femininity and masculinity changed.  

So why don’t I write about feisty heroines? After all, I can enjoy a feisty heroine as much as the next woman – bring on Xena, Warrior Princess I say! And strong, rebellious, passionate heroines can be inspirational too. 

But I’m not always sure that the feisty heroine does women any favours. Their stories can seem so far-fetched and anachronistic they actually tell us very little about the female condition. The feisty heroine is the exception to the rule. She’s often in a privileged position because of wealth, social status or beauty. And too often her strength is defined in relation to masculine qualities: she may ride, shoot and dress like a man, run her estates as well as any man, be as learned as a man...and all I can think is, “Is this all?” Is this all that it means to be a strong woman? (It doesn’t help that her reward is often a man!) There are other sorts of strength – as panellist Kate Forsyth points out in her article Fie on the Feisty Heroine – the strength to make something of your life despite the constraints.  

Of course I want to write about interesting women. But who says women have to be feisty to be interesting? The “dutiful wife”, the woman who sits and sews, the woman who says yes with her lips but no with her heart, has her story to tell. What wouldn’t you give to know what goes on behind those calm eyes? It is just as likely to be a story as rich in passion, peril and courage as any scrape of our feisty heroine’s. 

Read Kate Forsyth’s blog Fie on the Feisty Heroine  

Find out more about the panellists:-

“…I’ve never seen the point in historical drama. Or historical fiction for that matter.” Jane Davis in discussion with Lucienne Boyce 

Find out about the Historical Novel Society



Thursday, 7 August 2014

The gout sticks to me: two previously unknown letters by William Morris : Part 2

Last week on the blog I published the first part of an article about two previously unknown letters by William Morris. The article originally appeared in the William Morris Society Newsletter in autumn 2013. The letters had been glued into an incomplete set of Morris's The Earthly Paradise which belonged to Reverend John Pincher Faunthorpe, principal of Whitelands Training College.  

In addition to the two Morris letters, Book I of the set  contains a slip of paper dated “Nov 27th 1883” which reads: “Dear Mr Faunthorpe, Please accept this little gift as a token of gratitude & affection from your Senior Pupils for Language. Kate Stanley. Harriet A Martin.” This paper bears the stamp of “Whitelands Training College, Chelsea”. 

A grim sense of humour and kindness of heart: Kate Stanley 

Kate Stanley was one of the two signatories of the 1883 note to Rev Faunthorpe “from your Senior Pupils for Language”. This suggests that she herself was, with Harriet A Martin, a “Senior Pupil”. In fact, she was at this time Principal Faunthorpe’s most senior member of staff.

Kate Stanley came from St Mary Church, Devon. Her father was a slater and plasterer.  Like so many of Whitelands’s students, she worked as a pupil teacher before entering the College in 1855. Her training was funded by a scholarship, and while at the college she studied mathematics, English, science, French, needlework and religious studies.  

In 1857, Kate Stanley left Whitelands to take charge of Lord Ashburton’s School in Alresford, Hampshire. Originally a cottage school for 45 children built by the 1st Lord Ashburton, by Kate Stanley’s time the school accommodated one hundred children. In 1859 she went back to Whitelands as a teacher. She became a member of College staff in 1862, and in 1876 was appointed Head Governess – the most senior role after the principal’s.  

Whitelands College had a reputation for the excellence of its needlework. Kate Stanley was such a proficient needlewoman that a book she wrote for teachers – Needlework and cutting out: being hints, suggestions and notes for the use of teachers in dealing with difficulties in the needlework schedule (1883) – was praised by John Ruskin in Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain, a monthly publication founded by Ruskin in 1871. In her will, she provided for a Stanley scholarship in needlework at Whitelands. She also became a Fellow of the Royal Botanic Society in 1882, although too modest to put “FRBS” after her name.  

Kate Stanley was Head Governess for twenty six years, and retired in 1902. She died on 31 May 1913, aged 81, after a short illness and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. The Whitelands choir sang at her funeral service. She was remembered for her grim sense of humour and kind heart by Rev Faunthorpe's successor, Miss Clara Luard. 

It was very lovely, the Irish message coming: Harriet A Martin

Harriet A Martin was another Whitelands student who returned to the College as a teacher. She held the post of governess between 1874 and 1884. When she left Whitelands to become head of Cork High School for Girls the students gave her a set of botany books.

Shortly after taking up her post at Cork, Miss Martin consulted Ruskin about setting up a Rose Queen Festival for the school, along the lines of the Whitelands May Queen Festival. Ruskin was delighted to hear from her and told Rev Faunthorpe in a letter written in May 1885, “It was very lovely…the Irish message coming”.[1] Each year he presented a golden brooch of wild roses to the Cork Rose Queen, together with books to distribute to her maidens as at Whitelands. He also wrote letters of advice to her: “be yourself…in sincerity and simplicity”.[2]

I am Dear Sir William Morris

I have always treasured my Morris letters. Reading something written in his own hand brings me a sense of connection to this great poet, novelist, artist, and socialist. It’s true that my two letters reveal nothing of the writer. They contain no personal information apart from the reference to gout, nor do they expose any secrets or scandal. I like them all the more because they are so humdrum and business like, and so embedded in Morris’s everyday life.

Now I have discovered more about them, I find that sense of connection has expanded. There is not one connection, but a network of them. Through these apparently insignificant books and letters, many lives coincide. William Morris, John Ruskin, Edward Burne Jones, John Pincher Faunthorpe, Kate Stanley and Harriet A Martin meet and mingle. Their stories are written in the ink of those hasty notes dashed off by a gouty man in March 1883.


Printed Material 

Whitelands College: The History, Malcolm Cole (Whitelands College: 1982)

 The Collected Letters of William Morris, Volume II, Part 1 1881 – 1884, ed. Norman Kelvin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

The William Morris Chronology, Nicholas Salmon with Derek Baker, (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996) 

The Whitelands Annual, June 1913

Printed Material in Digital Editions 

The Life of John Ruskin, E T Cook, Vol II 1860 – 1900, (London: George Allen & Company, 1912), Internet Archive (accessed 24 July 2013)

Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J. P. Faunthorpe M.A., Internet Archive (accessed 24 July 2013) 

Who’s Who 2013 and Who Was Who

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Internet Sources

History of Whitelands College, University of Roehampton

History of St John’s College, Battersea

AIM 25: Archives in the London and M25 Area: Roehampton College – Whitelands College

 History of Parkstead House

 Further Sources

 Rite of spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen, 1 May 2013, Blog by Local StudiesLibrarian, Kensington Library

With a special thank you to Gilly King, Archivist, The University of Roehampton


[1] Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J P Faunthorpe M.A., letter dated May 1885, Internet Archive.
[2] The Life of John Ruskin, E T Cook, Vol II 1860 – 1900, (London: George Allen & Company, 1912), Internet Archive, p. 380-1.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The gout sticks to me: two previously unknown letters by William Morris

Back in 2011, I did a blog about one of my most treasured possessions:  three volumes of the eighth, four-volume edition of William Morris’s The Earthly Paradise (Ellis and White , 1880). Apart from being a volume short, they are quite ordinary books and they’re not in particularly good condition. The reason I treasure them is that glued inside them are two hand-written letters by one of my heroes, William Morris. 

In that earlier blog, I wondered who had gone to the trouble of pasting in the letters, as well as a newspaper cutting and a slip of paper presenting the books to a Mr Faunthorpe. “Clearly Morris meant something to our scrap collector. Were [Morris’s letters] addressed to him? Why else would he be in possession of them? But then how did he know Morris?”  

Last year I took the books into the William Morris Society and they were so interested in these previously unknown Morris letters they suggested that I write an article about them for the Society’s Newsletter. So I decided to see what I could find out about our cutting-and-pasting Mr Faunthorpe. The results of my researches were published in the Newsletter in Autumn 2013. Part of the article is reproduced below, and the second part will be published here next week.  

First, though, a recap of the Morris letters. The first letter written by Morris, pasted into Volume 1, reads:-  

“March 3rd 83 

Dear Sir

Thanks for your note; the gout sticks to me so that I am still unable to make any appointment, but I will come on the very first opportunity. Yours faithfully William Morris.


The second letter, dated March 20 (written as 30th and corrected to 20th) 1883, is in Volume II and reads:-  

“March 320th .83 

Dear Sir

I have just received your note as I am setting off for the country till Easter is over: I have sent it on to our works & will see on my return that the sketch is done and all estimates duly made. I am Dear Sir Yours Faithfully William Morris”  

Both letters are on letter paper with the printed address “Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith” in the top right hand corner. They have been awkwardly folded and badly trimmed to make them fit inside the books, and some of the lettering in the note of March 20 1883 has been cut off. 

A newspaper biography of William Morris, who “lives, with his wife and two daughters, in a pleasant house near the Thames at Hammersmith”,  has also been glued into the front of Book I. The article goes on to reassure the reader that, “The socialism of his later days has scarcely alienated any of his older friends”. It is signed The Prompter and – more careless work from our gluer – the date of the cutting and the title of the publication have been removed by the scissors. I have been unable to find out what publication the piece came from.

Morris’s letters are inconsequential notes, dashed off by a man in a hurry and relating merely to business matters. They give no clues to the identity of the recipient, nor the circumstances in which they were written. Nothing connects the letters to the note on the slip of paper except that they were written in the same year, 1883. What and where was Whitelands College? Who were Mr Faunthorpe, Kate Stanley and Harriet A Martin? And does anything link them to William Morris? 

Dictatorial and ungracious: Mr Faunthorpe 

The puzzle of Whitelands College was easily solved by a quick search on the internet. Now part of the University of Roehampton, the College was founded by the Church of England’s National Society for the Promotion of Education of the Poor in the Principle of the Established Church in 1841 as a teacher training college for women. Whitelands had a number of illustrious benefactors, one of whom was John Ruskin (1819–1900). It was Ruskin who established, in 1881, the May Day festival during which the students elected what he called “the likeablest and the loveablest” of their colleagues as May Queen. Ruskin presented the Queens with a cross designed by Edward Burne Jones (1833–1898), as well as books to give to their hand maidens. The May Day ceremony continues to this day, although now a May Queen or King may be chosen.  

The Reverend John Pincher Faunthorpe MA, FRGS (1839–1924) was the principal of Whitelands College. After serving as a pupil teacher at St George’s School in Ramsgate, between 1858 and 1859 he studied at St John’s College in Battersea, the first ever teacher training college (now part of the University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth). He taught at Chester Training College in 1860, and returned to St John’s  as a geography lecturer

in 1861. In 1867 he was appointed vice-principal at St John’s. He was selected as Principal for Whitelands in 1874 from over two hundred applicants, and remained in post until 1907. After his retirement he maintained his connection with Whitelands by acting as College Chaplain.   

Faunthorpe is rather unfortunately characterised in Malcolm Cole’s Whitelands College: The History as “dictatorial” and “ungracious”. Whether or not these judgements are fair, he was certainly determined to enhance Whitelands both academically – by introducing new subjects including French, Latin and botany – and architecturally, by establishing and embellishing the College Chapel of Saint Ursula. He turned to John Ruskin for advice about the Chapel.  

On 2 February 1883 Ruskin wrote to Burne Jones asking him to design twelve stained glass windows depicting female saints, and stipulating that the glass should be brilliant. Burne Jones consulted William Morris as to how they would achieve the desired effect. Morris wrote to Rev Faunthorpe on 26 February 1883: “My friend Mr Burne-Jones tells me that you wish me to see the chapel at Whitelands College and to consult me on the subject of stained glass windows for them”. (1) Several letters passed before a mutually convenient date for a meeting could be fixed upon. As we see from Morris’s letter of 3 March 1883, one reason for the delay was that Morris was suffering from gout.  

Morris also wrote to his daughter May on 3 March 1883 and told her that he had been “leg-fast with gout, which is not at all bad, only obstinate and laming” for four days. (2) He was worried that he would be unable to deliver his lecture in Manchester on 6 March. In the event, the lecture – “Art, Wealth, and Riches” – did go ahead at the Manchester Royal Institution. (3)  

Unfortunately, Rev Faunthorpe had to put up with further delay in spite of Ruskin’s reassurance in a letter to him on 14 March 1883 that “Mr Morris’s gout need not hinder him thinking” about the project. (4) As the letter of 20 March 1883 shows, Morris was unable to deal personally with the Whitelands commission as he was about to join his family in the country (which he did on 24 March). By this point Ruskin was growing impatient and wrote to Morris chiding him for the delay: “You bad boy, why haven’t I any bit of glass yet?” Morris responded by sending Ruskin some patterns and a description of the production process on 15 April 1883. (5)  

Faunthorpe did eventually get his windows, which were designed by Burne Jones and executed by Morris at a cost of £70 each. The funds were raised by subscriptions from College students. Morris later designed a reredos for the chapel.  

In 1931 the College moved from Chelsea to larger premises in Putney designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The Morris windows and reredos were incorporated into the new site. Subsequently, in 2005, the stained glass and reredos were re-sited in Parkstead House (formerly Manresa House), the present home of Whitelands College at the University of Roehampton’s fourteen acre site overlooking Richmond Park. 

As to how William Morris’s letters and the other documents came to be pasted into The Earthly Paradise, it was a habit with Faunthorpe to glue newspaper cuttings and notes into his books.  

Next week: A grim sense of humour: Kate Stanley and Harriet Martin

1. Letter in collection of Whitelands College Archive, University of Roehampton.

2. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 165.

3. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 150.

4. Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J P Faunthorpe M.A., letter dated 14 March 1883, Internet Archive.

5. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 184.
Find out more about William Morris at the William Morris Society website. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Dismal Trash: The Time-Honoured Art of the Bad Review

Every writer knows they run the risk of receiving a bad review. Often the temptation to answer back is strong. The accepted advice is “don’t”, and I think this is wise counsel. Of course it’s hard when reviews seem harsh or unfair, but perhaps there’s some comfort in the realisation that it was ever thus. Spare a thought for the eighteenth and nineteenth-century writers who elicited the following responses from the critics.  

The third number of the Edinburgh Review wrote of Madame de Stael’s 1802 novel Delphine, “this dismal trash has nearly dislocated the jaws of every critic amongst us with dull as it could have been...The incidents are vulgar; the characters vulgar too.”  

Thomas Holcroft’s play The Man of Ten Thousand was described as “miserable trash” in the True Briton on 3 February 1793. The Sun (no, not that one) on 27 January 1796 said it was “too low for comedy...gross and indecorous”, and reported that the audience reacted to the news that there would be a repeat performance with “symptoms of disgust”.  

The accusation that a play or book was “low” was levelled at many writers. In She Stoops to Conquer, Goldsmith mocked the prim critics. In a decidedly low tavern scene complete with tobacco, punch and “several shabby fellows”, Tony Lumpkin has just sung an ode to the alehouse and his drinking friends comment:-  

“Second Fellow: I love to hear him sing, bekeays he never gives us nothing that’s low.   

Third Fellow: Oh damn anything that’s low, I cannot bear it.”  

Oliver Goldsmith endured his fair share of critical venom, much of it from reviewer and satirist William Kenrick whose cruel epithet on Goldsmith describes him as a “A blundering artless suicide”. (Goldsmith died in 1774 after contracting a kidney infection, but rumours circulated about an alleged suicide.) You get the feeling that Kenrick would have loved the anonymity of the internet as many of his “reviews” consist of personal attacks on more successful authors which include accusations of plagiarism, dishonesty and lewdness. His envious remarks were prompted by “brandy, malice, pertness and conceit” according to poet Cuthbert Shaw. 
A long forgotten “operatical absurdity called...Egyptian Festival” provoked from The Times on 15 March 1800 a tirade against “that class and species of writers...that...corrupt and degrade the British Theatre”. The reviewer continued, “Were half this encouragement bestowed on real talents, and half this expense awarded to legitimate compositions, we should at least have candidates for Dramatic Fame, amongst men of genius and education, who (with very few exceptions) seem to have abandoned this career of literature in despair, or from the shame of contending with the ridiculous pathos and deplorable buffoonery of the modern stage!”  

Some inventive critics put their comments in verse form. Here’s an extract from “To the Author of The Monk”, a 1796 gothic novel by Matthew Lewis. The verses were published in the Morning Post and Fashionable World on 4 April 1797:-

“A Novel, now, says Will, is nothing more
Than an old castle, – and a creaking door –
A distant hovel –
Clanking of chains – a gallery – a light –
Old armour – and a phantom all in white –
And there’s a novel.”     

A subsequent verse suggests that young ladies caught reading such novels should be flogged, and the whole ends by characterising gothic novels as “weak farrago” and “Mere trash – and very childish stuff”.  

The “most popular novelist of the day”, Charles Dickens, was accused by the Derby Mercury on 27 October 1858 of “a breach of good taste” for reading a story of “stereotyped vulgarity of ‘boots’ and chambermaids” at the Derby Lecture Hall. Another story about three nurses also got the thumbs down: it was coarse and should not have been read before an audience of “both sexes”. The reviewer was of the opinion that “no cultivated unmarried woman” would read the story in private “without disgust”.  

All in all, I think we can agree that harsh critics have always been with us. Many writers have survived the critical mauling and are still in print today – Dickens, of course; Lewis’s The Monk; and She Stoops to Conquer, which has appeared in 300 editions since 1773 and played in the West End once every three years. Some didn’t make it though. What became of Egyptian Festival and The Man of Ten Thousand? Perhaps they were as weak as the critics said! 

In December 2013 I took part in a blog hop organised by writer Helen Hollick. Helen wrote a piece on Bad Reviews in which she quoted some hilarious present-day examples, amongst them the never-to-be-forgotten one star review, “I bought this book but didn’t have time to read it.” You can read some more of Helen’s examples at her blog, Let us Talk of Many Things.