Friday, January 15, 2016

Devon; Celebration; 2016; Ten Women Writers; Anniversaries; Lives & Texts.

Tor Down House, Belstone, Devon
home of Doris Lessing from 1964-68.
F Names; Dates; Texts
50 years ago, 1966, Doris Lessing was living in a longhouse at Belstone tucked beneath the  granite folds of Dartmoor's sheltering tors. Lessing kept her home in Devon for four years, from  1964-1968. She may have been working on short stories from Winter in July (published 1966); or stories from The Black Madonna (pub. 1966); or The Summer Before the Dark (published 1973) - but see below.
50 years ago, 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea, one of the C20's iconic texts was published. The novel was written by Jean Rhys, another internationally acclaimed writer, who completed the novel after moving into a cottage at Cheriton  Fitzpaine, near Crediton, in 1960.
100 years ago, from February to in 1916, writer/poet H.D stayed in north Devon, where, revelling in the sea and scenery, she wrote new poems and translated older lyrics of the Classicists. Her first poetry collection, Sea-Garden, had just been published.
100 years ago, during summer 1916, writer E.M. Delafield, during lunch hours away from war work, was drafting her second novel The Pelicans, [possibly] in Rougemont gardens, Exeter. The novel was eventually published in 1918. It seems that Delafield had begun to write The Pelicans but, by 1917, on the advice of her publishers and following the success of her newly published first novel Zella Sees Herself, had set the 'Pelicans' manuscript aside, in order to complete the then more topical The War Workers, which was also published early in 1918.
150 years ago, on 4th November 1866, Scottish writer Jane Findlater was born    near Edinburgh. In 1899 Jane moved with her sister Mary and family to Paignton and then Torquay, where the sisters co-wrote  several novels, including Crossriggs, which was published in 1908.
200 years ago, in 1816, Devon born novelist Elizabeth/BridgetBluemantle, (also called Elizabeth  Thomas), nearing the end of her writing career, wrote and published the novel Purity of Heart, her  satirical response to Lady Caroline Lamb's first novel, a bildungsroman, Glenarvon.
Also 200 years ago, in 1816, Jewish writer, Grace Aguilar, (who later spent several of her formative years in  Devon, at Teignmouth and Tavistock), was born in Hackney, London. 
250 years ago, in 1766, according to her own diary, Elizabeth Simcoe was born in Whitchurch, Herefordshire; however, most authoritative sources now state that Simcoe invented the date and  place of her  birth; she was actually born in 1762. Simcoe first stayed in Devon when she was a young child and sometime after her marriage, in 1782, made the county her home.
Also, 250 years ago, in November 1766, Devon born writer, Catherine Jemmat [aka Catherine Yeo] died. Jemmat's Miscellanies in Prose and Verse was also first published in 1766.
300 years ago, on 9th February 1716, Mary Palmer (born Reynolds), sister of Sir  Joshua Reynolds, was born in Plymouth. Palmer was the writer of A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect, a text once  thought to be 'the  best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon' ...


    Some years present more anniversary and celebratory literary connections than others. For Devon women writers who lived and wrote in, or were in other ways connected with the county of Devon, 2016 is one such year ...

    Skimming stones back, just fifty years, there's a satisfying background literary contextual link between a medieval Devon longhouse set one the edge of one of Dartmoor's quintessential villages and one of the C20's towering female writers, Doris Lessing, who some have labelled the 'Grand Dame' of literature. Sources say that the writer adapted the original shippen at Tor Down House - which at the time of her arrival,was still occupied by horses - into a writing room. I can't confirm which texts Lessing was working on whilst she lived in Belstone; a variety of different possibilities are named. One source says she was writing part of the series Children of Violence. If so, then presumably (because of the novels' respective publication dates) she may have been working on Landlocked (pub 1965) and/or The Four Gated City (1969). Other possibilities (because of their publication date) are The Black Madonna (1966); Winter in July (1966); The Summer Before the Dark (1973); or, The Memoirs of a Survivor (which the author called 'an attempt at autobiography', 1974).
     As far as I can tell, there is little information as yet available about Lessing's links with Devon. I have not tried to sift through any archives and I also understand that the author's own dairies will not be made public as long as any of her children are alive; one day there may be more commentary by Lessing herself apropos her time in the Westcountry. At the moment I have to be content with tantalising snippets. According to the Western Morning News, 'she [Lessing] spent many hours in the study which had a large picture window with panoramic views across the paddock towards North Devon and the hills of Exmoor, and she used the room to write in.' We are also told that Ted Hughes, who lived just seven or so miles away and was one of Lessing's friends, was a frequent visitor; there are suggestions that Lessing bought the house in order to be close to Hughes, and that he found the cottage for her He is supposed to have berated her 'for covering up the pony ring in the floor of the shippen ... because he felt it should remain visible'. (Western Morning News, November 2013). I understand that Tor Down House is now home to The Dartmoor Soap Company, whose mission 'to support Dartmoor's natural environment' including such worthy charities as Butterfly Conservation, would presumably be approved by Hughes, were he still alive. 
      It seems that Devon was anything but a backwater for a few of the most celebrated women writers in the mid nineteen sixties. Not only was Doris Lessing tucked away writing in a converted shippen under the moor, but just over twenty miles north-east toward Exeter, since 1960, Jean Rhys had been stowed in the hold of a mid Devon village - a place which apparently she hated. We may not know what Lessing thought of the village she'd made her home for four years, but it is the opposite with Rhys, who persistently vocalised her negative response to her Devon locality. I have written about Rhys in Devon in another, earlier blog piece, which you should be able to read at Scrapblog - here and in another Scrapblog piece - here. I do not know if the two writers knew one another, or ever met. Possibly not, given the near thirty years difference in their ages; but each must have been aware of the other's literary importance and there may have been a kind of connection if not  a meeting, because Ted Hughes' literary agent sister Olwyn happened to take on Rhys' writing.
Mid Devon landscape near Cheriton Fitzpaine.
      Slip into the past just another stone's throw of fifty years back from 1966, to 1916 and there is at least one significant Centennial event, for during early February 1916 H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), accompanied by her husband Richard Aldington, travelled down to north Devon from London and moved into the Old School House at Martinhoe,  
Old Schoolhouse Martinhoe

A month later, in March, the Aldingtons moved along the lanes and took up residence in Woodland Cottage, at nearby Parracombe.

Woodland Cottage, near Parracombe,
where H.D, lived  in 1916

       The couple were soon joined by their friend John Cournos.
H.D. seems to have loved Woodland cottage and the spectacular scenery nearby. She told friends how happy she was. Referring to her surroundings as “wild and pagan,” she mentioned that the “thatched cottage with a brook [was] backed by a wooded hill with a small mountain in front and the sea, with cliffs covered with gorge, is half a mile down the valley.” In a letter in May she told her friend, F.S. Flint, that “every day we go to Heddons [sic] Mouth about 1.30, bathe, scamper about on the rocks, build a drift-wood fire & have tea.”
      Aldington and H.D. were both writing avidly. She was working on Euripides’ Ion; Iphigenia in Aulis; the poems “Heliodora” and ‘Nossis” )See Collected Poems; she may have been drafting her extensions of Sappho’s fragments, (in Collected Poems), as well as several of the poems later published under The God, (in Collected Poems) and may have worked on an early draft of an essay on Meleager, entitled “Garland."
     In  Aldington enlisted as a private in a local regiment and left for training. H.D. remained at Woodland with Cournos for a while and then moved eastwards to stay near where Aldington was based, at Corfe. As far as I know she did not return to Devon.
      H.D's famous early and short imagistic lyric 'Oread' appears in Sea Garden, and, although  the poem was probably written before she arrived in Devon, its sentiments convey the dramatic ambience of the spectacular coastal seascape within which she had immersed herself down in the South-west. 

Whirl up sea-
whirl your pointed pines
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us
cover us with your pools of fir.
You can read more about H.D.'s time and writing in Devon in an essay here - Sea-Thyme in the South-West; H.D.'s Se/a/cret Garden (scroll down to page 8).

        I don't know if H.D. had any occasion to meet new novelist E.M. Delafield whilst she was in the county, or indeed, had ever heard of her; she may have, but it is perhaps unlikely. Although by 2016 Delafield had completed her first novel Zella Sees Herself, it was not published until early the following year, in 1917. During 1916, Delafield was drafting her second novel,The Pelicans; its last page notes the dates,  'Exeter June 1916; London June 1917', confirming the manuscript was first penned in Devon. However, according to her biographer Violet Powell, Delafield had been persuaded to temporarily abandon that manuscript in favour of The War Workers, which, in light of the contemporary situation, was considered likely to gain more immediate public interest.
Rougemont Gardens, Exeter
where E.M. Delafield drafted her early novels.

E.M. Delafield's home
Croyle House,
near Kentisbeare.

       As a young girl  Delafield had holidayed in Devon with her parents, at Butterleigh, near Cullompton and after the war and following her marriage to Paul Dashwood, the couple bought Croyle House, near Kentisbeare, where the family remained until her death during World War Two, You can read more about E.M. Delafield and her Devon connections in another blog piece,  Sad December.


Delafield a younger novelist, by about a quarter of a century, to the Scottish Findlater sisters, frequently spent her childhood summers at East Butterleigh House, in mid Devon. She was probably not aware of the Findlaters' existence when, according to Violet Powell, she was sitting, aged 8, in the Butterleigh meadows, avidly listening to her mother reading Pilgrim's Progess. It was about the same time that Jane and Mary Findlater travelled down south, from Edinburgh to Torbay; soon, Devon became their settled home. However, it is possible that by the time their co-written novel Crossriggs first appeared, in 1908, Delafield, now 18, may have come upon and read what had by now become a popular novel.
      Delafield was born in 1890. The Findlater sisters first arrived in south Devon in 1899. There seems some dispute as to whether Jane, the younger of the sisters, had been born in Perthshire in 1866, or in Edinburgh; but, after their father's death when she was twenty, Jane moved with her family to Prestonpans near Edinburgh. Some ten years later, in 1896, Jane's first novel, The Green Graves of Balgowrie (the plot of which was based on her mother's family history) was published; the novel soon became a sought after book and quickly (after the family became concerned with their mother's fragile health) left them with sufficient income to move to warmer climes, in Devon.
      There's a short commentary about the Findlater sisters in Devon on the blog, here - Going Back to the Findlaters
At Prestonpans, East Lothian, where the Findlater sisters lived from 1886.
      The  C19 fiction writer Elizabeth/Bridget Bluemantle/Thomas, whose novel Purity of Heart was published two hundred years ago, in 1816, remains an enigma. There are many occasions when a woman author's identity is elusive because of the different names she has taken on, either as pseudonym/s or through a series of marriages, but this novelist's identity has proved to be more complicated than most. I have had her on a list of mystery writers for many years, but only recently had time to go on a google trail. Googling has proved useful and has at the very least provided a few clues, a starting-point. This is what I have found: 

Berry House Hartland. 

Elizabeth Wolferstan was born circa 1770/1, at Berry House two miles west of Hartland. Daughter of Edward Wolferstan and his wife Mary; it seems the Wolferstan family had a long standing link with that parish. Berry House was remodelled in the 1760's to provide a home for the Land Agent of Hartland Abbey. The following account about Berry's history appears on the description of the Hartland Heritage Trail walk  Presumably, Elizabeth, the writer's family of Wolferstan, are, or were one and the same as the Wolfenston family:

Berry House has been the subject of a recent sympathetic renovation (in 2009). The property came to prominence when the orphaned Wolfenston child came into the care of his aunt at Hartland Abbey. As he came of age and married he took on the lease of Berry and transformed it into a house suited to his status. Wolfenston had possibly inherited income from large estates in the Midlands which gave him the finance to transform a traditional farmhouse into his mansion. He became involved in the administration of The Hartland Abbey Estates on behalf of his cousin and amassed a substantial property holding of his own. The family, after three generations, moved to Bristol where they established further business dealings. Bristol was chosen by many merchants as it was a major trading port, whereas the local ports of Barnstaple and Bideford became silted and less accessible to the larger merchant ships. Berry farmhouse has extensive views south along the coastline towards Cornwall and must have been splendid on a good day. The interior of the house has been restored to its heyday and still shows all the evidence of its former life. (See The Devon Heritage Walk)

       The Wolferstans apparently descended from a family who held Statfold Hall in Staffordshire. The following blog-piece, HandedOn, concerning that house, contains lots of fascinating Wolferstan-family leads. Back in Devon, the family are listed as one of the armigerous families of Hartland. There is said to be a tablet to the Wolferstan family at St Nectan's Church; Devon Record Office holds at least one archival record relevant to the family and North Devon Record Office another. As yet, I have not had a chance to seek these out. 
        Elizabeth Wolferstan married Reverend Thomas of Tidenham circa 1795 and moved to Gloucestershire. However, she must have eventually moved back to her home county, for her death was at Parkham, in north Devon, in June, 1855. Another wikipedia lead helps out here. It indicates that the writer probably had a son, Frances Wolferstan Thomas, who became both Rector and Rural Dean of Parkham; he had a son, also Frances the subject of this wiki article. We can probably assume that the writer moved to her son's household sometime before her death. Here is the will of Francis but you will have to pay National Archives to download it and make it legible. If it is him, then his death was only a year after that of his mother. In the Preface to Purity of Heart the author states that 'it has been finished amid the various occupations of domestic life, by the mother of a growing family'; so Elizabeth must have borne several children.
      I don't know if the author Elizabeth Wolferstan Thomas knew Lady Caroline Lamb. Perhaps she did, because they may have come from similar backgrounds. Perhaps, Elizabeth made a bee-line for her contemporary's first novel, Glenarvon, in 1816, because she knew its author and was being nosey. Elizabeth appears to suggests such: 'The  novel of Glenarvon fell into her [Elizabeth Thomas'] hands, with numerous other publications'. In the Preface to her novel, the full title of which was Purity of Heart, or The Ancient Costume, a Tale in one volume addressed to the author of Glenarvon, Thomas maintains that the manuscript was completed in three weeks; she didn't  delay in making her response. Anyway, by all accounts, Thomas' rewriting of Glenarvon, a satirical fictional reposte, seems to have sparked off a vituperative spar between the two writers. Narrated by an 'old wife of twenty years', its main character, Calantha Limb is a corruption of Calantha Delaval (alter-ego of Caroline Lamb (who appears in Glenarvon).  Purity of Heart presents a counter narrative to the earlier novel, ultimately presenting an unflattering depiction of Caroline, Bryon's onetime lover. Thomas does not hold back when she justifies her attack on Lamb in her Preface, specifying 'its [the novel's] horrible tendency, its dangerous and perverting sophistry its abominable indecency and profaneness'. [It] 'struck [her] with such force', she continues, that she 'could not resist the wish that came into my [her] mind to ridicule it'. 'Purity of Heart' responded to Glenarvon's 'Kiss and Tell' with a virulent, polemical narrative, which Caroline Lamb, in quick self-defence, immediately reacted to:

Before a person attempts to turn another in to ridicule as is stated in the preface, they ought to know how and the author of Purity of Heart has less idea even of common humour and liveliness than anyone I ever met with. Better to take no notice of it -
she added, but did concede that 'the verses' which prefaced Purity of Heart's chapters, were 'rather good', You can read more detailed commentary concerning the inter-textual debate between the two writers and their novels at Lady Caroline Lamb; a Biography by Paul Douglass, the main source of my information about the interchange between them. 
       However these two novels were received by the public in 1816 - and it seems that reaction to Glenarvon (although the book sold out soon after publication, thus instigating multiple reprintings) - soon led to Caroline Lamb's social ostracisation, after her friends found themselves cast as targets of the scandal plot's satire, Glenarvon  has survived through the two centuries since; contemporary literary studies often feature it as a work of early feminist appeal. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Thomas' Purity of Heart' has not retained too much readerly appeal, but only seems to create a buzz of interest because of its connection with that a priori text.


Grace Aguilar
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

      Writer Grace Aguilar was born two hundred years ago, in June, 1816 - the same year that Purity of Heart was published. Aguilar was twelve when in 1828 she moved down to Devon with her family, because of their father's fragile state of health. The family may also have been thinking of Grace herself, who from an early age had suffered from a chronic long-term illness. In Devon the Aguilars lived in Teignmouth and I understand, also, for a while, in Tavistock.
While Grace was taking care of him, her father taught her the oral history of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, complementing her mother's earlier instruction in Judaism. He may also have taught her Hebrew, which was extremely unusual for a Jewish woman to know at that time. Both her religious and literary interests date to that time of her life; she began indulging them both by making her first efforts at poetry and fiction and attending some Protestant services. A collection of conch shells she found on a Teignmouth beach spurred her to attempt a scientific paper on the subject (Wikipedia Grace Aguilar)
      One source states that it was after the move to Devon that  the young writer 'wrote her first completed manuscript, a play called “Gustavus Vasa” about a Swedish king (now lost)' - see Grace Aguilar. - while in her own memoir she records that her first poem was written in Tavistock two years after they moved to the south-west, when she was fourteen. By the time she was fifteen she had begun drafting her first long narrative 'a historical romance set during the Spanish Inquisition called The Vale of Cedars, or The Martyr' (Grace Aguilar). The text took four years to complete. I believe that the Aguilars were in Devon until 1835, when Grace, now nineteen, contracted measles (from which, apparently, she never fully recovered). Perhaps it was her illness which prompted her parents to move away from South-west England and return to the south-east, to Brighton, where Aguilar found a publisher for her first book of poems, Magic Wreath of Hidden Flowers, (some of whose lyrics must surely have been drafted whilst the poet lived in Devon). One source suggests that it was 'amid the beauty of the surrounding scenery [around Tavistock] that she first gave vent to her thoughts in verse' (see Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History)


Entrance to Wolford Chapel
where the Simcoes are buried.

     Just like Grace Aguilar, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim/Simcoe was not born in Devon, but her first acquaintance with the county began when she was younger than the Jewish writer.You can find the details of Elizabeth's ancestral background at Dictionary of Canadian Biography but the fullest informative and engaging text about her life is the biography by Mary Beacock Fryer. I'm not sure when or how the birth date of 1766 came about. Perhaps it started as a recording error; or maybe it is true that Elizabeth gave the incorrect date, so as to make herself seem four years younger. You will find both dates given online; Mrs Simcoe Diary edited by Mary Quayle Innis gives the later date, but Beacock Fryer's account seems authoritative.
      Briefly, here, orphaned at birth, Elizabeth's aunt Margaret took on charge of her niece and so, when in 1769 (Elizabeth was about seven), Margaret married Admiral Samuel Graves of Hembury Fort House near Honiton, the child inevitably began to spend time with the couple.  Eventually she moved in with them and Devon then became her home.

Elizabeth had visited Henbury Fort House frequently as a small girl where her uncle doted on her as a daughter and riding companion. When she moved in permanently she continued her love of horses and art. She had already had a very privileged upbringing with French and German governess’s and excelled in music and painting. She loved dancing, outdoor life and plants. Indeed she was extremely accomplished at all the necessary society pursuits appropriate to an heiress to considerable sums from both parents. She was rich and very well connected and would be seen as a very good match for any man of the time seeking to make his way to the top. (See Hembury Fort House)
You can find a few notes pertaining to Elizabeth Simcoe on the blog WomenTravelling and DevonRomanticPoets.

         So nothing shall tempt me from Harry
         His Heart is as true as the Sun
         Eve with Adam was ordered to marry
         This world it should end as begun
         (From The Rural Lass, by Catherine Jemmat)

          Catherine Jemmat, born Yeo, in 1714,  died in 1766, the same year that Elizabeth Simcoe said she was born. The two writers do bear some resemblance to one another: they both had eminent naval family connections; they both lost their mother very early in life (Jemmat's mother died when she was five or so); there are still unsettled facts re either their birth or death dates. In Jemmat's case it is the year of her death that is still uncertain. You will find that the year of her death is stated as 1766, but there are still doubts about that fact:

In November, 1766, the London Magazine reported what seems to be her death notice, yet her Memoirs were reprinted by subscription with new subscribers in 1771. Some sources list her death date as 1766. Condensed from a biography written by Sarah Forney. (See A Celebration of Women Writers)

       Catherine Yeo/Jemmat is even more elusive than Elizabeth Wolverstan/Thomas/Bluemantle; that is perhaps understandable, given that Jemmat's life takes us back even further than Thomas', to over 250 years ago. And yet, oddly, contradictorily, Yeo presents herself  vividly to us; we can almost visualise her before us, she comes across as a larger than life character:
At the time of my birth my father, the late Admiral Yeo, was a captain in his Majesty's Navy and resided at Exeter in Devonshire, where I was born. My parents when I was yet an infant removed to Plymouth, a principal sea-port and very compatible with his maritime employment., where he raised to the rank of half pay admiral.He was a finish'd tar in his own house, a baashar whose single nod of disapprobation struck terror in the whole family. Between five and six years of age I unhappily lost a tender mother, my father was then at sea and arrived the very night her funeral rites had been performed. The night of my mother's interrment and of my father's arrival from a long voyage was the first time to my remembrance I had ever seen him. My mother left in his care besides myself, a brother and sister who were yet younger. My father to apolgise for his coming to England without the knowledge or permission of the Lords of the Admiralty pleaded his extreme fondness and passionate regard to his wife. However he was severely reprimanded for it by their hardships and had not as I have been informed, a ship to command for nine years after. He was so enthusiastically fond of her as to insist on having her corpse taken up from the grave to bid a last adieu to the inanimate lifeless body buried in the clay. However, with much difficulty was eventually persuaded from doing so. However, such was his grief, that nine weeks later he married a giggling girl of nineteen. She had five children, four of whom it has pleased providence to call to a better state and had the worthy captain, my half brother completed the number of the deceased, the world and myself might well have borne the loss with christyn patience and resignation.To complete the dismal scene that was opening to us, new characters in the great drama of life, my grandfather, a pious, plain, upright man who boarded with us, was snatched away by death. Had heaven pleased to have lent us his life a little longer, he would have at least have seen us properly instructed in the principles of religion and morality.

         I think Catherine Yeo's/Jemmat's Memoirs might be the earliest autobiographical writings that we can read penned in the first person by a Devonshire woman.
         You can also find Jemmat's lively poem, A Rural Lass, included in several poetry anthologies, including in Eighteenth Century Women Poets, ed. Roger Lonsdale 

        And, last, but decidedly not least, there's Mary Reynolds Palmer, born 300 years ago, 9th February, 1716. Remembered as the elder sister of the much more famous painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, she is probably one of a number of women whose own talents became subsumed under the celebrity umbrella of other, usually male, relations. In the case of Mary Reynolds Palmer, she seems to have had advanced artistic as well as writing talents; it was her own drawing skills which initially tempted her brother to take up the art. Mary Palmer is also documented for her role as patroness (of Dr Johnson and others) and as being the mother of two daughters whose features are preserved into posterity after their uncle represented them in famous portraits. (They are easily found online, one such is at Yale University Digital Collection - Mary Palmer, niece of Joshua Reynolds).

Mary Palmer Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Reynolds Palmer, as Devon writer, is unique in her creation of the (as far as I know) sole written text in the local dialect,  A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect - once named as the 'best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon -
Opening of
A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect

      You can still see Mary Palmer's home now known as Palmer House, in Great Torrington,


     So, there we have it.
     Ten women writers -
     (perhaps - or not - to emulate?).
     Devon. Celebrate!

(Any errors or inconsistencies in the above piece may well be mine. I apologise for any you might find) 

1 comment:

  1. If you would care to contact me I may be able to help re Wolverton family as I wrote the piece you quote.


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