Francis Jenkinson and the quiet storm

UL

Like many people, I felt sad when Cambridge University Library had to close its doors last month because of the coronavirus pandemic. I miss the Manuscripts department, the friendly tea-room and the generous presence of librarians, archivists and staff. But it’s good to know that the library remains open online. This blogpost is my take on a personal crisis in the life of Francis Jenkinson, who was University Librarian from 1889 until 1923.

At the end of 1891 Francis Jenkinson, aged 38, had been working at the Cambridge University Library for just over two years. The old library was then in its original location in the Schools building near King’s College, ‘a chaotic but atmospheric medley of disparate rooms, uneven floors and dark places for which readers could borrow lamps to light their way’ (Whitelock). Jenkinson’s prestigious position of University Librarian was the job he seemed born to do. He had been mentored by a previous holder of the post, Henry Bradshaw, and he knew the contents of every book in the library. Jenkinson was organized and practical as well as deeply knowledgeable about early printing, and he had a warmth and generosity that made him as popular with his colleagues as he was with the UL’s scholars and students. He had an uncanny, almost symbiotic connection with the library itself. One friend recalled how ‘he would rise from his bed when his subconscious mind told him there was a window left open, and go down in the small hours to shut it’. But during the darkest part of the winter of 1891-92, Francis Jenkinson seriously considered giving it all up.

Jenkinson

Francis Jenkinson, 1880s

He had taken up the role of University Librarian during a time of great personal sadness. His wife Marian Sydney Wetton had died aged thirty in January 1888, just six months after they married. Marian was one of seven sisters from a musical family who lived in Surrey: her older sister Jennie had married Jenkinson’s friend, the Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. After Marian’s death, Jennie and her unmarried sisters remained in close contact with Jenkinson, often dropping in at his home on Brookside, near the Fitzwilliam Museum, to play the piano and sing together. Early in December 1891, Francis confided in his friend Ida Darwin a momentous piece of news. He had fallen in love with Marian’s younger sister Mildred Wetton, a twenty-eight year old governess who worked in London, and they planned to marry.

Ida had met Francis shortly after she moved to Cambridge as a new bride in 1880. Jenkinson was a Trinity College fellow at the time, and supplemented his income by teaching Classics to students at Newnham College, one of the first women’s colleges. He tutored Ida in Ancient Greek and she and Francis became good friends, united by their love of music and gardening as well as literature. Francis was a frequent visitor to the Orchard on Huntingdon Road, where Horace and Ida lived with their three young children.

In early December 1891, love was in the newspaper headlines. Prince Albert Victor, who was Queen Victoria’s twenty-seven year old grandson and second in line to the throne, became engaged to Princess Mary of Teck on 3 December 1891. The royal family heaved a collective sigh of relief. Albert Victor was usually associated with rather more unwelcome publicity, including affairs with chorus girls and his name being linked to the Cleveland Street scandal after a male brothel there was raided by police. What Queen Victoria privately described as Albert Victor’s ‘dissipated life’ began when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early 1880s. It’s not known what Francis Jenkinson thought of him, but one nameless tutor complained that the college’s royal student ‘hardly knows the meaning of the words to read‘ (Magnus, 178). After Albert Victor’s unsuccessful stint in the army and lengthy trips overseas, it was decided that he needed to settle down with a sensible wife, and his distant cousin Princess Mary of Teck fitted the bill perfectly. Their marriage date was set for 27 February 1892.

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Prince Albert Victor, late 1880s

The royal engagement was the good news story that the nation badly needed. That winter the papers were full of reports of a new wave of influenza that was killing people in England in ever larger numbers. This was the second of two epidemics that followed on the heels of the so-called ‘Russian flu’ of 1889-90, the pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands worldwide. In 1890 Winston Churchill, then a fifteen-year old schoolboy at Harrow, wrote a poem called ‘The Influenza’ about it: ‘The rich, the poor, the high, the low/Alike the various symptoms know/ Alike before it droop.’ As Mark Honigsbaum writes, ‘the Russian flu was extensively documented and seen to spread rapidly between European capitals via international rail, road and shipping connections in a westward progression that was the subject of widespread commentary in both the daily and periodical press.’ According to a report published by the Wellcome Institute, 1892 was characterized by ‘a marked excess of deaths from influenza and pneumonia.’ It was a frightening time for everyone.

Ida was worried for Horace and their small children as well as their household staff, as more and more people they knew fell ill. But she was aware that, if word about Jenkinson’s engagement got out, it would cause a scandal in Cambridge no less shocking than Albert Victor’s rumoured visits to Cleveland Street. Under the Marriage Act of 1835 it was illegal in the United Kingdom and colonies for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife. In his book, Marianne Thornton   17971887: A Domestic Biography (1956) EM Forster wrote about how much unhappiness this law caused, describing it as  ‘yet another example of the cruelty and stupidity of the English Law in matters of sex’ (see my article here). Throughout the Victorian period the issue was hotly debated every year in parliament, but Anglican bishops in the Lords helped to ensure that the prohibition remained until the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907.

If the law did not change, Francis and Mildred would have to go abroad to marry and would be ostracized if they ever returned to England; any children they might have would be considered illegitimate in the eyes of most Anglicans. Ida was afraid that if others heard of his engagement, Jenkinson might lose his job as University Librarian. The situation would have to be managed in the most inconspicuous way possible. Ida needed to stay at home to care for her household, and so was not able to go to visit Francis as much as she would have liked. So she did the next best thing, by writing to him in the hope that she could change his mind.

All through December and into January, letters flew back and forth between Brookside and the Orchard. The normally mild-mannered, bookish Jenkinson raged against the Anglican Church and its bishops, while Ida remained calm and sympathetic, soothing him like a feverish child. The only other people who knew about the crisis were two family members who could be trusted to be discreet: his sister Nelly Jenkinson, and his distant cousin Daisy Stewart. Daisy had grown up in Edinburgh but now lived in Grantchester, where she worked as a music tutor. She had been in love with Francis for years, but accepted that he saw her only as a friend. She hated to see him so unhappy.

Why did he behave so recklessly, and risk losing the job he had worked so hard for? I think that the answer might lie in how the repeated flu epidemics affected the way that people thought during this time of national crisis. Jenkinson’s appointment as University Librarian in 1889 had coincided with the ‘Russian flu’ pandemic, which was the first recorded outbreak of influenza in England since 1848. Four million Britons fell ill and 127,000 died. Then another killer wave of flu struck the country in May 1891. Six months later, as the third epidemic reached Cambridge, Jenkinson must have wondered if he would live to do the work that he wanted to do. Overwork and anxiety were considered to be contributing factors in those who caught the flu, and for all his energy, Jenkinson had frequent bouts of illness. In 1890 The Times warned that the influenza’s impact on the imagination was ‘disproportionate to its actual destructiveness’ (Honigsbaum), but the fear that gripped everyone was very real. The number of deaths peaked in London in the third week of January 1892, when it was recorded that over five hundred people died of influenza and pneumonia. The poor suffered most, of course, but no one was safe. Prince Albert Victor became ill with flu symptoms at a shooting party at Sandringham in early January. Pneumonia set in, and he died a week after his twenty-eighth birthday on 14 January 1892.

There would be no royal wedding that year, and the nation went into mourning. In the months following Albert Victor’s death, his younger brother George, the Duke of York, became close to his (almost) sister-in-law. There was no taboo on their love, and in May 1893 they married with Queen Victoria’s blessing. In 1910 he was crowned George V, and she became Queen Mary (the present Queen is their granddaughter). Some twentieth-century historians have rather unkindly suggested that Albert Victor’s early death was ‘a merciful act of providence’ (Magnus, 239) allowing his sober brother and his equally responsible wife to steer the country through the crises of World War One and the depression of the 1920s and early 1930s.

By the middle of January 1892 in Cambridge, there was a gap in the storm clouds for Ida, as her household slowly recovered from the flu. Now she decided to take action. First, she wrote to Mildred, who replied with a subdued note of thanks and promised not to visit Brookside for a while. Then she wrote to Mildred’s older sister Jennie. Her husband Charles Stanford’s mother and two of aunts had died of the flu just a few weeks before, and Jennie herself had been very ill, so it’s likely that Ida did not want to involve them earlier. But now the Stanfords took charge. It seems that they talked sense into Francis, and by February the idea of an engagement was quietly dropped. The storm had passed, and most of their friends, family and work colleagues never even knew that it had happened.

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Francis J.H. Jenkinson by John Singer Sargent (1915), Cambridge University Library

Francis Jenkinson worked as University Librarian for the next thirty years, until shortly before his death in 1923. His contribution to the library was immense. He sorted and catalogued valuable acquisitions, including 140,000 fragments of the ancient Cairo Genizah and the contents of Lord Acton’s library, and appointed one of the University’s first woman librarians, the Sanskrit scholar and former Girton student, C.M. Ridding. In 1910 he was sent a collection of suffrage posters, which he carefully preserved in the library’s archives. This rare collection was recently displayed at the UL to mark 100 years since some British women got the vote (read more here).

Unusually for the time, Jenkinson was passionately interested in collecting ephemeral matter such as flyers, postcards, and posters. He felt that such “unconsidered trifles” told stories about people’s lives that would be lost otherwise. During the First World War he gathered a huge collection of this so-called disposable literature, and his War Reserve Collection is now an invaluable source for researchers. In 1915 the American artist John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint Jenkinson’s portrait to mark his twenty-five years as University Librarian, and this beautiful painting still hangs in the library today.

In 1902 Jenkinson married his ‘dear friend’ Daisy Stewart. The couple spent over twenty happy years together, travelling to the Alps with Ida and Horace and marking Mozart’s birthday with a piano concert at Brookside on 27 January every year. Mildred Wetton continued to teach English literature, and eventually became headmistress of her own private school in Kensington. She never married. In his biography Francis Jenkinson (1926) Hugh F. Stewart reflects that, until his second marriage, his brother-in-law lived a solitary life on Brookside, ‘save for the occasional presence of his sister, or of a sister-in-law, or of a scholar on bibliography intent.’ Perhaps this fleeting mention is a quiet acknowledgement of Mildred’s ephemeral, but important, place in Jenkinson’s life.

©Ann Kennedy Smith, 2 April 2020 (all rights reserved)

Notes: My warm thanks to Frank Bowles, Karen Davies, Carolyn Ferguson and Jill Whitelock for their help. Any errors are my own.

Online sources (all accessed 2 April 2020):

Karen Bourrier ‘If this be error: marrying the sister of a deceased wife was illegal in Victorian England’ History Today, 11 April 2018, https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/if-be-error

Stephen Gaselee, ‘Francis Jenkinson, 1853-1923: an address to the Bibliographical Society, 15 Oct. 1923’, Trans. Bibliog. Soc. . N.S.; v. 4, no. 3, Oxford, 1923

Mark Honigsbaum,  ‘The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the ‘Russian’ Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893’, Social History of Medicine, Vol 23, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 299–319 https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkq011

Mark Nicholls, ‘A Reason for Remembering: Francis Jenkinson and the War Reserve Collection’, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41154886?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents Jill Whitelock, ‘M.R. James and the ghosts of the old University Library’, Cambridge University Library Special Collections blogpost https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=18923

‘Albert Victor, Prince, duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864–1892)’ and ‘Jenkinson, Francis John Henry (1853–1923)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, https://www.oxforddnb.com/

‘Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health, London 1892’, https://wellcomelibrary.org/moh/report/b18252412/1#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=4&z=-0.3124%2C1.3883%2C0.6249%2C0.2439

‘The modern library’ on Cambridge University Library’s website; https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/about-library/historical-sketch/modern-library

‘Francis John Henry Jenkinson’ memorial on Trinity College Chapel website http://trinitycollegechapel.com/about/memorials/brasses/jenkinson/

‘Mr F.J.H. Jenkinson’, obituary in The Times, 22 Sep. 1923.

Books: Margaret Clifford Jenkinson, A Fragrance of Sweet Memories [Reminiscences of Francis Jenkinson], unpublished memoir, Cambridge University Library; P. Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (1964); H. F. Stewart, Francis Jenkinson: a memoir (1926); Francis John Henry Jenkinson by H.W. S[impkinson], Marlborough , 1923 [1 v.] ; 19 cm. Repr. from The Marlburian, 28 Nov. 1923.

Cambridge University Library Archives: Jenkinson, FJH to Ida Darwin, MS Add 9368.1: 16513 & ff.; letters from Jenkinson, Margaret Clifford ‘Daisy’ (1858-1933) née Stewart to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/40; from Jenkinson, Eleanor Louisa ‘Nelly’ (1855-1948) to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/42; Wetton, Mildred to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/70; Stanford, Jennie to Ida Darwin, MS Add.10286/1/67; FJH Jenkinson’s diaries and letters held at Cambridge University Library.

 

Brian Moore: a sense of home

Brian Moore“There are those who choose to leave home vowing never to return and those who, forced to leave for economic reasons, remain in thrall to a dream of the land they left behind,” the Irish-Canadian author Brian Moore (1921-1999) wrote in ‘Going Home’, his last, posthumously published essay. “And then there are those stateless wanderers who, finding the larger world into which they have stumbled vast, varied and exciting, become confused in their loyalties and lose their sense of home. I am one of those wanderers.” Below is my article “Coming Home’ (first published in Slightly Foxed and republished here with their kind permission) about Brian Moore’s sense of home and why, in the end, he wanted to return to Ireland.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all.

 

Coming Home

Ann Kennedy Smith

We first meet the eponymous heroine of Brian Moore’s novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955) shortly after she has moved into her new lodgings. As she carefully unpacks a silver-framed photo­graph of her Aunt D’Arcy and a religious image of the Sacred Heart, we sense her misgivings about ‘the condition of the bed-springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated’.

Judith Hearne is an unmarried, middle-aged woman living on precarious means in the 1950s. Both Miss Hearne (as she is always known) and the boarding-house have seen better days, but she does not dwell on her reduced circumstances for long. She takes pride in her neat appearance, devout Roman Catholicism and grammar-school education. The sparse furniture in her rented room can be moved to hide the stains, and her two pictures are comforting talismans: ‘When they’re with me, watching over me, a new place becomes home.’

Belfast is the setting for this modern classic about self-delusion, spiritual crisis and an awakening to a new truth. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne made its author famous and put the city on the world literary map. For the latter part of the twentieth century, how­ever, Northern Ireland was a place associated with bitter conflict, not bleak social comedy. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a peaceful seaside town there, but when I first read Moore’s novel in the 1980s, Belfast had long been ravaged by the Troubles. Perhaps it was because of this that Bruce Beresford’s 1987 film of the book relocated the story to Dublin. Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins are excellent actors, but the book’s essential Northern Irish geography is missing.

Brian Moore was born in 1921 and grew up in Clifton Street, then an affluent part of Belfast close to busy Royal Avenue. His father was a prominent surgeon and the first Catholic to be appointed to the Senate of Queen’s University; his mother Eileen was a nurse from Donegal, twenty years younger than her husband. Dr James Moore’s surgery was on the ground floor of their tall Victorian house, while Brian (always pronounced ‘Bree-an’ in the Gaelic way by his family) and his eight siblings spent their days in the spacious rooms above with their mother, nursemaid Nellie and two maiden aunts. Moore later described it as a ‘house of women’. Just opposite was the Central Orange Hall with a statue of a conquering King William III on horseback on the roof, a constant reminder of the social and religious divisions of the city.

‘Belfast and my childhood have made me suspicious of faiths, allegiances, certainties,’ Moore wrote. ‘It is time to leave home.’ Aged 22, having failed at university and abandoned his Catholicism, he knew that to become a writer he would have to leave Ireland, just as his literary hero James Joyce had done before him. The Second World War gave him the opportunity. In 1943, as German bombs rained down on Belfast, he joined the British Army and served as an admin­istrator on the edge of war zones in North Africa, Italy and France.

After the war, he worked for the United Nations in Warsaw. This international experience introduced him, as his biographer Denis Sampson observes, ‘to a world without national or ethnic borders’ and made a lasting impact on his imagination. In his later novels he often returned to those places that he called his ‘emotional territories’, and explored his fictional characters’ inner conflicts in times and places as far apart as seventeenth-century Canada in Black Robe (1985), 1940s eastern Europe in The Colour of Blood (1987) and modern-day Haiti in No Other Life (1993).

In 1947 Moore settled in Montreal, where he found a job as a journalist and wrote a series of bestselling thrillers under pseudo­nyms. He married Jackie, a French-Canadian fellow journalist, and just before their son Michael was born in 1953, he became a Canadian citizen. By then, he was already at work on his first serious novel, one in which he would return to Belfast to ‘write it out of my system’, he thought. Only later did he realize that as well as setting out the bitter reasons why he had left Ireland, his novel touched on his own lone­liness as an exile.

It was thanks to Diana Athill that Judith Hearne, as it was originally called, was published in London in 1955 (ten American publishers turned it down). As co-director of André Deutsch, she passionately championed Moore’s book when others doubted, and in her memoir Stet she recalls meeting its author: ‘a small, fat, round-headed, sharp-nosed man resembling a robin, whose flat Ulster accent was the first of its kind I had heard’. They became good friends and remained so until 1967 when, in the wake of a bitter divorce, Brian Moore abruptly ended their personal and professional relationship. Deutsch had pub­lished Moore’s first five novels, including The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960) and The Emperor of Ice Cream (1965). Others that he wrote later are ‘outstandingly good’, Athill writes, ‘but to my mind he never wrote anything more moving and more true than Judith Hearne’.

It’s a book that takes you into the heart of a claustrophobic post­war Belfast, a city where – in this novel at least – it never seems to stop raining.

The rain began to patter again on the windows, growing heavier, soft persistent Irish rain coming up Belfast Lough, caught in the shadow of Cave Hill. It settled on the city, a night blanket of wetness.

Judith Hearne is all too familiar with the city’s rain-sodden streets and chilly bedsits, moving as she does from one sordid lodging to another. Now in her forties, she has spent most of her adult life looking after her ‘dear aunt’, who selfishly made sure that her niece never married or went to secretarial college. Her aunt’s death has left her vulnerable and alone, eking out a meagre living as a piano teacher. Her religiousness takes the form of observance rather than faith, and she snobbishly refuses to mix with lower-class Catholics. Her Sunday afternoon tea with the O’Neills, a university professor and his family, is the only bright point of Miss Hearne’s week, but certainly not of theirs. The O’Neills’ comfortable home is based on Moore’s memories of his own family’s house in Clifton Street.

Judith Hearne is a victim of forces beyond her control, and her self-delusion and snobbery are all that keep her afloat. She worships the bullying parish priest Father Quigley while looking down on the professor’s kindly wife Moira. Her busybody landlady Mrs Rice and pampered son Bernard are unpleasant characters, as are her fellow lodgers, but one seems different. James Patrick Madden is unedu­cated and loudly dressed, but unlike every other man, he does not reject Judith at first glance. He is a recently returned emigrant, hav­ing spent most of his working life in New York, ‘in the hotel business right on Times Square’, as he puts it. With his brash manners Madden is out of place in Belfast, but Miss Hearne recognizes that underneath his bluster he is as lonely as she is. She begins to dream of marrying him and finding the security and happiness she craves, until the illu­sions that have sustained her are punctured one by one.

The sense of desperation in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is set alongside nuanced observations and moments of pure social com­edy. The landlady’s morning hair, ‘sticking out from her head like a forkful of wet hay’, a dejected greyhound ‘moving his tiny padded feet in discomfort at the cold’ and the damp misery of Belfast are conveyed brilliantly, and we feel the texture of a life lived out in this unfriendly environment. The almost invisible Miss Hearne becomes a woman who refuses to be ignored, with a voice that becomes more honest and braver, never more so than when she has nothing left to lose. As Diana Athill says, Moore’s view of life in this novel is tragic, ‘but one that does not make a fuss about tragedy, accepting it as part of the fabric with which we all have to make do’. Judith Hearne has something in common with that other flawed literary heroine, Emma Bovary. We sympathize with her, not for her likeability, but because of the way that Moore captures her inner life.

Graham Greene called Brian Moore his favourite living novelist, and it’s easy to see why: Moore’s nineteen novels range from political parables to metaphysical thrillers and historical fiction. His best novels, for me, are the ones that centre on a woman’s consciousness, including I Am Mary Dunne (1968), The Doctor’s Wife (1976) and his last published novel, The Magician’s Wife (1997).

Apart from occasional visits, Moore never went back to Belfast, and he spent most of his later life writing in relative seclusion in California with his second wife Jean. Even though he became inter­nationally famous, and won many literary honours, he was not always recognized in his native Ireland. He told the story of how, in the 1990s, he went into a bookshop in Dublin and asked if they had anything ‘by the Irish writer, Brian Moore’. No, the assistant said, after checking the computer, but they did have several novels by a Canadian writer of that name.

Moore might feel differently about the welcoming, cosmopolitan city that is Belfast today. Go and see it for yourself if you can: the Lough and surrounding hills look beautiful in the sunshine after the rainclouds have passed. Moore wrote his essay ‘Going Home’ after visiting the grave of a long-dead family friend in Connemara. There, looking out to sea, it struck him that, after a lifetime of travelling, he had made his peace with Ireland. ‘And in that moment I know that when I die, I would like to come home at last to be buried here in this quiet place among the grazing cows.’ It was the last essay he wrote, published posthumously in February 1999.

Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 65 © Ann Kennedy Smith 2020

65This article first appeared in Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly, Issue 65, Spring 2020.

The independent-minded quarterly that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach, Slightly Foxed introduces its readers to books that are no longer new and fashionable but have lasting appeal. Good-humoured, unpretentious and a bit eccentric, it’s more like a well-read friend than a literary magazine. Single issues from £12; annual subscriptions from £48. For more information please visit www.foxedquarterly.com

Celebrating The Ladies’ Dining Society

University-Arms-hotels-refurbished-bar

This month, to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020, a new cocktail called ‘The Ladies’ Dining Society’ will be launched in the Parker’s Tavern Bar at the beautifully renovated University Arms in Cambridge. The ingredients are still under wraps, but it will feature on a prestigious list of cocktails named after Darwin, Byron and others.  It’s a wonderful, celebratory tribute to the intellectual discussion club that twelve women began in 1890, and the unique contribution they made to the city’s life and culture.

It’s funny that one of the things known about the dining club is that the women didn’t over-indulge in alcohol. ‘The hostess not only provided a good dinner (though champagne was not allowed),’ recalled Mary Paley Marshall, ‘but also a suitable topic of conversation, should one be required, and she was allowed to introduce an outside lady at her dinner; but it was an exclusive society, for one black ball was enough to exclude a proposed new member.’

Despite such stern-sounding rules, the women were welcoming to guests, and their conversations were lively and wide-ranging. The freedom of talking openly in the relaxed setting of like-minded, trusted friends was heady, it seems. Eleanor Sidgwick, who became Principal of Newnham College in 1892, was usually seen as a rather reserved, slightly aloof figure. But the Ladies’ Dining Society dinners brought out her lighter side. ‘I have never anywhere else seen her more alive & interested,’ her friend Louise Creighton wrote. ‘She used to quite flush with excitement.’

So perhaps it was a good thing that champagne was not introduced into the already sparkling mix. The twelve women were not the only hosts who agreed that it was best for guests not to overdo it, at least before dinner. A note by Charles Dickens, acquired by the Dickens Museum recently, throws light on how meticulous he was about his own dinner party arrangements twenty years before the Ladies’ Dining Society. “No champagne before supper,” he told his butler, “and as little wine as possible, of any sort, before supper.”

Dickens_Gurney_head

During their meal Dickens’s guests could drink as much wine and champagne as they liked, of course – the idea was that they shouldn’t over-indulge beforehand. None of the Ladies’ Dining Society would, I imagine, have risked Dickens’ rather lethal home-made ‘gin punch’, nor would it have been offered to them (or any other guest). He instructed his staff to keep it hidden under the table (in ice) during his dinners, and only give it to himself and his friend Mark Lemon, the founding editor of the aptly named Punch.

I am sure the new Ladies’ Dining Society cocktail will be delicious, and bear no resemblance to anything Dickens might have dreamed up. I am looking forward to celebrating it with friends at the University Arms from 8 March 2020 onwards.

© Ann Kennedy Smith 1 March 2020 (all rights reserved)

Sources: M.P. Marshall, What I remember (1947); L. Creighton, Memoir of a Victorian Woman ed. J. T. Covert (1994); ‘Dickens treasure trove goes to London museum’ The Guardian 7 Feb 2020

Clubs of their own

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“We were a very lively buzzing community, pushing along our way, very much amused with ourselves,” Blanche Athena Clough wrote of her time as a Newnham College student in the 1880s (she later became Principal). As well as studying Classics, she had lots of college clubs to choose from, including the Shakespeare Reading Society, the Browning Society, several French societies and the ever-popular debating society. Both Newnham and Girton had a rich associational life, as the section on ‘Social Life’ in the ongoing ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition at Cambridge University Library reveals. Most of the University’s student-run societies that began in the 1870s were exclusively male, as Clough confirms. “We had no part or lot in University societies except the Ladies Discussion Society and I think C.U.M.S. [Cambridge University Music Society]… in any case the University generally were hardly aware of our existence.”

I believe that the women-led societies that began in the 1880s and lasted for so many years helped to make Cambridge a better, more inclusive place. These were not University societies, but associations begun in most cases by women married to professors, masters and college fellows after the University dropped its celibacy requirements. I’ve been talking quite a bit about these clubs recently. I was invited to speak to Selwyn College alumni about Kathleen Lyttelton and ‘The Women who changed Cambridge’ at the rather splendid Oxford and Cambridge Club in London last November. Then I gave a talk called ‘A Club of Their Own’ at the University Library in December, connected to the ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition. This month I gave another version of that talk to the Friends of Milton Road Library in a bright and welcoming new library setting.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk in such a variety of places, particularly as the societies that I discussed brought ‘town and gown’ women together in such an active, outward-facing social network. The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls (founded in 1883) was practical and philanthropic in nature, helping underprivileged girls; it was co-founded by Ida Darwin and a small committee of married townswomen and dons’ wives.

downloadIn 1884 Selwyn Master’s wife Kathleen Lyttelton (pictured here) co-founded the Cambridge Women’s Suffrage Association with Millicent Garrett Fawcett, leading to the town becoming one of the major centres in the campaign for women’s votes. The Ladies’ Discussion Society, mentioned by B.A. Clough above, was founded in 1886 by Mary Paley Marshall and others with the aim of bringing University wives, townswomen and female students together to discuss social questions. Speakers included Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor in England. In December 1892 she came to Cambridge to give a talk on the medical profession for women, and was ‘pelted with questions’ by Newnham and Girton students, according to a report in the Cambridge Independent Press.

IMG_8985Today, anyone who is interested in finding out more about these societies can access their extensive original archives in the Cambridgeshire Archives in a brand new, purpose-built site in Ely. It’s a bit harder to find out about the fourth club that I talked about, and have written about in this blog for the last few years. The exclusive Ladies’ Dining Society did not, as far as I know, keep minutes of their conversations or record details of the dinners they shared once or twice a term for almost twenty-five years. There are only intriguing snippets about the club in a couple of memoirs, and a handful of references in letters and diaries. It’s understandable that the women wanted to keep their conversations private, including from future researchers like me. The fact that it lasted for so many years shows that the Ladies’ Dining Society was deeply significant at a time when women’s voices and contributions to debate went largely unheard. I think that it’s a club worth celebrating, as we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020.

‘Even to form a ladies’ social club was a mild assertion of women’s right to public space’, as Doughan and Gordon write. Below I have listed their useful book, along with archive sources and a selection of excellent books, essays and articles on women’s clubs.

The University has not always been welcoming to women, but the excellent Rising Tide exhibition and events show what women at Cambridge have achieved despite all the obstacles. The exhibition closes on 21 March, so do grab the chance to see it if you’re in Cambridge (and if you are not, my TLS review is here). The Friends of Milton Road Library provide a year-round programme of stimulating and varied talks: more information here.

©Ann Kennedy Smith 17 February 2020 (all rights reserved)

Cambridgeshire Archives: Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; Cambridge Association for Social Welfare (1883-1985) [formerly CACG]  R106/097; Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society minute book, 789/Q139; CWSA Papers to 1919: 455/Q16-57, 59-60, 62-79; archives held at the Cambridgeshire Collection (in Cambridge Central Library) and the Museum of Cambridge.

Secondary sources: Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 (1999) and ‘Rooms Of Their Own: Victorian And Edwardian Women’s Clubs: Hesitant Beginnings‘ & other articles on ‘Woman and her Sphere’ website (accessed 16 Feb 2020); Louise Creighton, Memoir of a Victorian Woman: Reflections of Louise Creighton, 1850-1936 ed. James Thayne Covert (1994); D. Doughan and P. Gordon, Women, clubs and associations in Britain (2006); Linda Hughes, ‘A Club of Their Own: The “Literary Ladies,” New Women Writers, and Fin-de-Siècle Authorship’ Victorian Literature and Culture  35:1, March 2007, pp. 233-260; (1947); Amelia Hutchinson, ‘The “Hidden Histories” of women at Trinity’ unpub. dissertation (2019) https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/news/amelia-hutchinson-on-the-hidden-histories-of-women-at-trinity/ (accessed 16 Feb 2020); Mary Paley Marshall, What I remember (Cambridge, 1947); G. Sutherland ‘Girton for ladies, Newnham for governesses’ in Teaching and Learning in Nineteenth-Century Cambridge, eds. Jonathan Smith and Christopher Stray, 2001) pp.139-149 and In Search of the New Woman: Middle-Class Women and Work in Britain 1870-1914 (Cambridge, 2015); Christina Paulson-Ellis, The Cambridge Association for the Care of Girls: Social Work with Girls and Young women in Cambridge 1883 -1954 (2008); Ann Phillips, A Newnham Anthology (Cambridge, 1979); Tamsin Wimhurst, The Development, Importance and Influence of a Local Network of Women c. 1886 – 1930: unpub. MA dissertation, University of Cambridge 2007 (soon to be made available at Milton Road Library)

Fighting words

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Words In Pain: Letters On Life and Death (edited by Jocelyn Catty and Trevor Moore, Skyscraper, 2019)

As part of my series on memoirs, I review a book first published in 1919 – in which a woman’s passionate voice finds honest expression through her letters.

‘In more than one way am I a hopeless case,’ Olga Jacoby wrote in 1911, ‘and nothing except death will stop me fighting.’ Born Olga Iklé in Hamburg in 1874, she was educated with her sisters in Paris, then moved to England in 1896 after marrying her cousin John Jacoby, known as Jack. He had been brought up in Manchester, and worked in the family’s successful lace-importing business. Olga and Jack set up home in West Hampstead, London and brought up their four adopted children there according to their progressive, ‘socialistic ideas’.

In 1909 Olga Jacoby was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Her doctor, a close family friend, told her he could not save her life but believed he could help to make her death easier if she followed his Christian faith. As a rationalist (and a secular Jew), Jacoby was having none of it. She is not ‘a weak-minded woman’, she tells him, and will live and die on her own terms. Words In Pain: Letters On Life and Death is a collection of the letters that Jacoby wrote (mainly to the doctor) from 1909 until her death in 1913. ‘I must go on fighting as long as I live,’ she tells him. ‘I can’t help it, Doctor, and I love to have you as my opponent’.

Jacoby’s letters show her enjoyment of spirited debate about religion and science (‘Science is turning on the light,’ she tells the doctor, ‘but at every step forward dogmatic religion attempts to turn it out’) and humorously describe family life, and the importance of being open and honest with young children: ‘I do stir their little hearts, too much I sometimes think.’ Her children give her joy and a reason to keep living. ‘I was greatly amused by my boy explaining to me,’ she writes, ‘that even should I die they would not lose me, as they would take my skeleton to keep in a corner of their nursery’. She has adventures, travelling through Devon and Dorset, with her bath-chair pulled by a pony and her son walking alongside. She reads copiously and discusses the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Olive Schreiner and George Eliot as well as Thomas Huxley and H.G. Wells.

Jacoby strives to accept the limited years she has left (‘Know that death is not bad; it is we who make it so, and it is in our power to look at it calmly and even joyfully’) but her despair is often heartbreakingly apparent. ‘I had a sorrowful cry again last night; there is so very much I shall have to leave undone’. Despite her sadness at leaving her beloved family, the tone of the book is (like Jacoby herself) far from downbeat. She has strong views on topics of the day including tariff reform (she is against cheap American and German imports), the importance of workers’ rights and women’s suffrage (she believes women should exert their power as wives and mothers, not as MPs). Her passions help to give her the energy to put pen to paper. ‘When I am peaceful I cannot write,’ she tells her doctor. ‘A storm has to brew; some violent enthusiasm shake me; or a thought, new to me, awake my enthusiasm before the little bit of dormant vitality left in me will arise to the effort of writing.’

Words In Pain is about how to live, and also how to die. Olga Jacoby chose to end her life by taking the sleeping tablets she had saved up, at a time when suicide was still considered to be a capital crime. But  Jack, Olga’s husband, followed Olga’s lead in being honest. Under the heading ‘The Right to Die’, the Globe newspaper reported how during the inquest he sought a verdict of felo de se, and told the jury that his wife’s decision was based on the same principles by which she had lived. ‘His wife only did what she felt she had a perfect right to do, ‘ the report recorded. ‘He did not desire them to return a verdict from sentiment, because if they did it would be an insult to her memory.’

Words In Pain was first published anonymously in 1919, with the identities of the children and doctor concealed. The Times Literary Supplement of that year praised Jacoby’s ‘direct and simple literary style’, and ‘the clear-eyed, exalted spirit in which she faces death’. In 2019 Words In Pain: Letters On Life and Death was reissued in an elegant ‘centenary edition’, with an informative introduction and supplementary endnotes by Trevor Moore, a lawyer and humanist funeral celebrant. He has identified the book’s author and the doctor, and traced her surviving descendents including Olga Jacoby’s great-granddaughter, the psychotherapist Jocelyn Catty. Her excellent afterword ‘Olga in life, death and writing’ adds fascinating details, including the moving stories of what happened to Jack and Olga’s four adopted children. As Sandi Toksvig writes: ‘These wonderful letters prove that true immortality lies in what we leave behind.’

In my TLS review last year I compared Words In Pain to W.N.P. Barbellion’s outstanding The Journal of A Disappointed Man, coincidentally also first published in 1919. One hundred years on, both books are well worth re-issuing and re-reading, and have new relevance in the ongoing debate over assisted dying. ‘But this is not a letter for the Doctor only,’ Olga Jacoby wrote in her first letter, as if aware that she would have, in time, a larger audience for her words.

Ann Kennedy Smith, 5 February 2020 (all rights reserved)

Women at Cambridge: Eileen Power

Power

In her essay called ‘Women at Cambridge’, published in February 1920, Eileen Power recalled being asked by a male Fellow for a ‘woman’s perspective’ on a problem. She argued that ‘a women’s outlook on art and science has nothing specifically womanly about it, it is the outlook of a PERSON.’ In a recent Times Literary Supplement I reviewed Francesca Wade’s newly published Square Haunting (Faber, 2020) which throws new light on the work and lives of two women who began their academic careers at Cambridge: Jane Ellen Harrison of Newnham College and Eileen Power at Girton (my essay  ‘Cursed with hearts and brains: female intellectuals and muses of the twentieth century’ features on the TLS front cover of 17 Jan 2020).

Everything changed for Eileen Power in 1920, when she was awarded an Albert Kahn Travelling Fellowship which granted £1,000 to scholars for a year’s global exploration. Power, who had been a Fellow in History at Girton College Cambridge since 1913, was the first woman to win this international honour and she was surprised to get it, especially after one suspicious interviewer told her that “she might defeat the objects of the trust by subsequently committing matrimony.” Power travelled to China, Egypt, and India, where she was delighted, as a committed pacifist and Labour Party member, to meet Mahatma Gandhi. She was one of only six Europeans to witness the Nagpur Congress assembly vow to adopt Gandhi’s policy of Non-cooperation. When she discovered that the Khyber Pass was closed to women, she simply put on male disguise and made the crossing anyway.

Power’s easy charm and stylish appearance meant that she stood out against the more sombre hues of the university world. ‘I certainly feel there is something radically wrong with my clothes from an academic point of view’, she told her sister Margery during her time at Girton. Male historians, enchanted by Power’s looks and personality, habitually underestimated her work, but they changed their minds after reading her books. As Wade comments, ‘Power saw no reason why an interest in clothes and a sense of humour could not be combined with professional rigour.’

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Eileen Power in 1922

While in India, Eileen Power received an offer of a lectureship in political science from the newly founded London School of Economics. She hesitated about leaving Cambridge, as she told a friend, “because it would mean a lot more teaching than I’ve done before & the screw is only £500 – but I want to be in London for a bit.” The LSE position was originally intended as a readership, with a salary of £800, but when they offered it to Power they made it a lectureship and reduced the pay. Over the course of her academic career, even after she became a professor at LSE, Power was consistently paid less than her male contemporaries, despite the fact that she was a renowned scholar, invited on international lecture tours and awarded honorary degrees from respected universities. Her book Medieval People was published in 1924, and she co-wrote children’s history books with her sister Rhoda Power, gave public lectures, and presented a World History series for the BBC in the 1930s.

From 1921 until 1940 Power lived in Mecklenburgh Square on the unfashionable eastern edge of Bloomsbury, as did the economic historian RH Tawney, her LSE colleague and friend. Under his influence, Power’s medieval historical research took an overtly political turn. She and Tawney co-edited a book, Tudor Economic Documents, published in three volumes from 1924 to 1927, and were both founding members of the Economic History Society, an international alliance of scholars. Power edited its influential journal the Economic History Review. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s there were regular gatherings of political leaders, journalists, theorists and writers, including Hugh Gaitskell, Evan Durbin and Hugh Dalton at both Tawney’s and Power’s rented flats, yet as Wade observes, today RH Tawney has a blue plaque in Mecklenburgh Square while Eileen Power does not. In Testament of Friendship (1940) Vera Brittain describes how, when she and Winifred Holtby were giving up their flat in nearby Doughty Street, one horrified friend asked them, “Why are you leaving the neighbourhood of Tawney and Eileen Power for a place called Maida Vale?”

For most of her life Eileen Power was opposed to marriage as an institution, convinced that its domestic binds were incompatible with a woman’s public ambitions. The ideal wife, she suspected, “should endeavour to model herself on a judicious mixture of a cow, a muffler, a shadow, a mirror.” When in 1937 she decided to marry her former student and LSE colleague Michael Postan, ten years her junior, it was a balance of head and heart. Sadly, just three years later she died suddenly of a heart attack, aged 51, and after her death much of her work was gradually forgotten, while the reputation of Postan and Tawney grew. To keep her memory alive, Eileen Power’s sister Beryl Power endowed a dinner at Girton College in her memory – “because men’s colleges had feasts and why should not women’s?”. Leading historians gather for the ‘Power Feast’ every ten years; the most recent Feast took place in January 2020, almost exactly 100 years after Eileen Power’s ‘Women At Cambridge’ essay.

A recent episode of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ called ‘Pioneering women at universities’ features Jane Harrison and Eileen Power, while ‘The Rising Tide: Women At Cambridge’, a free exhibition and events exploring the lives and work of women at Cambridge over the past 150 years, continues at the Cambridge University Library.

Sources: Francesca Wade, Square Haunting (Faber, 2020); Maxine Berg, A Woman in History: Eileen Power (1889-1940) (CUP, 1996); LSE website; Girton College website

Hidden Lives

Clarke

“Women’s lives were meant to be hidden,” Norma Clarke writes in her memoir Not Speaking (Unbound, 2019). Her Greek mother Rena moved from occupied Athens to London when she married a British soldier in 1945. Unable to speak English, far from family and friends, she had to learn how to survive in a society that did not make her welcome. It was no wonder, Clarke writes, that for Rena and women like her, “those lives came to be all about subterfuge. Secrecy, silence, subterfuge.”

Clarke is a retired professor and literary historian who began to understand her mother better only when she started writing about her. Watching “my untaught mother’s scholarly zeal” with religious pamphlets and icons, Clarke realized that they had more in common than she thought. Themes in Clarke’s book Not Speaking (Unbound, 2019) include romantic and family love, historical war and the effects on those who survive it, and the battle to communicate. My review of this moving and insightful memoir appears (with a lovely photograph of Rena) in the first Times Literary Supplement of 2020, and can be read here with no paywall. My next review – of three fascinating new group biographies of 20th-century women’s “hidden lives” – will appear in the next TLS. It’s published on 17 January 2020 and I’m pleased that my review features on the cover.

Good life-writing has the intensity and narrative pacing of fiction, and the best memoirs have a ruthless honesty about them. “A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying,” George Orwell wrote, “since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” In a future blogpost I will list some of my favourite memoirs; I hope you will tell me about yours.