The Dining Club, 1890

HBH18900519.2.22-a1-259w-c32

10701039Vicmarriage[1]

In August 1888 Mona Caird published an essay called ‘Marriage’ in the Westminster Review, stating that marriage as it existed in Victorian Britain was ‘a vexatious failure’. The Daily Telegraph took up the debate, asking its readers ‘Is Marriage A Failure?’ (see 2013 feature here) In the following two months over 27,000 readers replied, for and against. ‘The marriage question’, as it became known, continued to be debated in Britain throughout the 1890s. I think it is likely that Caroline Jebb and her friends would have discussed it during meetings of their newly formed Ladies’ Dining Society – and I have imagined their first meeting here, based on their diaries and letters.

HBH18900519.2.22-a1-259w-c32

10701039Vicmarriage[1]

In August 1888 Mona Caird published an essay called ‘Marriage’ in the Westminster Review, stating that marriage as it existed in Victorian Britain was ‘a vexatious failure’. The Daily Telegraph took up the debate, asking its readers ‘Is Marriage A Failure?’ (see 2013 feature here) In the following two months over 27,000 readers replied, for and against. ‘The marriage question’, as it became known, continued to be debated in Britain throughout the 1890s. I think it is likely that Caroline Jebb and her friends would have discussed it during meetings of their newly formed Ladies’ Dining Society – and I have imagined their first meeting here, based on their diaries and letters.

October 1890: The husbands were left to fend for themselves for the evening. Some wandered off happily to their colleges for dinner, thinking about important matters to be discussed with the other Fellows. Others were having solitary suppers in their studies, books piled up around them. The wives had arranged the suppers, given instructions to cooks and servants, written letters and lists for the following day, and dressed for the evening.

Caroline Jebb glanced at her reflection and approved. Her black velvet dress set off her auburn hair and her creamy complexion seemed to glow. She could still pass for much younger than fifty, she knew. When she went to say goodbye to Richard in his study, he looked up from his papers and sighed.

‘Must you go?’

‘I must. You could still have dinner in college if you wanted to.’

‘Too much work to do here. Don’t be late, Carrisima.’

Outside, their gardener Melbourne waited by the carriage. He had squeezed into his navy blue coat and put on his top hat for his duties as driver. As they drove to George and Maud Darwin’s house, he told her some fascinating gossip about their cook’s marital problems, as Caroline made mental notes for the evening’s discussion. After ten minutes’ waiting, Maud climbed into the carriage, apologizing and explaining about her children’s toothaches. Caroline shook her head impatiently.

‘Did you read the article I sent you, Maud? About the marriage question?’

‘Yes, well, most of it, you know. George had another bad head, you know, so I had to sit with him, and he doesn’t like me to read. He says I rustle the pages too much.’

This was too vexing. Like all the Darwin men, George had frequent illnesses and expected his wife to dispense constant sympathy as his mother had always done. If only Maud would follow her advice she would do quite well, Caroline thought. She was still a pretty young woman, though she’d unwisely allowed her waist to thicken and it made her look positively matronly. She was wearing something in the new style from London, but Caroline suspected she had just come from the garden. Maud caught her look.

‘It’s real nice of Mrs Creighton to invite me,’ she said cheerfully, ‘though of course, I should never have got a look-in if it hadn’t been for you, Aunt Cara.’

Caroline frowned, wishing Maud would try to remember that Americans must be on their guard against English snobbery at all times.

‘Try not to say ‘real nice’ or ‘look-in’ when you meet Mrs Creighton, Maud, remember. That sort of slang should stay in Philadelphia. Come to think of it, it might be best if you said as little as possible.’

The carriage swung into a wide driveway. The Creightons’ home was one of the newer Cambridge houses, rather square and featureless, but Louise had spent money on landscaping the garden, Caroline noted with approval. The maid showed them into a hall which had a new blue carpet on a freshly polished rosewood floor. As Louise came out to greet them, Caroline looked up to see a row of children in white nightgowns peering down at them, faces pressed against the banisters. One child said wonderingly,

‘Mama, mama! What are all these ladies doing here?’

Louise shooed them off to bed before ushering Caroline and Maud into the drawing room, explaining that she had asked the maid to prepare a fruit punch for this, the first of their Ladies’ Dining Club gatherings.

‘Mrs Lyttelton and I decided to have no champagne at our dinners, so that our minds are sharp for the discussion at hand,’ she told them crisply, handing them each a glass.

Louise and Kathleen Lyttelton asked a small group of their Cambridge friends to form a ladies’ dining society, to meet twice a term, and discuss issues of the day.

The other women arrived in twos and threes, .some walking, others by private carriage or rented hansom cab. A gong was sounded and they were shown into the dining room. Caroline surveyed the table. Dark-haired Ellen Darwin was whispering to her sister-in-law Ida Darwin. The Darwins always stayed close, she noted, and Louise had seated them together because Ida was good at putting Ellen at her ease. Fanny Prothero was sitting on the other side of Ida and saying little, as usual, but it was not Caroline’s job to draw anyone out this evening, thank goodness. Mary Paley Marshall was on her left. Good, Mary always had something interesting to say, Caroline thought. She was talking to the Vice-principal of Newnham College, Mrs Sidgwick, who looked flushed, her eyes shining. Eleanor Sidgwick loved these discussions. Beside her, her friend and Newnham neighbour Eliza von Hügel was looking gracious and spiritual as ever.

At the end of the table Kathleen Lyttelton shuffled a heap of papers in a business-like way. Dear me, Caroline thought, I hope she doesn’t speak for too long. Louise rang a small bell.

‘Welcome, ladies. May I introduce the topic for this evening? It is a subject which affects us all, and on which everyone here will have very different views, I am sure. It is, of course, the marriage question. Now, who would like to begin?’

Ann Kennedy Smith

Sources: Carolyn Christensen Nelson, A New Woman Reader: fiction, articles and drama of the 1890s (Letchworth: Turpin, 2001) pp.184-224

December 1890The husbands were left to fend for themselves for the evening. Some wandered off happily to their colleges for dinner, thinking about important matters to be discussed with the other Fellows. Others were having solitary suppers in their studies, books piled up around them. The wives had arranged the suppers, given instructions to cooks and servants, written letters and lists for the following day, and dressed for the evening.

Caroline Jebb glanced at her reflection and approved. Her black velvet dress set off her auburn hair and her creamy complexion seemed to glow. She could still pass for much younger than fifty, she knew. When she went to say goodbye to Richard in his study, he looked up from his papers and sighed.

‘Must you go?’

‘I must. You could still have dinner in college if you wanted to.’

‘Too much work to do here. Don’t be late, Carrisima.’

Outside, their gardener Melbourne waited by the carriage. He had squeezed into his navy blue coat and put on his top hat for his duties as driver. As they drove to George and Maud Darwin’s house, he told her some fascinating gossip about their cook’s marital problems, as Caroline made mental notes for the evening’s discussion. After ten minutes’ waiting, Maud climbed into the carriage, apologizing and explaining about her children’s toothaches. Caroline shook her head impatiently.

‘Did you read the article I sent you, Maud? About the marriage question?’

‘Yes, well, most of it, you know. George had another bad head, you know, so I had to sit with him, and he doesn’t like me to read. He says I rustle the pages too much.’

This was too vexing. Like all the Darwin men, George had frequent illnesses and expected his wife to dispense constant sympathy as his mother had always done. If only Maud would follow her advice she would do quite well, Caroline thought. She was still a pretty young woman, though she’d unwisely allowed her waist to thicken and it made her look positively matronly. She was wearing something in the new style from London, but Caroline suspected she had just come from the garden. Maud caught her look.

‘It’s real nice of Mrs Creighton to invite me,’ she said cheerfully, ‘though of course, I should never have got a look-in if it hadn’t been for you, Aunt Cara.’

Caroline frowned, wishing Maud would try to remember that Americans must be on their guard against English snobbery at all times.

‘Try not to say ‘real nice’ or ‘look-in’ when you meet Mrs Creighton, Maud, remember. That sort of slang should stay in Philadelphia. Come to think of it, it might be best if you said as little as possible.’

The carriage swung into a wide driveway. The Creightons’ home was one of the newer Cambridge houses, rather square and featureless, but Louise had spent money on landscaping the garden, Caroline noted with approval. The maid showed them into a hall which had a new blue carpet on a freshly polished rosewood floor. As Louise came out to greet them, Caroline looked up to see a row of children in white nightgowns peering down at them, faces pressed against the banisters. One child said wonderingly,

‘Mama, mama! What are all these ladies doing here?’

Louise shooed them off to bed before ushering Caroline and Maud into the drawing room, explaining that she had asked the maid to prepare a fruit punch for this, the first of their Ladies’ Dining Club gatherings.

‘Mrs Lyttelton and I decided to have no champagne at our dinners, so that our minds are sharp for the discussion at hand,’ she told them crisply, handing them each a glass.

Louise and Kathleen Lyttelton asked a small group of their Cambridge friends to form a ladies’ dining society, to meet twice a term, and discuss issues of the day.

The other women arrived in twos and threes, .some walking, others by private carriage or rented hansom cab. A gong was sounded and they were shown into the dining room. Caroline surveyed the table. Dark-haired Ellen Darwin was whispering to her sister-in-law Ida Darwin. The Darwins always stayed close, she noted, and Louise had seated them together because Ida was good at putting Ellen at her ease. Fanny Prothero was sitting on the other side of Ida and saying little, as usual, but it was not Caroline’s job to draw anyone out this evening, thank goodness. Mary Paley Marshall was on her left. Good, Mary always had something interesting to say, Caroline thought. She was talking to the Vice-principal of Newnham College, Mrs Sidgwick, who looked flushed, her eyes shining. Eleanor Sidgwick loved these discussions. Beside her, her friend and Newnham neighbour Eliza von Hügel was looking gracious and spiritual as ever.

At the end of the table Kathleen Lyttelton shuffled a heap of papers in a business-like way. Dear me, Caroline thought, I hope she doesn’t speak for too long. Louise rang a small bell.

‘Welcome, ladies. May I introduce the topic for this evening? It is a subject which affects us all, and on which everyone here will have very different views, I am sure. It is, of course, the marriage question. Now, who would like to begin?’

Ann Kennedy Smith

Sources: Carolyn Christensen Nelson, A New Woman Reader: fiction, articles and drama of the 1890s (Letchworth: Turpin, 2001) pp.184-224

Marrying Maud

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Portrait of Maud by Cecilia Beaux, 1889. pastel on paper, 19×13.5in.

‘Maud is not a girl to surprise anyone into matrimony. I wonder why?’ wrote the American Caroline Jebb, 43, to her sister Ellen Dupuy in Philadelphia. Maud was Ellen’s sensible 22-year old daughter, tall with golden brown hair and dark blue eyes. She was visiting her Aunt Cara (as she called Caroline) in Cambridge in the summer of 1883. It was her first trip to England and she loved everything about the university town in May: the picnics and afternoon teas, the boat races and games of lawn tennis, trips to London for shopping, dinner parties and the cultivated conversations of the college fellows. Caroline was keen to give her niece a taste for culture, so gave her poetry books by Browning and Tennyson to read, took her to a Greek play and to see paintings at the Royal Academy. But most of all, she wanted Maud to marry well.

She had already tried and failed with Maud’s older sister Nellie, who had come to Cambridge the year before and refused a proposal of marriage from George Darwin, the second son of Charles Darwin and a professor of astronomy at Cambridge. Caroline and her husband Richard Claverhouse Jebb were close friends of his and she was very sorry to see him disappointed. ‘George Darwin is so kind and nice, so really generous in big things, so companionable and amusing’, she told Nellie, ‘that if only you had been five years older, I think you might have liked him.’ George Darwin was 38, tall but slight in stature, and years of poor health had left him prone to exhaustion after any sort of exercise. Bookish and serious-minded, he was ill at ease in most women’s company apart from Caroline’s.

george-darwin

George Darwin, about 1880, unknown photographer.

Fond as she was of her dear George, Caroline had a very different sort of man in mind for Maud. She told her sister that Henry Martyn Taylor, a barrister, had much to offer, being ‘very manly, a good shot, Alpine climber, tennis player, has an income of, I fancy, about £2,000 a year… I fancy he could settle at least £10,000 on his wife to secure her future.’ Caroline wanted her American niece to be practical in her choice of husband. Despite their aristocratic-sounding name, the Philadelphia Dupuys were not well off, and Maud was only able to afford the trip to England with the help of her businessman brother, Herbert. She told him that she liked her Aunt Cara’s friend George. ‘I can see how nice he is as a brother and a friend…but somehow the romantic view of lover is left out of his disposition.’ Sensible as she was, Maud knew her own mind and wanted to marry for love. Caroline was no fortune-hunter either, for all her interest in finding her niece a good match. Years earlier she herself had turned down a proposal by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railway magnate and richest man in America, and married Cambridge classical scholar instead.

When the wealthy, manly Henry proposed in September 1883, Maud politely refused and set off to spend the winter travelling around Europe with another aunt. By December they were in Rome, and Caroline was still hoping that her niece would reconsider Henry’s offer: ‘after six months of married life, Maud would be devoted to a man like Mr Taylor, and quite happy and settled in her life.’ Would she ever have a better offer? Caroline was not sure. In February Maud and her aunt left Rome and travelled to Castellamare, where they found a note waiting for them. It was from George Darwin, who happened to be passing through Italy, he said, on his way home from a trip to Tunisia. Might he call on them? It was all Caroline’s doing of course. Back in Cambridge she had come to realize that George liked her niece very much, but Maud did not see this kindly, reserved older man in a romantic light. So Caroline told him to go to Italy to find her.

Maud and George spent the next two weeks in each other’s company. Away from Cambridge he lost much of his English awkwardness and reserve. He spoke Italian fluently, was an energetic walker and enthusiastic about everything. ‘G.D. picked violets and crocuses for me, and we walked and walked and talked and talked’, Maud wrote to her sister, describing how, after one long walk, George hailed a passing donkey cart to give them a lift back to their hotel. ‘It was so funny!’, Maud told her sister, describing how he and the driver jumped out when they went up hills. ‘To think of a Professor in Cambridge running by the side of a donkey cart… And me in the cart too!’. In Florence George proposed and Maud accepted happily. Caroline was delighted to hear the news, with one reservation. ‘He must call me Cara, not Aunt’, she told her niece sternly. ‘I can’t stand that from a man so near my own age.’

A couple of weeks later another worry occurred to Caroline, and she wrote to George directly. The Darwin family ‘might think this was a match of my making’, she warned him, ‘And it wasn’t a bit, mind that! You were both a thousand miles away from any influence of mine and words can’t say how thankful I am. If there is a suspicion of my being a matchmaker, I utterly and entirely repudiate it…’

 Ann Kennedy Smith.

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘Marrying Maud’ https://akennedysmith.wordpress.com/(Accessed: day/month/year)

Sources: Gwen Raverat’s account of her mother’s first visit to Cambridge in ‘Prelude’, the first chapter of Period Piece (Faber and Faber, 1952) is simply unsurpassable, as are her beautiful illustrations. Maud’s words are taken from Frances Spalding’s elegant biography Gwen Raverat: Friends, Family, and Affections (Harvill Press, 2001, pp. 38 and 40). All quotations from Caroline’s letters are taken from With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb by Mary Jane Bobbitt (Faber and Faber, 1960).