The Girl’s Own Paper – January 1916
by Victoria Madden
The January issue of The Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine for 1916 starts with the first of the short stories, The Woman’s Ultimate Expression by Norvell Harrison, an unintentionally amusing tale for the modern reader as I strongly suspect, from its message, that it was written by a man who deplored the developments in female emancipation:
Eleanor and Muriel Martin are orphaned sisters, who live in an old-world house in a sleepy Cornish village on a small private income. One day Eleanor returns from a visit to London, where she has been spurred into a sense of the uselessness of her life after attending a lecture by a ‘new man’. She announces that she is not going to marry her (fiance?) has let the house for a year and sweeps Muriel off back to London, to share a tiny flat in Battersea with her new acquaintance, Miss Jane Watts.
Muriel keeps house for them all, while Miss Watts and Eleanor study domestic science with a view to a future career but the firm, efficient Miss Watts does not like Muriel’s typically Cornish meals:
It was really true! Miss Watts preferred boarding-house milk pudding to Cornish pasty. She refused saffron cake. Not a heavy, indigestible cake, but a rich, crumbly, light one, made to crown a high tea. Astoundingly, she disliked marinated pilchards ; amazingly she refused fried greens and potatoes with her breakfast bacon.
Quoting their lecturer, Dr Rathbun, about the importance of dietetics and simple food on moral as well as physical health, she makes Muriel a little food chart. Poor Muriel ends up serving random things with the highest values but a dispiriting meal of cold beef, bread, haricot beans and bananas is heartily approved of by Miss Watts. One morning Muriel drops the wretched chart in a grocery shop, where it is gallantly retrieved by a wealthy and distinguished looking stranger with whom lonely Muriel falls into brief conversation.
When Dr Rathbun (who’s also a GP??) is called in to attend Eleanor’s tonsilitis, a few weeks later, he naturally turns out to be Muriel’s acquaintance from the grocery shop. Muriel retreats to the kitchen in confusion, to turn the contents of a large box of meat sent up by their devoted cook/maid (it’s the week that pigs are killed in Cornwall) into the despised Cornish dishes she misses.
When the doctor returns earlier than expected the little flat is full of cooking aromas, and on her showing him the Cornish pasties she’s made, and which he’s never seen before, he stays to luncheon to sample them. Despite having given Eleanor the impression that the ‘new man’ is interested only in women who have a career, he takes Muriel out for a drive in his motor-car twice in just four days, leading Miss Jane Watts to conclude, in disgust, that what really attracts men is Femininity!
This is followed by an oddly whimsical short piece That for which to be Thankful where the message that it feels as sweet to be kind to others as it does to one’s own family is expounded via an extended metaphor about an oak tree. (?)
The Notebook of my London Garden by The Editor describes her nature observations throughout the month and encourages readers to be similarly observant and appreciative. It’s accompanied by six black and white close up photos of different conifer branches, that seem surprisingly detailed and identifiable. Either 2015/16 was a very mild winter or all the coal dependent heating of the period considerably raised the temperature in cities, but she seems to have her spring bulbs showing above ground remarkably early: crocus shoots on 10th January; bluebell shoots on 22nd January; daffodil shoots on 24th January; and even tulip shoots showing through on 31st January.
There’s a nicely Wodehousian tone to the next short story What shall we do with Angela?: The Problem of her Family by Mary Heaton Vorse with an interesting message about the ‘leisured’ classes:
Angela Creighton, a ‘beautiful and stately’ young woman of nineteen, has a marked dislike for the Society of her background and wealth, loathing parties, tongue-tied in conversation and sleepy by ten or eleven at night. One evening she rebels and tells a young man who has asked her to dance that she hates dancing and can’t talk. Somewhat surprisingly, he responds: ‘Great! I’ll just sit here then’ and they sit in a comfortable silence throughout their dance. So pleased are they at their mutual understanding that they devise a way of fobbing off the approach of others throughout the rest of the evening by counting to each other to give the appearance of animated conversation.
This agreed on, they both sank into soothing silence. Presently Angela said –
‘My aunt is looking at me – one, two, three, four,’
‘Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven,’ he responded in a reassuring tone.
‘Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,’ said Angela in a tone of deep anxiety.
‘Seventeen, eighteen,’ he soothed her.
‘Nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two,’ Angela’s tone expressed deep relief.
As in the best fairy tales, Angela discovers in the morning that she has forgotten to get her soul mate’s name and decides in despair that she wants to go out into the world and find out where she really does belong. But she lacks interest or skill in all the avenues open to her (studies, charity work, creativity or secretarial training) and in the end her aunt consults their friend, Dr Ellington, who just happens to be an eminent nerve specialist. He deduces that what Angela needs is a ‘change out of her class’ and she is sent to stay with a widow and her children on an old fashioned mixed farm in Surrey, as a rest cure.
Helping out on the farm Angela discovers that this is the type of life that suits her exactly:
‘Miss Creighton,’ the doctor told Mrs Armstrong, ‘has been suffering from a malady that has darkened the lives of many a man and woman in the present century. We most of us come from strong grandmothers and grandfathers who worked with their hands, and suddenly many of the descendants of these people have found themselves without one humble useful thing to do. All of life is handed to them ready-made. Miss Creighton is an acute case of this; her ability lies in her hands. This city has any number of girls growing up to make discontented restless women, their splendid ability wasted. Civic usefulness and philanthropy is not going to satisfy such people. Nothing short of actually dong things will make their minds as whole as their bodies. When we get a little more advanced, these boys and girls of Angela’s kind – ‘capable’ as Mrs Winters called her – will be recognised and we won’t thwart them by making them work with their heads.’
Visiting Angela at the farm her one morning and finding her surrounded by orchard blossom with the baby in her arms, the doctor loses his head and proposes but a wiser Angela points out that he needs an intellectual companionship in his wife that she could never provide. At that exact moment the young man from the party turns up in his motor-car, having attended innumerable of the despised parties in the hopes of tracking her down. The two immediately agree to get married but when Angela later discovers he is very wealthy – he is, of course, the doctor’s cousin, Jack Longacres – and that Society will expect her to help keep up his position, the very life she fled from, she breaks things off.
Fortunately, at that moment, Jack has just discovered that he has lost all his money in some unidentified ‘smash’ and there is only enough left to enable him to buy a farm of his own. He freely admits that, though he has the intelligence to run a farm, he is not the type to be able to rebuild, and offer her, his former wealth. Angela, however, is completely delighted, and agrees once more to marry him.
A small verse about God’s Providence in life by J. R. Lovell, with a woodcut landscape, is embedded in the text on one page.
Annabel is another small piece: a reproduction of a painting of a toddler age girl surrounded by discarded toys, looking out at the viewer; the accompanying verses indicate that what she really wants is a baby brother. I found this a bit cloying but very much of the period.
Seeking the Better Things was interesting, a short ‘uplift’ piece commenting on the times. Apparently there’s been a great improvement and greed has become unpopular (transition from the values of the Edwardian era or the effects of the War?), rich people are studying philanthropy and getting behind ‘the great problems’; the sons and daughters of the aristocratic houses are looking for hard work and that their lives should have value in the world; brains are counting for more than money and there is a greater social conscience in society and business.
This is followed by three chapters of the serial story The Geranium Lady by Sylvia Chatfield Bates. I really struggled with this, finding it all a bit Thomas Hardy.
The Story So Far
Lieutenant Miles Hawthorne, a wounded Naval officer, has rented a farm house for the summer in a fairly isolated spot on the south west coast. One day he goes to see the villagers cutting a channel through the small strip of beach, so that a large salt pond, and the inland streams and cove that feed into it, can drain into the sea; and meets a woman, June Carver, whose voice seems strangely familiar, although he knows he has never seen her before. He also meets Jim Brant, a strange ‘half-breed’ and farm-worker, and finds him interesting enough to invite him to his house one evening.
June has moved into Gabled Cottage, the nearest house to Miles’ and is known as the Geranium Lady, as she grows an acre of these plants in her front garden. Although he is hiding his partial blindness from everyone, she seems to know instinctively about it and helps him with a telegram when they meet at the village post office. This leads to calls on each other, in which they share intimacies about their pasts, though June is reticent in some areas: she gives her flowers away but won’t say to whom; she talks of a love of boats and ships that led to her travelling; and that she found ‘another kind of adventure – a kind that came with – greater – stakes’ but that it had become ‘too scientific for her heart’ and she ‘suddenly couldn’t bear it’. Miles becomes strongly attracted to her: her voice has ‘a steadying quality’ and she exudes a ‘quiet bright companionableness’ but feels that ‘that which is broken could not be offered as if it was whole.’
Jim Brant visits Miles and reveals his heritage: an English great-grandfather who married an American Indian girl, who killed him when he tried to leave her, and then American Indian and Portuguese ancestry after that, which makes him a ‘bad lot’ with ‘some good in him’. (??) Miles treats him like a fellow Englishman and tells him tales of his travels ‘from a simple desire to please someone whom nobody cared to please’. Brant says he wants to cut a much wider channel to the beach (the previous one is already filling again) and is saving to buy the rights to net the fish that pour through the channel with the released current. Miles says that if he had such an enterprise in hand he would ‘feel white all the time’ (??) and offers to advance the money and go into partnership with him.
Miles and June are socialising a great deal together but she has received several telegrams from a brown-bearded man signing himself ‘Warrington’ and has met him in the nearby town as he asks. When Miles says that Brant has told him to ask June if she knows a man called Warrington, she denies it – but says she will have something to tell him soon, trying three times on a later occasion to speak and then changing her mind. One evening, Brant, who has become strongly partisan in Miles’ cause, sees the brown-bearded man calling on June at her cottage – she appears to be appealing to him about something and he is seen to kiss her as he leaves.
June is out for a walk on the Downs feeling oppressed by the vastness of Nature when Miles comes riding towards her and she suddenly feels a sense of strong comfort. After wondering whether to let him pass her by she moves forward hesitatingly and he recognises her by the ‘blur of red’ at her belt. Miles joins her on her search for remains of an old Roman Camp: he is ‘calm and strong’, ‘envelopingly kind’, with a ‘rock-bound gentleness’, she is ‘subdued and tired’ and when she stumbles he puts her on his horse and walks beside her.
By sunset they have only got as far as the ruined Hermit’s Cottage with its overgrown garden and though they know it’s time to go back they’re both unwilling to do so. Miles tells her he’s going to buy Long Point Farm (thus implying he will be back in the district regularly after the summer’s let). June leans over too far to pick a spray of honeysuckle and slips from the horse’s back. Miles catches her and holds her, unresisting, in his arms for a moment before he puts her back on her feet. Both are pale with suppressed emotions.
Miles puts June back on the horse and they turn homewards. As the road becomes uneven Miles takes the horse’s bridle to lead it and June rests her hand on his shoulder, ostensibly for balance (remember, she’s sitting side-saddle on a man’s cross-saddle) and they share an extended Moment until they get close to her home, where they say Goodnight. She feels him a source of comfort in her ‘weary perplexity’; he tells her he will see her tomorrow.
That evening Jim Brant is out on an errand; he has a word at Long Point Farm, feeling pride that, had he chosen, he could have called in for a talk with Miles like any other man. It’s a warm and humid night after several days of rain and he feels his blood ‘all Indian’ as he goes on to the Gabled Cottage. As he approaches he sees June leaving the house with the brown-bearded man and going down to a small boat to row up the inlet, a shortcut to the village. He watches them for a while and then turns away without delivering his message.
At midnight Miles is smoking a pipe in his garden when Jim Brant suddenly appears, in a terrible state. He has woken in the night with his ‘other self’ uppermost and realising what he has done rushed to warn Miles. The villagers have made the cut through the beach again, this time making it twelve feet wide and, with the waters swollen by the recent rains, the speed of the released current towards the sea will be tremendous. He was sent to warn all nearby houses not to take a boat out that night but, in partisan jealousy for Miles, allowed June and her visitor to set off, unwarned of the danger – nearly three hours ago.
Miles rides off to get help, his thoughts in a turmoil. He can’t believe that, after the closeness they had shared that afternoon, June would allow another man to visit her that same evening, or to kiss her as Brant swears he has seen. He realises that June ‘belongs to him’, that the obstacles of his broken health and career are unimportant because he can still offer her a spirit which is whole. He rouses the villagers and organises a boat to go after the two who have been swept out to sea. As he does so it begins to rain again.
Securing a Pension – An Important Matter for the Wage-Earning Girl of To-Day –there were so many interesting points made in this about women’s increasing role, not just in the War but in society, that I decided to reproduce the whole thing as a separate post. I like the way that Norwich Union are quick off the mark in recognising the 1916 equivalent of the ‘pink pound’.
The Treasures of the Snow – The Beauty of Winter’s Limitations by Frank Garth is an ‘uplift’ piece for the times, reminding readers that ‘everywhere there are things that compensate for the most difficult circumstances’. The ‘darkening of London’ has stopped light pollution in the city and now it’s possible to see the stars. The fact that winter days are so short enables more people to see a sunrise and there is the lovely benison of waking up and finding a world transformed by snow; the old saying is that ‘Christ must have passed in the night’.
Garth outlines a ‘philosophy of the snow’ – Alpine flowers which appear frail and delicate are ‘yet hardy and unafraid’; the ‘finer loveliness of life’ is ‘often the gift of … a stern battlefield’. Under the ‘snow bound earth’ life is not impoverished but strengthened and spring is stirring ‘could we but see it’.
A view of a beautiful castle may only be seen in winter, in summer it is blocked by ‘prosperity’s thick leafage’. The very ‘sternness of nature’ makes us draw near to one another and ‘love as well as hope is found in life’s cold dark days’. It was a good idea that put Christmas in the midst of winter – ‘a revelation of love to light man’s darkness’.
The Love-Story of a Plain Girl – As Told By Herself is a short story that I struggled with. The perennially useful message to girls, that you don’t have to be incredibly attractive to find true love, was somewhat lost in the tedious style of writing and the rather bitter, self-pitying tone of the narrator throughout. She is extremely hung up on her appearance and the option of being a jolie-laide or developing her personality to compensate clearly never occurs to her. Though set in England, certain phrases – ‘wrote’ instead of ‘wrote to’ – indicate an American writer.
After overhearing her relations say she will never be able to marry due to her extremely plain appearance, Connie spends an unhappy adolescence as an outsider in her circle, without any admirers and ‘neither popular or pleasing’. She recounts her various disappointments, which eventually lead to depression.
When her father dies and leaves her without either an independent income or the training that would enable her to make a living, she goes to live with her married brother and effectively becomes children’s nurse, seamstress, cook and housekeeper for her sister-in-law. (It clearly doesn’t occur to her to take paid employment in these fields but I suppose the idea is that she would lose caste should she do so.) The three children become deeply attached to her and beg her never to leave them.
After six years of this, she receives a letter from her older, married sister who, after 15 years of being too busy or too happy to keep in close touch, suddenly wants Connie to go and live with her in South Africa, sending £100 (£) for suitable clothes and expenses. Connie feels that, at her brother’s house, she has been ‘in the family but never of it’ – her numerous duties with the children have prevented her socialising when guests visited – and decides to go, leaving the children without a backward glance.
On arrival in South Africa she is welcomed as one of the family, given no duties and introduced to, and socialises with, all their friends. One of these takes a great liking to her and they spend a great deal of their time together. One day he takes out a photo of herself surrounded by the children, which he says fell out of a letter her brother-in-law was looking at and which he picked up and never returned. (??? – not only is this pretty dodgy, even nowadays, but there’s no expression of regret, let alone any comment at all, from her about the children.) It was he who, on discovering her identity, had persuaded her sister to invite her to South Africa, and he asks her to marry him. (As an added bonus he turns out to be extremely rich.) In answer to her doubts he tells her that he thinks her the most beautiful woman in world and that she could ‘never be plain with that true woman’s soul shining from your eyes’ – which is all well and good but I can’t really see that the tone of the story merits the description.
The following story Full Measure by Katharine Holland Brown was rather dull in its telling but I thought the message was a good one. Again, I suspect another American writer from various expressions used.
A seventy-six year old lady with an extensive family is showered with luxurious gifts every Christmas, a far cry from forty years before when her husband was poor and struggling and she could barely afford to buy her children new shoes at Christmas. One of the most precious gifts she ever received was ten minutes one Christmas Eve and the story describes the events leading up to this:
Three years ago she arrived for her grand-daughter’s June wedding and was whisked off by her to view the church decorations just before the ceremony (the chancel is ‘like a garden with ranks of rose trees and tall spires of lilies’ for those who are interested). Lydia wants to ‘pass on’ her own happiness to others and has a plan to bring together again two of her acquaintances who were once engaged.
John’s father failed in business five years previously and was unjustly charged with fraud. He had a breakdown and ‘died of humilation’ and though John eventually cleared his name ‘it took the best years of his life to do it’, while Edith’s mother cut her off from all her old friends. When her grandmother says that these are two lives which are irretrievably broken, Lydia replies that while they may not be able to mend their own lives, they can mend each others – an interesting point.
Lydia makes her grandmother promise to speak to the two but when she sees them in church ‘shadows of their former selves’ she funks it. After the ceremony she goes back to the church to gather her thoughts and sees them again. They reveal that they have decided to get married again, in a hopeless kind of way, it will, at least, be better than what they have at present and they are both so tired now.
Lydia’s grandmother remonstrates with them on their attitude towards marriage; that it is not about making ‘do’ but about making a ‘new, splendid earth and sky’ for each other. John and Edith decide that they will ‘start again’; that they will get a special licence and get married that very week so they can begin their new life at once. Edith goes back to stay with Lydia’s grandmother for the few days before the wedding, who digs out dress and veil and ornaments for Edith from her numerous family gifts. She is their witness at the wedding and reflects that they have ‘a fighting chance’ now if they will ‘forget their own griefs and to set to work to build up each others lives; sieze on whatever happiness comes along – share it and pass it along’.
Three years later, visiting Lydia (who has already produced two babies) on Christmas Eve, she worries how Edith and John are getting on. They had emigrated to Australia to start up a farm but the first year had been lost through problems with irrigation and Edith’s serious illness. There have been no letters now for a year and she assumes they have failed; deciding to write that night and ask for news.
On the way to her son’s for dinner she bumps into John and Edith, glowing with youth and health and obviously well off. They reveal that the cause of this change in themselves was a change in their own isolationist attitude to their problems – the neighbours had rallied round during Edith’s illness and John had got together with them, in turn, to found a Mutual Water Association that had solved everyone’s irrigation difficulties, not just his own.
The farm had made a profit in the autumn as a result and the trip to England was a Christmas present to themselves – and so that they could show Lydia’s grandmother ‘her godson.’ Later, at her son’s dinner, her children own themselves puzzled as to how John and Edith kept up their courage during that first awful year. Lydia’s grandmother replies that they didn’t keep up their own courage, they kept up each others; and that they succeeded because whatever good times came along for them, they ‘passed it on’ to others.
A small panel set in the story Life’s Passwords: III Love underlines the message of the story in a more overtly religious way: God’s love is a cloak to wear over our cold naked lives, to be gathered around us in our need. ‘It is yours by sacred right; his wondrous gift to man through man.’