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Linda K. Hughes, Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005. 397pp.

Reviewed by Carol A. Senf.

A fan of the subject of this biography since 1995 (when Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds published their anthology, Victorian Women), I’m both embarrassed to admit that Linda K. Hughes’s excellent biography had been on my shelf for at least five years, and delighted to have the opportunity to read and review it. Hughes, who is the Addie Levy Professor of Literature at Texas Christian University, has written widely on Victorian literature, publishing history, and women’s studies. In addition to her study of Rosamund Marriott Watson and The Cambridge Introduction to Victorian Poetry (2010), she has written about Tennyson and Elizabeth Gaskell. Anyone interested in the New Woman, Victorian literature and culture, or the fin de siècle literature will profit from reading Graham R.

One wonders why it took so long for someone to undertake a biography of this fascinating woman. Hughes describes her as ‘a literary, art, and fashion critic; a connoisseur of antique furniture; an essayist on gardens; and the editor of a women’s magazine (as well as co-editor of a short-lived weekly paper aimed at professional artists’ (xii), but she was also a woman whose scandal-ridden life was at least as interesting as her work.  Her first two husbands divorced her after she ran away with other men, and she refused to marry the man with whom she lived from 1896 to her death in 1911, possibly because she lost custody of her children when she divorced. A friend of J.M. Barrie, Oscar Wilde, Andrew Lang, Henry James, and H.G. Wells as well as of most of the New Woman writers (Mathilde Blind, Amy Levy, Mona Caird), she was said to be a muse to Thomas Hardy and possibly the inspiration behind ‘An Imaginative Woman’, the short story Hardy regarded as his best work. During the period when she wrote as Graham R. (a pseudonym she took on in honour of her second husband, whose full name was Arthur Graham Tompson, later shortened to Graham R.), she was a trendsetter in the literary and artistic world.

Readers today probably wouldn’t know most of this information about Watson without Hughes’s groundbreaking work. Indeed, the Preface to the biography explains the effort that it took to discover so much about the woman who was born in 1860 as Rosamond Ball and who published as Rosamond Armytage, Graham R. Tomson, and Rosamund Marriott Watson. Confronted with a mysterious poet in 1989, Hughes was piqued to do the research that resulted in this biography in 2005.

Hughes’s Preface notes that the book ‘combines three biographies into one: a literary biography of a talented poet, the story of a fascinating fin-de-siècle woman, and a study of how literary careers are formed and managed’ (xiii). Even though Hughes modestly describes her work as ‘a first biography’ (xv), it’s difficult to imagine that her work will be supplanted any time soon. Other scholars may discover additional information about Watson and her numerous circles, but their insights will undoubtedly supplement rather than replace Hughes’s work. Because there are no family papers, Hughes relied on tracking down public evidence in periodicals as well as in various archives in the U.S., Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New England. She then divided the biography according to the various personas by which her subject chose to be known: Part I: Rose Ball, Part II: Mrs. G.F. Armytage, Part III: Graham R. Tomson, and Part IV: Rosamund Marriott Watson and adds an Epilogue, two appendixes, notes, and a bibliography.

In addition to her tireless work unearthing material on her subject and the poems and essays written by Ball-Armytage-Tomson-Watson, Hughes is also a sensitive critic from whom readers of this volume can learn a great deal about literary history, periodicals, and poetic form. Because she was associated with many of the major periodicals of the age—including the Academy, the New York Independent, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Scribner’s Magazine, Sylvia’s Journal (which she edited from 1892 to 1894), The Yellow Book, Pall Mall Magazine, and the Athenaeum—readers can learn about publishing at the turn of the century as well as about Watson, her husbands, and their artistic circles. One of the chief reasons to read Graham R., however, is that it also includes lengthy excerpts from the poetry and prose as well as Hughes’s astute commentary on these excerpts. Even though it’s getting easier to locate material by Ball-Armytage-Tomson-Watson than it was when I first discovered her in 1995, it’s still difficult to locate everything she wrote.  None of her work is available on the Victorian Women Writer’s Project, though Hughes’s own website ( includes poems from the following collections: Tares (1884), The Bird-Bride (1889), A Summer Night (1891), After Sunset (1903), and The Lamp and the Lute (1912). Watson also wrote prolifically on gardening and on interior design and fashion. Some of these columns were collected in The Art of the House (1897), parts of which are available through Google books as well as duplicated by J.R. Burrows and Company ( The Art of a Garden and Concerning Cats (illustrated by Tomson) are currently available as inexpensive reprints. So long as interest in her work continues, additional works will eventually become available. Because she published anonymously, scholars may have fun unearthing additional works.

In addition to her sensitive interpretation of Watson’s literary works, Hughes provides numerous insights into her life. As an unconventional woman at the turn of the century, Watson found it hard to remain true to herself and her beliefs. Not only did her unconventional life cause her pain (she lost custody of the two daughters she bore to Armytage and the son she bore to Tomson), but she found it increasingly difficult to find work after her second divorce, and she suffered from uterine cancer during a time when the prognosis for this illness was bleak. Despite the conventions of the day, which granted custody to fathers rather than mothers, Hughes suggests that she managed to have stable relationships with at least one of her daughters as well as with her son Richard B. Marriott Watson (known as Dick), despite the fact that she didn’t marry his father, presumably because she didn’t want to lose custody of yet another child. Dick, who followed in his mother’s footsteps, also became a poet, but died in World War I and is buried beside her.

Hughes ends her biography by noting the obscurity from which her tireless efforts in Graham R. have finally rescued her:  ‘Katherine Mix dealt generously with Rosamund in a 1960 study of the Yellow Book. But by the 1980s “Graham R. Tomson” was a mere footnote in Hardy studies, and Rosamund Marriott Watson was a figure known only to a handful of 1890s book collectors and scholars’ (310).

Because of Linda K. Hughes, readers can gain insight into the life and work of an accomplished poet, journalist, and editor, as well as begin to understand the pressures on women who dared (and still dare) to defy social convention. In addition Hughes includes numerous photographs of Watson and her circle, illustrations from books and journals of the time, and excerpts and commentary from her works as well as two complete poems in Appendixes: “Stars of Even” (Scots Observer, 25 October 1890), “The Ballad of Tonio Manzi” (Scribner’s Magazine, January 1890). If readers want to learn yet more, they need only explore the 12-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Carol A. Senf is Professor and Associate Chair in the School of Literature,
Communication, and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Naomi Hetherington and Nadia Valman (eds.), Amy Levy: Critical Essays. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010. 244pp., ISBN 978-0-8214-1906-9, pbk $28.95.

Reviewed by Sarah Parker, University of Birmingham

Naomi Hetherington and Nadia Valman’s edited collection, Amy Levy: Critical Essays (2010), represents a path-breaking and comprehensive introduction to, and exploration of, one of the most fascinating of late-Victorian women writers. Scholarship on Levy has been steadily increasing over the past thirty years, catalysed by the increased availability of her work due to Melvyn New’s The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy 1861-1889 (1993) and the revealing biographical findings of Linda Hunt Beckman’s Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters (2000). [Editor’s note: Christine Pullen also published a biography of Levy in 2010; she writes a brief biographical introduction on Levy for us in this Latchkey issue’s Featured New Women section.  See here.] However, critical engagement with Levy still resembles more of a trickle than a stream. Thus, this collection of nine essays exploring the most salient aspects of Levy’s oeuvre performs the much-needed task of perpetuating and reinvigorating critical debate on her work. It amply fulfils this purpose, as much by the questions it leaves unanswered, as by those it addresses.

The book opens with a detailed introduction to the field of Amy Levy studies. Such a critical survey represents a daunting task, as in Levy’s case we must speak rather of ‘fields’. Levy’s complex, multiform identity as a middle-class Jewish woman who was homoerotically-inclined and who committed suicide, is reflected in the diverse areas of scholarship in which her name crops up: studies of Jewish literature, history, culture and identity; late-Victorian poetics; fin de siècle New Woman studies; lesbian literary studies; studies of suicide and depression, Hellenism and philosophical pessimism — the list goes on. However, Hetherington and Valman rise effortlessly to the challenge, dividing their introduction into helpful sub-sections, including: Amy Levy as Jewish Novelist, Amy Levy as New Woman Poet, Amy Levy as Urban Writer and Amy Levy: Public and Private. Their ‘Introduction’ is, in many ways, the most impressive part of the entire book, as it invaluably organises and gathers in one place a huge amount of scholarship, setting the context for the complex debates that follow.

The most generous portion of the book is dedicated to exploring Levy’s Jewish identity. The attention devoted to discussing this aspect of her identity is crucial, as Levy’s relationship to her Jewishness was problematically entangled with contemporary anti-Semitic discourses, as suggested by the negative reception of her novel Reuben Sachs (1888) in the Jewish press of the day (particularly in 1889 articles in Jewish Chronicle and Jewish World). In her chapter ‘Between Two Stools: Exclusion and Unfitness in Amy Levy’s Short Stories’, Gail Cunningham connects Levy’s sense of herself as an outsider to nineteenth-century discourses of ‘biological unfitness’: ‘Levy construct[s] fictional characters whose despair is caused by their naturally engendered unfitness for the worlds they desire’ (Cunningham 75). Continuing this focus on the cultural materials Levy utilised in her representations of Jewishness, Nadia Valman discusses ‘Amy Levy and the Literary Representation of the Jewess’.  Valman argues that Levy’s representations of Jewish femininity, particularly the character of Judith Quixano in Reuben Sachs, should be understood in the context of Evangelical conversion narratives, which emphasised women’s spiritual and moral capacity through the ‘highly idealized figure of the Jewess’ (Valman 98).

Elsewhere, Susan David Bernstein relates Levy’s writing — in terms of both subject matter and style — to Victorian cultural ideas regarding taste, discrimination and vulgarity. In her discussion of Levy’s contrasting, satirical representations of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, male and female Jews, and Gentile converts and atheists, Bernstein argues that Levy’s representation of ‘vulgarity’ is also formally replicated in her writing style.  Bernstein relates this aspect of Levy’s style to ‘the communal joke’ that Levy identified as distinctively ‘Jewish Humour’ in her article of 1886 (Bernstein 141). However, this humour did little to appease some Jewish readers, as Naomi Hetherington demonstrates in her chapter ‘“A Jewish Robert Elsmere”? Amy Levy, Israel Zangwill and the Postemancipation Jewish Novel’. Hetherington details the ways in which the Jewish novelist Israel Zangwill rewrote aspects of Levy’s Reuben Sachs after her death in his novel Children of the Ghetto (1892). This novel, she argues, proved vastly more popular due to its emphasis on ‘Jewish religious and cultural revival’ (Hetherington 192), employing a similar discourse of conversion to those to discussed in Valman’s chapter.

Moving from Jewish identity to another of Levy’s key cultural identifications, several essays in the collection deal with issues connected with the New Woman. Elizabeth F. Evans discusses Levy’s first novel, The Romance of a Shop (1888), in terms of ‘the new public woman’. Whilst new transport innovations such as the omnibus enabled the late-Victorian woman to traverse the city space and forge a professional identity, Levy’s novel suggests that her increased visibility also subjected her to the dangers of the male gaze. The city also occupies a central role in Emma Francis’ chapter, which focuses on Levy’s friendship with the socialist, feminist and trade union activist Clementina Black. Asking, ‘Why Wasn’t Amy Levy More of a Socialist?’, Francis sets Levy’s work in a context of urban poverty, which she argues is problematically absent within Levy’s writing itself. Finally, Alex Goody’s chapter focuses on the city as a ‘liminal space’ in Levy’s late poetry, particularly in her volume A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse (1889). Goody argues that the slippages enabled by fast-paced, ever-changing urban life produce Levy’s ambiguously gendered lyrics, which address a tantalisingly unattainable female ‘passante’.

Continuing the focus on the poetry, T. D. Olverson discusses Levy’s use of classicism in two long dramatic monologues, ‘Xantippe’ (1891) and ‘Medea’ (1882). Olverson argues that Levy used her advanced knowledge of Greek literature and philosophy (she was tutored in Latin and Greek, and studied at Newnham College, Cambridge) to challenge male hegemonic depictions of female disruption and ‘anarchy’. However, in ‘Verse or Vitality? Biological Economies and the New Woman Poet’, Lyssa Randolph outlines how such misogynistic representations were levelled at Levy herself following her tragic death in 1889. Randolph details how both Levy and Constance Naden, another poet and scientist who died that same year, were read as ‘victims’ of over-strenuous ‘brain-work’ by figures such as Herbert Spencer and Grant Allen.

This final, stark reminder of the deeply rooted misogynist thinking against which figures such as Levy struggled, is meliorated by the collection’s upbeat, forward-looking ‘Afterword’ by Meri-Jane Rochelson. Rochelson celebrates the increasing scholarship on Levy over the past thirty years, and praises the current volume of essays which ‘startles us with the recognition of what might have been lost had this revision and expansion of literary history not taken place’ (Rochelson 222). Rochelson’s commendation is firmly deserved, although I share in her focus on asking further questions. Though it is impossible that the first volume of critical essays on Levy should cover exhaustively all the aspects relevant to her work, there are some areas that certainly deserve more attention than they receive in the present volume. For example, more consideration should perhaps have been given to Levy’s poetry, particularly the forms she chose to write in. Several key poems, such as her excellent dramatic monologue ‘Magdalen’, are lamentably absent from the discussions in this volume. In connection to this, I expected to see more on Levy’s sexuality, particularly the ways in which gender is constructed in her lyric poems and her interaction with discourses of homoeroticism (for example, in relation to her reading of Sappho and Swinburne). Finally, more on Levy’s connections to other key women of her day, such as Vernon Lee and Eleanor Marx, and to the movements of aestheticism and decadence, would have strengthened this volume by widening its sense of literary context. That said, Amy Levy: Critical Essays represents an achievement of considerable proportions that is destined to become essential reading not only for scholars of Amy Levy, but for anyone working on Jewish cultural identity, late-Victorian poetry or the New Woman.

Richard Davenport-Hines. Ettie, The Life and World of Lady Desborough. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008; paperback edition. London: Phoenix, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7538-2585-2. UK £12.99.

Reviewed by David Charles Rose

There cannot be any students of late Victorian England who have not come across The Souls, that upper- and upper-middle-class coterie whose tastes ran to the intellectual and artistic, in opposition to the enthusiasm for huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ that characterised most British aristocrats.  In general, the women of The Souls were more cultivated than the men, who were divided between those who earned their membership through merit (Balfour, Curzon, Wyndham) and those who were affiliated by virtue of marriage (Horner, Grenfell, Ribblesdale).  The ladies (and I use the term advisedly), while not formally New Women, can be claimed as emancipated.  They formed the generation whose sons ¾including Raymond Asquith, Charles Lister, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Julian and Billy Grenfell, Percy Wyndham, Edward Horner ¾ perished in the Great War.  The Souls’ milieu was less the London salon and more the weekend country house.  The two chief hostesses were Frances Graham (Lady Horner) and Ethel, or Ettie, Fane (Mrs Willie Grenfell, and on her husband’s elevation to the peerage, Lady Desborough).  The latter is the subject of this substantial biography by Richard Davenport-Hines.

Davenport-Hines brings to the book an increasing reputation as an author, consolidated by A Night at the Majestic, his study of the dinner party in Paris attended by James Joyce and Marcel Proust.  In turn, the publishers festoon the book’s cover with garlands: ‘A rich and satisfying portrait’ (Philip Ziegler), ‘A perceptive social historian’ (Ian Finlayson), ‘Thoroughly researched and […] thoroughly understood’ (Hugo Vickers), ‘I was completely gripped’ (Antonia Fraser).  This is all promising enough, although the praise offered by Selina Hastings seems two-edged: ‘An impressive work of scholarship and as absorbing as a first-rate novel’.  The last comment offers a reason to pause: one is all in favour of first-rate novels, and all in favour of absorbing biographies, but Selina Hastings’ conjunction of the two raises a doubt: is it possible that all this praise is mere gush?

I am very sorry to say that I think the answer is ‘yes’.  The further I explored this book that is supposedly a ‘joy to read, sparkling, fresh and full of good things’ (Jane Ridley), the gloomier I became.  Long lists of names of long-dead members of the peerage may conjure up a sort of Tatler effect of glamour, but who were these people?  Why should we be interested in them?  Davenport-Hines could have answered this, but rarely does so, or does so in a perfunctory way.  There is more to say about Harry White, for example, than that he was ‘an American diplomat whose wife Daisy increasingly grated on Ettie’ (43).  Such thumbnail asides, as well as the ones on George Wyndham (‘he looked superb in spurs’, 82) or Norah Lindsay (‘there was a water fight on the river, in which Norah Lindsay [dressed in flimsy chiffon] was drenched’, 112), or Winston Churchill (‘after lunching with them in March 1907, he joined their outing to Regent’s Park Zoo, where Imogen [Grenfell] was bitten by an antelope’, 161) while doubtless intending to help the narrative along, seem fatuous even in context.  They can reach bathos of compelling depth: ‘There was a hereditary strain of instability in the Waterford family: Tyrone’s grandfather the 5th Marquess had shot himself at Curraghmore in 1895; his father the 6th Marquess had drowned in an ornamental pond there in 1911; and other members of the family lacked equipoise’ (277).

Despite friendship with so many leading politicians, Ettie was not a sophisticated thinker on the questions of the day.  Constantinople, visited in early 1914, was a place where ‘the plots, corruption and brutality were imperceptible to Ettie’ who found it ‘such fun’ (175).  That the Grenfell country house, Taplow, should be turned over to London evacuees in 1940 was admirable, but did Ettie need to describe this as turning the house into workhouse wards?  One wonders, too, about conditions in another Grenfell house, Panshanger, where ‘several hundred East End mothers and babies occupied the east wing’ (347).  Davenport-Hines says outright that ‘Lady Desborough knew little of the industrial and commercial classes, and less of the labouring poor; but of the rest, she knew almost everything’ (131) ¾ a curious way of describing her near total ignorance of some 98% of the population.

Davenport-Hines takes all this in his stride.  No comment on the shallowness of Ettie’s judgment detracts from his pæan, nor are his own prejudices prevented from peeping through.  Tories, and even Old Liberals, win Davenport-Hines’ respect, as they did Ettie Grenfell’s, but that fascinating radical Auberon Herbert is dismissed as ‘an opinionated republican crank’ (98)¾ this is not a book where opinionated Tory cranks will be disdained.  Lord Winchester is quoted with no discernible qualification: ‘The Grenfells were a symbol of that landed gentry who made England a nation of sportsmen, pioneers and warriors.  When that type fails to be bred, but not till then, will England begin to sink downhill’ (223).  To this one can only either growl ‘hear! hear!’ or ask where it leaves Shakespeare or Benjamin Britten, George Eliot or Virginia Woolf, Turner or Alan Turing, Dickens or Crick.  No such reflections disturb Davenport-Hines, and Ettie’s own political and social opinions are accepted at face value, however superficial.  We could expect something more perceptive when mentioning the Duchess of Marlborough’s proselytising for birth control and slum clearance than that Ettie found it ‘rather a joke’ (140).

As for gush, how else can one describe sentences such as ‘Ettie so wanted to take care of them [i.e. her children]’ (129, Davenport-Hines’ italics) or ‘[Ettie] arranged a sequence of house parties at Panshanger, which she had agreed to let for two years to Almeric Paget, who had previously leased it in the summer of 1914 and was a few months away from being created Lord Queenborough’ (216)?  The effect is usually ludicrous (‘Lady Essex rested overnight in her coffin at St Margaret’s, Westminster, before being cremated at Golders Green’, 247).

This approach to his subject, ‘too intense, too literary’ (151) to be a friend of Edward VII, overshadows discussion of her intellectual life, other than our being told that she hated music and had no eye for the visual arts.  Ettie Desborough was well read, it is true, but neither she nor Davenport-Hines seems to have been able to absorb her reading into her vie intérieure.  It is a surprise to find her discussing Sons and Lovers with Lady Ottoline Morrell, calling it ‘one of my most favourite books,’ but more typically she thought it best ‘to take no notice at all of some of the later aspects’ (268).  Her engagement seems only what one would expect from a late Victorian grande dame with such works as The Four Quartets (‘awful rot’, 348), Maritain’s Redeeming the Time or Rilke’s Letters: ‘I’ve been reading such highly commended disgusting novels.  I am quite robust about such things when they’re necessary, but it is all the abominations that seem to be just dragged in as trimmings that revolt one’ (348).  Eminent Victorians made her laugh a lot, ‘but I did not really like it’ (226).  She read Crime and Punishment, apparently in French, and thought she would never feel quite the same again, and Tchekhov, but she was really more at ease with Lord David Cecil.  Like Oscar Wilde’s character who did not care for music but adored musicians, Ettie seems to have preferred writers to books, be they as different and incongruous as Wells, Kipling and Yeats.

The Souls in the 1890s for a time adopted Oscar Wilde, giving him a taste of the cohort that he wished to recruit as contributors to, and readers of, the Woman’s World under his editorship.  To one of them, Margot Tennant, he dedicated ‘The Star Child’, and to Ettie Grenfell he dedicated ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’, which, from his description, Davenport-Hines seems not to have read.  Wilde’s presence in the circle was not unanimously welcome, both Curzon and Harry White objecting to him; a useful reminder that it was not everybody who was charmed by him.  It is not surprising that Ettie found Salomé ‘repulsive’ and The Picture of Dorian Gray ‘horrible’ (58).  She was certainly not one who stood by Wilde after 1895, her genius for friendship, which makes up a large part of this book, not stretching that far.  Again, Davenport-Hines makes no attempt to analyse, only to record.

Here then is a biography, based on an enormous amount of research, that fails to satisfy except on the very superficial level of society gossip.  It is not insignificant that the subtitle of the title page, ‘The Life and World of Lady Desborough’, is replaced on the cover by ‘The Life and Dauntless Spirit of Lady Desborough’.  The tone is set from the start: ‘This is a great love story.  It tells of a mother’s passionate love for her children, of her own burning love of life, of the privileged, grateful men who loved her, and of the women who loved her for her loyalty, intuition and calm’ (1).  One can only adapt Roy Campbell: the icing is there all right, and there in good measure, but where’s the bloody cake?

David Charles Rose read Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He has published many articles and reviews on late Victorian subjects, and founded THE OSCHOLARS in 2002.

Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley. London: Pickering & Chatto: 2009. 272pp. ISBN 978-1851966493.

Reviewed by Catherine Pope

Let the Flowers Go is more than a biography of Mary Cholmondeley – it is also a valuable insight into the life of a professional woman writer working in the late nineteenth century.  Cholmondeley (1859-1925) is best known for her semi-autobiographical novel Red Pottage (1899), which describes vividly the difficulties and conflicts faced by female authors. Previous scholars have been quick to draw simplistic parallels between Cholmondeley and her heroine, Hester Gresley, and the absence of biographical material has left their claims unchallenged. Let the Flowers Go is informed and illuminated by two of Cholmondeley’s journals, missing until 2005. Access to this material has allowed Carolyn Oulton to present a rich and detailed account of her life. 

The biography broadly follows three main phases of Cholmondeley’s life: her restricted and often claustrophobic upbringing in an isolated rectory; her emergence as a professional writer battling with ill health; and finally her participation in the London literary scene of the 1890s and huge success with Red Pottage.

Oulton describes how Cholmondeley began keeping a journal at the age of 13, meticulously chronicling the tribulations of an asthmatic teenager growing up with an invalid mother and seven lively siblings in a Shropshire rectory. Oulton uses the journals to chart Cholmondeley’s growing consciousness of her own position, both within the family and the wider world, and her deliberations over what she should do with her life. She was a keen observer of those around her, carefully analyzing relationships and drawing her own conclusions. By interweaving Cholmondeley’s own writing with that of her correspondents, Oulton is able to give the reader a strong sense of her subject. At the age of 19, Cholmondeley made a very rational and unequivocal decision that she would not marry, believing marriage to be incompatible with the writing career she craved. In any case, she concluded that the odds of finding a suitable husband were too high, and the game was not worth the candle, writing, ‘Miss Mary I shall remain until the end of my days’ (28). For Oulton, this is a pivotal moment that epitomises Cholmondeley’s determination and single-mindedness.

Thereafter, we see Cholmondeley focusing her efforts on establishing herself as a writer, seeking to transcend her identity as daughter and sister and assume a professional status. A lifelong battle with painful asthma attacks left Cholmondeley dependent on morphia, and the death of her beloved sister Hester severely disturbed her equilibrium. Mentally and physically exhausted, Cholmondeley underwent the notorious rest cure, or ‘cure by boredom’, made famous in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.  Cholmondeley seems to have responded well to six weeks in bed, but established a pattern of hard work followed by collapse. Oulton presents Cholmondeley as a tortured artist, sacrificing all to her art. Notwithstanding the pain and disappointments of her chosen path, an easier and more conventional life would have suppressed her creative spirit: she had to let the flowers go, as Oulton’s title stresses.

Where this biography diverges from previous accounts of Cholmondeley’s life is in the consideration of her move to London and metamorphosis into a literary celebrity. When her father retired, the family was forced to relinquish the rectory in which Cholmondeley had lived since birth. Although destabilised by the experience, Oulton shows that Cholmondeley employed her characteristic iron will to begin a new life. Often portrayed as an isolated spinster in the Brontë tradition, Oulton describes Cholmondeley’s regular visits to London during the 1880s before she moved there permanently in 1896, socialising with the likes of Mary Braddon, Rhoda Broughton, and Howard Sturgis. It was here that Cholmondeley created her biggest success, Red Pottage, becoming aware of herself as a public figure whose image needed to be carefully controlled. This biography conveys Cholmondeley’s transformation from secluded ingénue to professional writer with a sense of her own self-worth. Red Pottage sold by the thousands and enjoyed a diverse readership from Queen Victoria to frontline soldiers in the Boer War. Such was its fame that wags reputedly asked each other, ‘Have you read Pottage?’ Oulton argues that the plot of Red Pottage shows that the worst disaster that Cholmondeley could conceive was not personal unhappiness but the loss of a writer’s best work. The novel’s previous title, Tomorrow We Die, is also indicative of her darker side.

It is for Red Pottage that Cholmondeley is associated with New Woman writing. However, Oulton carefully questions this classification, examining the ambiguities and contradictions inherent both in Cholmondeley’s work and the genre, arguing that ‘it is a mistake to assume some kind of consistent and homogenous agenda put forward by the female intelligentsia of the late nineteenth century’ (90). Although she seemed to embody the ideal of the independent professional woman, Cholmondeley distanced herself from the more prominent supporters of the women’s movement, and was prone to decidedly unsisterly comments. After attending the Women Writers’ Dinner, she commented: ‘Why should literary women be so unattractive, and surely if one can be nothing else one can look clean’ (107). Through close readings of Cholmondeley’s other fiction, Oulton complicates our interpretation of her as a New Woman novelist. Oulton resists the temptation to apply the problematic label of ‘feminist’, and argues convincingly against the use of any category to define Cholmondeley, instead offering a considered discussion of her position.

In Under One Roof: A Family Record (1918), Cholmondeley presented recollections of her early life and a version of her position in the family. Oulton shows how this version contradicts accounts from Cholmondeley’s own contemporary journals. Although Cholmondeley bequeathed her three journals and letters to her friend Percy Lubbock, she carefully excised any potentially compromising passages, denying him the full picture. His memoir of Cholmondeley, published three years after her death, ignores the darker side of her character.  Now that two of the journals have surfaced, Oulton has been able to shed light on the complexities and contradictions of Cholmondeley, doing full justice to the material. Oulton is sympathetic towards her subject but never indulgent, maintaining a critical perspective throughout, and teasing out the significance of a life often obfuscated. Cholmondeley is freed from the reductive interpretations applied elsewhere, and offered to the reader as a complex individual rather than a stereotypical woman writer.

The strength of Oulton’s biography is in its balanced representation of thorough research and engagement with the subject. The emphasis is very much on Cholmondeley herself, with limited consideration of the wider literary context in which she was operating. It would have been interesting to see a comparison with some of her contemporaries, such as Sarah Grand. However, the companion volumes, Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered and New Woman Fiction, 1881-1899, cover these aspects in more detail.  Let the Flowers Go is an important and engaging study of a marginalised writer, and a very welcome addition to the growing body of work on lesser-known women authors.

Catherine Pope is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Sussex
and the owner of Victorian Secrets (a small publisher).

New Woman Fiction, 1881-1899, Part 2, Vols. 4-6. Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, General Editor, 2010, London: Pickering & Chatto 798 pp., 97881851966424, hb $495.00

Reviewed by Joellen Masters, Boston University

Researchers and scholars in New Woman writing will be rewarded by Pickering & Chatto’s New Woman Fiction, 1881-1899 series whose mission is to make available “lost texts,” many of which have not been published since their initial appearances in serialized or book form.  Under the general editorship of Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, each handsomely-bound volume focuses on a specific author and provides complete samples of her fiction.  Scholarly introductions, chronologies, and notes accompany the works as do brief bibliographies, useful resources for all, whether familiar with or new to the writers.

The three volumes of Part 1 contain complete novels by Jessie Fothergill, Vernon Lee, and Mona Caird representing the late 1880s.  Part 2, Volumes 4-6, continues with works from the next decade when increased feminist activity, particularly around the suffrage campaign, fueled continued debate about women’s roles.  Volume 4 comprises the seven stories in Catherine Louisa Pirkis’s series The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective.  As Adrienne E. Gavin admits in her cogent introduction, information about Pirkis’s actual participation in feminist movements is rather vague, although her (and her husband Frederick Edward Pirkis’s) tremendous dedication to the anti-vivisection movement and the National Canine Defence League has been documented.  She wrote, for instance, tracts for Frances Power Cobbe’s Victoria Street Society.  Gavin provides concise biographical background before describing Pirkis’s literary career which began in 1877 and would include thirteen novels and many short stories.

The Loveday Brooke tales ran in the Ludgate Monthly between February and July 1893 and in February 1894 (the periodical had been renamed the Ludgate Illustrated Magazine) before they appeared that March in their first collected volume form.  Publishers Hutchinson & Co. tucked a business card for Pirkis’s detective heroine into the volume’s front cover, testimony to their savvy in marketing this “most inherently successful of fictional New Women” (4, ix).  Oulton follows the 1894 first edition’s order for the stories and includes its 39 illustrations.  Gavin’s appendix supplies nine excerpts from reviews printed in periodicals such as Pall Mall Gazette, the Spectator, and the Manchester Guardian.  Despite the generally favorable but qualified critical reception, audiences loved these stories, Pirkis’s “most enduring creation” (4, ix).  By 1903 the book had been translated into Danish, Dutch, and Icelandic (4, 187).

Gavin categorizes Pirkis as an author of “if not high, then readable and enjoyable fiction” (4, xi) and surveys Pirkis’s novels to illustrate her penchant for independent and spirited heroines and for romance and sensation plots.  The Loveday Brooke tales, however, represent a departure for their author.  Loveday does not retire from her work to marry, a plot device Pirkis followed in her novels and that New Woman detective fiction itself used.  Gavin lists specific authors and titles from this neglected body of women’s writing, a significant – and tempting – guide for future study.  Appearing as they did when the periodical press promoted detective fiction and when Sherlock Holmes was gaining his crucial place in Victorian readers’ affections, these stories reflect the historical fact that late-century detective agencies regularly employed women in a profession that literally linked the softer sex to criminal activity, vexing the already prevalent concerns about female employment.  Gavin sums up her wide-ranging discussion with the claim that in Loveday Brooke, Pirkis creates “that rarest of things in fin-de-siecle fiction: a content and successful New Woman” (4, xvi).

Pirkis works within the genre’s formulaic attention to sleuthing’s specialized skills, creating a heroine whose shrewd logic and independent manner fortify her appeal.  Some of the stories’ liveliest moments are when Loveday verbally spars with her male superior Dyer who assigns cases knowing only she can solve them, even while he questions her tactics.  The stories get quickly into the business at hand and, as Gavin notes, often involve romantic intrigues – elopements, hidden or switched identities.  Loveday works with swift efficiency and draws on her remarkably erudite knowledge: she sends messages in invisible ink to Dyer who uses his “cipher-book” (4, 65) to read them; she researches heraldic images at the British Museum; she demonstrates  familiarity with linguistics and regional dialects.  Undercover as a lady’s maid, an amanuensis, or an interior decorator, Loveday always sees what a male investigator may not; understanding, for example, significance in a glance two women exchange over a hat, a coded signal that leads her to a milliner’s shop in her quest to find a missing Swiss lady’s maid.  However, while Pirkis allows for a fluency in matters particularly female, she refrains from tinting Loveday in sentimental tones or endowing her with physical charm.  Prickly and straightforward, often irritated by local police inspectors, Loveday solves the various cases in “her usual methodical manner” (4, 22), explaining the “mere A B C work” (4, 26) and all the “links in the chain of reasoning” (4, 22), a structural tactic endemic to the genre that nonetheless makes Loveday a formidable investigator, one who enjoys seeing her triumphs printed in the Surrey Gazette which she reads aloud to her male colleagues “with her feet on the fender of the Lynch Court office” (4, 76).

Two novels by Annie E. Holdsworth form the contents for Volume 5.  A co-editor of the Woman’s Signal (formerly the Woman’s Herald) with Lady Henry (Isabel) Somerset between January 1894 to September 1895 when the journal concentrated on the temperance movement (5, ix), Holdsworth wrote reviews, stories, and longer fiction about her period’s social issues and for a mainly female readership.  SueAnn Schatz, this volume’s editor, explains in her crisply intelligent introduction, middle-class women’s philanthropic efforts were often a “sincere desire to help, [but] their actions also positioned them as renegades and pioneers” (5, x).  Holdsworth’s fiction sustains the culture’s gendered politics about a woman’s innately tender ability to assist even while it critiques concerns about a misguided idealism that romanticized the poor.  Schatz places this volume’s two works within late-century fiction’s efforts in the “crusade to alleviate poverty,” a social cause commensurate with the simultaneous rise of New Woman fiction (5, x).

Joanna Traill, Spinster, Holdsworth’s first novel, serialized in the Woman’s Herald from August to October 1893, was printed in volume form that year in England and, in 1894, in an American edition.  Oulton uses the original serialized text and Schatz’s textual notes distinguish installment breaks from this current volume’s chapter breaks.  Published under her own name (from the 1880s until her last novel in 1913, Holdsworth adopted the pseudonym “Max Beresford” [5, ix]), this touching story shocked some in its portrayal of Joanna Traill, an unmarried woman who takes into her home the young Christine Dow, a former prostitute.  Joanna, Schatz claims, “can be termed a New Woman, though she does not necessarily see herself as one” (5, xviii).  The narrative charts a dual transformation to demonstrate the power independent and unmarried women wielded in making the world a better place.  Opening as she does with a discussion between Joanna and her married sisters about matrimony – one states that “marriage with me simply meant earning my living in the easiest way” (5, 133) – Holdsworth demonstrates the New Woman writer’s investment in women’s autonomy.  It is, as the chapter’s title proclaims, “A Question of Settlements” (5, 133).  Her sisters mock “sincerity’ and “earnestness,” but Joanna herself yearns for more than simply “posing as a philanthropist” (5, 142).

Holdsworth handles the Victorian fallen woman trope considerably differently from her predecessors.  Unlike a mid-century novel like Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth (1853), Joanna Traill, Spinster shows that a young orphaned girl, fallen into prostitution by necessity and naiveté, can become a socially graceful woman who marries happily.  Joanna Trail, Spinster testifies that women’s philanthropy and the settlement houses had solidly good results.  In Christine, Joanna sees “not a sinner, but a victim – one whom poverty and circumstance had hounded to ruin.  She had been chosen to help her, and she strengthened herself for the task” (5, 161).  Consequently, while the novel illustrates Christine’s moral transformation, it simultaneously, perhaps more powerfully, portrays Joanna’s spiritual and personal growth.  She becomes “alert, capable, forceful – a woman of resource; and [with a name] well known in philanthropic circles as a power”; Boas, the male settlement house director may have set her on this path, but “Joanna could act without him now when necessary” (5, 190).  Their burgeoning and tacit love unfolds in their work with Christine and over discussions about issues like the “new democracy” (5, 170).  'Boas functions as Holdsworth’s call to her middle-class women readers when he says, “it is by the work of women like Miss Traill these devilish cruelties, these red crimes, will be abolished, not by the silence and horror of cold-blooded morality” (5, 214) while Joanna guides Holdsworth’s audience to “sights that few women had ever seen – no good woman before her. . . . through scenes that, imagined only – if imagination of such had been possible – would have made her die of shame” (5, 201-202).  But if Holdsworth ensures we do not close up the book weeping over the fate of the reformed fallen woman, she avoids conferring a similar domestic contentment on the female activist.  Joanna, who nurses her sister’s family through diphtheria, herself falls ill and dies, secure in her knowledge she loves Boas who only understands his love for her during his solitary vigil gazing at the “cold outline of [her] marble face” in her coffin  (5, 223).  Schatz summarizes her discussion by claiming that Holdsworth  condemns “the constraints that societal conventions place upon women” and is “most damning” in her representation of Joanna’s death.  She may have made great “contributions to the settlement house movement” but she is still treated shabbily by her sisters (5, xix).

The inclusion of The Years that the Locust Hath Eaten, Holdsworth’s well-received fourth novel, initially published serially in the Women’s Signal (June to October 1895) yet almost unheard of until now, makes an especially welcome example of late-century social reformist fiction.  Although New Woman writing did not shy from using urban England’s slums as settings for a heroine’s developing independence, Holdsworth’s novel makes this environment “central to the [narrative]” (5, xi-xii).  Schatz’s sensitive close-reading convincingly demonstrates Holdsworth created “a vivid picture about the working-class poor’s abominable situation” as a way to demand readers “do something about it” (5, xvii). This  environment is fictionalized in the middle-class protagonist Priscilla Momerie’s choice to live in the Regent’s Building, a working-class apartment complex,­­­­­­­­­ where she struggles to write works of literary and social merit.  As Schatz explains, the novel, which has strong autobiographical echoes, lets the New Woman type appear in various “incarnations,” distributed across three main female characters all linked to the arts and to learning: Gertrude Tennant and her singing, Miss Cardrew and her teaching,  Priscilla and her writing (5, xii).  The novel’s complexity lies in how it exposes class anxieties around concerns about women – paid employment, maternity, domestic duty.  Issues that could equalize women separate them and Holdsworth’s didacticism is most compelling in scenes when Priscilla’s initial thrill at living among the urban working-classes becomes a humbling education about her own romantic preconceptions.  The novel, consequently, diverts from Joanna Traill, Spinster’s unqualified praise for philanthropy and undertakes a bleaker examination of middle-class obligation to the working-class and urban poor.  Holdsworth makes a layered critique about a woman’s appropriate and potentially contributive domestic, social, and literary roles.  In her portrayal of Priscilla’s writing, Holdsworth weaves her story on women’s duty and social reform with one concerning the woman writer in a literary world sensitive about artistic merit, popular taste, and profit.  For economic necessity, Priscilla writes stories that “were not literature” (5, 49) but the “sort of thing that commands a sale” (5, 42).   She dies, mistakenly believing publishers have rejected her serious work The Book of the Great City which she hoped would show a complacent and uninformed readership “things which made the life of the Buildings, failure and sin and hopelessness and death” realities (5, 109).  What, Holdsworth asks, is the woman author’s place in contemporary social questions?  Despite her occasional capitulations to narrative convention and her closing chapters’ theatricality, Holdsworth’s energetic confrontation with these cultural challenges is fascinating.

Volume 6, edited by Vybarr Cregan-Reid, focuses on the astonishingly productive Netta Syrett whose loyalty to “various themes of rebellion” (6, ix) throughout her career makes her “works endure as pioneering for their time (6, xviii).  This volume has a singular impact as it pairs her first novel, Nobody’s Fault (1896) with her autobiography The Sheltering Tree (1939).  Cregan-Reid says, Syrett “lived both quietly and radically,” and describes the autobiography as a “reflective memoir that gallops through the Victorian schoolrooms and Edwardian salons of the author’s youth,” a “companion-piece . . .  to illuminate” (6, xviii) the novel’s verisimilitude.  Quoting Coleridge that “friendship is a sheltering tree” in her headnote, Syrett documents her family life, her social circles, her many travels and residences in France and Italy, and, always, her writing whether novels, short stories, children’s literature and plays.  Certainly the memoir can read more as an astounding roster of those she knew or met (Swinburne, Meredith, Chesterton, Pavlova, Hillaire Belloc, Hardy, for instance) rather than a tale of self-realization or political edification.  Its odd concluding chapter features Syrett’s musings about contemporary psychic research and admissions about her own paranormal sensitivities.  Undoubtedly, the series’ reprint of The Sheltering Tree – the first since the book’s initial 1939 publication (6, 279) – greatly expands the field for scholarship in women’s autobiography, a contribution that Cregan-Reid’s restrictive qualification disregards.

Syrett began her training as a teacher when she enrolled in Frances Mary Buss’s North London Collegiate School for Girls.  She did not like Buss but admits she “raised the standard of education for women to heights undreamed of in early Victorian days, and thousands of women have cause to be grateful that she lived” (6, 122).  As the eldest in a large family, Syrett and her  sisters, sought financial independence , although their reasonably comfortable economic status meant Syrett was never forced into a profession for which she felt unsuited (6, 139-140).  The Sheltering Sky celebrates female self-sufficiency.  Syrett, her roommates, her sisters are “accustomed to liberty” (6, 141); they enjoy life since “even in the ‘eighties, so long as a girl was working at some art, profession or business, she was perfectly free, and could go about her lawful occasions without censure – even from the censorious” (6, 157).  Syrett longed to find her “way into the world of new ideas; to meet writers and artists of all kinds.  “Curiously enough (since in those days of all narrow lives that of a teacher was the narrowest),” she claims it was her work as an instructor that drew her into that life (6, 123).  While teaching at the Polytechnic School for Girls, Syrett met Mabel Beardsley, and became part of the “exotic Beardsley set” and their regular Thursday night gatherings (6, 143).  Through Mabel, Syrett met Henry Harland and she recalls the evening at Harland’s when the notion came up for a magazine for the “new movement.”  There was, she claims, “no untidy Bohemianism about ‘the Yellow Book set’ [or the period] now rather absurdly called the ‘naughty nineties’” (6, 149).  She reminisces how she grew “accustomed to phrases that were the catchwords of the fin de siècle, the ‘new’ everything:  ‘The New Woman’, ‘The New Morality’, ‘The New Paganism,’to take a few examples.  Not to mention the word decadent so frequently on the lips of writers” (6, 150).  The memoir illustrates Syrett maintained her two careers for some time, teaching during the day and writing at night (when she was not out at a party), before her writing became her sole profession.  Based on the relish with which Syrett describes herself writing steadily during and amid her extensive activities and travels, Sarah Grand’s advice to “don’t dissipate yourself in society” (6, 153) seems unnecessary.

If the memoir shapes Syrett’s “counterblast” to clichéd notions about “what is known as the late nineteenth-century ‘Woman’s Movement’” (6, 105),  Nobody’s Fault provides another, and earlier, mirror into this period when Victorian feminist activism was creating opportunities  for women and transforming the gender and class prejudices that constrain Syrett’s heroine, Bridget Ruan.  Published by John Lane of Yellow Book fame whose Keynote Series sought “novels by younger writers of the day” (6, 153), Nobody’s Fault’s favorable reception made Syrett feel she “belonged to the confraternity of authors” (6, 153).  Cregan-Reid describes it as a “truthful” rather than a “more politically charged” novel, responsible rather than irresponsible (6, xvii) in its portrayals of womanhood and women’s choices during the 1890s.  It is, he states, “a novel of a New Woman by a New Woman” but a novel not simply for readers with New Woman sympathies (6, ix).  Syrett confronts concerns about an ideal femininity in Bridget’s desires for education, creative fulfillment, love, making the “text culturally legible” to a wide readership but, Cregan-Reid states, “without the risk of too much offence” (6, xi).  Bridget’s inequality is “nobody’s fault,” the phrase that rings a “pedal-note” (6, xiii) throughout.  Neither fully a bildungsroman nor a kunstlerroman, the novel nevertheless portrays a particularized struggle to find a creative voice.

Cregan-Reid’s fluidly comprehensive introduction discusses this “brave novel for a debut” (6, xii), one that never swerves from its particular attention on class, a feature that drew the greatest apprehensions from its readers.  Bridget, daughter of a pub-owner, receives an education “inappropriate” (6, xiii) for one of her station but one necessary for her to support herself as a teacher.  Frustrated by her lonely teacher’s life, and struggling to find time to write, Bridget asks, “Because I’m a teacher, am I to cease to be a woman?” (6, 45).  Dr. Mansfield, Bridget’s school friend Helen’s father, describes the young woman as one who “hates herself, yet chafes at the hindrances in her path” laying some responsibility for this quandary of identity for all young women with the current political time.  Even his daughter, the more conventional Helen, he notes, cannot “say to the New Woman – thou shalt not.  It’s too late in the day.  She holds the reins . . And drives a great deal too fast . . . downhill, too” (6, 35; 37).

Syrett’s novel foregrounds ideological and cultural obstacles for women that fostered an internalized and personal split her memoir diminishes or elides..  Bridget’s celebrity opens the story:  her fame is the subject of casual conversation between characters who have known her in earlier years.  The following retrospective action unfolds smoothly and Syrett’s deftness with elliptical transitions moves readers gracefully through a fourteen-year span.  Beautiful and intelligent, Bridget, finds her budding fame as an author makes her part of sophisticated London life.  She enjoys a “lovely time” (6, 61) and gives “even those decadent people a new sensation” (6, 70).  Unlike Syrett, who remained single her entire life, Bridget sets aside her promising writing career and marries Travers, one who was “to all appearances a gentleman” (6, 70), a mistake she mocks when she tells Carey, the man she genuinely loves and whom she had met when she struggled as a friendless teacher, “now-a-days, marriage is looked upon as a vocation, remember; and one throws one’s whole heart and soul into such a dignified thing as a vocation!” (6, 61).  And yet, Syrett invents a writing heroine whose wisdom and experience rise above cynicism.  Bridget faces the potential consequences when she leaves Travers, weighs the larger ramifications of the separation on others, and finally rejects Carey’s offer to live together in the tender, companionate relationship for which she yearns but one her rigid society stigmatizes.  She sacrifices her personal happiness to return to her writing so she can support herself and her mother, newly widowed in a denouement that may seem a conservative turn in Syrett’s plot.  In his subtle analysis Cregan-Reid claims this closure to be the conclusion’s “triumph” since the evidence in the first chapter’s frame proves that Bridget has been enriched artistically rather than “destroyed” by socially inscribed family obligations (6, xii).  It is an especially gratifying interpretation of an ending many could view superficially as Syrett’s reluctance to move beyond traditional containment of her author heroine.

All three volumes’ stringently organized and finely written introductions pay discerning attention to their different authors’ Victorian social and political contexts.  Consequently, the editorial and textual notes’ uneven quality comes as a surprise and especially given the books’ staggering cost:  US$495.00 for each three-volume part.  Notes vacillate between rudimentary (even unnecessary) explanation for inventions, objects, food, colloquialisms and instructively expansive information about late-century monetary values, London reform and settlement houses, historical figures, urban life.  Some volumes ignore intertextual attributions as with Pirkis’s quotation of “half-sun, half-shade” (4, 166) woven into the narrative, or Syrett’s employment of “Curiouser and curiouser” (6, 32) in a character’s dialogue.  A nonchalant disclaimer about a “number of punctuation errors by the typesetter” (277) does not account for a flurry of very different typographical mistakes in Volume 6 between pages 78 and 92.

Ultimately, however, these concerns cannot diminish the immense wealth Part 2 in the series brings to Victorian studies.  “Poetry is for Eternity,” Syrett declares, and “novels – even the best of them – for Time” (6, 217).  In joining as it does these New Women writers and their independent, daring, and ambitious heroines with our own time’s scholars and critics, Carolyn Oulton reconfigures how time and tradition have categorized and will continue to explore what is “best” in Victorian women’s writing.

Joellen Masters is a Senior Lecturer in Humanities at Boston University's College of General Studies. Her research focuses on gender and genre in Victorian fiction. She has published essays in Journal of Narrative Theory and Victorian Literature and Culture. She is currently completing a book manuscript, For Better, For Worse: The First Wife in the British Novel, 1847-1907.