Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered (Gender and Genre)

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Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered (Gender and Genre)

MARY CHOLMONDELEY RECONSIDERED Gender and Genre Series Editor: Editorial Board: Ann Heilmann Mark Llewellyn Johanna

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Gender and Genre

Series Editor: Editorial Board:

Ann Heilmann Mark Llewellyn Johanna M. Smith Margaret Stetz

Titles in this Series 1 Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton

Forthcoming Titles Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country: A Reassessment Laura Rattray (ed.) Fictions of Dissent: Reclaiming Authority in Transatlantic Women’s Writing of the Late Nineteenth Century Sigrid Anderson Cordell


edited by Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and SueAnn Schatz

london PICKERING & CHATTO 2010

Published by Pickering & Chatto (Publishers) Limited 21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH 2252 Ridge Road, Brookfield, Vermont 05036-9704, USA All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission of the publisher. © Pickering & Chatto (Publishers) Ltd 2010 © Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and SueAnn Schatz 2010 british library cataloguing in publication data Mary Cholmondeley reconsidered. – (Gender and genre) 1. Cholmondeley, Mary, 1859–1925 – Criticism and interpretation. 2. Social change in literature. I. Series II. Oulton, Carolyn, 1972– III. Schatz, SueAnn. 823.8-dc22 ISBN-13: 9781851966516 e: 9781851966561

This publication is printed on acid-free paper that conforms to the American National Standard for the Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials. Typeset by Pickering & Chatto (Publishers) Limited Printed in Great Britain at MPG Books Group


Acknowledgements List of Contributors List of Figures Introduction – Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and SueAnn Schatz I. Defining Women/Defining Men 1 ‘Social Suicide – Yes’: Sensational Legacies in Diana Tempest – Tamara Wagner 2 How to be a Feminist without Saying So: The New Woman and the New Man in Red Pottage – SueAnn Schatz 3 ‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’: The New Woman and Sexual Fall in the Short Fiction – Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton 4 Writing Women: Narration and Literary Culture in the Short Fiction – Christine Bayles Kortsch 5 Cholmondeley’s Fables of Identity – Benedetta Bini

vii ix xi 1

11 25 37 49 65

II. Creating Identities 6 Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture: Cholmondeley’s Prefaces – Linda H. Peterson 75 7 ‘I Know that to be Untrue’: Belief and Reality in the Short Fiction – Jennifer M. Stolpa Flatt 87 8 Revising the Gothic: The Spiritual Female in ‘The Ghost of a Chance’ and ‘The End of the Dream’ – Karen Yuen 103 9 Guiding Spirit: Stella Benson’s Aunt Mary – Marlene Baldwin Davis 117 III. Past, Present, Future 10 Naturalized Imperialism in The Danvers Jewels: Reworking The Moonstone – Patricia Murphy 131 11 ‘Moth and Rust’: Cholmondeley’s Assessment of the Church of England – Brenda Ayres 147 12 Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’ – Kirsty Bunting 161


Notes Works Cited Index

Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

173 201 211


Thanks are due to the following for permission to quote from letters and manuscripts in their collections: Alison Cholmondeley; Cheshire Local Studies and Archive; Cambridge University Library; Eton College Library. Also to Ann Heilmann, the general editor of the Gender and Genre series.

– vii –


Brenda Ayres is Professor of Victorian Literature at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Widely published in Victorian scholarship, she is the general editor of Pickering & Chatto’s The Social Problem Novels of Frances Trollope and is the volume editor of Jessie Fothergill’s Kith and Kin in Pickering & Chatto’s New Woman Fiction series. Benedetta Bini is Professor of English at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy. She has written extensively on English and American culture and literature, Walter Pater and women writers of the turn of the century. She is currently translating and editing Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier. Kirsty Bunting is Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department at Manchester Metropolitan University, Cheshire. She is contributing co-editor of the ‘Literary and Cultural Contexts’ chapter of the Victorian Literature Handbook. Marlene Baldwin Davis is Lecturer in English at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her field of interest is travel literature, particularly the works of Stella Benson, and she served as academic editor for Women, Writing and Travel, Part I: The Diaries of Stella Benson, 1902–1933. Jennifer M. Stolpa Flatt is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette, where she also teaches Spanish and serves as Campus Associate Dean. Her academic training and previous publications are primarily focused on the works of English Victorian novelists. Christine Bayles Kortsch is Assistant Professor of English at Eastern University in St Davids, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Dress Culture in Late Victorian Women’s Fiction: Literacy, Textiles, and Activism (2009). Patricia Murphy is Associate Professor of English at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. She is the author of In Science’s Shadow: Literary Constructions of Late-Victorian Women (2006) and Time is of the Essence: Temporality, – ix –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Gender, and the New Woman (2001), as well as several articles on Victorian literature. Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Language Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom. She is the author of Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: From Dickens to Eliot (2002); Romantic Friendship in Victorian Literature (2007); and Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley (2009). Linda H. Peterson is Niel Gray Jr Professor of English at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Her monographs on Victorian literature and culture include Becoming a Woman of Letters: Victorian Myths of Authorship, Facts of the 19th-Century Market (2009); Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing (1999); and Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-Interpretation (1986). SueAnn Schatz is Associate Professor of English at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. She is the editor of the upcoming Pickering & Chatto edition of Annie E. Holdsworth’s The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten (2010). Tamara S. Wagner is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Her books include Longing: Narratives of Nostalgia in the British Novel, 1740–1890 (2004); Occidentalism in Novels of Malaysia and Singapore, 1819–2004 (2005); and the forthcoming Financial Speculation in Victorian Fiction: Plotting Money and the Novel Genre, 1815–1901 (2010). Karen Yuen is an independent scholar from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her research interests include the Pre-Raphaelites and Pre-Raphaelitism; connections between literature, music and art; fin-de-siècle literature; and gender.


Figure 1. Frontispiece portrait, Diana Tempest: A Novel (1900) xii Figure 2. Frontispiece portrait, Percy Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory (1928) xiii

– xi –

Figure 1. Frontispiece portrait, Diana Tempest: A Novel (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1900). Private collection.

Figure 2. Frontispiece portrait, Percy Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928). Courtesy of the Yale University Library.

INTRODUCTION Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and SueAnn Schatz

Mary Cholmondeley’s Red Pottage is among the most regularly ‘almost rediscovered’ books of fin de siècle women’s writing. Although it had been one of the most discussed novels of 1899 – and who could resist the pithy catchphrase, ‘Have you read Pottage?’ – its admirers were lamenting its slow slide into oblivion by the time of Cholmondeley’s death in 1925 and by 1957 she was apparently unread even in her home county of Shropshire, where she features in a local newspaper article as ‘an almost forgotten’ authoress.1 Attempts to revive her reputation have since included two new scholarly editions of her most famous novel, and the resurgence of interest in New Woman writing over the last three decades has brought a number of critical articles on Cholmondeley’s work, with most focusing on Red Pottage.2 But, as often happens, the success of this one novel, the importance of which is now starting to be fully appreciated, has dealt something like a death blow to her other work. For some Red Pottage itself is flawed by its melodramatic suicide plot, a feature that links it to the sensation fiction of the 1860s rather than the more overtly serious New Woman experiments of the fin de siècle. But in any case this device remains an almost wilfully missed opportunity – unlike her most obvious precursors in the sensation genre, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Cholmondeley has not been treated to a television makeover and has not reached a mass audience in modern times. That she should seek a wide audience in the first place was a source of consternation to those around her when she first began to publish fiction in the 1880s. Born in Shropshire in 1859, Mary was the fourth child and eldest daughter of Richard Hugh Cholmondeley. The Cholmondeleys were themselves an old and well-regarded family, and they were furthermore related to the Lords Delamere, and by marriage to the illustrious Percy family. In 1855 Richard had married the well-connected Emily Beaumont, from an old Yorkshire family. His appointment to the rectorship of the small but picturesque parish of Hodnet in 1873 meant a return home. Not only had his father and grandfather been rectors of Hodnet before him, but his immediate predecessor had been his stepfather –1–


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Samuel Heyrick Macaulay, and the evidence suggests that Richard and Emily spent the early years of their marriage in the Rectory. This was the house in which Mary Cholmondeley had been born, and within a few years of her return, she would assume a demanding role both domestically and within the parish. When her mother’s declining health left her unable to cope with the demands of their large household, eighteen including servants, Cholmondeley had to take over. She was only sixteen herself at the time, and it became apparent in her own eyes that it was not a role for which she was particularly well suited. By the age of nineteen she had convinced herself that her lack of personal attractions – and perhaps her dislike of household management – rendered her all but unmarriageable, and she determined that rather than fulfilling the traditional career of marriage and motherhood, she would be a writer. She admitted in her private journal: what a great pleasure and interest it would be to me in life to write books. I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry, (for at least that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty, nor cleverness) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties, though they certainly do engross far more of my time than I could have anticipated.3

Between domestic responsibilities and the demands of the parish work expected of the rector’s daughters, Cholmondeley often struggled to find time to write. To increase her difficulties she suffered from chronic asthma, which often left her prostrated for weeks at a time. But her personal circumstances were not the only source of frustration. For a woman of her class to take up a profession was simply not done, and it would be many years before she was able to note sardonically that her literary success now made her ‘dear Mary’ to people who had hardly acknowledged her when she was a shy young girl with only her family position to recommend her. As she later recalled, the county families with whom she exclusively socialized could not initially understand why one of their own would want to join the ranks of ‘scribblers’. While two volumes of Cholmondeley’s diary have recently been discovered, the middle volume, covering the period 1879–95, is missing. Her friend and first biographer Percy Lubbock, who had access to it after her death, suggests that the local young men were good naturedly ready to be amused by their neighbour’s witty satire, even as they dismissed her writing ambition as fanciful or insignificant. Cholmondeley herself later confirmed that she had had ‘few incentives to perseverance’4 at this stage of her career. Nonetheless she had the support of her sisters and, despite the suggestions in the largely hostile commentary of Under One Roof – published decades later in 1918 – of her mother as well. She herself recalled how she used to entertain her younger sisters Victoria and Hester (who also wanted to be a writer) with improbable accounts of her adventures away



from home, and her first novel, The Danvers Jewels (1887), would be dedicated to another sister, Diana, ‘who helped me to write it’.5 What is clear from the first volume of her diary is that she also set great store by her mother’s opinion, submitting early drafts of her work to her for comment and criticism. Cholmondeley’s first novel, Her Evil Genius, was never published, but by the 1880s she was determinedly sending out short stories to magazines. The first that can be attributed with certainty is ‘Lisle’s Courtship’, published in Household Words in 1884,6 followed in 1885 by ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’,7 a trenchant critique of the sexual double standard that set the feminist agenda for her major fiction of the 1890s. The first of her novels to appear was the overtly sensational The Danvers Jewels (1887), completed at about this time and dedicated to Cholmondeley’s sister Diana in acknowledgement of her support in the writing of it. Unsure of how to approach a publisher, Cholmondeley sought advice from a literary acquaintance, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, and her husband. They suggested the firm of Bentley, and an introduction was duly procured by another family friend, the novelist Rhoda Broughton. Bentley approved of the book and promptly commissioned more of the same. Cholmondeley responded with a sequel, Sir Charles Danvers (1889), which she described as portraying ‘the only life I know, the life of country people’.8 But if Cholmondeley would later declaim the snobbery of county families in their response to professional writers, she herself was not free from such social prejudice. This ambivalence is obvious in her initial response to her middle-class publisher George Bentley; she was inclined to distrust him as a businessman with whom her background had not equipped her to cope. During the negotiations for copyright of her first two novels Cholmondeley was in constant touch with the more experienced Ritchie and her husband, seeking advice and airing grievances after receiving letters from the firm. Despite such reservations she had faith in Bentley as a critic and he in her as a writer. Over the years they only met once, but nonetheless forged an extraordinary relationship, reinforced by their shared suffering from asthma. During the writing of her third novel, Diana Tempest, Mary was repeatedly thrown off course by illness and by the untimely death of her younger sister Hester in 1892, before eventually herself being put through an intensive rest cure. In one of the last letters she was allowed to write before her rest cure commenced, she reassured Bentley that she had finished correcting the proofs of the novel – she would not be able to write to him again for several months, and then it was to lament the continuing strictures of her doctor.9 Despite these setbacks Diana Tempest (1893), as Bentley recognized, marked a major turning point in Cholmondeley’s development as a writer. If Sir Charles Danvers represented ‘the only life I know’ in its ambiguous invocation of parochial ennui redeemed by the lovingly detailed country house way of life, Diana Tempest would figure that world as under perpetual threat. Based on an anec-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

dote related at a dinner party about a wealthy young man (Cholmondeley was deeply struck by an incident of life echoing art, when the subject of the original anecdote went on to marry her cousin a few years later), the novel was intended to focus on the plight of John Tempest rather than Diana. Indeed Cholmondeley would have called the novel simply John, had Margaret Oliphant not beaten her to it by over two decades with her John: A Love Story of 1870.10 Despite the author’s protestations that the main interest of the story centred on John Tempest and his moral dilemma, modern readers have inevitably been drawn to the heroine whose determination to think for herself, and whose contempt for appearances, raises questions routinely associated with the better-known New Woman protagonists of the 1890s. At the time Cholmondeley noted wryly in her diary that while this novel won her a degree of celebrity in London, a return to the country – where no one cared what she did – was a salutary corrective to her pride. Not surprisingly then she had mixed feelings when her father’s retirement, and the loss of the family estate to debt, rendered an abrupt move from Hodnet essential in 1895. It was shortly after this that Cholmondeley moved to London with her now-widowed father and two surviving unmarried sisters, Diana and Victoria (the only sister to marry was Essex in 1886, and it was her daughter who would become famous as the modernist novelist Stella Benson). The departure from Hodnet was a development that Cholmondeley clearly found liberating – even though it meant leaving the spacious rectory in Hodnet for a flat (obscuring or dismissing the loss of status this implied, her brothers would now start referring to their father and sisters flippantly as ‘the flatites’).11 But the late 1890s would prove to be a difficult time in many ways. The sale of the Bentley firm to Macmillan in 1898 would leave Cholmondeley without a regular channel for her work, and it was also at this period that she found herself struggling with an addiction to morphia, the drug routinely used to treat her condition over a period of some years. Indeed the writing of Red Pottage confirmed a trend whereby Mary spent three years writing her new novel, only to break down immediately it was finished – she was literally forced to correct proofs in the middle of a severe illness. As she began to recover over the next few months, she wondered how she had managed to do it at all: I dont [sic] remember much about it except the exhaustion, the hand round my head, the morphia, and the horror which it throws on everything, the long depression of convalescence, not wholly gone yet. I was delirious for many nights. And by day proof sheets after proof sheets arrived. All these while she nursed me dear Di read, and the hours in the day when my head was clear; whenever there were any such hours were spent in consulting these many sheets. I did not care, but I remembered that I had cared about the book, and I forced myself to do them. I corrected them twice over.12



None of these difficulties make their way into the Cholmondeley myth of the shy spinster from Shropshire, and it seems possible that they were hardly suspected by her wide circle of friends, who knew better than to try and penetrate her reserve, if indeed they ever looked beyond the wit and polish that she was remembered to have brought to social situations. Nor did her wide circle of admirers necessarily suspect the mental suffering she underwent during this period. Moth and Rust, the novella published in 1902 and her first work to appear after the hugely successful Red Pottage, takes as its somewhat unpromising hero an aristocratic man who angers his mother by engaging himself to a middle-class fiancée. But the story ends tragically when he is unable to trust his lover in the suspicious circumstances she has naively got into by agreeing to keep a guilty secret for her dying friend. Ironically it was as Cholmondeley was writing this that she learned of the misunderstanding that lay behind her own tragedy. As a young woman she had been devastated by the inexplicable withdrawal of the man she had hoped to marry, but she had been too proud to question his motives, which she took to be ambition and an unwillingness to commit himself when he was not yet in a position to marry. Now she learned that quite simply the man she loved had been told that she was bored by his attentions. Even in her diary she was reluctant to examine the implications of this disaster on the course of her life, but it was a theme that she could pursue at a distance, in fictional form. Prisoners: Fast Bound in Misery and Iron (1906) explores the dilemma of a woman in middle age who has never recovered from the loss of her lover decades earlier, and two of the four stories in The Lowest Rung (1908), ‘The Understudy’ and ‘St Luke’s Summer’, tackle the same theme from different perspectives. Many of her stories from this time would show a concern with the plight of single women who had outlived their youth and now found that they had missed domestic fulfilment. Nonetheless, in her own middle age, Cholmondeley was finding her home life increasingly stressful, admitting to herself at least that ‘I am not by nature domestic’.13 In the early years of the new century she would resolve this dilemma, using the income from her writing to lease a house in Ufford, Suffolk, where she would write many of her later stories, and which she used as a setting for her last novel, Notwithstanding, published in 1913. The possible effect on her asthma was always a concern for Cholmondeley, but having satisfied herself that the local air would suit her ‘coquettish lungs’,14 she leased the property from the eccentric local landowner, Edward Brooke, and set about doing it up. This house became a refuge from the claustrophobia of family life in the flat, but it also gave her a renewed sense of purpose in the immense amount of work entailed in making it habitable. After the death of her father, who had himself been in poor health for some years, in 1911, Diana took a flat of her own. From this time Cholmondeley was able to spend more of her time in the


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

country with Victoria, the closest of her sisters emotionally despite a ten-year age gap; it was here that she spent much of her time during the war, vividly recalled in the preface to her last collection of stories, The Romance of His Life and Other Romances (1921). Cholmondeley had been emotionally involved with the life of Ufford from the start, and in her account of zeppelin raids and the tragedy of the local men who were sent out to fight and never returned, she instinctively identifies with the locals of Suffolk in their experience of war. In 1914 she contributed an article to the propagandist King Albert’s Book: A Tribute to the Belgian People from Representative Men and Women throughout the World, in which she describes an encounter with Belgian soldiers in the area, even inventing a local regiment, the West Lowshires, for the occasion; in March 1915 the parish magazine noted the death of Reginald Cholmondeley, the son of her elder brother of the same name, and her favourite nephew.15 Cholmondeley, with her sister Victoria, volunteered for war work in these years. But with the return of peace she turned her thoughts back to the more distant past, publishing Under One Roof, a vivid if sometimes tendentious account of family life in Hodnet Rectory, in the new year of 1918. In this final engagement with the troubles of her early life, she recalls the support of her sisters for her writing – and in particular the lost promise of the youngest, Hester. But in her discussion of these formative influences, there is no mention of the man she had hoped to marry, or the sense in which his loss had confirmed her writing vocation. In the last years of her life, Cholmondeley would publish her most radical critique of the Woman Question, a debate that permeates The Romance of His Life. But there would be no more novels, a loss that she herself attributed to the war. In fact she was also in physical decline, suffering a stroke in 1921 from which she never fully recovered. At her death in 1925 she was known as the author of eight novels, two collections of stories and a family memoir. But her reputation rested, as she acknowledged with something like despair, on one of those novels alone. It was a reputation that by the time of her death was already under attack. In her last years her own fame had been superseded by that of her niece Stella Benson, and Cholmondeley herself sometimes felt dangerously out of touch with the new generation of writers Benson represented. Nonetheless, the horrifying story in her most celebrated work, of a writer’s manuscript being wilfully destroyed, and by a judge who is reading it without her consent, can be seen to speak for the conflicts and tensions of a generation of late Victorian women authors. *** The essays in the first section of this monograph, ‘Defining Women/Defining Men’, examine Cholmondeley’s role in the ongoing discussion regarding



women’s rights and roles in society. Although characterized as a New Woman novelist, Cholmondeley is rarely viewed as a feminist – a notion these essays dispute. Diana Tempest (1893) as a legacy of sensation novels is the locus of Tamara Wagner’s essay, ‘“Social Suicide – Yes”: Sensational Legacies in Diana Tempest’. Wagner asserts that Cholmondeley experiments with narrative to challenge marriage and romance plots through the sensational device of a murder for hire. By analysing the use of suicide as metaphor, Wagner investigates the problems of creating a social identity when constraints of society – for women the need to marry, for men the need to have money – are placed upon people. In ‘How to be a Feminist without Saying So: The New Woman and the New Man in Red Pottage’, SueAnn Schatz closely analyses the depictions of the New Woman in Cholmondeley’s 1899 novel Red Pottage. By perpetuating the stereotypical ‘manly’ New Woman and setting her against Red Pottage’s two female protagonists Hester Gresley and Rachel West, Cholmondeley more effectively presents her audience with a feminist agenda. Red Pottage also considers the necessity of forming a ‘New Man’. Schatz concludes that although Cholmondeley subtly reveals her feminism, she should be regarded as important an influence as more radical writers such as Sarah Grand, Ella Hepworth Dixon and Mona Caird. In ‘“The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones”: The New Woman and Sexual Fall in the Short Fiction’, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton examines Cholmondeley’s twentieth-century short fiction, arguing that Cholmondeley’s views of feminism became much more radicalized than her earlier fiction reveals. Several short stories from The Lowest Rung (1908) and The Romance of His Life (1921) indicate that Cholmondeley was re-evaluating the role of the New Woman from the 1890s; in fact, by utilizing a recurring theme of fallen women, Cholmondeley scrutinizes contemporary arguments about gender and about deviance. While her earlier fiction was ambivalent about women’s sexuality, Oulton concludes that the later short stories question society’s double standard that judged a fallen woman as deviant. Christine Bayles Kortsch also examines ‘fallenness’ in ‘Writing Women: Narration and Literary Culture in the Short Fiction’ but in regard to a middle-class woman’s respectability. Kortsch argues that Cholmondeley explores the potentiality of impropriety to themselves that intersects with usefulness to other women that her female artist/writer characters face by having them enter into cross-class relationships with other women. In ‘Cholmondeley’s Fables of Identity’, Benedetta Bini makes the case that in ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ and ‘The Lowest Rung’ Cholmondeley experiments with narrative technique in order to investigate sociocultural anxieties concerning woman and society. These two short stories explore what identity – specifically female identity – embodied at the end of the nineteenth century. We have entitled the second section of essays ‘Creating Identities’; as feminist critics have noted, women writers often have turned to unorthodox methods


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

in an effort to construct an actuality for themselves that society denies them. In ‘Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture: Cholmondeley’s Prefaces’, Linda H. Peterson focuses on the prefaces that appeared in Cholmondeley’s works. Contending that the prefaces to the American editions of Diana Tempest and Red Pottage were neither written nor authorized by Cholmondeley, Peterson believes the prefaces to her later short story collections were constructed to situate herself as a professional and successful author. The intersection of conviction and truth in Cholmondeley’s short stories occupies Jennifer M. Stolpa Flatt’s essay ‘“I Know that to be Untrue”‘: Belief and Reality in the Short Fiction’. Arguing that Cholmondeley shows that belief can influence and even change reality, Flatt offers an analysis of several short stories through the lens of philosophers whose ideas influenced the author: Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Bertrand Russell and Hans Vaihinger. In ‘Revising the Gothic: The Spiritual Female in “The Ghost of a Chance” and “The End of the Dream”’, Karen Yuen considers Cholmondeley’s key role in ‘New Woman Gothic’, a genre that utilized familiar Gothic motifs to explore female agency. Yuen argues that Cholmondeley’s later short stories often contain women characters who not only possess ‘unusual abilities’, but use those talents to imagine new realities for themselves. By ‘modernizing’ Gothic themes, Cholmondeley allows her characters to offer a new way for society to view women. The final essay in this section, Marlene Baldwin Davis’s ‘Guiding Spirit: Stella Benson’s Aunt Mary’, focuses on experimental Modernist novelist Stella Benson’s relationship with her famous aunt. Drawing especially on Benson’s diaries, Davis scrutinizes the complex relationship between the two women, one who felt obligated to veil controversial ideas in the shroud of fiction, the other who experienced the freedom to publicly express her opinions. While Cholmondeley is often discussed solely as a late Victorian author, the essays in the last section, ‘Past, Present, Future’, reveal how intimately interested in and knowledgeable she was not only about contemporary issues but how those issues might play out in the future. In ‘Naturalized Imperialism in The Danvers Jewels: Rewriting The Moonstone’, Patricia Murphy analyses Cholmondeley’s 1887 novella The Danvers Jewels as a response to Wilkie Collins’s novel. Demonstrating that Cholmondeley displaces imperialism with gender, Murphy claims that The Danvers Jewels offers a pessimistic view of British imperialism and the increasing world power of America. Brenda Ayres examines Cholmondeley’s satirizing of the Anglican Church in ‘“Moth and Rust”: Cholmondeley’s Assessment of the Church of England’. Noting that Cholmondeley, the daughter of a Shropshire vicar, was well versed in nineteenth-century criticism of and disputes in the Church of England, Ayres argues that she utilizes that knowledge to create characters who recover their faith and thus offers her readers the same opportunity in a time when faith was in short supply. The last essay in this collection is Kirsty Bunting’s ‘Dreams of Futurity in “Votes for Men” and “The



Dark Cottage”’. The future of Britain and Cholmondeley’s concern for her own legacy is the concern of this essay. Analysing two works written ten years apart (with the First World War intervening as well), Bunting argues that – despite Cholmondeley’s own fear that her literary imagination had ‘dropped dead into the great crevasse of the war’16 – the war and the continuing struggle for women’s suffrage actually resulted in an exciting opportunity for Cholmondeley to venture into the realm of science fiction. Without the huge success of her mid-career novel Red Pottage, Mary Cholmondeley would never have attained the international reputation she enjoyed in her own lifetime. But by her death this reputation was already in decay, and it is equally certain that without the upsurge of critical interest in New Woman fiction over the last three decades, she would remain to this day ‘a forgotten authoress’. Nonetheless this collection seeks to demonstrate the considerable range of Cholmondeley’s writing both before and after her 1899 masterpiece. Throughout her work she eulogizes the aristocratic way of life even as she records its demise, but she is equally alert to the voices of the marginalized and the dispossessed. Whether speaking for the New Woman of the 1890s or the middle-aged spinster of the pre-war era, she is consistently aware of the social and political context that had so deeply shaped her own experience, and which dictates her characters’ choices from the courtship rituals of the Victorian country house to the personal planes of an imagined 1960s.


When John Tempest, the eponymous heroine’s future husband in Mary Cholmondeley’s first successful novel, Diana Tempest (1893), discloses his intention to announce his newly acquired knowledge of his illegitimacy and thereby reject his name, position and estate, he is accused of committing ‘social suicide’. This phrase becomes repeated, in variations that generate an encompassing refrain, as marriage, social position and death are continuously interlinked. If an unhappy union is a ‘voluntary death in life, from which there is no resurrection’,1 chosen by women who speculate on the marriage market with their eyes open, it constitutes the reverse, or mirror, version of the social self-effacement the false heir claims as his new, alternative, self-definition. Such a renunciation of an identity defined by society ultimately functions as a counterpoise to this killing off of the self in the marriage market. Throughout the novel, the suicidal operates as a structural metaphor to explore the confines of social identities and their construction based on money and, increasingly, money alone. While this critique of a commercial, speculative, society renders traditional landed values desirable after all – marking them out as a panacea even – such incipient nostalgia is ruptured by a break in the line of Tempests. It literalizes formal breakages that denote the novel’s reuse of already outmoded sensational formulae as epistemologically self-reflexive. A seemingly climactic literalization of metaphors of the suicidal therein completes a partly parodic play with suicide’s sensational potential. The legacies of a literary sensationalism that had notoriously begun to saturate the book market from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, I shall show, structure Diana Tempest in intriguing twists that map out new directions for fin-de-siècle literature. Far from operating merely as transitional works, Cholmondeley’s early writings encapsulate important shifts in the development of the novel genre at the end of the century. In Diana Tempest, a reworking of established courtship and inheritance plots, a critique of the marriage market and an aborted narrative of sensational mystery and detection that pivots on an elusive murder plot all combine to question subjectivity defined or constricted by society. The central – 11 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

courtship plot which the heroine attempts to resist is punctured by a poignant rendering of the disintegration of consciousness, strikingly evoked in her father’s grotesquely comical suicide attempt and its projection onto her future husband’s commitment of ‘social suicide’. These interlinked acts of self-destructiveness mirror society’s strictures on the individual. At the same time, they suggest alternative forms of a loss of self that is, in a similar vein, demanded by a successful exit from these confines. A self-righteously religious, superficially eccentric, yet deeply conventional fortune-hunter therein functions as the heroine’s double in a satirical reflection of contemporary society. This linkage simultaneously underscores what is depicted as a vicious circle of a mercenary giving in marriage that runs counter to traditional lines of inheritance. It mocks them as their twisted counterparts. Ultimately, the reinstatement of the inadvertent impostor – of the false heir as the offspring of a series of marriages of convenience and resulting adulteries – underscores the value of hereditary estates and of a desirable hero after all. It thereby also rights the value of traditional inheritance and courtship plots. Yet in an intricately structured multiplicity of doubling, the novel critically engages with the narrative potential of a moment of transition in late Victorian popular fiction. In its complex integration of various literary legacies, it forms an experiment with changing aesthetic and social needs and commitments that prompts us to reconsider current approaches to Victorian women writers at large.

Beyond Breakages: Experimentation in Transition Although connections between the sensation genre and New Woman fiction have repeatedly been discussed ever since Lyn Pykett’s seminal study, and Cholmondeley’s ambiguous position within the intersecting aesthetic and social movements of the fin de siècle has recently received more attention, the significance of her early novels has remained marginalized in critical reassessments.2 Among Cholmondeley’s most successful, yet still underrated works, Diana Tempest is not simply a murder mystery which sees an interrogation of the marriage market and independent womanhood cleaved onto its redeployment of sensational plot-lines. The arranged murder that never takes place engenders an ambiguously parodic invocation of familiar novelistic devices and structures. Its linkage to paralleled descriptions of different ways of losing a sense of selfhood plays with the narrative confines of domestic realism and literary sensationalism as well as with the emergent paradigms of New Woman writing. More than a transitional work, the novel dismantles persistent conceptions of a sudden disruption, or breakage, in Cholmondeley’s writing strategies prior to the publication of Red Pottage (1899). Rather, as it renegotiates popular devices, Diana Tempest stretches established literary boundaries. Before analysing the precarious poising of suicide metaphors within the novel’s generic shifts between moribund

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and resurrected narrative forms, I shall therefore first situate Cholmondeley’s early fictional works amidst the contesting modes of women’s writing in the nineteenth century’s final decades. The comparative analysis Pykett proposes in a ‘double focus (and refocusing)’ on the ‘interrelationships in the literary and wider culture of the mid-Victorian and fin de siècle periods’ aims to transcend ‘ahistorical and essentialist notions of a female imagination or a feminine writing’.3 While it prepares the way for a tracing of literary influence between the two related modes and their still neglected intertextual reworking, the most influential point of Pykett’s approach rests in this move away from such essentialization. Literary critics have consequently begun to set the divergent, often diametrically opposed, even contradictory, ideological underpinnings of the works of female nineteenth-century novelists in the foreground, highlighting their different impact on narrative structures and hence the sheer diversity of Victorian women writers. Angelique Richardson and Chris Willis, for example, speak of ‘the polyphonic nature of the debates around femininity at this time’ to stress that ‘Victorian feminism is not a simple story of a radical break with tradition’.4 As Emma Liggins and Andrew Maunder have pointed out, the ‘woman writer’s ability to manipulate generic conventions’ and the slippages that may have long posed problems in discussions of formal requirements significantly create a porosity that discloses crucial shifts within popular genres.5 Mary Cholmondeley does more than simply fall into the most intriguing interstices in the binary oppositions set up by any of the traditional ‘recovery programmes’ that undoubtedly have had their limitations, while vitally reviving interest in hitherto forgotten writers.6 In a recent essay, Brenda Weber notably includes Cholmondeley among a third group or category of fin-de-siècle female novelists in order to break with a dichotomy of feminist and anti-feminist, radical and conservative, experimental and traditional, women writers. Underscoring their awareness of such categorizations, Weber distinguishes between different reactions to prevailing criticism at the time: [if one group] acquiesced to traditional values, continuing to write but undermining the power of female characters; some rebelled and were branded bluestockings and New Women; some played a bit of both games, seeming to adhere to the dominant ideology but offering opportunities for subversion within their texts. It is this third category that interests me in this essay.7

Weber concentrates on the ‘re-presentation’ of the woman writer or artist as a fictionalized commentary on the creative process at a particular time and place, in a particular milieu, and at once hampered and particularly fostered by gendered criticism, to examine how professional women writers could turn ‘what might have been a symbolic deficit to their advantage’. These ambiguously assertive New Woman writers engendered ‘women writer characters who conceived


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

and birthed textual children’, although ‘the mother metaphor was slippery’.8 Numerous critical assessments have not surprisingly for a long time concentrated almost exclusively on what is, after all, the intrinsically most self-reflexive form: the Künstlerroman, often somewhat misleadingly typecast as ‘a narrative form which was to become an important aspect of modernist writing’.9 Pykett has significantly already pointed out the ambiguities that fissure this subgenre’s peculiarly limited approach to female self-realization. It is a limitation that further derails any easy identification of radical experimentation in literature, proto-feminism and New Woman writing. In fact, when fin-de-siècle female novelists feature women writers or artists, they tend to highlight the threat – and frequently the fatal, or near-fatal, realization – of failure. They do so to an extent that marks out their negotiation of female self-realization through art as more ambiguously anti-feminist than the more complacent balancing acts depicted in domestic fiction at the mid-century, for example. As Pykett puts it, New Woman writers ‘habitually represent the female artist as succumbing to physical and/or mental breakdown’.10 Wendy Parkins refers to the recurring narrative strand featuring ‘the familiar New Woman motif, the woman as suffering genius’.11 When Hester Gresley, in Red Pottage, ‘suffers a complete physical and mental breakdown’ so that it becomes ‘clear that she will never write again’, she hence presents a quickly typified rendering of the impasses faced by the New Woman writer.12 It is, however, precisely the fascination with which such breakdowns are invested as a definitional characteristic of New Woman fiction that has ensured that discussions of Cholmondeley’s contribution both to late Victorian literary culture and to the emergence of modernism are still overwhelmingly focused on Red Pottage. In the standard accounts of her work, her earlier writing regularly features as a point of contrast: a metonymy for outmoded narrative forms. Accused alternately of clinging to the promises of (moral) solidity intrinsic to mid-century domestic realism and of generating an unstable amalgam of competing literary trends, her first novels have been seen as at once amorphous in form and, in their recourse to preaching, too reactionary in their aesthetic as well as moral ideals. In a good overview of Cholmondeley’s changing position in the literary culture of the fin de siècle, Vineta Colby refers to experiments with the ‘mystery-sensation novel somewhat crudely modelled on the Wilkie Collins pattern’ and to a ‘moralizing didactic impulse’ taken up in a deliberate emulation of George Eliot, although Colby already stresses that this ‘discipleship to George Eliot is … not simply a matter of imitation and echo’.13 More recently, Linda Peterson has situated Cholmondeley’s development more specifically within the marketing conditions that influenced the publishing culture during the 1890s. What Colby has depicted as a ‘transition from Eliotian imitator to New Woman writer’, Peterson suggests, can be traced to the demise of the triple-decker novel, the growing rejection of ‘novelistic moralizing’ in the vein of Eliot and also to Cholmondeley’s change of

‘Social Suicide – Yes’


publishers.14 In pointed contrast to what is therein perceived as a mere testingground for later developments,15 Red Pottage has been seen as part of a tremendous experimentation with narrative form in the 1890s [that] suggests that now-forgotten turn-of-the-century women writers are ‘as responsible for “originating” modernism’ as better-known figures such as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.16

In short, whereas Red Pottage is ‘a classic text of New Woman fiction’,17 Cholmondeley’s other novels have generally been dismissed as difficult to categorize at best, as a mere imitation of mid-century cultural fads at worst. Peterson has attempted to retrieve the later fiction in order to redress a typecasting of Cholmondeley as ‘a “one-book” woman’, yet maintains that it is ‘not surprising that Cholmondeley’s early works were unchallenging to their readership, either aesthetically or politically’.18 And yet Diana Tempest was Cholmondeley’s first success. Apart from propelling her into the marketplace, it focused and then further prefigured crucial developments in her work. When The Danvers Jewels was serialized in Temple Bar in 1886, it was popular enough to be followed by a sequel, Sir Charles Danvers (1889), but it was Diana Tempest that turned her from an ‘obscure and anonymous’ writer to the author of a work that, as Colby has already emphasized, had clearly ‘caught on with the public and critics alike’. Still, Colby quickly dismisses the work as ‘one of [Cholmondeley’s] least interesting efforts’, whereby its popularity provides only yet another condemning feature: a ‘conventional romance with lurid melodramatic details – illegitimacy, attempted murder, an exquisite heroine, polite drawing-room society chatter – it brought her her first sweet taste of success’.19 Although Peterson terms it Cholmondeley’s ‘third and best novel’, its use of sensationalism is accused of undercutting what is seen as its affinity to, or anticipation of, modernist fiction.20 What I wish to suggest here is that this appropriation of by then indisputably largely dated fictional forms is not a matter of imitation, but part of an epistemologically self-reflexive rewriting. A close analysis of Diana Tempest promises to reveal that experimentation constitutes an essential element of all of Cholmondeley’s novels as alternative directions are effected through partial parody.

Literalizing Structural Metaphors: Social and Other Forms of Suicide What may appear at first sight a curiously disjointed, in part short-circuited, version of the notorious loose and baggy multi-volume Victorian novel that was going out of fashion at the end of the century is structured on a careful interrogation of contesting literary modes. This self-reflexivity comes particularly to the fore in the literalization of the recurring metaphors of self-destruction.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

The father’s failed suicide exorcizes the initial preponderance of male narratives through parody, while couching this erasure of male authorship within a larger play with suicide metaphors. At the same time, it brings the novel’s tongue-incheek revamping of sensational elements to a forced conclusion. Since suicide, like murder, forms one of the most fashionable formulae of Victorian sensation fiction, this manifold appropriation is at the heart of the novel’s redirection of literary traditions. In her seminal study of suicide in Victorian Britain, Barbara Gates has pointed out that, in the fiction of the time, ‘suicide was dealt with mainly through displacement’ so that ‘[m]iddle-class men, in particular, tended to make suicide the province of other selves – of men belonging to other times or places, of make-believe monsters, or of women’.21 Diana Tempest pivots on a direct inversion of this projection when the heroine’s inner struggles with ‘the absolute sacrifice of individual existence which [marriage] involves’22 is projected onto the literalized self-destruction of the men around her. The novel’s complex structure of doubles, parallelism and pointedly aligned forms of the self ’s loss, in fact, centres on a triangulation of male self-destructiveness and female self-abandonment within their narratives. Father, brother and future husband desire to be the authors of their own ends, their narratives and their legacies. Their flawed endeavours frame the heroine’s need to escape from the confines of the marriage market without erasing love, which is ultimately shown to compel a parallel giving up of one’s self. It is a losing of a social self, a socially constructed identity, that is in sharp contrast to the egoism endorsed by the female fortune-hunter Madeleine Thesinger, Diana Tempest’s foil. It is in one of the novel’s only partially tongue-in-cheek realizations of poetic justice that Madeleine becomes entangled in her own attempt to play out various male characters against each other. Having entered into a marriage of convenience with a nobleman who is as obtuse as he is unattractive, a marriage Diana repudiates as ‘merely a social contract’,23 Madeleine becomes involved in an adulterous affair with Diana’s brother. This illicit relationship is anticipated, or doubled, by their mother’s fate. Prefiguring a titular concern of Cholmondeley’s most famous novel, this first Diana is said to have ‘sold her woman’s birthright for red pottage’ and borne, as a penalty, ‘the disillusion and desecration of life, the despair and the selfloathing that go to make up an unhappy marriage’.24 This trajectory is repeated, in a notably more extreme form, in her son’s involvement with a married woman. The connection between these interlinked forms of transgression is almost facilely established, underscoring the earlier denunciation of any mercenary marriage as imprudent, making the heroine wonder ‘if there is anything in the whole wide world so recklessly imprudent as a prudent marriage’.25 This inversion of invocations of prudence is more than a pithy witticism, however. Diana is painfully aware of Madeleine’s function as a double and indeed a warning. In what is admittedly one of the instances of what Colby has described as ‘a kind

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of finger-wagging moralizing’ that recurs throughout Cholmondeley’s fiction,26 Madeleine is denounced as a religious hypocrite in a conversation between Diana and the grandmother who has raised her after her mother’s death in childbirth: ‘Ah ! but, granny, these people do such harm. They bring such discredit on religion. That is what enrages me.’ ‘My dear, you are wrong; they bring discredit upon nothing but their own lamentable caricature of holy things. These people are solemn warnings – danger-signals on the broad paths of religiosity, which, remember, are very easy walking.’27

In a double irony that draws the very efficacy of just such preaching in fiction into question, however, Madeleine’s self-deception devises such a suitable narrative that she ‘would have been aware, if she had read it in a book, that anyone who had acted as she had done had departed from the truth’.28 She remains incapable of applying this interpretative structure to her own situation. Instead, her religious accounting, in which she is regularly shown to apply to the Almighty as her chaperon as well as her banker in the marriage market, is emphatically aligned not merely with social contracts, but specifically with the speculative deals engaged in by gamblers, including the deadly bet that is at the centre of the novel’s murder plot. Thus, she finds she has made her calculations without her husband: ‘Directly he became, after the wedding, a heavy bill demanding cash payment “to account rendered”, she had found that the marriage market is not a very cheap one after all’.29 A social advancement, this speculation on marriage is identified with death, or more precisely, with a death in life that is worse: What a mass of illusions are torn from us by the first applauded mercenary marriage that comes very near to us in our youth! Death, when he draws nigh for the first time, at least leaves us our illusions; but this voluntary death in life, from which there is no resurrection, filled Di’s soul with loathing compassion. She bowed her fair head on her hands and wept over the girl who had never been her friend, but whose fate might at one time have been her own.30

If a marriage of convenience is death in life, an adulterous affair is a false promise of resurrection as well as, the novel suggests in a characteristic admixture of cynicism and moral ‘finger-wagging’, the expected outcome. Madeleine’s affair with Archie Tempest, Diana’s brother, maps an intersection of the various vicious circles generated by mercenary marriages. Their planned elopement is aptly aborted by John’s accidental interference as he investigates the results of his own parents’ adulterous relationship. In the novel’s prehistory, the heroine’s mother (her namesake and double) breaks off her engagement to Mr Tempest, then the head of the family, by eloping with his brother, Colonel Tempest. Embodiments of opposite poles of female self-abandonment, Madeleine and the first Diana thus become additionally doubled by John’s mother in an entanglement that stretches across three families as well as across generations. In an almost gro-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

tesquely comical replay of interconnected mercenary marriages and adulterous affairs, the woman the deserted Mr Tempest ultimately marries continues her relationship with her first cousin, Lord Frederick Fane. That John is named as the heir to the Tempest castle and estate is first and foremost out of revenge to prevent Colonel Tempest from coming into the inheritance. It is a mystery only from John’s point of view, as he eventually has to realize: ‘That, then, was the reason why Mr Tempest had not discarded him. To recognize him as his son was his surest means of striking at the hated brother who came next in the entail.’31 As a result, John’s own narrative disintegrates into the farcical: It was as if he had been acting a serious part to the best of his ability on a stage with many others, and suddenly they had all dropped their masks and were grinning at him with satyr faces in grotesque attitudes, and he found that he alone had mistaken a screaming farce, of which he was the butt, for a drama of which he had imagined himself one of the principal figures. John laughed a harsh wild laugh under the solemn overarching trees. Everything, himself included, had undergone a hideous distortion.32

In a multiplication of competing revenge plots concerted by the protagonists themselves, Colonel Tempest in turn sets loose a plot to murder John. This overall trajectory may be poised on a lopsided juxtaposition of the sensational and the moralizing, but the self-reflexive engagement with narrative, with shifting – indeed, disintegrating – points of view and with literalized metaphors negotiates an intriguing working out of contesting literary modes. Such plotting therein becomes a structural metaphor itself. Embedded in a network of various interludes, the main plot turns on a bet that is never realized, never cashed in. The financial discourse in which it is couched at once epitomizes and parodies the prevailing preoccupations of a speculative society and their impact on the marriage market. At a moment of drunken despair, impecunious Colonel Tempest is persuaded by an indiscriminate speculator into formally signing a bet that he shall ‘lay one thousand pounds to one sovereign that [he shall] never inherit the property of Overleigh in Yorkshire’.33 The resulting murder plot hinges on his attempt to rewrite a traditional inheritance plot that has been fissured by his own act, by the elopement that has generated the intersecting circles of adultery and revenge. Significantly, the precise wording of what is meant to be John’s death sentence is only spelt out once Colonel Tempest finally succeeds in retrieving the evidence of his scheming: ‘There was his own undeniable scrawling signature beneath Swayne’s crab-like characters. There below his own was the signature of that obscure speculator, since dead, who had taken up the bet’.34 But he fails to regain control over the plot. Its fragmentary nature foreshadows the fragmentation of his own sense of self that leads to his suicide attempt: ‘Everything was disjointed and fragmentary in his memory the morning after it; he could not see the whole. He had a con-

‘Social Suicide – Yes’


fused recollection of an intense passionate hatred that was like a physical pain … And then there were slips of paper.’35 Retrieving the slips of paper after borrowing money from John – an irony that is appreciated even by Colonel Tempest himself – fails to erase the plot that has been set in motion. The novel’s redeployment of sensational villainy, of a familiar sensational plotline and the speculating villains associated with it, is coupled with an emphasis on fragmentation that denotes the novel as perceptively invested in narrative experimentation. The ‘slips of paper’ thereby additionally act as an emblem of the traditional plot-line’s rupture and of the concomitant re-conceptualization of subjectivity. There is yet another twist in this twofold rewriting, however. Colonel Tempest’s mental and – crucial within Cholmondeley’s circling back to moral constancies, even at her most self-ironic moments – moral collapse can be seen as poetic justice, and yet it is at the same time ruptured by parody. As a sensational villain, he is a notable failure: ‘Colonel Tempest was not a radically bad man. Who is? But there was in him a kind of weakness of fibre which consists in being subservient to the impulse of the moment.’36 The novel opens up with his attempt to prevent his brother’s last will from declaring John the heir by introducing his own son, Archie, as the right ‘edition’ of the Tempests. This ‘miniature ten-year-old replica of himself ’ is ‘[s]uch a fine, handsome boy – every inch a Tempest, and the image of [their] father’.37 This traceable likeness will add a decisive twist to the inversion of the elusive murder plot. Hence the introduction of hereditary traits is from the beginning fissured. In an explicit reference to this interlinked evocation of physical and fiscal inheritance, a proliferation of self-reflexive metaphors connecting literary and other forms of legacies already foreshadows the ambiguously reasserted inheritance plot: It is certainly a satisfaction to see ourselves repeated in our children. We feel that the type will not be lost. Each new edition of ourselves lessens a natural fear lest a work of value and importance should lapse out of print.38

In other words, Colonel Tempest seeks to rewrite the Tempests’ past (in attempting to erase the results of his elopement with his brother’s fiancée) and future (in restoring the bloodline by displacing the illegitimate John). The issuing of the bet is another such endeavour, and the resulting mysteries constitute a sensational detective plot in reverse: a series of accidents is described as such, whereby the reader shares Colonel Tempest’s knowledge that there is a pattern underlying it, a pattern that begins to engulf him and consequently the narrative as he feels ‘haunted’ by visions of John’s assassination, of the murder plot he has let loose.39 Cholmondeley’s recourse to paradigms of a once intensely popular genre that was by no means limited to the notorious ‘sensational sixties’, in fact, centrally draws on its experimentation with the boundaries of normalcy as well as social disguise. It is not merely that seeming respectability is shown to operate all too


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

easily as a screen for criminality. It is in bowing to a favourite sensational device that the anonymous hired killers are eminently respectable and located within the confines of the home. The only one who can be tracked down and paid off turns out to be John’s footman: ‘The man’s apparent respectability, his smoothshaved face and quiet dress, from his well-brushed hat and black silk cravat to the dark dog-skin glove that held his irreproachable umbrella, set Colonel Tempest’s teeth on edge’.40 More significantly still, shifts in the definition of the abnormal drive Victorian sensation fiction, anticipating – and increasingly overlapping with – modernist explorations of states of consciousness, of their various streams and their evasion of social streamlining. Cholmondeley may have tapped into the widespread narrative structure of New Woman fiction by making Red Pottage a female Künstlerroman that pivots on a mental breakdown, but her earlier experiments already show an intriguingly self-reflexive engagement with different narrative modes. Peterson has suggested that Diana Tempest fails as a New Woman novel in that it ‘satirizes the marriage market, but its protest is almost overwhelmed by its sensational murder plot’.41 It is not merely that the novel’s appropriation of sensational plot devices is emphatically self-reflexive, even selfironic, however. Its framing of Colonel Tempest’s collapse within an otherwise predominantly realist narrative – punctured, as it is, by various interludes – brings out an interest in fragmentation through the novel’s form itself. What may seem sudden jumps between narrative modes are essential to its ambiguously parodic take on the literary expectations generated by these modes. Juxtaposed with a sentimental narrative of John’s lonely childhood, the careful tracking of Colonel Tempest’s egoism leaches sympathy from the representation of his growing despair, his finely delineated ‘shuddering, panic-stricken mind’.42 Thus undercut by its intersection with, or propinquity to, different narrative structures, his experience of encroaching insanity boils down to a fear of detection: ‘I am going mad,’ he said to himself. ‘That will be the end. I shall go mad and tell everything.’ The new idea haunted him. He could not shake it off. There was nothing in the wide world to turn to for a change of thought.43

This fear itself becomes an idée fixe – in nineteenth-century literature, a sure way beyond the borders of sanity and often into suicide.44 Additionally, however, the interests of the chiefly sensational detective plots of the time are grotesquely projected onto Colonel Tempest’s fear of ‘his Creator [as] an omniscient detective, an avenger’. Like Madeleine, he has created the Creator in his own image: ‘One of the most fatal results of evil is that in the same measure that it exists in ourselves, we imply it in others, and not less in God Himself ’.45 Repeatedly, Colonel Tempest is termed simply too weak for the role he has assigned himself: ‘Weak men should abstain from wrong-doing. They cannot stand the brunt of their

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own actions; the kick of the gun is too much for them.’46 The narrator’s icy sarcasm here aptly matches the failed villain’s nonchalant attitude to his victims. The almost flippant way in which the results of Colonel Tempest’s failed suicide attempt are detailed constitutes the sharpest counterpoint to the delineation of his fragmenting sense of self. It is evoked with a marked poignancy, and yet permeated by the self-pity that characterizes his reading of events throughout the text. The curious amalgamation of these two modes becomes particularly pressing just prior to his suicide attempt: ‘one thought began, mole-like, to delve and creep in the darkness’. But the ‘refrain’ of his selfishness adds a whining tone: ‘No one cared what he suffered, what he went through. This was the constant refrain of these latter days.’47 This cutting short of sympathy at the very point of his mind’s spiralling towards disintegration is then matched by the pointedly anti-sensational erasure of any cataclysmic aftermath. The narration of his collapse in a public park is interrupted by the solution of the second, parallel, mystery plot: the detailed retelling of the adultery plot of the past in letters John chances upon. His mother’s ‘[p]oor foolish, foolish letters’ to Lord Fane are ‘little vacillating, feeble, gilt-edged notes, with every other word under-dashed’ that show, just as in the first Diana’s narrative, ‘how very silly his poor mother had been; how worldly wise and selfish someone else had been’.48 These letters precipitate their son’s contemplated social suicide, and amidst his struggles to come to terms with his illegitimacy, a note reaches him that Colonel Tempest has accidentally injured himself when taking out his pistols. This ‘accident’ thus operates as a projection that simultaneously literalizes the central engagement with divergent definitions of self-destruction and self-realization. In the novel’s most overtly self-reflexive passages, John rereads his parents’ and his own narratives, including their previous misreadings, and realizes that he has become the right Tempest after all: ‘If I was not born a Tempest I have become one’.49 His mother’s letters, his biological father’s denunciation, or his presumed father’s disputed will cannot erase his sense of belonging and responsibility. This literally contained, long concealed, epistolary narrative is premised on a typified sentimental and sensational plot of adultery, illegitimacy and revenge. Its projection onto (and parodic replication of ) the deadly ‘slips of paper’ of Colonel Tempest parodies popular detective plots, but is ultimately rendered an outmoded, even simply irrelevant structure. However, there is one more twist: the rejection of his name and hence his commitment of social suicide ironically saves John’s life. When he is accosted in the streets by strangers, shortly after his discovery of the narrative of his conception and birth, he takes this as the ‘decisive moment’ and announces that his name is Fane.50 Archie is consequently assassinated in his stead – with yet another irony, not so much because he looks every inch a Tempest, but because his remarkably beautiful light-coloured hair (an exaggerated family feature) is taken for a wig. It decides the question for the


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

hired assassins: ‘It’s the other one in the tow wig, as I said from the first. That ain’t real hair. It’s the wig as alters him.’51 In a cascade of accidents and coincidences, let loose by John’s notably accidental discovery of the ‘accident’ of his unwanted birth, Colonel Tempest’s recovery from his ‘accident’ with the pistols is seriously endangered when he receives John’s letter announcing his illegitimacy. The death stroke is then given by the telegram informing him of Archie’s death, a telegram that likewise reaches his father by accident in the absence of his nurse. In his last, incoherent ramblings Colonel Tempest’s worst fears are realized when he reveals the murder plot that has so grotesquely backfired. Through this ultimate, pointedly ironic realization of the novel’s multifaceted play with suicide as a structural metaphor, this erasure of the two next unsuitable heirs brings out the distinction between literalized self-destruction and social suicide. That they operate as foils that eventually assert a constructive, even redemptive self-effacement is appositely spelt out in the confrontation between the so far unrecognized father and son that pivots on a threefold renunciation of responsibility, authority and social identity. John announces to Lord Fane his intention to disclose what has long been regarded as ‘an open secret’ in society: ‘“To commit suicide?” “Social suicide – yes”’. Lord Fane thereupon regards himself as ‘the outraged parent’ and literally (while breakfasting in bed) turns his back on a son who has apparently failed to inherit his own self-interest.52 If the final resolution appears all too conveniently clear-cut, almost sleight-of-hand, in that John is shown to make the morally right decision without forfeiting the inheritance as he becomes reinstated as its owner by marrying Diana, the temporary forfeiture of his name has saved his life. What is more, the heroine takes matters into her own hands by proposing to John. In this reassertion of a desirable inheritance plot through the inversion of a traditional courtship plot, he need not renounce his name at all: ‘I only meant to ask you to keep your present name and home for a little while, until – they both will become yours again by right – the day when – you marry me’.53 The proposal scene is channelled into a self-conscious understatement that completes the novel’s juggling with subtle ironies. As the titular heroine, Diana Tempest may play a curiously subservient role at first, but the initial preponderance of male narratives as the underpinning structures of plot-lines has a crucial significance. The women’s side of the story runs through the text as a decisive undercurrent that ultimately swamps what are depicted as self-combusting traditional narratives. The resulting counterpoint is indeed already evoked with considerable irony in the quick rehearsal of the mother’s story after the detailing of her elopement (as the essential part of the novel’s prehistory) from the point of view of her seducer, whose ‘excuse’ is simply her attractiveness: ‘After all, when he came to think of it, there had been some excuse for him. (There generally was.)’.54 In this narrative structure, the woman’s fate comes as an ironically referenced afterthought: ‘Poor Di! Perhaps she too

‘Social Suicide – Yes’


had had her dark hours’.55 In pointed contrast, in the second Diana’s narrative, the self-destructive tendencies that structure the men’s interpretations of past and present act as projections of her own renegotiation of various legacies. It is therefore in an important reversal that she becomes the right heiress and simultaneously rights the disrupted marriage plots of the past by putting an end to the family feud. This neat closure may undercut the novel’s affinities with New Woman fiction, but it also evinces the complexities of fin-de-siècle engagements with reworked plot-lines.


As Susan C. Shapiro notes in ‘The Mannish New Woman: Punch and its Precursors’, the woman who struggled to break the binds that society placed on her because she was female has probably been around as long as civilization. ‘In reality’, says Shapiro, the New Woman was never new; those primarily aristocratic and upper middle-class women who reject traditional roles and strive for equality with men always have been labelled ‘new’ and have been ridiculed as a phenomenon of the moment, wholly unknown to ages past.1

In looking at New Woman fiction of the 1890s, we often see that these novels strikingly place their female protagonists in opposition to the image of the New Woman that developed in the popular press, such as Punch, in the 1890s.2 That is, the authors set up a dichotomy of the ‘good’ New Woman (without ever using this term) against the ‘bad’ New Woman. By perpetuating the stereotypical ‘manly’ New Woman in Red Pottage in the form of a minor character, Mary Cholmondeley more effectively presents her audience with a feminist agenda that may ultimately transform society. More importantly, through the characters of Hester Gresley and Rachel West – specifically through their friendship – she offers a sophisticated model of womanhood with which readers could identify without feeling they were abetting feminism. While Red Pottage often is classified as a New Woman novel, it rarely is aligned with more radical texts, such as Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893), Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman (1894) and Mona Caird’s Daughters of Danaus (1894). However, the novel does reveal an active feminism. In at least one important scene in the novel, which I discuss later, there exists a marked difference between what Cholmondeley has her characters say or how they behave and the feminist ideology that is revealed by those conversations or actions. – 25 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Cholmondeley also considers the necessity of forming a ‘New Man’ to help replace the stifling patriarchal agenda of the nineteenth century. But the construction of the New Man was fraught with as many pitfalls as that of the New Woman: if she often was portrayed in the press as manly, coarse and vulgar, he was deemed effeminate, foppish and pretentious. Feminist novelists, such as Olive Schreiner, Ménie Muriel Dowie and George Egerton, struggled with how to present the New Man, as did Cholmondeley, who offers her readers a way of redefining masculinity through the characters of James Gresley, Hugh Scarlett and Dick Vernon.3

Cholmondeley’s Feminism While Red Pottage is almost always termed a ‘New Woman novel’, rarely is Cholmondeley positioned as a feminist, most probably because of her conservative viewpoints. This essay attempts to show, despite that conservatism, that Cholmondeley did indeed believe in a feminist philosophy, though the development of that philosophy is by no means linear. From her initial publications through those of the first part of the twentieth century, though, Cholmondeley reveals a feminism grounded in reality and practicality. As early as 1885, with ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, a short story in which a newly-wed man thinks he is saving his young wife’s life only to discover the woman he has rescued is a prostitute, Cholmondeley demonstrates her keen understanding of the fine line middle-class women faced between respectability and indecency (see Benedetta Bini’s and Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton’s essays in this collection for further analysis of this story). In Diana Tempest (1893), Cholmondeley is somewhat more subtle in her critique of women’s position in society. As Tamara Wagner points out in the previous essay in this volume, Diana clearly equates marriage with ‘death in life’.4 When her grandmother tells her, ‘If you are so fond of looking at the future, you had better amuse yourself by picturing yourself as a penniless old maid’, Diana replies, ‘I wish there were something one could be between an old maid and a married woman. I think if I had my choice I would be a widow.’5 Diana’s musing that a widow’s position — with the respectability of a married woman and the freedom of a single one — is the best of all possible worlds does leave out one detail, though. She seems to assume that this widowhood would come replete with the requisite money to live adequately, a situation in which not all widows found themselves. By 1909, in ‘Votes for Men’ (a satiric play in which women hold all the political power), Cholmondeley’s philosophy is somewhat more liberal, though she did not totally support suffrage (see Kirsty Bunting’s essay in this collection for an examination of ‘Votes for Men’). What unites the attitudes in all these works is Cholmondeley’s recognition that money gave a woman freedom, and the unfortunate truth that for most

How to be a Feminist without Saying So


middle-class women the only way they could obtain money was through marriage. She also realized, since she did earn a living as a writer, that she was ‘one of the lucky ones’.6 However, Cholmondeley keenly felt the constraints of being a single woman in late Victorian England. Despite her success as an author, the work – along with her chronic asthma – often left her exhausted and debilitated. Also, as the eldest daughter of a widowed clergyman, she dutifully handled household and parish responsibilities. Her friend and biographer Percy Lubbock writes that although ‘she lived of necessity in the room that was left her … her fancies did what they could in the space they found, the space left open for Mr. Cholmondeley’s eldest girl. There she grew, adapted herself to its form.’7 One of the ways ‘her fancies did what they could’ was establishing a new kind of woman – like Hester and Rachel in Red Pottage – who might change things for women of the future, allowing more financial opportunities than the dichotomy of either marrying for economic security or struggling as a single woman with low-paying jobs.8 For Cholmondeley as a novelist, the solution to overcoming the reading public’s possible adverse reaction towards a feminist agenda is to create female characters that embody the virtues of strength and morality while at the same time seemingly do not embrace women’s rights. Though neither Hester nor Rachel are overtly feminist, they possess characteristics of what can be termed a quiet type of feminism.

New Women, Two Women Red Pottage concerns the friendship of heiress Rachel West and novelist Hester Gresley. Although, according to Rita S. Kranidis, most late Victorian feminist novels ‘combin[e] [into one character] the conventional, tradition-bound figure of womanhood with the enlightened New Woman’,9 Red Pottage employs an even more complex version of womanhood. Rachel and Hester as singular personalities each possess characteristics of the traditional Angel in the House and the feminist. While caring for friends or family members, Rachel and Hester also are New Women: Hester, with her writing career, and Rachel, who makes autonomous decisions concerning who she will or will not marry. But it is together that they make the good New Woman, the feminist who is concerned with improving society. Presented as two halves of a whole, this duality presents the difficulties late Victorian feminist writers faced in attempting to define themselves as socially acceptable women as well as professional, civic-minded members of society. Cholmondeley’s doubling of Rachel and Hester suggests that integration makes the body – both the female body and the community body – stronger. By examining the positioning of this duo against the stereotypical bad New Woman, Cholmondeley’s ‘double vision’ is both conservative and liberal, but ultimately


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

a product of practical idealism. Additionally, Red Pottage concludes with a conventional heterosexual marriage, but Cholmondeley also suggests that there are other – subtly radical – ways to define marriage and family. Even before readers meet Hester, her first novel, An Idyll of East London, is talked about at a dinner party that Rachel attends. Although Hester is not present, she is defended by Rachel and contrasted against the (bad) New Woman Miss Barker, sardonically referred to as ‘the apostle of humanity’.10 Miss Barker represents the aggressive New Woman that many feminist writers abhorred precisely because her loud and domineering ways interfered with the real New Woman’s mission. Miss Barker fits certain stereotypes of the New Woman of the popular press: she is ill-dressed, ill-mannered, loud and opinionated: ‘the apostle’, dressed gaudily in a ‘high dinner gown with orange velvet sleeves’, sets ‘both elbows on the table after the manner of her kind’ and has a voice that cuts through the dinner conversation ‘like a brick through a skylight’.11 This description decidedly figures Miss Barker as the antithesis of Hester, whose much more womanly ‘voice [through An Idyll of East London] has been fully heard’.12 Miss Barker’s activism is undermined by her coarse appearance and behaviour, while Hester’s writing about social injustice achieves an audience because of her femininity. Since Miss Barker is introduced early in the book and is indirectly responsible for our introduction to Hester and her writing, the stereotype stays in our subconscious, reminding us how feminine Hester is, how worthy she is of our respect and admiration for what she is doing as opposed to the self-serving goals of Miss Barker. More significantly, that Cholmondeley chooses to have Rachel – rather than Hester herself – defend An Idyll of East London to Miss Barker reveals a major theme of this novel: the importance of friendship in the construction of women’s literature and social transformation. Cholmondeley begins Chapter 6 with this description of Hester and Rachel’s relationship: But nevertheless here and there among its numberless counterfeits a friendship rises up between two women which sustains the life of both, which is still young when life is waning, which man’s love and motherhood cannot displace nor death annihilate; a friendship which is not the solitary affection of an empty heart nor the deepest affection of a full one, but which nevertheless lightens the burden of this world and lays its pure hand upon the next.13

From the start, we understand this is no ordinary friendship, but one that literally keeps both participants alive – spiritually, mentally and bodily. Both women’s characteristics complement one another (‘Rachel was physically strong. Hester was weak. The one was calm, patient, practical, equable, the other imaginative, unbalanced, excitable’),14 thus signifying that together Rachel and Hester can bring a wholeness to themselves and to society that it is lacking. As Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick note, Rachel and Hester’s relationship allows

How to be a Feminist without Saying So


Red Pottage to ‘identify and formulate a specifically female corrective to turn-ofthe-century social and religious values’.15 I would go further and say that it is a feminist curative. Rachel’s and Hester’s situations consistently complement each other, suggesting that Cholmondeley sees a cooperative community as more beneficial and practicable as a means for attaining a new society than an individual’s solitary battle for change. It also is through the actions of the women’s friendship – rather than their words – that Cholmondeley exposes her feminist ideology. An example of such is shown through a conversation between the Bishop and Rachel (with Hester listening) about women’s fickleness in regard to each other: ‘I think,’ said the Bishop, ‘it is owing to that difference of code that women clash so hopelessly with men when they attempt to compete or work with them. Women have not to begin with the ésprit de corps which the most ordinary men possess … I have known many good and earnest and affectionate women who lead unselfish lives, who will “give away” their best woman friend at the smallest provocation, or without any provocation at all …’ ‘I have often been puzzled by that,’ said Rachel. ‘I seem to be always making mistakes about women, and perhaps that is the reason. They show themselves capable of some deep affection or some great self-sacrifice, and I respect and admire them, and think they are like that all through. And the day comes when they are not quite straightforward, or are guilty of some petty meanness, which a man who is not fit to black their boots would never stoop to.’16

While the Bishop and Rachel here espouse some stereotypical perceptions of women in the nineteenth century, Cholmondeley creates a friendship between Hester and Rachel that totally contradicts these views, something never commented upon by anyone, including the women themselves. Such a perplexing attitude of the novel’s protagonists is one example where I feel Cholmondeley’s feminism is revealed. While Rachel and Hester – by her silence – seem to perpetuate the idea that women ultimately are guided by self-interest, and thus into competition with other females, their friendship asserts that what directs true women is an innate sisterhood that must translate into the domestic, social and political arenas. Cholmondeley highlights this need by consistently balancing the women’s lives. Throughout the novel, the women’s economic, familial and social circumstances change, but never are Hester and Rachel in the same condition at the same time. These interchanging positions allow the women to provide strength to each other when needed, a model for society to emulate. When Hester has money, Rachel is poor; later Rachel becomes an heiress while Hester is forced by her aunt’s death to live with her miserly minister brother James and his family. Along with her brother, Hester has her cousin Dick Vernon; Rachel, with no siblings, is orphaned by her parents’ death. While Hester’s talent and economic


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

need spur her into the liminal social area occupied by artists, Rachel’s money allows her to fulfil the acceptable woman’s role of philanthropist. Lastly, Hester’s maternal qualities put her in the role of nurturer of her brother’s children while Rachel’s fortune places her in the position of being able to help Hugh Scarlett through her money.17 Throughout these circumstances, the friends support and take care of each other; never are they ‘not quite straightforward, or … guilty of some petty meanness’.18 This doubling of Hester and Rachel serves to stress the importance of community between women, instead of the antagonistic relationship that women like Lady Newhaven believe is the only one possible since the ultimate goal for them is a man: they are only ‘friends’ with women whom they believe are not competition. As Sarah Grand notes, it was the hypocritical ‘Old Woman’ – of whom Lady Newhaven is the prime example in the novel – whose ‘whole aim and object of her existence was sensual pleasure’ because she was educated and trained only to attract the attentions of men to marry her: She had only the one great interest in life, and strove always to prolong it. Her paradise was the passion period; she had no great sympathy with any other phase of nature – which made her a monotonous person, in whom one’s interest soon became exhausted.19

But it is the varied interests of the New Woman, in and out of the home, that encourage her to expos[e] the sores of Society in order to diagnose its diseases, and find a remedy for them … [and to believe in] the creed that there is still boundless better in men and women to be developed … The New Woman is a nobler creature.20

This philosophy is revealed through Rachel and Hester’s friendship, which serves not only as a source of strength and comfort, but is directly responsible for the content of Hester’s writing. An Idyll of East London resulted from Hester’s observation of Rachel’s toiling to make ends meet before she unexpectedly inherited her wealth; her second manuscript, Husks, marked by Hester’s very personal style and burned by James because he thinks it ‘a profane, immoral book’,21 is obviously a reflection on Hester’s growth as a woman, a writer and a person due to her contact with Rachel, to whom she dedicates the book: When we look back at what we were seven years ago, five years ago, and perceive the difference in ourselves, a difference amounting almost to change of identity; when we look back and see in how many characters we have lived and loved and suffered and died before we reached the character that momentarily clothes us, and from which our soul is struggling out to clothe itself anew; when we feel how the sympathy even of those who love us best is always with our last expression, never with our present feeling, always with the last dead self on which our climbing feet are set – .22

How to be a Feminist without Saying So


Recording the always changing and maturing of the life of the female author’s mind, Red Pottage pronounces that as Hester and Rachel constantly adapt to the transformations in their lives for the good of all concerned – a central tenet of feminism – its readers also must constantly change and reinvent themselves for the good of society, or risk becoming ‘the last dead self ’ that extinguishes any hope. This metaphor of lives as characters that constantly change is refrained in the postscript to Red Pottage. This postscript refuses to give total closure to the narrative. After Hester recovers from a brain fever – the indirect result of James’s burning of her manuscript – she and Rachel travel to India, Australia and New Zealand, with the expectation that they will ‘come home next spring’.23 But Hester’s cousin Dick Vernon, in love with Rachel and a previous émigré to Australia, returns there to meet them. While James Gresley expects that Vernon will marry Hester, the postscript tells us otherwise: We turn the pages of the Book of Life with impatient hands. And if we shut up the book at a sad page we say hastily, ‘Life is sad.’ But it is not so. There are other pages waiting to be turned. I, who have copied out one little chapter of the lives of Rachel and Hester, cannot see plainly, but I catch glimpses of those other pages. I seem to see Rachel with children around her, and Dick not far off, and the old light rekindled in Hester’s eyes. For Hope and Love and Enthusiasm never die. We think in youth that we bury them in the graveyards of our hearts, but the grass never yet grew over them. How, then, can life be sad, when they walk beside us always in the growing light towards the Perfect Day.24

In a more orthodox novel, the author might have had Hester die from her illness, allowing a heterosexual union between Rachel and her fiancé Hugh Scarlett to be consummated through marriage. But Cholmondeley kills Hugh off, instead sanctioning the women’s friendship, judging it more valuable to society. Rachel will eventually marry but, as the postscript reveals, it will be to Dick Vernon, Hester’s cousin and the only family member who understands and appreciates her talent. His marriage to Rachel – while a bow by Cholmondeley to the expected and conventional ‘happy ending’ – becomes a heterosexual representation of the women’s relationship, allowing them to continue their friendship while at the same time conforming to societal conventions that endorse marriage. Ann L. Ardis sees the novel’s ending as ‘painful … the narrator does not reassure us in the brief epigraph that [Hester] will publish other works of fiction … [and her novel] will never have a chance to voice its “heresies” in public’; but while Hester’s novel has been destroyed, Red Pottage allows Hester’s and Cholmondeley’s voices to be heard and to promote an invigorating vision.25 The philosophy that life is a text indicates that we can change, edit, revise or totally rewrite our lives, our laws, our conventions and our attitudes. Cholmondeley’s New Woman is not just a symbol of women’s emancipation; she is representative


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

of a new family of people who can construct a new society. Implicit in Hester, Rachel and Dick’s union is that a New Man is integral as well in the reformation of social attitudes and values. As Red Pottage creates a good New Woman to counter the fears the public may have of the New Woman of the popular press, it also offers a new model of masculinity.

The New Man In her essay ‘The New Woman and the Old’, Sarah Grand discusses why the Old Man needs to change: The New Woman can be hard on man, but it is because she believes in him and loves him. She recognizes his infinite possibilities. She sees the God in him, and means to banish the brute. She has full faith in his ultimate perfection, otherwise she would not tolerate him for a moment … She is arrogant in that; she asks for the best man, and means to have him.26

While this definition of the ‘best man’ is idealistic, it also conveys Grand’s assertion that what women really want is equal consideration and respect. This New Man likes the New Woman because she embodies the same characteristics and merits that men value in each other: Her admirable temper and fine physique are a lasting charm; and he likes her confidence in him, her frank camaraderie, her sincerity; but more especially is he surprised and delighted to find that she does not pillage him. She is a loyal lady, and wholesome-minded.27

This reciprocal relationship between man and woman encourages a society that assigns worth according to moral values, true friendship and sincere feelings, not to gender. Similarly, Grand’s confederate feminist Mona Caird’s vision of male-female relationships that will result from women gaining their rights will enhance all aspects of a relationship for the better: the struggle for her God-given rights is not, as Eliza Lynn Linton claims, ‘“woman’s confession of sexual enmity”’, says Caird. To Linton’s expostulation that ‘No woman who loves her husband would usurp his province’, Caird replies, Might one not retort: No man who loves his wife would seek to hamper her freedom or oppose her desires? But in fact nothing could be more false than the assertion that the new ideals imply sexual enmity. On the contrary, they contemplate a relationship between the sexes which is more close and sympathetic than the world has ever seen.28

Cholmondeley’s vision of such a relationship involves setting up the Old Man – in the person of James Gresley – alongside a man who believes himself to be a

How to be a Feminist without Saying So


New Man, but is not (Hugh Scarlett), as well as offering readers a New Man on whom society could model: Dick Vernon. Early on in Red Pottage, Cholmondeley describes the county in which Hester’s brother James Gresley lives. In a satiric, Eliotesque narration, the isolated Middleshire, the town of Warpington and its nearby stream, the Drone, are metaphors for the close-minded insolence of the middle class, among whom Gresley resides as minister: There is a little stream which flows through Middleshire which seems to reflect the spirit of that quiet country, so slow is its course, so narrow is its width …Yet the Drone is a local celebrity in Middleshire, and like most local celebrities, is unknown elsewhere … Middleshire bristles with the ‘best shots in England’, and the ‘best preachers in England’, and the cleverest men in England. The apathetic Mother country knows, according to Middleshire, ‘but little of her greatest men.’ At present she associates her loyal county with a breed of small black pigs.29

Like Middleshire, James Gresley holds a much higher opinion of himself than others do, but his ‘suspicious eye[,] thin compressed lips’ and ‘pinched brain’ reveal his ‘narrowness’: ‘He was unmistakably of those who only see side issues’. Believing Hester to be ‘arrogant and callous’, due to her insistence that she spend her time writing rather than attend morning services, Gresley is representative of the breed of Old Men who view women as subordinates, existing only to serve men’s needs.30 Gresley benefits by maintaining the status quo. Alarmed at a possible loss of authority because of changing social conditions, he browbeats his congregation and anyone else he encounters into agreeing with his point of view on whatever the subject, as ‘those who have a great love of power and little scope for it must necessarily exercise it in trivial matters’.31 If James Gresley is the Old Man who resists change, Hugh Scarlett represents the man who believes himself to be ‘modern’, but is revealed to be as much an Old Man as Gresley. While not as patronizing as Gresley, Scarlett – through most of the novel – believes that women’s paramount importance is to be of some kind of service to men. He needs a woman to blame for his inadequacies, such as Lady Newhaven, with whom he had an affair. Or, a woman must rescue him from those shortcomings, such as Rachel who ‘would save him from himself ’.32 Before meeting Rachel, Hugh Scarlett had been entangled with Lady Newhaven and confronted by her husband. The men drew lighters, with the loser having to kill himself within five months’ time. When Lord Newhaven dies after falling in front of a train, both Lady Newhaven and Rachel – not knowing the result of the draw – assume that Newhaven had picked the shorter straw. But it was, in fact, Hugh who did, and when he fails to kill himself on the predetermined date, Newhaven commits suicide two days later. A letter left by Newhaven to his wife reveals the truth, and Hugh – now affianced to Rachel – finally owns up to his


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

cowardice. Rachel breaks the engagement, not because of Scarlett’s affair with Lady Newhaven but because he never told her the truth about the draw. Scarlett’s cowardice in owning up to his immorality is alluded to by his name. The colour red and its various shades have long been associated with wantonness and brazen depravity but, more often than not, it is a colour connected with fallen women.33 That Cholmondeley gives this name to a male character seems to insinuate that she views Scarlett somewhat of a victim of Violet Newhaven’s conniving, but also that she believes that men too should share in the caretaking of morality, a role often assigned to women in the Victorian period. Scarlett fails miserably in taking responsibility for his own lack of principles, instead believing that it is Rachel’s duty to save him from his sins. It is in Chapter 51 that Cholmondeley focuses on Rachel’s attempt – as a woman – to control her own destiny when it involves a man who views women as potential Angels in the House and who has not learned to respect them as human beings. Here Cholmondeley carefully crafts her critique of men who insist upon seeing women as saviours of men – and thus humanity – instead of recreating themselves as socially responsible beings. It features the Bishop, a close friend of Hester’s and generally an enlightened man, admonishing Rachel for not forgiving Hugh. The Bishop feels that the woman here is in the wrong because ‘“your love for him, Rachel, … breaks down at the critical moment”’. He continues, placing her in the role of saviour of the man, with Scarlett having little responsibility or ability to save himself: ‘He was nothing until your fancied love fell upon him. And then you break him. It is women like you who do more harm in the world than the bad ones. The harm that poor fool Lady Newhaven did him is as nothing compared to the harm you have done him. May God preserve men from the love of women if that is all that a good woman’s love is capable of … God will require his soul at your hands. Scarlett gave it into your keeping, and you took it. You had no business to take it if you meant to throw it away. And now you say you can do nothing.’34

I believe that the Bishop’s diatribe and Cholmondeley’s positioning of Scarlett as cowardly are meant to make Rachel appear as womanly and good as possible, reinforcing Jane Crisp’s idea that ‘selfless service is proper … and morally ennobling’. However, Crisp notes that despite appearing ‘to uphold [this] stock Nineteenth Century view’, Cholmondeley also ‘is brutally aware of the practical consequences of such a view’.35 The chapter ends with Rachel vowing to forgive Hugh, and she does. But mercifully for her (and for us), Hugh dies from the aftershock of a suicide attempt in a freezing lake, indicating that Cholmondeley could not burden Rachel with a man such as Scarlett – who fails at being the New Man – for the rest of her life. One of the clues that Scarlett, despite Rachel’s love for him, is not

How to be a Feminist without Saying So


the right man for her is his jealousy of her friendship with Hester.36 As Sharon Marcus notes in Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, women’s friendships often offered them the familiarity and vocabulary that prepared them for marriage.37 That Hugh sees Hester as a rival for Rachel’s affections rather than someone who can help her prepare for the intimacy of marriage indicates his unworthiness of her. Ultimately, Cholmondeley concedes that no woman could live up to or under the spectre of such an ideal, and so kills off the man who would ruin Rachel’s life – something Cholmondeley’s contemporary readers would have recognized. As a reviewer for the Edinburgh Review noted, ‘The measure of her duty is not his worthiness or unworthiness, but his need of her. At the end Rachel consents, though Miss Cholmondeley does not condemn her to the lifelong sacrifice, but passes on Hugh a gentle sentence of death.’38 Thus, for Cholmondeley, the idea that it is women’s duty to ‘save’ men is not the answer in attempting to establish a new society, yet she brilliantly disguises this perspective within the Angel in the House motif. But Cholmondeley is not totally despairing that a new type of man could be moulded for the twentieth century. Although, as Ardis notes, Rachel and Hester’s friendship ‘figures more centrally’ than either’s relationship with men or family,39 a compassionate, judicious and hard-working man in the character of Hester’s cousin Dick Vernon plays an important role in delineating Cholmondeley’s ultimate hope. The relative closest to Hester in philosophy, Vernon is a masculinized double of his female cousin – hence the kind of New Man who will aid the New Woman in the construction of a wise and just society. Dick’s qualities embody the necessary changing attitudes about treating all people fairly and equally. Although ‘a born gentleman’, as owner of ‘one of the largest vineyards in Australia’, he considers himself ‘a working man’.40 A resounding comment about Dick is that he always ‘play[s] fair’, speaking to the lower classes as Abel the gardener states, ‘“as man to man, not as if we was servants or childer”’.41 Finally, a small incident reveals how truly compassionate and aware Dick is of suffering of all kinds: while taking Rachel – the woman he loves – to the side of the dying Hugh, he jumps from the carriage as it speeds up a hill, ‘running to ease the horses’.42 Yet, although Cholmondeley can imagine and construct such a man – whom she names after her brother Richard Vernon Cholmondeley – it seems that many of Dick’s best characteristics were formed because of his emigration to Australia. Also, since he, Rachel and Hester appear to return to and remain there, the ending of the novel suggests that Cholmondeley as yet cannot quite envision England forming the New Man who will accompany the New Woman. Perhaps only an entirely new country in the New World is capable of such a feat.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

A New Future By the end of the nineteenth century, social conditions and attitudes were changing. Women were altering the way they thought and the way they lived their lives. Marriage often was no longer considered a necessity for women, nor was it even a desirable option for many. As Ella Hepworth Dixon points out in her essay ‘Why Women are Ceasing to Marry’: The modern spinster’s lot, in many ways, [is] an eminently attractive one. Formerly, girls married in order to gain their social liberty; now, they more often remain single to bring about the desirable consummation. If young and pleasing women are permitted by public opinion to go to college, to live alone, to travel, to have a profession, to belong to a club, to give parties, to read and discuss whatsoever seems good to them, and to go to theatres without masculine escort, they have most of the privileges – and several others thrown in – for which the girl of twenty or thirty years ago was ready to barter herself to the suitor who offered himself and the shelter of his name.43

This free New Woman, embodied in feminist texts, became a driving force in fresh attitudes about women’s rights and roles. While other novels, such as Grand’s Heavenly Twins (1893) and Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883), more explicitly define the New Woman, Red Pottage is concerned with the roles which women in the 1890s often were forced into playing, thus denying essential parts of themselves. While Cholmondeley remains within the bounds of Victorian propriety in her writing, analysis of the significance of women’s friendships, her utilization of the good New Woman and the bad New Woman, and her construction of the New Man, reveal a healthy disgust at the constraints put upon women’s desires. She shows that there are a variety of ways to see women in a different light, thus admitting opportunities for affecting and transforming society, an essential part of feminism. Her New Woman and New Man offered readers new philosophies and methods to obtain such a goal.


As a New Woman writer Cholmondeley is increasingly celebrated for her commitment to depicting the inner or domestic life of women, and the obstacles they face in a patriarchal society. While her most famous novel, Red Pottage, was not widely identified with the then notorious New Woman school of fiction on its first publication in 1899, it has since been recognized as an important example of the genre, largely because of its intense scrutiny of the choices open to women at the end of the century. Nonetheless, while the novel features a female writer of immense determination, and a second heroine characterized by her independence and further identified by her devotion to bicycle riding, neither Red Pottage nor any other of Cholmondeley’s fin-de-siècle novels is straightforwardly feminist in intent. In fact while Red Pottage makes one approving reference to the figure of the New Woman, it also attacks the attempts of women to ‘compete’ with men in the workplace, and the play version Cholmondeley wrote a few years later makes a highly disparaging remark about women’s meetings.1 In the first years of the twentieth century Cholmondeley formed two important friendships with feminist women, Flora Lugard and Mary Lyttelton, and in 1904 she confessed to a friend that ‘several earnest women have besought me not “to drag down my own sex” again in my stories’2 (rather an unjust criticism in fact). Such influence is discernible in ‘Votes for Men’, first published in 1909, which makes specific allusion to Sarah Grand’s idea of the ‘bawling brotherhood’.3 Placed in the later context of the short story collection The Romance of His Life, this suggestive allusion subtly directs the reader’s attention to the feminist undertow of the other stories featured with it. In a notable departure from Red Pottage, Cholmondeley would also begin in these years to locate virtue in the socially outcast, rather than in those who try to help them. ‘The Understudy’ (first published in Windsor Magazine in 1907) features an actress whose stereotypical drink problem turns out to be an act of supreme self-sacrifice – she has vowed to match her husband’s intake in order to force him to reform; ‘The Low– 37 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

est Rung’, published in the same magazine a year later, presents a confrontation between a middle-aged woman writer and a once genteel tramp with a morphia addiction – as Christine Bayles Kortsch shows elsewhere in this collection, the crossing of social boundaries is vital to this encounter, but it is the tramp who has acted heroically to help an escaped convict wanting to see her dying child. These stories, many of them collected in The Lowest Rung in 1908 and The Romance of His Life in 1921, confound traditional expectations about female roles. However, this essay will focus specifically on the theme of female sexual fall in three stories, in order to trace Cholmondeley’s increasingly radical explorations of deviance and gender after the success of Red Pottage. Her response to female desire is notably ambivalent in her novels of the 1880s and 1890s. Diana Tempest, published in 1893, takes issue with William Acton’s notorious claim that virtuous women were largely untroubled by sexual passion,4 and the heroine finally proposes marriage to her lover when circumstances prevent his proposing to her. Several of Cholmondeley’s fin-de-siècle heroines are strongly independent, but they are invariably characterized as both virtuous and respectable. Diana Tempest’s very name, for instance, contains elements of both chastity and passion.5 While sexual fall is not the signal for narrative horror, it is regarded as the province of the shallow and superficial, such as Red Pottage’s adulterous Lady Newhaven, or Madeleine Verelst in Diana Tempest. In Red Pottage Rachel West must prove her right to independence by rejecting sexual temptation. This aspect of Cholmondeley’s writing gains a greater focus and intensity in her neglected short stories, as she increasingly reworks debates about female sexuality in order to dramatize the dilemma of her heroines, and moves from the traditional love plots of her earlier fiction to a more complex interplay between private and public. Cholmondeley had in fact been publishing short stories since the 1880s, and one of the first, ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, offers a disturbing critique of gender roles in its dramatic presentation of a young man saving a prostitute from a crowd by mistake, and leaving his young bride to be trampled to death in her place. With the publication of ‘The Pitfall’ in 1901 she began to formulate a more clearly defined feminist position than she had attained in the previous decade, questioning the sexual double standard and revelling in the idea of her ‘advanced’ story having ‘already raised a blister on a sensitive mind to which I have privately administered it’.6 This story shares a common theme – the marriage of convenience – with ‘The End of the Dream’ and ‘The Goldfish’, both published in The Romance of His Life in 1921. Superficially she seems to be rejecting the independent-minded heroines who provide much of the interest of Diana Tempest and Red Pottage. What she is actually doing, however, is more subversive than anything these novels sought to achieve. Many New Woman stories may be outward looking, featuring strong-minded women in the tradition of Rachel West, who articu-

‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’


late their place in the world confidently and unapologetically; however others emphasize the power of dreams and introspection as a point of access into women’s lives. As Angelique Richardson has argued, ‘Dreams and waking thoughts opened up new possibilities in fiction, allowing women a language and form in which they could express and negotiate desire’.7 Not only do all three of the short stories discussed here involve the threat of female sexual fall, but all feature heroines who are dreamily enigmatic. Furthermore, in the last two, Cholmondeley uses a characteristically New Woman motif, the mystery of dream states, to signal not withdrawal but rather an intense female agency, unsuspected in each case by the woman’s oppressive husband. The first of these stories, ‘The Pitfall’, identifies itself quite deliberately as New Woman fiction, as evidenced in Cholmondeley’s gleeful description of it as ‘what I believe is called “advanced”’8 (the uncertainty is clearly faux naive). Its initial pages appear to reinforce the point made by more than one New Woman writer that the approved model of femininity is not necessarily attractive to men. Lady Mary Carden (strangely Cholmondeley often gave her own name to her least likeable characters) is ‘the kind of woman a man marries to please his mother, or because she is an heiress, or because he has been jilted and wishes to show how little he feels it. She was not a first choice.’9 In the course of the story, it is this virtuous woman who will act as a catalyst for scandal. Her failure to interfere when the fiancée of the man she herself loves is about to elope with a married man, persuades the errant girl she is not doing anything wrong. But if the virtuous Mary is shown to be a sham, still there is no radical alternative on offer. Her rival, Elsa, is the product of a ‘ruinous union’, with a mother who had ‘slipped away out of her intolerable home years ago for another where apparently life had not been more tolerable’.10 The narrator decries the salacious gossip of those who would impose notions of hereditary infection (another controversial subject in the last years of the nineteenth century) on the girl in question, urging that she comes ‘of a bad stock’.11 In fact Elsa is simply a reproduction of a familiar Victorian stereotype, and the irony of her story is that her sexual fall is caused not by innate or inherited lustfulness, but by male brutality and the treachery of a virtuous woman. She is mysteriously silent, ‘with unfathomable lustrous eyes, as of some untamed, prisoned, woodland creature’,12 a description that is carefully suggestive of a duality in her character. The range of associations implied by ‘untamed’ marks her as at once innocent and potentially wild, while her eyes are at once ‘lustrous’ or full of light, and at the same time ‘unfathomable’. Despite this ambiguity, she is ultimately presented as being all but incapable of responsibility; characterized as childlike and beautiful, Elsa is infantilized both by her lover and by the narrator, variously allegorized through the plural images of a butterfly and a flower. She is set against both the morally shrivelled Mary and the worldly Lady Bethune. Elsa herself appears largely pas-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

sive and is only once directly heard speaking, when she explains why she has leaned dangerously far out in a boat, to try to save a butterfly from drowning (in which she symbolically fails, prefiguring her own fall). The narrator implicitly refuses to attach blame to Elsa herself. However it is not in the characterization of the ‘fallen woman’, who simply lacks moral agency, that this story can claim to be advanced, but rather in its direct presentation of male brutality masked by social convention. When Mary accidentally opens a telegram addressed from Elsa to Lord Bethune, and learns of the planned elopement, he warns her in threatening language not to interfere with him, before instantly assuming a plausible sociability on the entrance of his wife. This hint of violence is not related directly to the domestic sphere, but Mary’s equally adroit use of conventional remarks to cover up what has happened is sufficient to indicate the collaboration of polite society in ignoring such violence towards women who have not lost the traditional right to male protection. If sexually dissident women are not acknowledged by those ‘in society’, even its established members are subject to attack; in each case the threat is all the more powerful for being unacknowledged. Later Mary’s continued silence will implicitly sanction, and indeed accelerate, the seduction of the innocent by the brutal and sensuous. Even Jos, Elsa’s virtuous fiancé, admits to having treated her as an object of exchange when she was in a vulnerable position. When he first learns of the elopement, he takes the blame upon himself, telling Mary that he knew Elsa had never loved him: I would have made her a good husband – and at any rate, I would have taken her away from – her father. He said she was willing. I – I tried to believe him. He wanted to get rid of her – and – I wanted to have her. That was the long and the short of it. We settled it between us … She hadn’t a chance in that house … She never had a mother to tell her things. She had never had any upbringing at that French school. She had no women friends.13

This point about the need for clear advice from an older woman had been memorably put by the heroine of George Egerton’s ‘Virgin Soil’ in 1894. In this story a young girl innocently marries a practised debauchee in sheer ignorance, and returns years later to confront the mother who failed to warn her of what lay ahead: ‘You gave me not one weapon in my hand to defend myself against the possible attacks of man at his worst. You sent me out to fight the biggest battle of a woman’s life, the one in which she ought to know every turn of the game, with a white gauze’ – she laughs derisively – ‘of maiden purity as a shield.’14

‘The Pitfall’ is notably more guarded in its attacks than its precursor. Despite the oblique defence of Elsa’s actions suggested by Jos, the narrator does not call

‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’


for greater sex education for women, as many feminists had been doing over the last ten years; rather she allows Jos to berate the more mature – and presumably knowing – woman for failing to protect a young girl from her own innocence. When Jos learns that Mary knew of the intrigue, he reinforces the connection between Elsa and the doomed butterfly, accusing Mary of having let her ‘drown’ by failing to intervene. He still wishes to marry her and has returned ‘to tell you that I think the bad women are better than the good ones, and that I am going back to Elsa’. However, despite this rhetoric of acceptance, Elsa remains inescapably ‘bad’ in the language of her time, and Jos goes on to compare her lost innocence to the whiteness of an anemone, ‘but for you [she] might still be like one of these’.15 Significantly he claims that it is Elsa who must forget the past and feel kindly towards him if he is to marry her, but the final line of the story, ‘And he did’,16 simply restores the absent Elsa to an ending she had tried desperately to avoid. Given that she now has a sexual history, it is the only option she has left, her attempt to act for herself having ultimately deprived her of choice. While this story is arguably ‘advanced’ in the sense of restoring Elsa to respectable society after her seduction, it ultimately does little more than rework the theme of male duplicity and female susceptibility familiar in Victorian fiction of the previous six decades. Within a few years Cholmondeley would begin to engage with the theme of female sexuality in more radical ways, developing the theme of entrapment faced by the woman who has nowhere to go from her father’s house, unless she is able to marry (very few of her female characters are in paid employment). She warned in 1911: There is growing up to a degree that astonishes me a deep bitterness against men in the minds of great numbers of women, and these not only the superfluous women, the unattractive, the incapable, the middle aged. I think this feeling has been growing silently for years. They realize that there are too many of them: consequently a large percentage of them will do anything to get married and are willing to marry any one … But there are also many who would rather support themselves than endure a loveless marriage and there are many more who have no chance of marriage whatever. We get then a large mixed class of women, some of the best and many of the inferior ones who must either support themselves or go on the streets.17

Nevertheless in her fiction Cholmondeley rarely examines the predicament of women ‘who must either support themselves or go on the streets’, which was in fact her own dilemma at the time. Rather she is concerned with the fate of girls who are married off for reasons of convenience. While several of the stories in The Romance of His Life are obviously advanced in their allusions to suffragism and in envisaging a day when the female presence in Parliament will be accepted as a matter of course, the most radical messages are conveyed not through emancipated women, but through apparently traditional figures. In two of the stories written shortly after the First World War, Cholmondeley returns to the under-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

tow of 1890s New Woman fiction in order to expose the perceived relationship between economic and domestic imprisonment that she saw as equally characteristic of post-war England. Both ‘The End of the Dream’ and ‘The Goldfish’ deploy the theme of trances or dream states as a strategy to subvert traditional views of the passive woman, even as these states are linked to the threat of perceived instability or madness. In ‘The End of the Dream’ the female middle-class narrator admits that she initially felt suspicious of her new sister-in-law, who comes from a higher class than she and her brother. But Essie turns out to be accommodating and completely lacking in arrogance, and makes a perfect wife for the autocratic, unimaginative Ted, being: ‘charming, lovely, shy, very young and diffident, and with the serenest temperament I had ever seen. She was evidently fond of him, and grateful to him. There was a disreputable brother, and other entanglements, and complicated money difficulties.’18 In other words, Essie appears to be Elsa all over again (and she will elope with another man at the end of the story). On her marriage she immediately relinquishes all control of her own ‘sphere’, allowing her husband to decorate the house with ‘garish cheerfulness’19 rather than express a wish of her own in the matter. This passivity appears to be simply the logical extension of the Victorian ideal of the self-effacing woman, ironically leading her to give up control even of the home itself, which had long stood as the emblem of female moral authority. However an astute American – by implication, liberated – observer offers a new insight into this relationship, remarking that she cannot understand why English women ‘treat your men as if they were household pets’.20 When the narrator confides in Essie about her own unhappy love affair, she is startled to hear that she has already guessed the secret, and Essie calmly advises her to set off to Turkistan to find her lover. She will take this advice, but, as she says, ‘that is another story’.21 It is some time later that Essie in her turn explains why she appears ‘almost inanimate’ in her relations with Ted. With an acute intelligence unsuspected by those around her, she describes her marriage as being ‘on the buying and selling plane. We each put out our wares … He would become a bully if he were opposed, and bullies are generally miserable. I don’t oppose him.’22 She is able to sustain this level of repression because, as she puts it, she leads a double life, retreating into a dream world every night. In this world she goes to an old house, where she meets what she takes to be a lover from a previous life, dressed in the costume of a cavalier. This dream life is her only escape from the suffocating routine of her marriage, and it is given a high romantic status in the story. The fantasy involvement with another man is made to seem acceptable because both the narrator and Essie herself believe him to be at least two hundred years old. But when Ted buys an old house, Kenstone Manor, which he plans to gut and refurbish, this

‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’


precarious dual existence is threatened with collapse. One of Cholmondeley’s own preoccupations was the buying up of aristocratic estates by a wealthy middle class that she assumed would not live up to them, and she makes much of the vulgarity of Ted’s plans for ‘improving’ the house and felling the ancient timber. As she sees it, the rightful owners of these estates have been displaced, and now have nowhere to go. This sense of displacement is intensified when Essie recognizes Kenstone Manor as the house she visits in her sleep, and realizes that she will never dream of it again. In appropriating the house, Ted not only threatens the traditions of a dwindling upper class to which his wife belongs by birth, but drives her from her sole imaginative refuge. The crisis of the story comes when Essie is confronted by the current owner of the house, who turns out to be the figure she sees in her dream life. Again, she retreats into a feminine space (his mother’s sitting room as it turns out), claiming illness, only to have her privacy intruded on when her husband insists that the man be allowed in. The explanation for the man’s being still alive is that on the night she first saw him in a dream he was in fancy dress, and he explains that he dreamed of her on the same night. From this point the denouement is inevitable, and it is left to the narrator to explain to her furious brother that Essie has eloped with a complete stranger. His immediate response is that she must have been ‘mad’ and the narrator immediately seizes on this word in order to console him, assuring him that ‘She was mad, quite mad’.23 However this conformity to male prejudice masks a female knowingness of which Ted himself has no inkling. He will subsequently marry again and forget Essie, but the narrator will take her advice and set off after her own lover; nor will she forget her, telling the reader (although presumably not her brother) that while she has sailed across the ‘perilous seas’ that represent both adventure and the defiance of traditional morality; ‘I could only hold her memory dear. And at last she became to me, what for so many years she had been to her lover – a dream.’24 If Essie’s disappearance from the confines of the story renders her insubstantial and dreamlike, it also offers the chance of a final escape into another world. The ease with which she is then replaced reinforces her point that, to her undiscerning husband, women are largely interchangeable – except in her dream state, it is only another woman who is invited to penetrate her ‘almost inanimate’ veneer. Withdrawal and dreamlike states are a key feature of another story written most probably in 1919,25 ‘The Goldfish’. Here again the central female protagonist, Blanche Robinson, has been married off at a young age to a domineering husband. A talented painter, her experience of being thwarted in her art links her to the writer Hester Gresley in Red Pottage, but her duality and her need for a secret place of her own parallel Essie’s experience in the later story. As with Essie in ‘The End of the Dream’, the representation of Blanche is filtered through the


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

perceptions of an initially undiscerning first-person narrator, who has recently become the family doctor. The doctor’s initial interest is not in Blanche herself, but in her husband, whose ill-defined but apparently consumptive illness is steadily draining him of life. Arthur is presented as a fin-de-siècle aesthete, first seen as ‘a nervous, emaciated young man … extended on a black satin sofa, in a purple silk dressing gown embroidered with life-sized hydrangeas’.26 But if this characterization seems overplayed, the cliché reveals Arthur’s posturing rather than the author’s. He has no intention of allowing his wife to embrace the opportunities that new movements in art might otherwise offer her. It soon becomes apparent that he absorbs the attention and energy of Blanche and his mother as a matter of course and, in a brilliant reversal, he is characterized in ways reminiscent of the ‘parasitic’ lady invalids, with their nervous ailments, detailed in the case notes of William Playfair (a supporter of the controversial Silas Weir Mitchell rest cure) published in 1883, in which he claims that ‘the craving for sympathy, the fact that the sickroom becomes the centre of interest for the patient and her friends, the constant discussion of feelings and symptoms, all have a most marked and prejudicial effect’.27 Arthur is repeatedly presented as draining the energy of his already frail wife, while his mother colludes in his obsessive discussion of his own symptoms. A constant invalid herself, Cholmondeley was well aware of the impact of serious illness on the other members of her own household, but in this story she pointedly shifts the focus to a male sufferer in order to make a wider point about the accommodation of female members of the household to male demands. Blanche herself strikes Dr Giles as ‘a dutiful, docile, lifeless sort of person, without any of the spontaneity and gaiety of youth’ and her mother-in-law describes her as ‘So absent-minded … so silent, never keeps the ball rolling at meals’. It is ironic that the doctor himself admits ‘Gradually I conceived a slight dislike to Blanche. She seemed colourless, lethargic, one of those people who without vitality themselves expect to be dragged through life by the energy of those with whom they live.’28 This is precisely the attitude of William Playfair towards female neurasthenics. But increasingly Blanche is set against the figure of Mrs Robinson’s pet goldfish, a fat and bloated creature whose attempts to jump out of his aquarium are perpetually thwarted by the mesh placed over the top. Mrs Robinson tells the doctor, ‘They are my two pets, Blanche and Goldy’,29 but it becomes apparent that this fatuous relegation of Blanche to the status of a pet masks a cruelty that would deny her the right to her own creative work. Blanche has been married off to Arthur Robinson because his mother was advised to find a wife for him, while she was an inconvenience to her uncle and guardian. This uncle had threatened to send her into a sisterhood, claiming that she could do church embroidery there – ‘just what he thought she would like’30 as Mrs Robinson puts it. It is a fate that powerfully invokes centuries of oppression in

‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’


its allusion to the traditional disposal of errant women. But while the attempts to coerce Blanche into a convent may seem illusory, there is a far more dangerous threat in the story; as she becomes increasingly listless and abstracted in the Robinson household, suggestions are made that she may be mentally unstable and therefore subject to incarceration in an asylum. Dr Giles himself wonders at various points if this idea may be justified, even as he makes it clear to the reader that Blanche is a victim of her husband’s obsessive jealousy. Arthur paints, and on marrying Blanche had promised that they would study together under a great artist, but in the event the artist wanted to take Blanche alone, something her new husband would not allow. By the time the story starts, she has been confined to enlarging Arthur’s dull paintings, because he is himself too weak to engage with a large canvas. As she will later explain, ‘I copy his pictures. I enlarge them. Sometimes I decrease them, but not often. He likes to watch me doing them. He does not care for me to be doing anything else.’31 In Blanche’s embattled possession of an attic room of her own where she is given very little time to paint, and in this lifeless magnification of her husband’s paintings, the story anticipates Virginia Woolf ’s famous dictum in A Room of One’s Own that a man sees himself magnified in the mirror of female admiration; the complaint that women are given no personal space in which to work is another facet of New Woman writing, as Ann Heilmann has shown.32 Blanche herself is aware that the most crucial factor in her continued oppression is not the melodramatic threat of incarceration in a convent, or even the very real possibility of hostile medical diagnosis, but rather her own collusion in the process. With nowhere to go, she feels unable to escape the constraints of her life without outside help, and she appeals to a series of male characters in the course of the story. First, Mrs Robinson confesses, she runs away from the house and returns to her uncle, who simply brings her back to her husband. Some time after the story begins, she seeks support from Dr Giles, who fails to comprehend her situation until it is too late. He sees her alone for the first time when she has influenza, and is amazed to see her suddenly transfixed by the shadow on the wall cast by a vase of chrysanthemums. Like Hester Gresley, Blanche’s passion for her art leaves her both exhausted and paradoxically transformed; ‘All the apathy was gone from her face. There was passion in it. She looked entirely exhausted, and yet it was the first time I had seen her really alive.’33 But rather than engage with what has come as a revelation to him, Giles speaks to her ‘as if to a child’, trying to persuade her to go downstairs the next day by urging that she must want to see the goldfish, and dismissing her appeal, ‘every one seems to shut their eyes who comes into this house – everyone – but don’t you see how dreadful it is to be a prisoner[?]’34 According to Victorian medical theory, a strong desire for privacy or withdrawal from the family had itself been held up as a symptom of insanity.35 Giles decides


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

in his own mind that in her refusal to come downstairs she is simply being contrary, ‘like so many women … Always opposing the suggestions of others, never willing to fall in with family arrangements’. Rather than respond to her appeal therefore, he simply deprecates her display of emotion, with a condescending pat of the hand. This gesture at once registers her protest as simply a childish outburst and allows him to discern that she has a fever, which in turn justifies him in proffering a soothing assurance that ‘I think he is a very lucky goldfish’ rather than answering her question.36 Of course his noting of the continued fever also means that he need not insist on her going downstairs, an act of complicity that Blanche herself fails to notice. On a subsequent visit Giles will witness Arthur’s fury when Blanche thoughtlessly adds her own vision of the shadow to a reproduction of his own lifeless picture of a vase of flowers. He then seeks a second opinion from a dissolute but famous painter, whom he is attending in his last illness, taking him this picture and a picture of the goldfish. The artist consents to buy two of Arthur’s pictures at an inflated price as an excuse to meet Blanche. The two artists confront each other, significantly in the presence of a medically authorized witness but without acknowledging his presence: ‘And so you married for a home I suppose?’ he snarled, showing his black teeth, ‘for silken gowns and delicate fare and costly furs such as you are wearing now.’ She did not answer. ‘You had better have gone on the streets and stuck to your painting.’ Blanche’s dark eyes met the painter’s horrible leer without flinching. ‘I wish I had,’ she said.37

It is only to this painter, who exists outside the respectable world of the Robinsons and who is himself dying, that she can explain her position in that world. The painter urges her to break away, and when she responds, ‘You might as well say to the goldfish, jump out’, he insists: ‘Leap in the dark, and risk dying on a vulgar Axminster carpet, and being trodden into it, rather than pine in prison on sponge cake.’ ‘Yes,’ said Blanche fiercely, ‘but there is the wire netting. It’s not in the picture, but you know it’s there. He jumps and jumps … And it throws him back … I used to jump, but I always fell back. I don’t jump any more now.’38

Significantly she opines that it is Arthur who is mad, and that both Mrs Robinson and Dr Giles pretend otherwise. And she begs the painter to let her live with him, simply so that according to the conventions of the world she herself inhabits, her husband will divorce her. By implication, her pursuit of a career can only be accommodated on the margins of respectable society: ‘I don’t want to be married. I won’t be any trouble to you. No pretty clothes, no amusements, no expense. I don’t want anything except a little time to myself, to paint.’39 But, as he

‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’


tells her, he will not live long enough even to blacken her name, and she is forced to return to her husband. Even now the doctor does not wholly relinquish his received view of her behaviour, although he has finally become aware of his own failure of responsibility. Won over to her side, he nonetheless lacks the artistic vision that would allow him to interpret her correctly; he moves from medical to quasi-religious terminology in his expression of remorse, ‘She might be, she probably was, slightly deranged, but, nevertheless, she had timidly, obscurely sought my aid, and had found no help in me’.40 He plots with his wife to use his authority to take her away from the house on a holiday, but the following morning he finds her gone and the goldfish dead on the floor. Mrs Robinson now tells him that Arthur is convinced she ‘ought to be shut up’,41 but later in the day they learn that she has drowned herself in the Serpentine, the stereotypical end of the repentant prostitute. But her action also constitutes the only form of escape left open to her, symbolized in her having taken the mesh off the aquarium on her departure from the house. As Giles recalls, ‘The two pets had fled together. She had made the way of escape easy for her weaker brother.’42 Her painting of the goldfish will later be hung in the Academy next to a portrait of the dead artist who had wanted to help her. In the final lines of the story Giles belatedly accords a significant status to the visionary perceptions of art, relinquishing his own medical authority. He also reveals again his own failure to prevent tragedy (he has been unable to save either the famous artist or Blanche), and to the end Cholmondeley resolutely withholds from him the heroic status that he had seemed set to attain. As in ‘The End of the Dream’ the focus of the story demonstrates a shift from the scrutiny of female motivation to the limitations of masculine agency. If male authority is associated with business in Ted or medical science in Dr Giles, the artistic vision is accessible to neither and they are shown as unfit to pronounce on the sanity or otherwise of the female vision, which defies such narrow categories. This ambivalent relationship between convention (to which the female protagonists in all three stories adhere at some level) and rebellion is repeatedly figured through the motif of sexual fall. In ‘The Pitfall’, written at the beginning of the twentieth century, Elsa is a victim of traditionally predatory male appetites, but by the end of the war the theme of proscribed sexuality has taken on far more complex associations. For Essie adultery has become an acceptable response to the sudden collision of her inner vision and her enforced social role; Blanche has no interest in her own sexuality, but is ready to be seen as adulterous so that she can pursue the career she would otherwise be denied. She is ready to be defined in terms of a supposed sexual fall, because it offers a chance of escape not so much from her insufferable husband, as from the invisible mesh of her own acceptance of convention.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

All three stories considered here feature female characters who must negotiate the conflict between private desire and social expectation, just as the New Woman of the fin de siècle had had to do. But unlike the New Woman of the 1890s, these protagonists have no new century to look to in imagination. All of the stories take as their central protagonists young girls who are characterized as quiet and dreamy, and who have been, or are about to be, married off for reasons of convenience. In each case they apparently lack all motivation and fulfil the stereotype of feminine docility that comes perilously close to the apathy of perceived madness; two will be tendentiously characterized by their husbands as unstable. Despite the feminist angle of the stories, not one of the heroines is politically engaged. Even in the later stories, refuge is impossible in the social landscape of the twentieth century. Essie’s vision of escape lies in a fantasy of past lives begun long before the Victorian age in which, according to the narrative time frame, she would have been born. Blanche meanwhile is trapped in a marriage that her husband has codified in stridently Victorian terms, with the complicity of his mother. The opportunities offered by a new era are simply not open to her. In ‘The Dark Cottage’, commissioned just after the war and therefore written at the same period as ‘The End of the Dream’ and ‘The Goldfish’, Cholmondeley envisaged a new society set in the 1960s, in which women would have won more political power and fully established the right to a career. But in the first decades of the new century, these stories suggest, the most important and perhaps the most subversive moments in most women’s lives still happen not in public, but behind closed doors or in dreams.


‘No artist’, wrote Mary Cholmondeley, ‘must look at one side of life only. We must study it as a whole.’1 In her short fiction, Cholmondeley complicates the distinctions between author, narrator and character. Like many New Woman writers of the 1880s and 1890s, Cholmondeley explores the subjectivity of female characters as well as relationships among women of different classes, ages and social backgrounds. Yet, unlike contemporaries such as Olive Schreiner, Ella Hepworth Dixon, George Egerton or Gertrude Dix, Cholmondeley consistently uses narrative irony to reveal the foibles and flaws of her protagonists. This essay will examine narration and female relationships in Cholmondeley’s short stories, focusing on how and why women cross – sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully – the shifting boundaries between privilege and deprivation, artist and material, sympathy and desire, respectability and fallenness. Mary Cholmondeley had a long and varied writing career. For almost forty years, between 1882 and 1921, she published novels, short fiction and a memoir.2 Cholmondeley’s collections include the novella Moth and Rust (1902), The Lowest Rung (1908) and The Romance of His Life (1921). Many of the stories were first published in periodicals such as Cassell’s Magazine, Graphic, Harpers Bazaar, Living Age, Monthly Review, Scribners Magazine, Temple Bar and Windsor Magazine.3 These stories span Cholmondeley’s literary career. One of Cholmondeley’s earliest published stories, ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, first appeared in 1885 in the Graphic; it was collected later in Moth and Rust. Most of the stories in the 1921 collection The Romance of his Life had never been published previously. And at least three additional stories were published in periodicals and mixed-author collections but never collected with her other short fiction.4 In the majority of Cholmondeley’s stories, the narrator’s observations centre on a female character, and, in many of them, a female narrator relays the action. These female narrators are generally middle aged and conventional, often conscientious and sympathetic, sometimes absent-minded or vindictive. Like Robert Browning in his dramatic monologues or Jane Austen in her novels, in these – 49 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

stories Cholmondeley employs first-person, limited-omniscient or free-indirect narration to both comic and tragic effect, allowing her characters to reveal their own bias, grandiosity and thwarted desire. Versions of this narrator type appear in ‘The Pitfall’ (1901), ‘The Lowest Rung’ (1908), ‘The Understudy’ (1908), ‘The End of the Dream’ (1921), ‘The Goldfish’ (first published as ‘The Refuge’ in 1920), ‘The Stars in their Courses’ (1921) and others. While most of Cholmondeley’s stories are realistic, some, such as ‘The Hand on the Latch’ and ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ (both in Moth and Rust) have a Gothic edge. Others, such as ‘The End of the Dream’ (in The Romance of His Life), play with the boundary between reality and fantasy. Most of the stories use the suspense and plot twists that made Red Pottage compulsive reading for many late Victorians. Examining three stories from the three collections will allow us to explore the connections among narration, desire and fallenness that occupied Cholmondeley throughout her literary career.

Falling Women: ‘The Pitfall’ ‘The Pitfall’ was first published in the Monthly Review in December 1901, and later collected in Moth and Rust (1902). The narrative follows the perspective of Lady Mary Carden, at thirty ‘on the wane’. As the narrator unflinchingly observes: Mary was thirty, an age at which many women are still young, an age at which some who have heads under their hair are still rising towards the zenith of their charm. But Mary was not one of these. Her youth was clearly on the wane. She bore the imprint of that which ages – because if unduly prolonged it enfeebles – the sheltered life, a life centred in conventional ideas, dwarfed by a religious code, a life feebly nourished on cut-and-dried charities sandwiched between petty interests and pettier pleasures.5

Mary’s first and only love, Jos Carstairs, brings his fiancée to meet her. Elsa Grey is lustrously beautiful, yet marked by her mother’s ‘fall’ into scandal and disgrace. Gossips are not exactly clear on what her mother did, but there was a ‘ruinous union’ and a mother who had ‘slipped away out of her intolerable home years ago for another where apparently life had not been more tolerable’. People snigger that Elsa is of ‘bad stock’ and ‘of that stamp’.6 Her beauty – undeniable, sensual, mature – separates her from the other characters. Elsa ‘could not be overlooked. Mysterious involuntary power which some women possess, not necessarily young and beautiful like Elsa, of becoming wherever they go a centre, a focus of attention, whether they will or no.’7 Like the eponymous heroine of George du Maurier’s Trilby (1894) or Bertie of Olive Schreiner’s From Man to Man (1926), Elsa is larger than life:

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At seventeen Elsa’s beauty was mature. It was not the thin, wind-flower beauty of the young English girl who emerges but slowly from her chrysalis. It was the splendid pale perfection of the magnolia, which opens in a night. The body had outstripped the embryo spirit. Out of the exquisite face, with its mysterious foreshadowing of a latent emotion, looked the grave, inscrutable eyes of a child.8

Elsa’s beauty marks her difference: she is admired and desired, yet this objectification goes hand in hand with jealousy and the desire to destroy. In their works on friendship, intimacy and sexuality in Victorian culture, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and Sharon Marcus offer useful ways to interpret relationships among women. Oulton explains that, in the Victorian period, close romantic friendships between young women were tolerated and even encouraged, often as preparation for marriage. As she observes, ‘passionate friendship is simultaneously approved and undermined in the writing of the time’.9 Marcus traces same-sex relationships in Victorian culture, exploring the elasticity of a culture that allowed for and increasingly sought to define the variety of same-sex relationships, whether platonic, romantic, erotic, sexual, monogamous or voyeuristic. In a particularly fascinating chapter on Victorian fashion plates, Marcus argues, ‘Produced by women, for women, fashion plates solicited a female gaze for images that put women, their bodies, and the objects that adorned them on display’. She goes on to claim, ‘The convention of posing one woman to look at another who does not return her gaze creates an erotic atmosphere redolent of voyeurism’.10 In ‘The Pitfall’, both male and female characters turn their gaze on Elsa, noting her exquisite beauty, her vulnerable sexuality and her haunted past. As the narrator remarks, ‘Do what she would, Mary could not help watching Elsa’.11 She incites romantic, erotic and sexual desire in both male and female characters. Yet, it is crucial to note that it is not only the characters, but also the narrator and, by extension, the reader, who turn their eager gaze on Elsa. The narrator’s breathless admiration in the passage above illustrates the visual appeal of the imagined character, with her ‘body [that] had outstripped the embryo spirit’ and her ‘latent emotion’. Elsa is simultaneously ‘mature’, a creature associated with the erotic darkness of night – ‘the splendid pale perfection of the magnolia, which opens in a night’. Yet she is also ‘inscrutable’, ‘a child’, ‘latent’. Elsa’s liminality, her lack of definition, is echoed in her last name, ‘Grey’. With her blotched familial past and her luscious naivety, she inhabits a grey space in a society that demanded at least the appearance of correctly channelled female sexuality. As such, she educes the admiration, emotion and desire of male and female characters, (feminine) narrator and reader. To extend Marcus’s point, the plot may centre on Elsa’s heterosexual relationships, but ultimately she is a character ‘produced by women, for women’.12


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Mary discovers that Lord Francis Bethune, the husband of her friend Lady Francis, is planning an affair with the young Elsa. Mary fails to warn Elsa of Bethune’s compulsive philandering: ‘The two women looked fixedly at each other for a moment, and in that moment Mary saw that Elsa knew that she knew’.13 Mary turns her back on the affair in order to advance her own position with Jos, and Elsa is the casualty of her muted desire. Here Cholmondeley picks up two common threads in writing by New Woman authors such as Olive Schreiner, George Egerton, Sarah Grand, Ella Hepworth Dixon and Mona Caird: the sexual double standard and the fallen woman. Mary’s relationship with a fallen woman is rendered with a poignancy similar to that of Olive Schreiner in her short stories ‘I Thought I Stood’ and ‘A Woman’s Rose’ (in the 1890 collection Dreams and the 1893 collection Dream Life and Real Life, respectively), George Egerton in ‘Wedlock’ (in the 1895 collection Discords) or Ella Hepworth Dixon in The Story of a Modern Woman (1894). Yet this concern with the sexual double standard is hardly unique to the 1890s. We find it from Aphra Behn’s The Rover (1677) and William Hogarth’s famous series of engravings The Harlot’s Progress (1732) to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). In fact, it is difficult to think of an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century British author who did not treat the issue at some point in his or her career. In the 1880s and 1890s, the sexual double standard became a central fixture of New Woman literature. What made it different was a new self-consciousness about women’s sexuality, identity, work and art. For New Woman writers, the fallen woman was not merely a victim of patriarchal society, a warning to other women, she was also the responsibility of all women. Am I my sister’s keeper? Yes, seemed to be the answer. It is telling that in ‘The Pitfall’, Jos encourages Mary to be a sister to Elsa, for Elsa ‘never had a mother to tell her things’, nor any ‘woman friends’.14 But Mary knowingly ignores Elsa’s plunge. At the story’s close, Jos’s strangled contempt for Mary drives home a didactic warning to readers, imploring us to examine and modify our own selfish smugness. Yet it is important to note that Mary, for all her tepid morality and drifting conventionality, desires something, too. She uses old-fashioned, feminine, ‘Victorian’ methods of getting her way: shunning, silence, praying, manipulating. In the end, these weapons hurt her just as deeply as they wound Elsa. Neither woman comes away with what she thought she wanted. Both are punished. In the familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer, Elsa is condemned for what she has done, Mary for what she has left undone. In reality, however, both women are victims. Herein lies the complexity of Cholmondeley’s story: rather than merely decry aristocratic caprice or lament the failure of feminine community, she also recognizes the competing desires that attract women to each other even as they pit them against one another. This triangulated love affair leaves everyone bereft.

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Autobiography Meets Fiction: ‘The Lowest Rung’ In the lengthy preface to The Lowest Rung (1908), Cholmondeley discusses the reception of her work, and with her characteristically witty tone relays a string of social gaffes wherein people did not believe she had written it. Immediately following the preface is the title story, ‘The Lowest Rung’. Both the preface and ‘The Lowest Rung’ were published separately that same year: the preface appeared under the title ‘The Skeleton in a Novelist’s Cupboard’ in the July– December issue of Pall Mall Magazine, and ‘The Lowest Rung’ in the August issue of Windsor Magazine.15 In ‘The Lowest Rung’, narrated in the first person, a writer-figure named Marion Dalrymple encounters a woman who appears to be an escaped convict. For this middle-aged, ‘nervous’ writer-figure, the nameless fugitive is what Anita Levy calls an ‘other woman’.16 She offers visions of roads not taken, of choices avoided. Their chance encounter rattles the writer-figure, creating the opportunity to change – and to garner writing material. With its first-person perspective and the fact that the narrator-protagonist is an unmarried, middle-aged female writer, it is easy for the reader to associate the character Marion Dalrymple with the autobiographical portrait Cholmondeley painted a few pages earlier. In fact, in a letter to Sir Matthew Nathan, Cholmondeley confirmed that Marion was indeed a self-portrait.17 The similar themes of the preface and the story, not to mention their physical juxtaposition, invite the reader to conflate Marion and Mary. Yet Marion turns out to admire Marie Corelli and the romantic school. Although we know that Cholmondeley’s sister-in-law gave her a copy of an unnamed Corelli novel, in the story the Corelli connection is used to make fun of the writer-narrator. Marion is nervous, fastidious, parochial and vain, and she writes books about ‘deep religious experiences, intertwined with descriptions of scenery’.18 One can infer that Marion is one of the ‘delightful prigs’ Cholmondeley mocked in the preface.19 ‘The Lowest Rung’ illustrates Cholmondeley’s wit and bite; even she herself is not exempt from satire. But it is also clear that Cholmondeley aims to elicit – and call into question – the reader’s connections between character and author, between public and private personae. When Marion and the fugitive first encounter one another they are both looking at the same fiery sunset. Caked in mud and desperately dirty, the fugitive is nevertheless calm, logical and composed. By contrast, the comfortable, clean writer-figure finds herself irritated by her own nervous indecisiveness. Cholmondeley’s first-person narration creates the illusion that Marion is revealing her own biases and foibles unconsciously. Marion struggles with the same anxiety Cholmondeley discussed in her preface: plagiarism. As Marion, simultaneously narrator and protagonist, is about to relate her first conversation with the fugitive, she makes an odd pause. Breaking the frame for the first time, she leaps into the future to assure the reader that when this experience took place she had not


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

yet read Treasure in Heaven. She goes on to say that although she deeply admires Marie Corelli – ‘the head of our profession’ – she did not steal her ideas either: I did not get the idea of acting as I am about to relate from Marie Corelli, the head of our profession, or indeed from any other writer. But I have so often been accused of taking other people’s plots and ideas and sentiments, that I owe it to myself to make this clear before I go on.20

This rather bizarre comment freezes the action, calling into question the truth of the story itself. At its start, the narrative takes the semblance of verisimilitude – revealing faithfully an experience that ostensibly could and did happen. Yet before the action is truly under way, the narrator pauses to say that she did not get any of her material from contemporary writers. Now we have an uncanny conflation of author, narrator and character. The narrator-protagonist, also a writer, is telling us a story of what happened to her when she was not writing. When the story begins, she tells us she needed a break from writing and was enjoying the sunset when she suddenly noticed the woman beside her. Then, she suddenly pauses to assure us that she did not steal the story from (real) contemporary authors. This leads us to believe that the supposedly ‘true’ action is in fact another of the protagonist’s fictional stories. The scene is further complicated by the reader’s clear recollection of the preface, in which Cholmondeley makes fun of the various people who claimed she had stolen other people’s work. This selfconsciousness about writing and its multivalent functions in the story creates an unsettling irony in the rest of the story. Contemporary readers would have immediately recognized the name Marie Corelli and with the name would have come a host of associations. Marie Corelli (Mary Mackay; 1855–1924) was the most popular writer of the late Victorian period. As Annette Federico explains, ‘By 1895 a novel with her name on it was called simply “a Marie Corelli”’.21 Corelli wrote over twenty ‘romantic melodramas’, often with psychic or occult themes. Novels such as Romance of Two Worlds (1886), Barabbas: A Dream of the World’s Tragedy (1893) and The Sorrows of Satan (1895) established her reputation as a popular, if criticized, author. Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill were among those who collected her books.22 Federico notes that by the turn of the century, Corelli’s celebrity was inescapable. In 1906 J. M. StuartYoung (under the pseudonym Peril) wrote in the Westminster Review that Corelli was ‘the greatest genius of self-advertisement produced by our century’ and by that date many commentators were accusing her of manipulating the media.23

Despite or perhaps because of her celebrity status, she was also a target of constant, blistering criticism from ‘serious’ writers and journalists. According to

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Federico, Corelli ‘viewed herself as a persecuted genius and a woman maligned by a male press that felt threatened by her mental independence’.24 Although Cholmondeley seems to poke fun at Marion’s literary pretensions, and by extension at the romantic school of Marie Corelli, many of her contemporaries in fact accused Cholmondeley of a similar fault – that of melodrama. As The Times remarked in her 1925 obituary notice: A severe critic might object to an occasional touch of melodrama in her plots. But in her wit and wisdom, her vein of satirical humour, her resolute refusal to turn her novels into propagandist pamphlets, and her intensive cultivation in each story of one group of characters whose little closed world is made absorbing by her artistry, she reminds us of her great exemplar Jane Austen.25

As Jane Crisp observes, The most frequent criticism of Mary Cholmondeley’s novels by her original reviewers, and one repeated more recently by Vineta Colby, concerns the element of melodrama in her plots; this is usually seen as according ill with the accurate and witty observation of character and manners which is rightly considered her forte.26

The contested differences between romance and novel and between melodrama and verisimilitude have a very old history. Eighteenth-century writers such as Eliza Haywood and Ann Radcliffe contended with the dual reality of immense popularity and critical disapprobation. As Kathryn R. King has argued, the distinctions between novels and romances were complex and often relied on implicit cultural judgements about gender, popularity and class.27 Novels were generally associated with masculine, rigorous ‘truth-telling’, and romances with feminine, melodramatic fantasy. This same dichotomy between weighty verisimilitude and flighty melodrama underpins Corelli’s reputation as a popular but second-rate writer, as well as Jane Crisp’s analysis of Cholmondeley’s own critical reception. Like Marie Corelli, a writer who famously used her celebrity status to her own advantage, the narrator-protagonist Marion Dalrymple explores her dual identity as a writer and woman. Early in the narrative, Marion comments that her doctors worry that she ‘vibrated like a harp’. She elaborates: ‘The life of contemplation and meditation is more suited to my highly strung nature than that of adventure and intrigue’.28 Yet Marion’s heightened sensibility supports an idealized vision of herself, a portrait she actively paints for the reader. Despite her anxiety, Marion makes a plan to house the fugitive later that evening. As she waits on tenterhooks for the fugitive’s arrival, she wonders what she has got herself into. The distance between how she is perceived and how she wants to be perceived creates the impetus for emotional courage. She confides,


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered There was a rooted impression in the minds of my own family that I was a flurried sort of person, easily thrown off my balance, making mountains out of molehills (this was especially irritating to me, as I have always taken a broad, sane view of life).29

Marion decides that hosting a dangerous criminal is just the sort of experience that would support her own view of herself, rather than that of her family: ‘Now was the time to show what metal I was made of. My spirits rose as I felt I could rely on myself to be cautious, resourceful, bold.’30 This dramatic monologue allows the reader to compare the two portraits of Marion’s character in the context of how she reacts to a potentially dangerous situation. In the end, both portraits are true: the protagonist, nervous and overly imaginative, does overestimate her own reputation and character, yet she also invites a fugitive into her home, listens to her story and treats her with kindness. Quoting Rudyard Kipling’s ‘We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung’, the stranger describes a slow and agonizing spiral of addiction and loss: I have known what it is to drop down the ladder of life, clinging convulsively to each rung in turn, losing hold of it, and being caught back by compassionate hands, only to let go of it again; fighting desperately to hang on to the next rung when I was thrust from the one above it; having my hands beaten from each rung, one after another, one after another, sinking lower and lower yet.31

Her addiction to morphia chased her down this ladder. And yet, at the end of her narrative, the fugitive finds freedom and solace on the lowest rung. She explains, ‘and now I have reached the lowest rung. And it is a good place, the only safe place for wastrels such as I, the only refuge from my enemy. There is peace on the lowest rung.’32 Turned out from society, a homeless tramp and criminal, she rejoices, ‘I can see beauty again now … wherever the road runs there is beauty’.33 In the fugitive’s emotional self-revelation and heightened language, we see what some readers would call melodrama, others the sublime. Given what we know about Marion and her literary tastes, it is perhaps surprising that she does not believe the fugitive, finding something false and overblown about her story. For Marion, romantic writer à la Corelli, the story is too fanciful to be true. As she observes to herself, ‘What strange mixture of truth and lies was all this!’34 Throughout the exchange, Marion emphasizes her skilful reading of others and her difference from the fugitive. As she explains with false modesty, as a writer it is her ‘métier … to probe the secrets of my own heart and those of others’.35 Marion reads the posture, speech and physical features of her visitor and comes to the conclusion that she is ‘exceptional’, but the perceived distinctions between herself and the homeless criminal are mitigated by her perception of class sameness. Marion feels certain her visitor shares her class: ‘It was obvious that she was a lady, but her speech had already told me that. What amazed me most where all amazed me was her self-possession.’ She remarks that, cleaned up,

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her visitor ‘looked rather like a well bred Indian’.36 Yet the fugitive has fallen from her respectable class status, and for that Marion pities her and finds her own conscience pricked by the ‘the great inequality between us’.37 She believes herself to be on life’s ‘uppermost rung’, the stranger on the lowest. Ultimately, however, Marion’s confidence in her ability to read others and her feelings of guilty superiority fall flat. She does not read the fugitive well, and the fugitive wants neither her pity nor her philanthropy. Marion claims that the fugitive ‘would have starved but for me’, but with her ‘brisk, matter-of-fact voice’ the criminal in fact directs the paralysed Marion through every detail of what to do.38 She even teases Marion by playing on her fears: ‘How do you know that I am not a man in disguise?’39 Marion tries to get the visitor to reintegrate into ‘good’ society, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. The fugitive counters that there is peace and beauty on the road. When Marion offers the fugitive some of her old clothes, the stranger rejects them because they ‘look like an ultra-respectable district visitor’.40 The fugitive does not need Marion; Marion needs the fugitive to help her paint a portrait of herself for the reader. Marion’s preening awareness of her role as a writer creates narrative irony and invites the reader to consider the murky distinctions between public and private personae. She proudly wears a shawl ‘a grateful reader had crocheted for me’, wonders what the criminal thinks of her, often explaining how she feels visà-vis one of her books, books with billowy titles such as Veil of the Temple, With Broken Wing, Broodings beside the Dieben and Beside the Bourgainvillea.41 When in doubt on how to act with the fugitive, Marion seems to recall her audience as well as her writing persona. Remembering her own admonition in Veil of the Temple, to ‘show full trust and confidence in others’, inspires her to go ahead and invite the fugitive into her house.42 At every turn of the conversation, she imagines the visitor does in fact know her real identity. She wonders Did I indeed seem to her the quixotic, impetuous, and yet withal dreamy creature which my books show me to be? But I have often been told by those who know me well that I am much more than my books.43

Yet when she drops hints about her books she gets no reaction. And when at the very end she gives her name with a flourish, the fugitive does not bat an eyelash.44 Marion’s self-importance deflates from lack of attention, and her concerns about her dual identity as writer and woman are shown to be frivolous. The real mistaken identity, of course, turns out to be the fugitive’s. The story fast-forwards to a year later. Marion visits the prison where the fugitive has supposedly been retained, only to discover a working-class woman in her place. The phantom woman had traded places with this criminal in order to give her a chance to escape, but she had been caught nonetheless. Neither Marion nor the working-class criminal ever saw the noble fugitive again.45 In


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

closing, Marion remarks, ‘I have often thought since how much stranger fact is than fiction’.46 The dizzy reader, ultimately unsure who is talking – Marion the narrator, Marion the character, Mary the author – is left with a similar reaction. In ‘The Lowest Rung’, Cholmondeley simultaneously differentiates and conflates fact and fiction, autobiography and fiction, author and narrator, writer-author and writer-protagonist.

Houses, Artists and Aesthetes: ‘The Goldfish’ Cholmondeley published her final collection, The Romance of His Life, in 1921. The First World War had recently raked Europe raw, and the scars of death and loss were yet fresh. For Cholmondeley, the Great War delivered a crushing blow to her writing. As she told her friend, the fellow writer Rhoda Broughton: ‘My imagination has dropped dead into the giant crevasse of the war’.47 In these final stories, Cholmondeley explores the overlapping mores of late Victorian and early twentieth-century British culture, and the possibilities for personal fulfilment in the face of these changes. In ‘The Goldfish’, the male narrator, a physician, cares for a wealthy family. By degrees he recognizes the trapped frustration of the wife of his sickly artistic patient. The family organizes itself around the absence at its heart: Arthur, the supposed genius, is in reality both artistically and emotionally vacuous. Meanwhile, like a retinue of New Woman protagonists before her, his wife Blanche paints secretly in the attic. Blanche is possessed by a talent bigger than the small cage in which she resides, broader than the confines of a female body and the strictures of feminine domesticity. Blanche’s imprisonment is mirrored in the story of the family pet, an overfed goldfish trapped in a gilded aquarium. The family installs a wire mesh to keep the goldfish contained, but every day it throws itself repeatedly against the mesh. Like many New Woman writers, Cholmondeley aims to expose and critique the failures of a society that values bourgeois domestic femininity over the education or full development of female artists. The thrust of Cholmondeley’s critique is clear – domesticity is a gilded cage for the upper-class heroine. The metaphor of the goldfish is instructive: swollen from too much rich food and not enough space to move, thrown back again and again until the desire to escape turns to apathy, the goldfish grows accustomed to its cage. The familiar image of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s caged bird springs immediately to mind. Consider the second stanza of ‘Sympathy’ (1899): I know why the caged bird beats his wing till its blood is red on the cruel bars, for he must fly back to his perch and cling when he fain would be on the bow aswing. And the blood still throbs in the old, old scars

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and they pulse again with a keener sting. I know why he beats his wing.48

Here, the personified creature with whom Blanche identifies is not a bird, it is a fish. The image of the goldfish is perhaps even more grotesque. The familiar bird – that favourite creature of Romantic poetry – may be trapped but it still has its beautiful voice. Its body may be caged or maimed, but the voice sings on. Not so in this story. Here, the personified animal is a fish – cold, clammy, alien. No warmth in its breast, no piteous or rebellious song, merely a hideous doggedness to escape. The goldfish throws itself again and again against the steel mesh. Its mistress, Blanche’s mother-in-law, feeds it aggressively. The reader is immediately reminded of the infamous force-feedings of militant suffragists during the Edwardian period.49 The goldfish has no voice, no beautiful warbling song to release into the freedom of moving air. Its grotesque otherness keeps it pinned in a watery, embryonic world of non-being, non-actualization. Like Dr Galbraith in Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893) or the fictionalized Dr S. Weir Mitchell in Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892), the physician-narrator relegates Blanche’s illness to the female hysteria long associated with misplaced, necessarily thwarted female ‘genius’. The good doctor may support the status quo – early in the narrative, he fails to recognize Blanche’s coded pleas for help – but he also moves towards sympathy and a complexity of thinking that surprises even him. The reader is of course encouraged to make a similar journey. Cholmondeley’s narrator evokes empathy for the tragically frustrated artist and the injustice of her daily chore – slavishly copying her narcissistic husband’s mediocre work. Like the goldfish in its gilded aquarium, Blanche escapes her cage but only to death. During a secret meeting with a famous artist, ‘M.’, in which he exhorts her to abandon her husband and dedicate herself to her work, Blanche breaks out in hysterical desperation then locks herself back into stony silence. The next morning, the physician-narrator trips over the dead body of the goldfish. Blanche has disappeared: ‘Later in the day we knew that Blanche had taken refuge in the Serpentine. The two pets had fled together.’50 In a stunning reversal, the goldfish asphyxiates, blanched and bloated on the carpet; Blanche dives into a different sort of aquarium. She drowns herself. Yet the story does not end here. Blanche’s story ends in the (Royal) Academy; her goldfish painting hangs on hallowed walls. Her triumph is dampened by her conspicuous absence, but also by the closing snapshot of a young boy and his mother. Looking at Blanche’s goldfish painting, a little boy tells his mother he wants a goldfish. She promises she will get him one. In the closing lines of the story, the patriarchal system, fed and watered as much by women as men, snaps shut the iron mesh.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Just as ‘The Lowest Rung’ blurred the distinctions between the public and private personae of a writer, in a similar way ‘The Goldfish’ complicates the supposed separation of public and private spheres, of sexual and cultural work. In a post-Freudian world, we of course think immediately of sublimation – the transformation of ‘primary’ drives into culturally sanctioned ones, into art or culture or work. Ann Ardis identifies sublimation at work in Red Pottage; describing her book as her child, Hester ‘is conflating the public and private spheres, imagining them as one and the same cultural space so as to discredit entirely the genderbased division of human labor’.51 In a similar way, Blanche creates her own artwork in the most contested of domestic spaces – the attic. In The Poetics of Space (1964), Pierre Bachelard famously explores the house as a metaphor for both the individual and society. Bachelard reflects on the connections between narrative and architecture. For him, ‘the house image would appear to have become the topography of our inmost being’, and the attic is the space of the subconscious.52 In their seminal work The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar temper Bachelard’s figuration of the house as a ‘felicitous space’ with the negative connotations it held for women writers who ‘themselves have often, of course, been described or imagined as houses’.53 Gilbert and Gubar highlight the recurrent imagery of ‘enclosure and escape’, ‘spatial constriction’ and ‘entrapment’ in work by women writers from Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen to Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and H. D. (We can easily include earlier women writers such as Julian of Norwich, Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood in this list). As Gilbert and Gubar explain, Literally confined to the house, figuratively confined to a single ‘place,’ enclosed in parlors and encased in texts, imprisoned in kitchens and enshrined in stanzas, women artists naturally found themselves describing dark interiors and confusing their sense that they were house-bound with their rebellion against being duty bound.54

In her work on torture – a work that enlarges some of Bachelard’s ideas about the house as metaphor – Elaine Scarry asserts that in the torture chamber everyday objects become weapons.55 As she states, ‘the unmaking of civilization inevitably requires a return to and mutilation of the domestic, the ground of all making’.56 Domestic objects have power in that they are associated with the domestic sphere. If Scarry’s proposition that the ‘elemental room is multiplied into a house of rooms and the house into a city of houses’ is correct, then to destroy Blanche’s agency within private domestic space is to destroy her agency within public political space.57 Stuffing her artistry into a cramped, hidden attic is a metonymy for her social suffocation. In the 1890s, the period in which Cholmondeley wrote her most popular work, garrets and attics served as the infamous haunts of New Woman heroines, notorious locales for surreptitious scribbling, painting and stitching. New

Writing Women


Woman heroines find attics and garrets both fecund wombs and airless tombs. By employing the familiar setting of the attic/garret, Cholmondeley uses a longstanding trope of feminine enclosure and entrapment, one that had immediate resonance in the 1890s but a much longer history as well. She associates Blanche with the New Woman artist-figure as if to say that along with a host of other thwarted yet resilient heroines, Blanche labours silently in the cramped, unconscious ‘mind’ of a society that emphatically throws her back, again and again, into the watery cage of domesticity. Cholmondeley’s iteration of female imprisonment needs closer scrutiny for at least two reasons. First, she implicates class as well as gender, aiming her microscope at conventional bourgeois marriage (a favourite target throughout her work) and the emptiness of social mores. The family may live in a comfortable urban home, but provincialism thrives even there. Linda H. Peterson identifies two traditions in Cholmondeley’s treatment of the female artist: the Eliotean and the Brontëan. In the context of my discussion here, the Eliotean is most useful. As Peterson observes, The Eliotean strain, dominant in Red Pottage, concentrates on the intellectual and artistic development of the woman writer, struggling with domestic repression, separating herself from provincial life and mores, and ultimately winning fame for the work of her genius.58

In mapping thwarted female genius in ‘The Goldfish’, Cholmondeley explores the battle between provincialism and artistry, between domestic drudgery and professional success, demonstrating that conventionalism and small-mindedness know no class loyalty. Second, ‘The Goldfish’ mocks the figure of the male aesthete. Arthur is a sham artist, a histrionic male aesthete. Stereotypically feminine with his psychosomatic illness and emotional fragility, Arthur is deeply narcissistic, not to mention a terrible artist. Here Cholmondeley seems to poke fun at the passé male aesthete, with his puffed-up airs and depressive ‘I am artist’ posturing. However she may have felt about Oscar Wilde’s literary reputation or his homosexuality, at the time of Cholmondeley’s writing of ‘The Goldfish’, the 1895 trial and incarceration for ‘gross indecency’ of that most famous and flamboyant of all male aesthetes was still a part of recent cultural memory. Although a sympathetic version of the male (and probably homosexual) aesthete, Lord Sebastian Flyte, would show up in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945), it would appear that in 1921, for Cholmondeley at least, the male aesthete was a figure whose hubristic excesses had ceased to amuse. Arthur is unbearably stubborn, and his stupidity makes him cruel. As Cholmondeley’s protagonist Lady Anne Varney comments dryly in Moth and Rust, ‘It does not prevent stupid people being always obstinate, because obstinate people are not always stupid’.59 Arthur


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

methodically, yet rather unwittingly, strips his wife of her own right to create – both biologically (he is too sick for sex) but also artistically (he steals her work). Arthur is conventionally aesthetic, his vanity fodder for Cholmondeley’s wit. In her landmark work, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes, Talia Schaffer elucidates the many influential female aesthetes of the 1890s, artists whose reputations were obscured or even obliterated by their more vocal, or perhaps infamous, male counterparts.60 The relationships among male aesthetes, upper-class female patrons and middle-class professional female artists evolved and shifted through dialogue and competition. As Margaret D. Stetz describes, Female participant-critics were out not to overturn the principle of art for art’s sake but to revise the practices, in both literature and life, of its male advocates. Chief among their concerns was the objectification of women in the act of ‘appreciation,’ a form of masculine connoisseurship dependent on silent and passive female spectacles.61

Like earlier New Woman writers such as Ella Hepworth Dixon, in ‘The Goldfish’, Cholmondeley castigates a male aesthete whose bloated ego obstructs the talent and hard work of a ‘real’ artist, a female artist. In the beginning of the story, Blanche acts not only as a beautiful object, but as an unpaid artist in her husband’s employ. When she dies, she leaves behind at least two kinds of bondage – artistic and sexual. That Blanche’s work is authorized by the famous, dying artist ‘M.’ – and that her work ends up in the Academy – serves to validate her art over Arthur’s. Like earlier New Woman novels of the 1890s, such as Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1897) and Gertrude Dix’s The Image Breakers (1900), Cholmondeley’s Künstlerroman offers a portrait of the artist as a young woman and culminates in a measure of public success. For heroines such as Mary Erle, Beth Caldwell and Leslie Ardent,62 true artistic genius is as much a gift as a curse. These New Woman heroines of the 1890s tend to remain rooted in the world as it is. In the mess of living, they forge out painful, ecstatic, unchartered ways of being both women and artists. Their narratives seem to imply that while female artists may be geniuses, to live out this role in patriarchal society means a death of other hopes – hopes for socially sanctioned intimacy, for traditional romantic love, for domestic or financial security. In all cases, the benefits outweigh the losses: freedom and self-expression win out and attachments (if there are any) are progressive and unconventional. In her portrayal of female artistry and suicide, Cholmondeley has more in common with the so-called first New Woman writer, Olive Schreiner, than with her contemporaries. In The Story of an African Farm (1883), the female protagonist Lyndall struggles fiercely against patriarchal, colonial society. Yet her story ends in death. Lyndall resists convention and bears her illegitimate child without shame, but she dies after a difficult childbirth. Although Lyndall is ostracized for

Writing Women


her social transgressions, she hovers ethereally above both society and transgressions. Her narrative suggests that late Victorian society is simply not ready for an independent female protagonist. Like New Woman heroines of the 1890s, after much turmoil and striving, Blanche eventually receives public recognition for her art. And yet, like the first New Woman heroine, Lyndall, Blanche never tastes that success. Suicide, not art, frees her from her domestic cage. Blanche’s chef d’oeuvre is a painting of the goldfish, a creature with whom she identifies so closely that when the doctor fails to notice the goldfish’s suffering, she assumes he cannot see her own. By converting her imprisonment into art, Blanche sublimates it. And yet her efforts to free herself in a meaningful way ultimately fail. Consigning Blanche to a watery death, the narrator incriminates bourgeois marriage, musty convention and pompous male aestheticism. This female artist is unable to find a home in the house of late Victorian society. Her painting, by contrast, does find a public home in the Academy. Does the narrator imply that society can only value the art once the rebellious female artist is dead and no longer a threat? Or are we to assume that Blanche’s death was for naught, that if she had allowed herself to escape, she might have found artistic and personal fulfilment after all? In the end the reader is left wondering. The possibility of Blanche’s success cannot be fully told; she moves beyond narration. Mary Cholmondeley’s short stories span her literary career and offer insight into the themes and concerns that criss-crossed all of her work. Her contemporaries may have accused her of melodrama, but they also admired her witty satires of provincial mores and her country conservatism. Yet in her depiction of voyeuristic relationships among women, cross-class encounters and rebellious female artists, Cholmondeley offers much more than comedies of manners or pot-boilers. Her critiques of a society in transition complicate our own notions of late Victorian and early twentieth-century literary culture, demonstrating that the fiction consumed and debated by contemporary readers was more diverse than we have recognized.


From the beginning, problems of identity hovered around the figure of Mary Cholmondeley, especially after it became fashionable to read Red Pottage, and to discuss it both in literary circles and beyond.1 Readers had to become familiar even with that new and exceptionally long surname: a tantalizing code to be deciphered, a name difficult to pronounce correctly except by those of a certain class and tradition who knew thus that the ancient Cholmondeley name had been passed down through the generations since the time of William the Conqueror. William Hogarth had painted a family portrait in 17322 and from that time on the members of the family established the hereditary custom which traditionally saw them become reserved and learned men of the church. They belonged to that landed gentry which over the centuries had given form and empowerment to an exquisitely English way of life and thought: stubbornly – but elegantly – insular, lovers of tradition and eccentric, they were the sturdy backbone of English civilization. The family home was in Shropshire: it was there that Cholmondeley grew up, one of the eight children of the rector of Hodnet, heir of a collateral branch of the old family. In her memoirs, his daughter remembers him as a figure similar to the Reverend Adolphus Irwine in George Eliot’s Adam Bede, ‘one of the last representatives of a by-gone class of clergymen of whom probably not one survives now’.3 And in that only apparently peaceful rural life Cholmondeley lived until the moment she moved to London with her father and sisters in 1896 and quietly changed her identity. In capturing a certain spirit of the times through the new itineraries of taste, there is nothing more significantly symptomatic than this ‘change of address’ which is so evident in turn of the century writers: from the old country house in which generations of Cholmondeleys had lived to the anonymity of a city flat looking over the crowds of the end of the nineteenth century. Percy Lubbock, who had been a friend of Cholmondeley’s, recalls, ‘a commonplace pile called “Mansions”, with vulgar windows and balconies above the omnibus-stream of Knightsbridge … smart and base’, redeemed only by the sober grace of the interior, where nothing had been bought and all the ‘pleasant old faded things’ recalled – 65 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

the values of tradition: ‘old pictures, old cabinets, a few china bowls and teacups of their great-great-grandmother’s’.4 It was a house reproduced in small scale, but nevertheless still capable of functioning as a model of good taste and reassuring upper-class comfort precisely because ‘everything seemed to have descended graciously from the past’.5 Cholmondeley the writer is in some ways the anthropological correlative of this forced migration towards modernity, which clings to old values and grudgingly comes to terms with the new. New identities to be shaped, new roles which are perhaps difficult to accept, new styles in dress and interior decoration which become the choices and signs of a new identity: in those years London becomes the theatre of a metamorphosis in living habits and taste which is to pave the way to the avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century. Apparently torn between the two worlds, far away from the glitter and nervous glamour of London, the eldest daughter of the rector of Hodnet decides to give meaning to her life after having taken care of a brood of brothers and sisters as a sort of surrogate mother. Hers is a cultured family. Does she wish to be a writer? Who knows? On 16 May 1877 she writes in her diary: I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry (for at best that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty nor charm) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties.6

But later, after her change of identity, she will note down with some bitterness: It is not my talent which has placed me where I am, but the repression of my youth, my unhappy love-affair, the having to confront a hard dull life, devoid of anything I cared for intellectually, and being hampered at every turn I feebly made by constant constant illness.7

All the members of the family were avid readers and writers – starting with her sister Essex whose daughter Stella Benson would become a successful author in the 1920s, acquiring full status as a writer and enjoying a well-established audience of readers – something which Cholmondeley and other transitional and interesting women writers still found hard to achieve in the difficult nineties. In her essay on the relationship between Cholmondeley and Benson, Marlene Baldwin Davis throws further light on precisely this transitional moment between ‘first and second wave’ New Woman writers. It would seem, then, that Cholmondeley’s was a vocation born by pure chance in a learned and exquisitely provincial entourage – a well-bred young lady from an old family, to whom writing represents an alternative to marriage: a ‘devoted amateur’, as Vineta Colby described her, borrowing a definition from her friend Percy Lubbock.8 Such a life project would appear to be far removed from the model offered by the ‘deviant’ and often sexually adventurous New Woman, a model emerging both in fiction and real life in those very years as an

Cholmondeley's Fables of Identity


icon of difficult interpretation – a tangled web of issues related to gender, sexuality and social role which, just as the dandy and the increasingly visible figures of homoeroticism had done a few years before, hit one of the most sensitive nerves of Victorian culture and imagination.9 Encouraged by Rhoda Broughton, an old friend of the family, Cholmondeley anonymously published a detective story, The Danvers Jewels (1887), followed by a drawing-room drama, Diana Tempest. She seemed to be following in the footsteps of the camp and flamboyant Ouida – as well loved by the public as she was scorned by the critics – when her inspiration suddenly became more cutting and more caustic. Red Pottage made her famous overnight. With a well-balanced ironic register, but without sacrificing any of the improbable but highly significant sensational effects taught her by the middle-brow fiction of the latter half of the century – and which worked so well for the increasingly voracious readers of the time – Cholmondeley was able to fashion her own and highly successful roman-à-thèse. Naive and melodramatic in many parts, Red Pottage certainly derived from the sensation novel, which ‘generated a great deal of critical opprobrium and reader interest’.10 At the same time, however, it managed to give form and expression to many of the anxieties and the conflicting cultural trends which troubled the disquieting times of the Victorian fin de siècle. Writings on – and by – the New Woman clearly point to a social and cultural unease: literary phantasms, dreams of emancipation, but also fascinating exercises in imagination and experimentation with form. Middle-class sexual codes, adultery, the pervading vulgarity of the nouveaux riches, the role of culture, new figures of marginality, the inevitable changes in novelistic inspiration and narrative tools – these are the themes around which Red Pottage is built: the fate of the two protagonists, perhaps ‘two facets of an attempted self-portrait’,11 will be influenced accordingly. Inevitably tied up in a tangle of issues revolving around the non-domestic experience of woman,12 her sexuality and her difficulties in becoming an artist, such themes are disseminated in contemporary narratives – from George Egerton to Constance Fenimore Woolson, Lucas Malet and Sarah Grand – and pave the way for the modernist consciousness of the following generation. Thus, it is not by chance that at the heart of Red Pottage lies the terrible incident in which one of the two protagonists’ unpublished novel is committed to the flames – and forever lost – by the philistine fury of her brother, a clergyman: the burning of a ‘woman’s book’ that no one will ever read is an effective sign of a latent, fin-de-siècle unease with the ‘strikingly frequent female figure’ of the heroine writer, and of the way in which these figures are embodied in the literary imagination of the time.13 Cholmondeley herself revisited the same theme in a bitter, disenchanted short story, ‘The Goldfish’, in which the figure of the woman writer is replaced by that of the painter who finds herself sacrificing her talent to her husband’s childish and capricious narcissism.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Tall, not beautiful, but – despite what she said of herself – elegant and endowed with great natural charm, Cholmondeley found her own place in the cultural scene of London with quiet confidence.14 She was born, so to speak, ‘on the right side of the park’, and what is more, as Lubbock once more noted with evident relief, ‘clever and amusing as she was, she hadn’t an alarming air’;15 significantly, for Cholmondeley the ghost of the New Woman takes form from a distance, and only in fiction. She is the perfect example of a transitional figure, in an age when ideas are spinning round in a vortex, overlapping, ushering in modernity, and generating unease and insecurity – as well as opening new scenarios. Later, the task will fall to Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to take the final leap, choosing – in every sense – new places, new houses, new ways of living and writing. After leaving the pretentious Knightsbridge Mansions, Cholmondeley moved to the more elegant Kensington area. Very little is known of her, with the exception of a few casual remarks in diaries and letters penned by members of the literary world of her time. She consorted with Henry James, John Everett Millais, Percy Lubbock, Edith Wharton and, the most eccentric individual of all, Howard Sturgis. She founded – as Marie Belloc Lowndes recalls – a women’s ‘luncheon club’, the Give-and-Take, where novels, society and the English reader’s appalling pruderie could be discussed.16 And she continued to write, as an amateur – a status she did not enjoy17 – exhibiting creative flair and conventionality at the same time. The cultural climate of her age was suspended in an extraordinary balance between old and new, and more and more women were producing bizarre, uncertain, revealing writing: the widely circulated magazines in which Cholmondeley published her short stories18 are precious mines, affording us a glimpse of the unaware, mysterious underground movement that was to contribute to the construction of a new literary canon at the dawn of the twentieth century. Nothing Cholmondeley wrote later paralleled the success she enjoyed with Red Pottage, a best-seller that was soon forgotten – as in fact was its author. In our eyes as modern readers, the book’s interest lies precisely in the fact that it was the child of a certain cultural climate. On the other hand, Cholmondeley’s short stories, disseminated in contemporary magazines and then collected in a number of volumes (which perhaps do not include all of them), hold many surprises for us today. While it is true that the short story as a genre featured prominently throughout the nineteenth century, in the years of the boom in periodical publishing it took on a special brilliance of its own, an experimental quality which prompted many to question its very nature. Thus, even before the novel, it came to embody the great crisis of fiction, in its quest for new forms and intentions. End-of-century magazines, not just the Yellow Book and the Savoy, but also the Graphic and Harper’s Magazine, as well as many others, provide a catalogue of immense value. Stories about murdering ghosts (‘Let Loose’), or romances – as the author herself termed them, thus betraying typically fin-de-siècle taste

Cholmondeley's Fables of Identity


– futuristic fantasies (‘The Dark Cottage’), feminist utopias in dialogue form (‘Votes for Men’), or short, cynical novellas built upon more or less deliberate misunderstandings, in the style of Maupassant (‘The Pitfall’, ‘The Understudy’): Cholmondeley competently engages in a productive dialogue with a centurylong repertoire. A traditional repertoire, if you like, made up of beautiful and reassuring objects like the ones in her Knightsbridge home – yet there is something more that insinuates itself into these odd, merciless stories. The ability to exploit an effect, ‘single and sharp, as clear as a pistol-shot’, in Henry James’s words,19 is by no means a purely mechanical device, for it is enriched with subtle and complex ingredients that incorporate the uncertainties and fantasies of the age into the short story format. Despite her deliberate low profile in the ebullient cultural world of the nineties and her distance from the aggressive literary and anthropological models of the New Woman, Cholmondeley is thus able to embody the latent fin-de-siècle sociocultural anxieties concerning woman and society. Working with different registers and styles, this quiet and unobtrusive amateur creates a universe of oddities and (quite often) horrors, within the frame of a perfect narrative device that concentrates dramatic action, and the denouement unveiling the equivocation, in the space of a few hours. The fatal deception, drawn out until the heights of cruelty or sarcasm are reached, is the secret guiding thread which holds together three fables of identity that are part of her diverse, and almost entirely forgotten, production. Here, the error is not resolved through a re-established order: rather, it ends in a definitive, chilling reversal. The narrative device rests entirely on a surprise effect, on the ability to draw readers in completely, forcing them to hold their breath until the very end. Along the same narrative line, however, a sarcastic tone is directly aimed at the female figure at the heart of the story, and subsequently at her relationship with a man. The unusual plots, as well as the fantasies which shape them, endow Cholmondeley’s writing with the capacity to engage in a more effective dialogue with the anxieties haunting the turn of the century.

Identity and the Metropolis In ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ this register – paced by narrative tenses alternating past and present in rapid succession – is used to tackle the task of writing about the metropolis, and is shaped by what we can interpret as one last metamorphosis of a theme eagerly developed by an entire century – from Hawthorne to Poe20 – which modernist culture was to rework, in new forms, only a few years later. The story is swift, pressing, perhaps one of the shortest ever written by Cholmondeley. The night of the Illuminations during the Exhibition in Paris is the designated scene in which a terrifying role play is ignited: the feast of lights turns into a massacre, and the metropolitan crowd turns destructive – but it all


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

starts out as a feast of fools which serves to debunk the illusions of bourgeois sentimentality, contaminating roles as in a grotesque and murderous carnival. It is the story of a journey from Eden, represented by the dirty little garden of a ‘queer little old-fashioned hotel, rather out of the way’, to the most characteristic sights of a postcard-perfect Paris, to be contemplated but not touched (St Cloud, Versailles, Notre Dame), and ending with the metropolitan Inferno, where ‘it was the painful, desolating duty of the driver to tell them he could take them no further’.21 Here the traveller must venture on foot, exposed to the menacing promiscuity of the crowd. Cholmondeley shows considerable skill throughout the short span of the story, as she transforms the crowd itself, depending on the different angles from which it is observed, from ‘one moving mass of heads … one continuous black stream, good-humoured and light-hearted’, to ‘One seething mass of excited people, one hoarse jangle of tongues’, ‘a jostling, angry crowd’, ‘moving, stopping, pushing, pressing, stopping again’.22 The pure Geoffrey, as the guardian of a child-wife (significantly, her name is Eva, and she will in fact capriciously accept temptation), believes he can save her from the deadly embrace of the crowd by hoisting her up and carrying her on his back: There was a moment’s pause, and the movement came. Geoffrey flung down his stick, drew his wife firmly behind him … the trembling arms were clasped convulsively round his neck, and with a supreme effort he was on his legs again, shaking like a leaf with the long horror of that moment’s suspense.23

But the price he will have to pay is that of finding himself contemplating an inverted image of the female figure. The physical contact with the ‘multitude’ has turned an innocent bride into the degraded mask of the prostitute: the ‘universe of commodities’, in Walter Benjamin’s words,24 has wreaked its revenge on two people who thought they would be able to participate in the feast as simple spectators. With rapid strokes of her pen, and using the present tense, Cholmondeley gives an account in real time of the struggle of a man dragging himself through the crowd’s menacing uproar, until the final denouement is reached: The street lamps gleam dull and yellow in the first wan light of dawn, and his haggard eyes look into hers, her face becomes clear even to his darkening vision – and – it is another woman! Another woman! A poor creature with a tawdry hat and paint upon her cheek, who tries to laugh, and then, dimly conscious of the sudden agony of the grey, blood-stained face, whimpers for mercy, and limps away into a doorway, to shiver and hide her worn face from the growing light.25

The poor, innocent little Eva is unrecognizable by the end of the story. ‘But the maid knew by the dress’,26 we are told at the end: and it often happens that the subject’s loss of identity, that great theme of fin-de-siècle fiction, is figuratively translated into an impossibility to recognize the human figure, which will be given

Cholmondeley's Fables of Identity


a name only by means of a small number of clues, such as Mr Hyde’s oversized clothes, or the jewels on Dorian Gray’s hand. But what Stevenson and Wilde saw as a malady of the soul with the power to infect features and deform limbs is here seen as social degeneration, a collective madness whose victims are the body of a woman and an illusionary belief in the redeeming role of matrimony. Eva is pitted against Lilith. Innocence does not pay. The happy bride’s simplicity is played against the painful awareness of the prostitute, who shields herself from the light on the gloomy morning of the following day, like a sad vampire, as she prepares to take her place once more in the crowd: the scene is far removed from George Gissing’s idealized Ida Starr or from the moralized encounter with a prostitute in Charlotte Mew’s ‘Passed’.27 The life and death exchange is thus resolved as the survivor, the impotent Geoffrey, is grotesquely offered a metonymical shred of feminine identity: the small glove, an object of seduction par excellence in nineteenth-century iconography as a whole, is significantly transformed into a relic with no promise of a lost paradise.

Identity and Crime Cholmondeley was soon forgotten. Perhaps no one had ever really noticed her: she was later defined as ‘A Novelist of Yesterday’.28 And it was true. But this obscure writer did not escape the keen eye of the two American authors hiding behind the pseudonym of Ellery Queen. Not only had the pair invented a new detective story hero, but they had also devoted their time to rediscovering small, precious gems of stories that had been forgotten or gone unnoticed, to be published in the magazine they had named after themselves. ‘The Hand on the Latch’ was rescued from oblivion and republished in 1949 in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.29 The story is perfect in its calculated use of suspense and the peculiar magic of a solitary setting, in the heart of an American landscape which is gradually covered up in snow as the story progresses and reaches its climax, a land trampled over by the footfall and the wounds of the civil war. The scenario reminds one of Jack London – nothing could be further from the metropolitan and contemporary city of Paris in the previous story – a scene inhabited by the solitary figure of a woman who dominates the beginning of the tale, and who is waiting for her man in the ‘deathlike solitude’30 of the prairie: She stood at her low window with its uneven, wavering glass, and looked out across the prairie. A little snow had fallen, not much, only enough to add a sense of desolation to the boundless plain, the infinite plain outside the four cramped walls of her log hut. The log hut was like a tiny boat moored in some vast, tideless, impassable sea. The immensity of the prairie had crushed her in the earlier years of her married life; but gradually she had become accustomed to it, then reconciled to it, at last almost a part of it.31


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

And yet both scenarios give rise to similar endings, in which the female subject symbolically dies. Space, time and action are condensed as if according to an Aristotelian principle, in order to achieve an effect of pure terror, which grows with every page to finally explode in the last sentence of the tale. The light shed by that last sentence forces the reader to rethink – or reread – the entire experience, not so much as regards the plot as the subliminal deception implied by it. There seems to be a threat coming from the outside, from the ‘hand on the latch’ that apparently wishes to violate, ruin, perhaps kill the woman alone in her little hut. Yet it is in the family hearth that a lie is lurking. In perfect tune with the landscape’s desolation, the tale is purged of all superfluous elements – even proper names are eliminated from the text – so as to emphasize the main character’s condition as she finds her identity splitting in two (‘she seemed like two people’):32 the louder the silence, the stronger the dream. This exchange of identities, this comedy of errors is the structure supporting a terrible fantasy of female solitude: the ‘marriage illusion’ is once again set on stage only to be invalidated by the coup de théatre which not only ends the story but also annihilates the identity of the murderer, with one cold sentence pronounced by the anonymous protagonist. As she observes the lifeless body and the face that is revealed behind a mask, the face of her own husband, whom she has just killed, ‘He is a stranger to me’, she says, looking fixedly at her husband’s fading face.33 Never – in the years we are examining – was the epiphany of a story condensed in a more telling phrase. The fantasy may be a fantasy of isolation, as we have seen, but it is also a fantasy of revenge and death. And again, it is played out on the threshold of a lost paradise, the scene in which fables of identity are fashioned.

Identity and Dress ‘The Lowest Rung’ is once again a story of blurred identities, role playing and ambiguities. The tone, however, is very different, much lighter and more ironic. We are no longer in the city, nor in a snow-covered prairie, but in a third, and just as significant, landscape – one which is exquisitely Edwardian. An idyllic spot in the English countryside, lacking nothing to make it safe and reassuring (the little village, the cottage adorned with Virginia creeper, the comfortable drawing room, a crackling fireplace), is the scene of an original tale about the encounter with the Other, told with supreme irony. The vain and querulous old maid speaking in the first person (‘my doctor was right indeed when he said I vibrated like a harp’)34 and the queer, ex-morphine-addicted vagrant woman who asks to be put up for a night are two characters that Cholmondeley derives, so to speak, one from the other, in an amusing play of contrasted identities. It is only when she must give shelter to a mud-spattered fugitive that the lady of the house reveals her conventionality (‘And then, to my horror, I found I was still in morn-

Cholmondeley's Fables of Identity


ing dress. For the first time for years I had not dressed for dinner’) as a petty, petit-bourgeois writer and a follower of Marie Corelli (‘one like myself, whose métier is to probe the secrets of my own heart and those of others’), in her equally attentive care for the palpitations of her own heart, the speckless mattings and pale Oriental rugs.35 Her work as a novelist has already lost its lofty status, except in her own eyes – and it is quite insignificant when compared to the truly noble and transgressive figure who is now before her. On the other hand, the vagrant need only find herself in a normal life setting for a few hours for her marginality to be splendidly evident. Like a perfect illusionist, the stranger – who had appeared on the scene in the unmistakable uniform of a convict – performs a change of costume. Such a change points – as it always does – to a transformation of identities, and to the first, clear deviations from the accepted norm of feminine beauty, much to the narrator’s bewilderment: Her close-cropped, curly grey hair, still damp from the bath, was parted, and brushed stiffly back over her ears. It must have been beautiful hair once. Her thin hands and thinner face and neck looked more like brown parchment than ever, as she sat in the lamplight, my old blue dressing-gown folded negligently round her, and taking picturesque folds which it never did when I was inside it.36

The unknown runaway takes her time choosing a dress from among the castoffs of the lady of the house, selecting the most fantastical style (‘You don’t happen to have an old black Ulster with all the buttons off, and a bit of mangy fur dropping off the neck? That’s more my style’), and the colour that best becomes her (‘The very thing! … Quiet and unobtrusive to the last degree. Parisian in colour and simplicity. And mole colour is so becoming’).37 Her nonchalant disdain is contrasted with the gaucherie of the narrator and her disbelief when confronted with the other woman: I wondered what her impression of me was, as we sat, such a strangely assorted couple, one on each side of the fire. Did I indeed seem to her the quixotic, impetuous, and yet withal dreamy creature which my books show me to be? But I have often been told by those who know me well that I am much more than my books.38

For the vagrant is a woman who has decided to place herself outside of society and its codes forever. She has decided not to inhabit society any longer, exhibiting her own identity only through the style of her dress. It is an odd, ironic tale, in which the dressing-up expedient and the conventional narrative theme of redemption from evil paint a new picture of diversity – a snobbish New Woman with no roots. Once again, as in ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ and ‘The Hand on the Latch’, at the very heart of Cholmondeley’s choice of subject lies a search for identity, expressed in the fragmentary and highly allusive form of the short story. It is the only form that makes fables possible. Including fables of identity.


Until Mary Cholmondeley published Red Pottage (1899), she was a popular novelist but not a celebrity figure. In the decade before her runaway best-seller, she had successfully serialized three novels – The Danvers Jewels (1887), Sir Charles Danvers (1889) and Diana Tempest (1893) – in Temple Bar and followed with hard-copy volumes published by Richard Bentley and Son that went into multiple editions. The reviews of this early fiction were strong, praising Cholmondeley for her clever and witty books, with Diana Tempest garnering special praise as the ‘cleverest’ of ‘Miss Cholmondeley’s clever novels’.1 But her fourth novel, A Devotee (1897), also serialized in Temple Bar, went almost unnoticed2 – reviewed only in the Bookman, the periodical that did most to launch Cholmondeley to celebrity status and publicize her private life in relation to her professional career. That celebrity launch came with Red Pottage (1899), the Künstlerroman that, in Percy Lubbock’s account, ‘created some scandal at the close of the [nineteenth] century’.3 Cholmondeley’s rise to celebrity was many faceted, though mostly unplanned – including extensive reviews in British, American and Canadian periodicals, commentary from English pulpits and in private drawing rooms, interviews (some largely invented) by the nineteenth-century version of the paparazzi, and biographical prefaces to new editions of her work. Lubbock recalls the ‘fine cackle of the public, rounds of warm applause, and in the midst of the applause some exhilarating notes of dissent, of disapproval and horrification’.4 Cholmondeley’s response to this celebrity, to her newly achieved fame, was ambivalent. On the one hand, she tried to put a damper on the celebrity journalism that dominated fin-de-siècle literary culture; as J. E. Hodder Williams observed, Miss Cholmondeley has always shunned and indeed refused publicity (she has never consented to be ‘interviewed’ in any English periodical), and her personality is certainly less known to the great outside public than that of any other popular author of the day.5 – 75 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

On the other hand, she recognized that publicity was essential to literary status and commercial success and granted the Bookman, for whom Hodder Williams wrote, an extensive interview, which was published with portraits by Russell and Sons ‘specially taken for The Bookman’ and photographs of Condover Hall, the country house which her father had once owned and which she had used as the setting for her early fiction.6 I take Cholmondeley’s ambivalence to celebrity culture as the starting point of this essay, focusing on her reluctance to reveal details of her personal life – not only because of her intense privacy but also, as I shall argue, because of her selfconception as a professional author. I discuss the prefaces to Cholmondeley’s novels as they express this (and other) authorial self-conception(s), beginning with the allographic prefaces in American editions over which she had little, if any, control and continuing with the authentic autobiographic prefaces she included in her later collections of fiction, The Lowest Rung (1908) and The Romance of His Life (1921). My contention is that Cholmondeley came to view the preface – that ‘paratext’ so important to Victorian and modern book-making – as a means of resisting unauthorized accounts of her life and work, as a vehicle for shaping the arc of her literary career, and as an occasion for articulating a poetics of literary creation. As Gérard Genette notes in Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, the point of a preface is ‘more or less … to put a high value on the text without antagonizing the reader by too immodestly, or simply too obviously, putting a high value on the text’s author’.7 Cholmondeley aimed for high textual and authorial value – but of the right sort.

Periodical Interviews and American Prefaces: The Unauthorized Mary Cholmondeley Cholmondeley’s problematic relation to celebrity culture reveals itself in the opening anecdote that Hodder Williams recounts in the Bookman: Some years ago an American journalist came to interview the future author of ‘Red Pottage.’ Miss Cholmondeley suffered and answered the usual more or less impertinent questions, but finally demurred at his request for a portrait. ‘Wall [sic], Miss Cholmondeley,’ said he, ‘I guess I shall be redooced [sic] to one of two alternatives. Either I shall tell my people on the other side to insert with my article one of the stock portraits they have in their office – and I can assure you that our supply of beauties is pretty well exhausted! – or I shall instruct an artist to go down to the village in Shropshire where your father is Rector, and he will make a sketch of you in Hodnet Church while you are singing in the choir, at which time, as I can say without fear of contradiction, you – are – not – looking – at – your – best.8

‘Looking at your best’, not just physically but professionally, is what celebrity journalism controls. The interviewer – in this anecdote, an imperfectly educated

Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture


American – can make the author look unattractive or unappealing, or can even, as the first threat suggests, invent her from a conventional stock portrait. He manipulates her public image by presenting her as elegant or dowdy, intellectual or pious, pleasantly domestic or hopelessly single – with or without her approval. Fin-de-siècle women authors were highly conscious of the importance of public image to commercial success and literary prestige. Famously, Marie Corelli sent back photographic proofs to Debenham & Gabell’s studio with lines drawn around her waist and the query: ‘Why this stoutness?’ Corelli’s image, intended for use as a frontispiece, was retouched to make her look younger and slimmer – presumably more in keeping with the heroines of her novels.9 Alice Meynell, after the success of her innovative volume The Rhythm of Life and Other Essays (1893), allowed an interview with Sylvia’s Journal to appear, despite the fact that ‘it makes me talk frightful grammar and say things I could never have said’.10 As an experienced journalist, Meynell knew that publicity would sell her books and increase her literary fame. Even the newcomer novelist Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, featured in the April number of the Bookman, a month before the Cholmondeley interview, understood that a well-crafted interview style could help produce a pleasant public image: ‘Everyone knows’, reports Hodder Williams in his opening salvo, that [Fowler] always sits in an armchair when undergoing an interview … that she corrupts the interviewer with an unlimited supply of cakes, that she is vivacity personified, yet never restless, that she is a brilliant talker, that her conversation bubbles with epigrams, sparkles with wit.11

Given that he was plied with the proverbial cakes, it is no wonder that his account praises Fowler’s vivacity, brilliance and wit, and, more generally, makes her a likeable literary figure. Presumably, Cholmondeley trusted the Bookman enough to grant Hodder Williams an interview. Presumably, too, she hoped to advance some version of an authorial self she believed in and to correct some errors of fact that had circulated in other periodicals and books. Factual accuracy is certainly Hodder Williams’s keynote. After the opening anecdote with its impertinent American journalist, he – as English man of letters – reports that Cholmondeley ‘has literally been besieged by an army of publishers and editors, literary and dramatic agents, and the vast horde of camp followers, the nondescript “literary hangerson”’ and disclaims any relation to the ‘interesting but contradictory accounts’ of her life and work that have appeared in ‘many newspapers … and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic’.12 He will set the record straight – beginning with an accurate genealogy, a reliable history of her education and a just account of her literary career. So effective is his rhetoric (and so exclusive his access to informa-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

tion) that his interview for the Bookman has been a key source for virtually all subsequent biographies of Cholmondeley.13 Despite its positive presentation and the accuracy it gains by quoting long responses that Cholmondeley wrote (not spoke) to the questions, the Bookman account is problematic in its construction of the author. Whether intentional or not, it embodies an authorial schizophrenia – a version of the woman writer who is at once amateur and professional. Like many such nineteenth-century accounts, it suggests that women’s writing emerges from personal experience, that it is rooted in biography, and thus that it is less imaginative creation than lively transcription of what the woman writer sees around her – a popular but inevitably secondary form of literature. Hodder Williams grounds Cholmondeley’s literary production in her social and psychological experience, identifying her fiction with social life at Condover Hall and her heroines, especially Hester of Red Pottage, with her personal struggle for self-realization. Of course, Cholmondeley provided the interviewer with evidence for this account – by, for example, identifying her brother as the original for Dick Vernon and revealing a local source for the scene between Hugh Scarlett and Lord Newhaven in the first chapter of Red Pottage. But the novelist as transparent transcriber of social life sits uneasily with Cholmondeley the skilled literary craftsman who, in the same interview, is said to write ‘with infinite care’, ‘determined that only the very best of which she is capable shall see the light’.14 So, too, Cholmondeley the professional author, negotiating dramatic rights to Red Pottage or the terms of a German translation and attending to the business aspects of authorship, seems out of sync with the aristocratic socialite, ‘descended from the Cholmondeleys of Vale Royal’, whom Hodder Williams depicts dwelling, as family member or guest, in the great country houses of Shropshire and Cheshire.15 It may be that authorial schizophrenia – in the sense of a divided self-conception or self-presentation – invariably results from the mode of the celebrity interview. Because interviewers pursue the life history of an author for the interest of readers, they tend to link the ‘real’ life history to the ‘fiction’ of the novels, plays or poetry so that the readers feel they better ‘know’ the author. This is, in Clara Tuite’s phrase, a ‘technology for the production of intimacy’, one of celebrity culture’s ways of ‘transform[ing] the stranger into an intimate’.16 But the celebrity interview also denies or downgrades what Christina Rossetti called ‘the Poet mind’, which constructs its subjects ‘from its own inner consciousness’ rather than from personal ‘experience’.17 With its lavish illustrations and photographs of the author’s life, the interview emphasizes ‘experience’ and personal history rather than ‘inner consciousness’ and imagination. In fairness to Hodder Williams, it should be said that his article for the London Bookman attempted to balance ‘experience’ and ‘inner consciousness’ in its presentation of Cholmondeley’s artistry. But the relation of auto/biography to

Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture


fiction, of personal experience to literary creation, proved more troubling when it crossed the Atlantic. American interviews and book prefaces simplified or even collapsed the relationship. In the American version of the Bookman, for instance, Hodder Williams’s interview was cut to emphasize Cholmondeley’s biography: this version deletes the witty, self-reflexive opening about the conventions of the interview form; it plunges directly into family genealogy and showcases photographs of Condover Hall (the estate of Cholmondeley’s great-grandmother, the fictional ‘Stoke Morton’ of Sir Charles Danvers and the site where A Devotee was composed).18 In further deletions, the American Bookman omits the professional aspects of Cholmondeley’s career: the lack of royalties for Red Pottage, her plans for a dramatic adaptation of the novel, translations into foreign languages and the author’s method of composition. The desire for ‘intimacy’ has trumped the role of literary ‘creativity’: it is as if the American Bookman has decided that readers want mostly to see the biographical link between an author’s life and her work. This link recurs in other American periodicals. In the ‘Literary Chat’ column of Munsey’s Magazine (August 1900), for instance, the title reads ‘Autobiography and Fiction – Mary Cholmondeley’s Stories and her Life’. The article draws parallels between Cholmondeley’s social life under the tutelage of her grandmother, ‘Mrs. Legard, a beautiful and witty woman’, and the experience of the characters Hester in Red Pottage and Ruth in Sir Charles Danvers, implicitly suggesting that the author has reproduced episodes from her life in fictional form. And, although it does not claim a real person as the basis for the odious clergyman James Gresley, who burns Hester’s manuscript, it does suggest a real-life parallel: Lady Richard Burton, who burned her husband’s manuscript translation of The Scented Garden, believing that she was acting to protect his posthumous reputation.19 In this construction of the woman author, her fiction is her auto/biography. The most extreme linking of autobiography and fiction occurs in the biographical preface to a 1900 edition of Diana Tempest, issued by D. Appleton and Company after the success of Red Pottage. At the turn of the century, this American publisher reissued many popular novels with new biographical prefaces, often after the novelist had published another best-seller or, in some cases, after his or her death. The rationale is stated explicitly in the introduction to a new edition of David Harum: A Story of American Life (1900): The interest which is always felt in the life and personality of the writer of a successful book originates, it would seem, in the sympathetic and kindly desire of his readers for a more intimate acquaintance with him than they can attain through the medium of his fictitious characters. This is surely not mere curiosity, but rather an expression of genuine affection[.]20


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

However affectionate the reader’s desire, however benign the publisher’s expression of motive, the fact remains that Appleton reissued books to increase sales. It used a technology of celebrity culture – the ‘intimate’ biography – to increase the appeal of its books to potential readers. The paratexts of the American reissue of Diana Tempest work in a similar vein. The title page advertises the book as a ‘new edition with portrait and biographical sketch’ (despite the fact that the type-setting in 1900 is identical to the publisher’s 1894 edition).21 The portrait – an unattributed engraving of a photograph by Day & Son, Bournemouth – shows a young, glamorous figure draped in a fur stole, an author American readers might imagine socializing in English country houses (see Figure 1).22 The biographical sketch, called a ‘preface’, is, in Genette’s taxonomy, an ‘allographic’ preface composed by a third party – a person unknown to the author and unnamed in the edition (though this unnamed biographer assumes a tone of intimacy, using such phrases as ‘Mrs. Cholmondeley has been known to say’ or referring to the ‘happy moment in Miss Cholmondeley’s life’ when she purchased an edition of Emerson with her glove money).23 The prefatory biography begins with a genealogical link between the author and ‘the Marquis of Cholmondeley’s family, which has been established at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire since the Conquest’; it repeats (or perhaps initiates) the account of Mrs Legard as the ‘beautiful and witty woman’ who manages Mary’s social education; and it reproduces details from the Bookman about Condover Hall as the setting for Cholmondeley’s early novels.24 Interestingly, the new pieces of information that this preface introduces involve American connections: a link between Mary’s uncle Thomas Cholmondeley and the New England writers Emerson, Channing and Thoreau, and a trans-Atlantic exchange between ‘enterprising Americans’ and Hodnet Rectory, where Bishop Reginald Heber lived as rector before going to India and where Mary Cholmondeley was born some years later. It is as if this preface wishes, on the one hand, to present the author as an elegant, aristocratic figure of the Gilded Age and, on the other, to sanctify her as the literary heir of the exemplary Bishop of Calcutta, admired by Americans for his hymn-writing and self-sacrificing missionary work. In any case, its mode is to draw connections between the author’s life and her fictional work – to connect the dots, as it were. We do not know what Cholmondeley thought of the Appleton preface and the authorial image that it presented to her American audience. But what this preface assumes about an author’s biography and her literary work eventually proved troubling. For, although mostly laudatory, such paratexts so firmly ground literary creation in life history that the role of the fiction writer’s art is nearly effaced. More reductively, every interesting or controversial element of Cholmondeley’s work, especially in Red Pottage, is reduced to the writer’s

Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture


personal experience. This reduction was what Cholmondeley came to view as a ‘theory of malicious origins’ – a theory she later set out to refute.

Undoing the Theory of Malicious Origins: Cholmondeley’s Preface to The Lowest Rung In 1908 Cholmondeley published a personal essay, ‘The Skeleton in the Novelist’s Cupboard’, in the Pall Mall Gazette, using it in the same year as a preface to her short story collection, The Lowest Rung (issued in 1909 in the United States as The Hand on the Latch). The essay is a witty consideration of the origins of fictional characters and a refutation of the commonly held belief that women writers simply take their characters from life. Cholmondeley is explicit in her rejection of this assumption: It is impossible for those who do not write fiction to form any conception how easily an erroneous idea gains credence that some one has been ‘put in a book’; or if the idea has once been entertained, how impossible it is to eradicate it.25

From her writerly career Cholmondeley provides example after example of this fallacy and its consequences. She begins in a humorous vein by enumerating the claims made by others to authorship of her work. There is the ‘charming elderly man’ who ‘discussed one of my earliest books with such appreciation that I at last remarked that I had written it’ and who then ‘gravely and gently’ told her, ‘I know that to be untrue’. There is another man who ‘actually announce[d] himself to be the author of “Red Pottage” in the presence of a large number of people’ and was routed by ‘the late Mr. William Sharp’, who knew better. Then there are friends and relatives who acknowledge her to be an author but who deny her any literary originality, making such comments as ‘We all recognized Mrs. Alwynn at once as Mrs. —, and we all say it is not in the least like her’.26 Clergymen behave no better – one claiming, for instance, that the character of the Revd Mr. Gresley in Red Pottage ‘was merely a piece of spite on my part, as I had probably been jilted by a clergyman’.27 Even professional critics admit to holding this theory of autobiographical origins. ‘Truth to tell’, wrote Thomas J. Ball in a review in the Guardian, 11 April 1900, [W]hen I appreciated, with much amusement, the light in which one was expected to regard Mr. Gresley, I came to the conclusion that the authoress was paying out some particular High Church parson, who had perhaps snubbed her or got the better of her, by ‘putting him into a book.’28

Although Cholmondeley relates these anecdotes with wit, she admits ‘they were real enough to give me not a little pain at the time’.29 That they continued to


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

cause pain is revealed by the fact that she saved them up for a preface, in which she asserts her authorial identity and literary originality. What I would emphasize here, however, is that Cholmondeley treats the problem of fictional origins as not solely her own but as challenging women writers generally. Readers, whether family friends or professional critics, do not readily acknowledge that women possess the faculty of literary invention – what Cholmondeley, like Christina Rossetti, refers to as ‘inner consciousness’.30 (Indeed, the Guardian critic states that ‘Mr. Gresleys certainly exist, but only a woman in a (perhaps wholly justified) tantrum would speak of them as a type of the clergy in general’.)31 Cholmondeley’s purpose in this preface is not, then, so much to settle past accounts or alleviate her pain by writing about it, as to clarify her theory of literary creativity. Characters in her novels are not transcriptions from life, but composites that have evolved after extended observation and analysis: ‘It is necessary to know a very large number of persons of a certain kind before one can evolve a type’. That is, characters are types created from many reallife individuals, not real-life individuals put into books. Her metaphor is that of building a nest: ‘Each he and she contributes a twig, and the author weaves them into a nest’.32 It is a metaphor that acknowledges both the material substance of lived experience and the imagination and skill of the artist. To authorize this theory, Cholmondeley cites George Sand: ‘When she was accused of lampooning a certain abbé’, Sand ‘said that to draw one character of that kind one must know a thousand’.33 To cite Sand is to invoke the most celebrated woman writer of the nineteenth-century European tradition. It is to sanctify one’s own work by association. Cholmondeley does so not merely on her own behalf but in defence of other English women writers – as is clear from her conversation about similar experiences with Lucy Clifford, author of novels about solitary, struggling women, including Aunt Anne (1892), a book that elicited ‘many letters from persons with whom she was unacquainted, reproaching her for having portrayed their aunt’.34 Cholmondeley knew that male authors suffered less from such reduction of literary originality and thereby of cultural status. When she published her first novels anonymously, ‘they were invariably considered to be, and reviewed as, the work of a man’ – and no such theory of malicious origins operated, as it did once she signed her name to Diana Tempest and Red Pottage. Even so, the preface to The Lowest Rung is not solely defensive. It is also expressive of the relationship of life to art and assertive of the novelist’s ability to anticipate – not just reproduce – life events. Cholmondeley takes up this theme in a final anecdote, the worst ‘skeleton in the novelist’s cupboard’, when she tells of creating a female character for Diana Tempest, ‘a very worldly religious young prig’. ‘I know many such’, she adds, implicitly invoking her theory of building up a ‘nest’ from many little ‘twigs’.35 In the novel she ‘piloted’ this character through courtship and marriage, ‘gleefully invented all her sayings on these momentous

Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture


occasions, and described the wedding and the abhorrent bridegroom with great minuteness’. Just as the novel went into production, a real-life young woman ‘who had unconsciously contributed a trait to the character’ became engaged and then married. Before Cholmondeley’s ‘panic-stricken eyes’ the wedding, complete with middle-aged bridegroom, turned out to be ‘exactly as I had already described it’.36 Despite her protestation of alleged horror, I suggest that Cholmondeley invokes this incident to demonstrate her authorial power and exemplify her theory of artistic creativity. With it she demonstrates Oscar Wilde’s principle that life imitates art, not vice versa. While Cholmondeley may not have gone so far as Wilde did in The Decay of Lying by insisting, ‘Life in fact is the mirror, and Art the reality’,37 she does offer in this preface a tribute to her imaginative capacity for inventing art so like life that the two are indistinguishable. Further, within the mechanisms of celebrity culture, her preface revokes the authorial construction advertised in American books and periodicals and, with it, the technology of intimacy that underlies these biographical paratexts. As I have suggested, the Appleton preface, like the column in Munsey’s Magazine, works by assuming that readers desire ‘a more intimate acquaintance’ with the author and that revealing biographical associations with fictional work generates sympathy. Cholmondeley’s preface to The Lowest Rung does, in fact, reveal personal details; it is, in her words, ‘a lapse into autobiography’.38 But it is autobiographical in a different sense. It proposes a technology of intimacy that focuses on the writer qua writer, that lets the reader into her authorial secrets, so that the reader comes to know the writer not at home but behind the scenes, at her desk, creating her fiction. This presents a ‘professional’ version of the author’s self – one who comprehends the creative process in contrast to the more ‘amateur’ readers whose misunderstandings abound. Implicitly, Cholmondeley’s preface tries to make good readers out of amateur fans and, in Genette’s terms, show them why they should put ‘a high value on the text’s author’.39

Asserting Literary Professionalism: The Preface to The Romance of His Life Cholmondeley continued to use the preface as a site for asserting her authorial identity and views on art.40 Her last volume, The Romance of His Life (1921), includes an introductory sketch, ‘In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, about the place where ‘most of these stories were written’.41 In memorializing the author’s home, Cholmondeley memorializes herself and her career, creating a final image of the writer as an Englishwoman happy in a cottage she has refurbished with the profits of her labours and with the aesthetic taste that has transformed a ‘forlorn, dishevelled, and untenanted’ house into a home ‘millionaires would tumble over


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

each other to secure’.42 This final preface, I suggest, consolidates Cholmondeley’s view of herself as a professional author. Most accounts of Mary Cholmondeley (prior to this collection) have treated her as an ‘amateur’ female writer. This view descends from Percy Lubbock’s Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory, where Lubbock calls her ‘both as writer and reader an amateur’; it was advanced by Vineta Colby in an important modern analysis, ‘Devoted Amateur: Mary Cholmondeley and Red Pottage’.43 To categorize Cholmondeley as an ‘amateur’ is, however, to take Lubbock’s description out of its historical context and ignore the final preface in which Cholmondeley presents herself in a highly professionalized role: earning money, leasing a house with her profits, presiding there with a feminine ‘Home Ruler’ and taking her place as a member of a traditional English community. When Lubbock termed Cholmondeley an ‘amateur’, he was, I suggest, working within a fin-de-siècle understanding of the professional author as someone who approaches writing in a businesslike way, publishing regularly in multiple genres and eschewing the binaries of journalism versus literature, popular production versus high art. This conception was advanced most forcefully by Walter Besant, editor of the Author, the house organ of the Society of Authors, in the 1880s and 1890s, when Cholmondeley began her career. In his guidebook to the literary profession, The Pen and the Book (1899), Besant imagines the modern man or woman of letters as working on various forms of journalism and literature at once. He depicts the ‘kind of life led daily by the modern man of letters’ and shows this man – ‘or this woman, for many women now belong to the profession’ – going ‘into his study every morning as regularly as a barrister goes to chambers’. Like a barrister with a variety of briefs, the modern professional author takes up a variety of literary tasks: two or three books waiting for review: a MS. sent him for an opinion: a book of his own to go on with – possibly a life of some dead and gone worthy for a series: an article which he has promised for a magazine: a paper for the Dictionary of National Biography: perhaps an unfinished novel to which he must give three hours of absorbed attention.44

As I have elsewhere argued, Cholmondeley does not embrace this fin-de-siècle model of authorship; rather, she invokes Romantic concepts of genius, creativity and originality in her depiction of art and artist figures (especially Hester in Red Pottage).45 Hence, when Lubbock describes her process of ‘making books’, he is thinking within the historical context of a newly professionalized literary field. Cholmondeley, in contrast, ascribes to an alternative model: she made her books in her own deliberate way; but her eye was always on her vision, her apprehension of truth, and the growing object under her hand, the book itself, was shaped in a faith of which she could give no certain account.

Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture


He adds, ‘For her part she wrote in sacred privacy; the shamelessness of the professional author was strange to her’.46 ‘Vision’, ‘faith’, ‘sacred privacy’ and ‘truth’ – these are words that connote high Romantic art and the author as a priestly figure. To say that Cholmondeley rejects a common mode of fin-de-siècle professionalism is not to say that she rejects literary professionalism altogether. Indeed, by writing about a cottage refurbished with literary profits, she invokes a nineteenth-century tradition of the author as self-made, middle-class professional who has earned (rather than inherited) status. This model was embodied in the career of Charles Dickens and mythologized in David Copperfield (1850), where the writer-protagonist works his way up to literary, financial and domestic success, and it was celebrated as an English cultural model by William Howitt in Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847), where the homes of canonical literary figures are not only birthplaces of famous authors, but more importantly homes earned by the fruits of their literary labour. As in the case of Sir Walter Scott, even better than his ‘many and wonderful … romances’ is, Howitt argues, ‘the romance of his own life’: the narrative of winning ‘his wealth and title in fields more renowned for starvation and “Calamities,” than for the making of fortunes – those of literature’.47 Whether or not she knew Howitt’s Homes and Haunts, this is the ‘romance’ that Cholmondeley embeds in her introduction to The Romance of His Life: the romance of a successful author who has earned her home and her place within an English community. She tells of falling ‘desperately in love’ with a Suffolk cottage, knowing ‘that it is a parlous thing to fall in love in middle age’. She quotes Christina Rossetti against ‘these dangerous grey haired attachments’: ‘Keep love for youth, and violets for spring’. Yet, despite knowledge that her cottage is actually a ‘forlorn, dishevelled and untenanted’ thing, it becomes ‘the bewitching object of my affections’.48 Of course, the essay reveals the true charms of the cottage, as Cholmondeley and her sister strip away the layers of wallpaper, replace the sagging (or nonexistent) floors and discover its fine Tudor oak underpinnings. As part of the stripping away, I suggest that the essay uncovers the true character of its author beneath her grey-haired, middle-aged exterior: the author who has created, with literary labour and aesthetic taste, a beautiful house and garden that ‘millionaires and crowned heads’ might envy. Moreover, the matter of earning money for her literary efforts is handled explicitly (if humorously) in this autobiographic preface. Cholmondeley recounts buying a lantern from ‘a curiosity shop in Kent’, which is then suspended from the black beam in the ‘tiny raftered hall’ where the social life of the cottage centres. She recalls that her seven-year-old nephew ‘watched me as I cautiously bought it, and whispered to his mother: “Why does Aunt Mary buy the lantern when, for thirty shillings, she could get a model engine?”’ The answer is instructive:


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered ‘Well, you see she does not want a model engine, and she does want a lantern, and it is not wrong of her to buy it as she has earned the money.’ Shrill amazement of nephew. ‘What! Aunt Mary earned thirty shillings! How she must have sweated to make as much as that!’49

The serious point here involves the hard work (sweat) of making money, the right to spend one’s honestly earned profits, and the link between literary profits and achieved domesticity. This version of ‘Mary Cholmondeley’ is not the scion of an aristocratic family, a socialite visiting country houses, but an author and independent householder who lives in an English village, enjoying ‘the pleasant communal life of which we are a part’.50 One would like to conclude that this version of the author is ‘Mary Cholmondeley as she really is’ – the signature with which Cholmondeley endorsed a photograph to her young friend Percy Lubbock, later reproduced in his memoir (see Figure 2).51 But, despite the pose of the author at her desk, pen in right hand poised to write on paper in the left, it is unknown whether this photograph was made in her Suffolk cottage or in her London house at 2 Leonard Place, Kensington. Whatever the site, the photographic image of Cholmondeley ‘as she really is’ seems compatible with the textual construction of the author in The Romance of His Life – a working author in her own house, surrounded by the paraphernalia of her profession, rather than, as in the early interviews and prefaces, a glamorous young woman draped in the trappings of her genteel birth.


How do we know what we know? What is knowledge? Some might comfortably respond to such epistemological questions by saying ‘I believe something to be true, it matches the reality I observe and therefore I know it to be true’. Complicating such an answer, a philosopher would take issue with the assumptions behind the key terms ‘believe’, ‘reality’, ‘know’ and ‘true’. Like such philosophers, Mary Cholmondeley forces her readers to think deeply about reality, belief and how we know what we think we know in her short stories ‘St. Luke’s Summer’ (1908), ‘The Romance of His Life’ (1921) and ‘The Stars in Their Courses’ (1921). Cholmondeley embeds philosophical arguments about knowledge into engaging short stories, using the genre to popularize the complex works of philosophers who we know influenced her, such as Plato and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the works of philosophers who were her contemporaries and may have influenced her thinking, such as William James, Bertrand Russell and Hans Vaihinger. For characters in these three short stories, belief and reality become confused. Intriguingly, these characters’ beliefs have an effect on reality, sometimes even becoming ‘truth’ for all as they work to shape a collective reality based on their own beliefs. The characters who manipulate the world to match their beliefs are not figured as the heroes or heroines of their stories. Thus, Cholmondeley seems to be warning that attempting to shape the world to coincide with our beliefs is not a good idea. Throughout Cholmondeley’s works, but particularly in these three short stories, we can see the evolution of her philosophical argument. As she plays with this theme, she suggests that, in the absence of true knowledge, the human mind fills in the gaps and creates its own reality. Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick note a similar theme in Red Pottage, arguing that Cholmondeley’s novel portrays art reflecting and influencing life.1 With regard to the reading experience, they argue that, according to Cholmondeley, readers of the novel ‘have a responsibility to realize their own active role in the process of selecting and imitating art’.2 Cholmondeley leaves the reader in a state of comfort and discomfort: ‘Comfort (the seaming of fact – 87 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

and fiction) and discomfort (the gap between fact and fiction) abide simultaneously’.3 In other words, her 1899 novel contains traces of the idea that fact and fiction coexist and influence each other in the minds of many people. Wendy Parkins explores how female characters in Red Pottage know what they know – how they learn from direct or indirect experience – and what is most valued as knowledge. With regard to writing, Parkins also argues that ‘verisimilitude as the basis of fiction’s cultural authority is called into question’;4 in this way, Cholmondeley plays with the relationship an author establishes between what is real and what is fictional. Does the author, if he or she bases a work of fiction on reality, believe that work to represent reality in some way? If so, does the fictional world at some point become reality for the readers? Nine years after the publication of Red Pottage, Cholmondeley seems interested in exploring these themes more directly. She begins the preface to her collection of short stories entitled The Lowest Rung, published in 1908, with a series of implied epistemological questions. Cholmondeley claims that she has ‘seldom been believed’ when she admits to having written a particular novel. She jests that she has been ‘writing books for five-and-twenty years, novels of which I believe myself to be the author, in spite of the fact that I have been assured over and over again that they are not my own work’. She adds that when other individuals have claimed to be the author of her works, ‘they have been believed at once’. One gentleman responded to her admission that she was the author of the book he had been praising by saying ‘I know that to be untrue’.5 Her stories and comments on authorship are amusing, but beyond relating a witty dinner-party story, Cholmondeley evinces intellectual interest in the blurred line between belief and reality because of the careful wording with which she tells such stories. She suggests that one could even come to doubt one’s own authorship of a work if claims to the contrary were repeated enough; she does not say ‘novels of which I am the author’ but ‘novels of which I believe myself to be the author’. This wordplay highlights how readers often create a belief in their minds of what the author of a work is like in appearance, gender and even personality. When that belief grows strong enough, it becomes reality for that reader. The gentleman’s response to her claim to be the author is powerful as he knows that is not true. For him, belief has become reality. He even breaks the news to Cholmondeley ‘gravely and gently’ that her perception of reality is false before moving on to other topics of conversation, no doubt to save her embarrassment.6 Continuing in the same preface, Cholmondeley expands the topic of belief and reality to include a discussion of real people who claim to be the originals for characters: ‘Whether my books are mine or not, still whenever one of them appears the same thing happens. I am pressed to own that such-and-such a character “is taken from So-and-so”’.7 She discusses the impossibility of disabusing someone of the notion that he or she (or someone else) is indeed the person who

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


has been ‘“put in a book”’.8 Even she seems to believe that art and reality are not completely separate. Towards the end of the preface, Cholmondeley describes a young woman who had contributed one character trait to the figure of Madeleine Verelst in the 1893 novel Diana Tempest. After the book was published, the young woman began to spout the phrases Cholmondeley had invented for the character and proceeded to marry the very ‘rich, elderly, stout, and gouty bridegroom whom the lady had captured’ in the novel. At the wedding, which was ‘exactly as I had already described it’, Cholmondeley finds her novel unfolding in reality before her ‘panic-stricken eyes’.9 The young woman, from Cholmondeley’s perspective, had allowed art to influence who she was. Indeed, much of the preface to this 1908 work focuses on how our beliefs entrench themselves and become our perceived reality. It is in this collection of short stories that ‘St. Luke’s Summer’ appears. Thirteen years later, ‘The Romance of His Life’ and ‘The Stars in their Courses’ were published in a separate collection of short stories. Their focus indicates that Cholmondeley was still intrigued by epistemological questions. What would have created and sustained her interest in such themes? One primary source of influence is likely Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to an early biographer, her friend Percy Lubbock, ‘Emerson coloured her mystical musing thought throughout her life’.10 Beyond Emerson, we know from her commonplace book that she took an interest in the works of French and German philosophers including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Schiller and Max Müller, and that she read translations of Plato.11 She was, according to Lubbock, interested in ‘the latest and the best’ books12 which may have included works by William James, Bertrand Russell and the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, all of whom wrote important texts on knowledge and belief during her lifetime. What then do philosophers like Plato, Emerson, James, Russell and Vaihinger offer to her regarding the nature of belief and knowledge? In one example, Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates directly asks ‘What is knowledge?’,13 thus establishing it as a focal point of the dialogue. While Plato’s work does not successfully and succinctly resolve the question, it did provide a foundation for answering key epistemological questions, a foundation which remained unshaken until Edmund L. Gettier in 1963 questioned the three key elements often placed in any philosopher’s exploration of knowledge: belief, justification and truth.14 For philosophers of Cholmondeley’s time and earlier, these three key elements were significant in determining what one knows. While Socrates helps Theaetetus to explore several responses to the question of what knowledge is, neither speaker offers a definitive answer to the question at hand. Instead, Plato focuses on what knowledge is not. Key to understanding the philosophical elements of Cholmondeley’s short stories is Plato’s idea that knowledge is not perception. How things appear to us is not how they truly are; Socrates


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

offers dreams and illusions brought on by madness as examples of how what our senses perceive and what we believe to be true – sounds, sights, smells – are simply not true: ‘In dreams and illusions we certainly have false perceptions’. Since during our dreams ‘the soul contends that the thoughts which are present to our minds at the time are true’, we cannot actually know when we are awake and when we are dreaming.15 Therefore, we cannot know that what we perceive is real. However, Socrates recognizes the power of an individual’s (sometimes fallacious) beliefs. We sometimes believe our opinions to be true even when we have no foundation, or a faulty one, on which to base them. How is this possible? ‘A person may think that some things which he knows, or which he perceives and does not know, are some other things which he knows and perceives’;16 in short, we may get mixed up between what we know and what we do not know but still observe. The end result is that we may develop our own version of reality based on faulty premises. Like Plato, as Emerson dissects how we know what we know he sometimes offers more uncertainty than a reader might like. For example, early in Emerson’s 1844 essay ‘Experience’, as he dissects grief, he argues that ‘there are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit.’17 This theme of the illusion of life is repeated throughout the essay as he points out that ‘we live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them’.18 Truly knowing the depths of another human being, truly knowing any object we observe, is complicated because ‘we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors’.19 Not only do we have difficulty distinguishing truth, but we also struggle to know where or how many errors we make in defining that which we observe. For Emerson, it is some consolation that we can say what we are, even if we can say nothing else.20 As he concludes this particular essay, Emerson’s ideas encapsulate much of what Cholmondeley wishes to say about belief and knowledge in her short stories: ‘Illusion, Temperament, Succession, Surface, Surprise, Reality, Subjectiveness – these are threads on the loom of life, these are the lords of life’.21 Emerson decides to be ‘content with knowing, if only I could know’, but he writes that I know that the world I converse with in city and in the farms, is not the world I think. I observe that difference and shall observe it. One day, I shall know the value and love of this discrepance [sic]. But I have not found that much was gained by manipular attempts to realize the world of thought.22

As Cholmondeley does, Emerson points to a discrepancy between what is believed to be reality and what is reality. Like Emerson, she argues that this discrepancy exists and impedes our ability truly to know the world.

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


As with Plato and Emerson, the key concepts of belief, justification and truth arise in the writings of two of Cholmondeley’s contemporaries, William James and Bertrand Russell, as each takes up the question of how we know what we know. In an address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities which was published in New World in 1896, James argues that we must always be open to reinterpretation of our beliefs because of new evidence or ideas. However, ‘objective evidence and certitude’, our justification for our beliefs, cannot be found. Instead, we must base our beliefs on experiences about which we continually reflect and consider.23 We must seek knowledge and truth through reasoning. For Russell, in his 1912 work The Problems of Philosophy, even if justification is present, the element of truth is imperative, for ‘a true belief is not knowledge when it is deduced from a false belief … [nor] when it is deduced by a fallacious process of reasoning’.24 These philosophical warnings about the conflation of belief and truth can also be found in a 1911 work by Hans Vaihinger, translated into English in 1924 under the title of The Philosophy of ‘As If ’. Vaihinger is interested in exploring the ways in which we all accept and believe falsifications of reality which we create. Giving examples from fields such as mathematics (for example, the concepts of infinity and the square root of -1), Vaihinger argues that ‘life and science are not possible without imaginary or false conceptions’.25 Once again, the danger he points to is forgetting that they are false assumptions and marking them instead as truth: ‘The greatest and most important human errors originate through thought-processes being taken for copies of reality itself ’.26 It is not the belief or even the justification that poses the problem, but the final step taken to accept as truth what is simply a construct to help us survive or understand better a given reality. These same three components – belief, justification and truth – surround the characters in Cholmondeley’s short stories. Repeatedly she uses key words regarding pretence and beliefs, incorporates plot elements of feigned existence leading to false knowledge and depicts characters engaged in flawed reasoning. In doing so, she draws readers into a more accessible version of these philosophers’ arguments. In ‘St. Luke’s Summer’ Cholmondeley embeds the discussion of belief and reality into a romance. Cholmondeley coaxes the reader to think about the gap between truth and reality within the very first lines. The narrator calls one of the central figures of the story ‘Aunt Emmy’, but then explains that ‘she was not my real aunt, but her father was my great-uncle, and I always called her Aunt Emmy’.27 Even in this small instance, absolute truth was not of utmost importance. Our perception of relationships matters more sometimes than the actual relationship, and so to the narrator throughout the story this woman is ‘Aunt Emmy’. On its surface, ‘St. Luke’s Summer’ goes on to portray a tragic, but unremarkable romance. As a young woman, Aunt Emmy is unable to marry the man she loves because he must make his fortune in the world and she must care for her


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

father and brother. Once she is free to marry and her lover has made a comfortable living for himself in Australia, she is unable to leave her new cottage home, uproot herself, travel across the world and start a new life with him. Summarized in this way, the story appears to be merely a pathetic tale highlighting the sacrifices young women of that age often made based on society’s views on social class and the role of women in the family. However, the final pages of the story show that the primary obstacle Emmy faces in moving to Australia with the man she loves is not her family or societal perceptions. Instead, the primary obstacle to Emmy’s happiness is that she has come to believe in the reality of her own tragic romance so strongly that her mind cannot admit any other reality. For Emmy, this ‘story’ of the young woman whose lover leaves forever because her family opposes their marriage has become irrefutable truth. Early on, Cholmondeley uses the young narrator’s voice to set up the ideal romantic heroine of fiction. Even to a young girl of eighteen – the narrator – ‘Aunt Emmy looked romantic’28 despite the fact that she is now considered beyond marriageable age. Emmy appears to be still a young girl in many ways – ‘in one sense, on the sentimental plane, she had never ceased to be a girl’.29 The early portrait of Emmy is not of a matronly figure who has reconciled herself to a life without marriage, but rather a woman who still imagines she is the young girl whose marriage has been opposed by her family. The narrator revels in the romantic tale of Emmy’s youth, in all the details of the ‘sort of demigod of the name of Kingston’ who had ‘alighted in her life when she was nineteen’.30 The narrator is relieved when Emmy’s description of Kingston fits with her ideal of a suitor: Aunt Emmy says that ‘“he was thin and wiry, and very athletic, a great rider.” I gave a sigh of relief.’31 The young narrator asks if his hair curled and Emmy pulls ‘a curl of chesnut hair’ from a locket. ‘It was not tied in the shape of a curl. It was a real curl. I looked at it with awe’.32 The reverential manner with which Emmy and the narrator treat the details and mementoes of this love story demonstrates the significance it holds for them both. For the narrator, perspective changes with life events. She marries a man who is not the ideal man she envisioned: The years rushed past, joyful, miserable, vivid, surprising, happy years, in spite of the fact that my husband was not remarkably like Lord K— in appearance, and not in the least like the ‘plaister saint’ with whom I had hurried to the altar on such slight provocation.33

Her husband is not without human failings and that naturally removes some of the girlish romanticism from her notions of love and marriage. Perhaps because of this new perspective, she is able to see her Aunt Emmy more clearly when she returns to visit her: ‘I had become such a totally different

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


person myself that her attitude to life, which had appeared to me so romantic and natural when I was eighteen, now appeared irremediably pathetic, visionary, out of touch with reality’. What the narrator discovers is that Emmy is living within the vision of her life’s romance. Her early romance provided her with ‘a certain atmosphere of pensive, prayerful resignation, a background for ethereal daydreams’. ‘Mr. Kingston occupied exactly the same position in her life’ as before.34 Again, one might argue that these are simply descriptions of the tragic result of a young love cut short. However, Emmy seems to be living in that alternate version of reality – her failed romance – to a degree that her current emotional state is not in tune with her actual situation. She is comfortably well off and ‘evidently very happy’ but the narrator says that ‘it was equally evident that she did not know it. From words she let drop now and then I saw that she still imagined she was bearing the heavy cross of her mutilated life.’35 Emmy is still suffering in the same intense way she did as a young woman. She continues to ‘suffer’ when the love of her life returns. This emotional reaction is clearly nonsensical if one has logically processed events. Once her lover returns she could be happier. At first she does seem to be happy, crying out ‘“After all these dreadful, dreadful years!”’, but soon her reaction changes to one of bewilderment, a word Cholmondeley uses twice to describe her expression after her lover has returned.36 What could cause bewilderment? Emmy cannot accept a departure from the ending she has already mapped out for her life but that map is based on a non-truth now that her lover has returned and she could marry him. The narrator suspects that ‘if her romance were moved from its niche, she would instinctively wish to do to the same [as with the Ole Scorpio], to readjust it to the angle from which she had looked at it so long’.37 To Emmy it is not the return of her lover which matters now, but the continuity of the story she believes to be true. Despite Bertrand Russell’s insistence that the mind cannot create the truth or falsehood of a belief, Emmy has made her belief ‘truth’ for herself. Instead, Emmy reflects James’s assertion that one can bring into existence a truth desired. Emmy has created an image of Bob Kingston in her mind, one which includes his desire to talk a great deal about his farm. She so firmly believes in this reality that, despite evidence to the contrary, she continues to talk to him about it. The narrator mentions to her that he does not seem interested, but Emmy dismisses this idea insisting that he does: ‘In spite of scant encouragement, she continually “showed an interest”, as she herself expressed it’ in his land in Australia and everything connected to it.38 Cholmondeley firmly establishes that for Emmy the line between belief and reality has been blurred. Even Kingston sees this as he explains to the narrator that Emmy has not been constant to him over the years. Rather, Emmy has given up everything and lived life as she has ‘for a dream, for an ideal, for something of which I was to her the symbol, but which I no more resemble than I resemble


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

that frond of bracken’.39 For Emmy, trapped in a romantic girl’s mindset, belief in the romance has become so important it has overtaken the reality of her life. Kingston realizes he must leave and allow her to continue to think of him, pray for him and mourn his loss – living the reality she has created herself. To help her do so, he crafts a new ending for himself that fits in her vision, a financial ruin that sends him back to Australia forever.40 Kingston creates a fictional ending for himself, a plausible one, so that her ‘story’ might maintain its integrity. The story is indeed tragic, but not because of societal or familial constraints on women. Instead, it is tragic because Emmy creates knowledge on a faulty foundation and that prevents her from envisioning a new possible reality. Mr Kingston recognizes this too and tells the narrator that he has to ‘save Emmy’s romance for her’, for it is not me that she wants now, though she did want me for many years; it is the thought of me – if you can’t understand without my saying it, I can’t make you – it’s her romance which is important to her.41

Mr Kingston and the narrator do not attempt to destabilize Emmy’s perspective of reality, but through the tragedy of her situation Cholmondeley challenges readers to consider questions of knowledge, truth and belief. Readers are led to feel sympathy for Emmy and not admire her choices. The story ends abruptly, with the plan to tell Emmy of the financial failure which will precipitate Mr Kingston’s return to Australia. There are no final images of Emmy resting comfortably at her cottage. Instead, readers are left to imagine her lifelong sadness at the loss of her lover bringing her some inexplicable sense of comfort. In this way, Cholmondeley moves the reader towards a rejection of Emmy’s view of knowledge; instead of living as she does, we ought to observe carefully our changed surroundings and use reason to examine the truth or falsity of a belief we have, to find true knowledge and not content ourselves with illusion. In terms of philosophical argument, this 1908 story seems to encapsulate certain aspects of the difficulty of defining knowledge, but Cholmondeley’s interest in this theme had clearly expanded by 1921 when The Romance of His Life appeared in print. In the title story, she complicates the argument, introducing the point that sometimes we have evidence, reason to believe something, but that evidence is false. Therefore, what we take to be knowledge is not. From the first pages of ‘The Romance of His Life’, Cholmondeley begins to play with the border between fantasy and reality. Maitland, the don who is led to believe a young woman is in love with him, is introduced to readers as someone who ‘was always trying to impress on us his own aspect of himself ’.42 He wishes how others perceive him to align with his belief about who he is, not necessarily with truth. Cholmondeley describes how Maitland would like to be seen by others: ‘he pined to be thought unconventional’, would ensure his students noticed

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


any small errors he made, and would assume that his students saw him as idealistic, that they even laughed ‘at the way I lead forlorn hopes’.43 This is the image Maitland tries to project. However, the students see him as ‘stout and short’ and seem to mock his ‘illusion that he was irresistible to the opposite sex’.44 At first glance, this seems like a fairly typical story about a professor and students: the professor seems out of touch with how he is perceived while the students take pleasure in mocking him behind his back. The plot seems to fulfil this simplistic reading because after the young students play their joke on the professor, writing multiple letters pretending to be a woman in love with him, they are humbled to realize that he ‘is a live man, after all’ and they feel they cannot tell him it was all a ruse.45 The moral could easily be that the ‘bad’ students learn more from their teacher than the subject at hand, here the lesson that teachers are people too. However, Cholmondeley complicates the description of the teacher almost from the beginning and leaves clues for the reader throughout the story that there is greater depth to be plumbed. The narrator, who is one of the three young male students bent on creating a false romance for their professor, is unsure ‘whether it was really an hallucination on [Maitland’s] part that he was hopelessly adored by women, or whether the hallucination consisted in the belief that he had succeeded in convincing his little college world of his powers of fascination’.46 In other words, the narrator suggests that Maitland may be truly oblivious to people’s perceptions in that he believes himself attractive to women or he may be well aware of the realities of his physical attractiveness, but may believe he has convinced others that his fantasy world is reality. In this early description of the central character, Cholmondeley signals to the reader that the lines between reality and fantasy can become obscured when belief is strong enough. After that, the plot of the story perpetually draws readers to consider the power of belief to alter truth. The letters that the narrator’s friend writes to Maitland, as he pretends to be the young Maud in love with the intellectual professor, are fictional. Nevertheless, not only does Maitland believe them to be real, but the narrator and his friends become increasingly obsessed with the story of the courtship unfolding before them. Barrett, the principal composer of Maud’s words, continues to write the letters ‘all through the long vacation’47 and all three young men who are involved in the ruse become engrossed in the drama. Despite their intense interest in the false tale they are spinning, the narrator would like readers to believe that it is only ‘people like Maitland, who seem to live in a world of shams’, who revel in what is not real – not the narrator and his friends.48 Maitland quickly believes that the fantasy the young men have designed is reality, even shaving off his moustache to suit the fictional Maud. However, for the young men also, Maud becomes almost real. Barrett, the principal letter


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

writer, writes letters and tears them up, finding them unsuitable for Maud. He speaks to his two friends as if Maud were real: ‘If Maud has any character whatever,’ he sometimes said, ‘if she shows the least sign of seeing him except as he shows himself to her, if she has any interest in life beyond his lectures, he will feel she is not suited to him’.49

Granted, Barrett’s words may simply be a reflection of how he is working through a character’s response to another character within a fictional drama he is creating, yet even then Maud has become ‘real’ for him in the way that characters can for readers and for their creators, taking on a personality which cannot be violated within the story. It is perhaps because of sympathy for Maitland that the young men decide to kill Maud. Barrett again refers to her as if she is real when he says, ‘Fortunately she was ill in the vacation’ as that provides the pretext for her departure and eventual death. Parker, the third friend, says ‘He’ll feel her death … It’s hard luck on him’, as if with better luck, Maitland might have held on to Maud.50 In their conversations, the three young men at times talk about Maud as if she were real, as if with a different roll of the dice, their professor might have lived a long and happy married life with her. At this point Cholmondeley adds another layer to the theme of the power of belief; although the three young men have assumed that Maitland’s written protestations of love to Maud were sincere, Maitland himself has apparently not been truly in love with Maud. For him, the affection and interest he has written have been feigned. Ultimately, Cholmondeley is interested in exploring how that feigned affection can change a person. Maitland changes as he becomes the lover that he has pretended to be throughout the letters he has written. The narrator says that ‘it is an awful thing when a poseur ceases to pose, when an egoist becomes a human being’.51 Maitland ceases to pose as a man in love with Maud and becomes a man in love with Maud. He writes to Maud/the young men that all he had written before was ‘chimerical’ and that he ‘had been pining to get married for years and years’ despite his pretended indifference to the institution.52 Up to the end of the story, Cholmondeley plays with language to encourage the reader to ponder the line between belief and truth. Early in the story, the narrator implies that Barrett acts as if he knew everything; ‘I don’t pretend to know everything like Barrett’.53 In the last paragraphs, Cholmondeley repeats the word ‘pretend’ twice in reference to Barrett: ‘He did not pretend he did not feel Maitland’s illness’ and ‘he did not pretend he was not ashamed of himself ’.54 He is in reality what he believes to be true, slightly embarrassed and distressed by what he had done. Now his pretences are gone but he has actually become wiser. His pretence at wisdom has become reality.

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


In a similar way, Maitland has changed. His earlier feigned persona seems to have become real, simply because he believed it to be real, believed in Maud and the person he was becoming because of her, believed the suffering he endured at her death to be real: ‘On previous occasions when he had said he had been stirred to the depths he only meant to the depth of a comfortable arm-chair. Now it was platitudes and actions mixed.’ Now when the bursar’s wife dies, ‘He actually heaved himself out of his armchair, and exerted himself on behalf of the poor, dreary little bounder, took him walks, and sat with him in an evening’. Maitland seems to the narrator to settle down, to be more dignified and even happier, for ‘he felt he had had his romance’.55 Despite the reality that his romance never truly existed, Maitland’s belief in it was so powerful that he became a different man as a result. Fantasy became reality for him and then affected reality. What he believed changed reality.56 Maitland’s story demonstrates the danger of manipulating someone else’s beliefs, for doing so may affect your own vision of reality. Like the young men, you may become immersed in a false version of reality. However, Cholmondeley also suggests that a non-truth taken as truth can result in personal growth. Maitland is presented at the end of the story as a more generous person, and a happier one as well, despite his loss. Maitland may have based his knowledge of his romance on false evidence, but such evidence caused change in him, thankfully for the better. Playing with others’ perspectives does not, however, always end in pleasant results for all involved. In the final story to be considered here, ‘The Stars in their Courses’, Cholmondeley presents perhaps her most sophisticated epistemological argument. Here we find that the person attempting to manipulate reality has a belief, justification and ‘truth’ in that what she believes becomes reality for others as well. In this short story, also published in 1921, Cholmondeley uses the device of astrology to play with the line between belief and reality and provide the justification for a character’s knowledge about life. The story shows two strong female characters – Mrs Gertrude Cross and the narrator, Anne, her husband’s cousin – manipulating others’ lives through schemes which will suit their own ends. The victor in the majority of these schemes is Gertrude and the weapon she uses is astrology. Whether she sincerely believes in it as ‘science’ or not, she uses her ‘belief ’, justified to herself through astrology, to affect reality. Gertrude portrays herself as a humble practitioner of astrology, but one who relies heavily on it to help guide her actions. Early in the story, she declares to Anne, ‘“I go by [horoscopes] more than by my own fallible judgment. I may err, but I have never known astrology to fail”’.57 As a device to manipulate the future, this makes astrology quite powerful for her. If she ever interprets someone’s horoscope in a way that does not fit with her wishes, she can simply call it her own error of interpretation and see it correctly in a second reading of the stars.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Gertrude is a powerful teacher of astrology and manages to convince the narrator’s young impressionable niece that astrology is the truth. Anne encourages her niece, Dulcie, to ‘take an interest in astrology’ when she begins to work as a governess for Gertrude’s two children and a companion for her step-daughter, Joan.58 Dulcie takes her aunt’s advice to heart and is influenced by Gertrude as she studies horoscopes with her. Anne later expresses surprise that Dulcie speaks of horoscopes as if they hold validity: ‘You don’t mean to say you believe a single word of it,’ I said, amazed. ‘Oh yes, Aunt Anne, of course I do. Why, don’t you remember you yourself advised me to study it. I’m sure it’s all true, only it’s difficult to disentangle’.59

Like Gertrude, Dulcie then allows herself an excuse if her readings turn out not to match reality or to suit her wishes. However, Dulcie does not attempt to use astrology to manipulate her own and others’ lives in the way that Gertrude does. First, Gertrude uses astrology to secure her husband, Jimmy, who only marries his first and this, his second, wife because they want to marry him. Gertrude ‘discovered that Jimmy’s moon in the house of marriage was semi-sextile to her Venus [and] she had known from the first that their union was inevitable’.60 This first glimpse of her reliance on astrology suggests she may genuinely believe in the science of this star reading. Quickly, the narrator provides another more self-serving example in which Gertrude’s reading of the horoscopes seems to fit with her desires. Having told readers that Gertrude is inheriting a step-daughter, Joan, ‘Jimmy’s rather spoilt girl of twelve’, the narrator explains that Gertrude believes in ‘the necessity of school life for only children’ and is looking for a school away from home for Joan to attend: ‘It is in her horoscope … Her Mercury and ruling planet are in Aquarius, and that means the companionship of her own age. I shall not delay a day in finding the best school that England can produce.’61 Again, on the surface it might appear that Gertrude genuinely believes in the power of astrology to guide her actions and that she does not rely on her own judgement or wishes. However, Anne’s next comment leads the reader to believe that Gertrude is perhaps using astrology as an excuse to rid herself of the young girl: ‘I need hardly say that such an establishment protruded itself on to Mrs. Cross’s notice, with the greatest celerity, and thither the long-legged, nail-biting, pimply, roundshouldered Joan repaired, and became a reformed character’.62 Since what is in Gertrude’s best interests and what the stars dictate are in such close alignment, the narrator intimates that Gertrude is using astrology to support that which she really wants in the first place. She continues to try to use astrology to predict and change the future of those in her circle. Dulcie, the narrator’s niece, is destined for a ‘wider life’ according to the horoscope Gertrude draws up for her. While Dulcie seems reluctant to pur-

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


sue that destiny, Gertrude determines that she will ‘draw her out, to widen her narrow, pinched existence’.63 Having determined what her destiny is, Gertrude will help further it. She will take her belief and make it reality. Anne assumes Gertrude is manipulating the romances of her step-daughter and of Dulcie, pushing Dulcie towards a young man of the neighborhood while hoping her own step-daughter will align herself with a higher-class gentleman. Anne says to herself ‘That serpent Gertrude!’, for she believes her niece Dulcie should have a chance at winning the hand of the wealthier gentleman.64 The narrator, through whom we as readers receive every impression and action of the story, matches Gertrude’s manipulation of situations move for move, in this case advising Dulcie to ‘“like poetry”’ and find other common interests with the more well-to-do suitor.65 Earlier, she recommends Dulcie to Gertrude as the children’s governess, advises Dulcie to dress plainly so as not to outshine Gertrude’s step-daughter Joan in the household, and manipulates Gertrude to like an idea of hers by first espousing it and then, once Gertrude begins to agree, raising objections to it.66 It appears at one point that Anne is going to ‘win’ and have her wishes become reality. Indeed, Dulcie becomes engaged to Mr Vavasour, the well-to-do suitor, and Joan becomes engaged to the young man of the neighborhood. Gertrude appears to have lost in that she cannot force her belief that her step-daughter will marry better than Dulcie will. When she ultimately agrees to the marriage, readers are reminded, however, of what Gertrude’s ultimate goal with Joan was – to get her out of her own home. Gertrude’s husband admits to the narrator that ‘Gertrude and Joan did not hit it off too well … It will be more peaceful when Joan is married’.67 In the end, Anne loses a more important battle and Gertrude ultimately wins. Astrology and Gertrude’s belief in its infallibility is once again the device used to change reality. Early in the story, Gertrude reads the stars for Anne. The latter expresses concern that she will have to travel, to leave the cottage she loves so much and lives in cheaply because of her cousin Jimmy’s generosity. The horoscope says there will be ‘“no travel at all … no movement of any kind”’.68 Gertrude seems content with this reading of her horoscope until she wants the cottage for young Joan and her new husband. She sends her husband to tell Anne that she must leave her comfortable cottage. Anne protests, using Gertrude’s own astrological prediction as her weapon: ‘She told me there was no movement, no journey of any kind in my horoscope’. Jimmy replies that ‘She says she made a mistake, and that she sees now there is a long journey. Dulcie told her so some time ago, but she would not hear of it. But now she has worked it out again, and she says Dulcie was right after all. You are plum in the thick of Uranian upheavals’.69


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

What Gertrude wants will come to be. The narrator relocates to a less comfortable situation and Gertrude’s step-daughter and new son-in-law move into her former cottage. It is with the ‘science’ of astrology as her justification that Gertrude is able to change reality. One of the last images we receive from Anne is of her visits to Dulcie, now married to a completely different young man, a Herr Müller. Her niece supplements their income by ‘giving lessons in astrology. I have learned the rudiments of the science, in order when I stay with her to help her with her pupils.’70 Anne has never expressed any respect for or belief in astrology, but Gertrude’s victory over reality is so complete that the narrator has even changed with respect to its study. Gertrude is not a character to be admired, however, so Cholmondeley’s ultimate statement does not support the manipulation of reality based on one’s own beliefs, even if one can justify those beliefs through a pseudo-science such as astrology. Beliefs that serve our own purposes prove to be particularly powerful and perhaps dangerous lures for our minds. Cholmondeley cautions readers to consider how the line can blur between what we believe and what is reality for us. Towards the end of her life, Cholmondeley wrote a short narrative of her family. Even here, in her own ‘real’ life, she was cognizant of a discrepancy between belief and knowledge. In Under One Roof (1918), Cholmondeley pauses to analyse her father’s faith. His ‘religion, which was very real to him, had been taken entirely on trust’ and he ‘believed he believed in everlasting punishment’.71 No fictional character, her father had a faith that was real to him, but her phrase ‘believed he believed’ suggests that he would not have been justified in calling his beliefs knowledge. Later, as she tries to describe her youngest sister Hester, who died at the age of twenty-two, she mentions the difficulty of presenting reality to her readers. She knows her sister, no doubt, but she is ‘confronted by her diary’ and ‘the clear outline of her in my mind becomes blurred by the myriad details she has given me of herself ’.72 In other words, the reality she has taken for knowledge of her sister Hester is complicated when she confronts another person’s reality. One particular moment when Cholmondeley’s memory is at odds with Hester’s papers is on life at Hodnet when they were young: ‘I had an impression that we lived very quietly at Hodnet … [but] Hester dispelled that illusion’.73 Cholmondeley’s belief, real to her before reading Hester’s writing, cannot be sustained under attack by another’s perception. Even setting aside fictional characters, it is difficult to establish what we know about ourselves, our lives and others around us. How do we know what we know? What is belief and its relationship to knowledge? Cholmondeley sets forth her own philosophical argument to answer these questions, positing that belief and reality are, for some people, so

‘I Know that to be Untrue’


intertwined as to be inseparable. What they believe is what they see. By strategically placing these ideas in the minds of characters with whom we are as readers not intended to identify, Cholmondeley further argues that their responses to these epistemological questions are inadequate. Since these situations arise in our lives, not just in her fictional worlds, Cholmondeley challenges readers to explore these questions for themselves, having learned what they could from her fictional characters.


I have never forgotten how once, in a frivolous mood, not having got anything ready in the train coming home, I recounted in an off-hand manner, inventing as I went along, how I had happened to be buried alive while out sketching in a churchyard, the coffin fortunately for me having been deposited in a vault. I had not thought out my disentanglement from a situation of undeniable gravity, and with total lack of literary conscience I shamelessly affirmed that I had prised open the coffin lid with a sheet of drawing paper.1

So recalls Mary Cholmondeley in her memoir Under One Roof: A Family Record (1918). Apparently, sisters Victoria and Hester had a habit of pressing Mary for stories each time she returned from visits outside the Hodnet Rectory during her youth. The above invention may not seem special at first glance – after all, it was composed spontaneously and never expanded at a later time – but upon closer inspection, one can see that it contains important information. It reveals Cholmondeley’s love of melodrama, but it also points to the influence of a mode of writing which the Hodnet-born authoress could not have failed to encounter through her father’s readings of ‘Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Miss Edgeworth, Jane Austen and Stevenson’ and through her connections to supernatural writers such as Rhoda Broughton and Edith Wharton: the Gothic.2 Imagining herself as a heroine who gets buried alive and then escapes in an improbable manner, Cholmondeley was clearly familiar with the traditional conventions of the Gothic literary tradition. But this familiarity has never been recognized by scholars. Perhaps assuming that this relationship to the Gothic is superficial, critics have focused on more ‘important’ topics, such as her autobiographical efforts, her status as a New Woman writer or the content in, and reception of, her novel Red Pottage (1899). In this essay, I seek to establish the Gothic as a major feature in Cholmondeley’s short stories, as well as a key component of her feminist literary aesthetic. – 103 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Ever since the Gothic literary genre appeared in eighteenth-century Britain, women writers have been attracted to it. Its conventions had the ability to illustrate in dramatic and symbolic ways the restrictive patriarchal ideologies of their time. Like those before her, Cholmondeley recognized the value of these conventions in exposing male oppression. However, I would like to add that she was much more critical than her predecessors. Through a close reading of ‘The Ghost of a Chance’ and ‘The End of the Dream’ – two short stories in her last work, The Romance of His Life (1921) – I argue that Cholmondeley dismantles restrictive conventions in both the female and male Gothic modes by placing in these stories the figure of the spiritual female, who first appeared in the late nineteenth century when first-wave feminism fused with women’s interest in the occult. Possessing intuition and often clairvoyance, these spiritual females are a far cry from the helpless Gothic heroines of old; not intimidated by the male Gothic villains around them, these females exercise their wills, confound narrative expectations and, in the process, give women readers hope. Central to their agency and autonomy are their spontaneous approach to life and non-attachment to the physical world. By examining Cholmondeley’s revision of the Gothic, we will not only obtain further evidence of her radical feminist sympathies, but will also be better positioned to appreciate other aspects or dimensions of her literary output.

Women and Gothic Writing Before discussing Cholmondeley’s Gothicism, it would be wise first to get a sense of what other women writers have done with the Gothic. The relationship between women and the Anglo-American Gothic literary tradition is a subject that has received much attention from scholars during the past three decades. Ever since Ellen Moers first used the phrase ‘female Gothic’ in Literary Women (1977) to mean Gothic writing by women for women,3 scholarship concerning this subject has grown exponentially, with works like Juliann E. Fleenor’s The Female Gothic (1983), Diane Long Hoeveler’s Gothic Feminism: The Professionalisation of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (1998), Suzanne Becker’s Gothic Forms of Feminine Fiction (1999) and E. J. Clery’s Women’s Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley (2000) greatly complicating the subject. Such works have not only called for differentiation between Gothic writing by women and the mode of female Gothic writing, but have shown that the latter, which men can appropriate, can include feminine Gothic writing and lesbian Gothic writing. As Fleenor has noted, the female Gothic mode ‘has many levels and many forms and is a protean unity[,] not one thing’.4 Nevertheless, despite the multiple facets of the subject, there remains this fact: historically speaking, the relationship between women and the Gothic is marked by several key moments.

Revising the Gothic


One moment was the publication of, and subsequent popularity of, Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic romances in late eighteenth-century Britain. Although works by other women came out at the time – notably Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778) and Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or A Tale of Other Times (1783–5) – none of them were as successful in capturing the public’s imagination as those by Radcliffe. Why was this so? One reason was her writing style. At a time when confidence in a divine order was shaken and belief in science was strengthening, her way of explaining supernatural incidents in works such as The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1796) worked in her favour. There were, of course, other aspects of her romances that the public liked. Not only do her works end happily and morally – for example, Emily and Valancourt eventually marry in The Mysteries of Udolpho, with the former retaining her virtue and the latter correcting his vices – but they are more tempered than works by other writers, a quality which pleased critics who were concerned about the effects of literature on the mind. The popularity of Radcliffe’s style could be gauged by the vitriol directed at the style of rival writer Matthew Lewis, author of The Monk (1796). Featuring a tragic ending, immoral incidents and unexplained supernatural events, The Monk was, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted in 1796, ‘a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale’.5 Radcliffe’s success changed the face of Gothic writing. Countless imitations of her works followed, spawning what scholars call the female Gothic mode. The word ‘female’ is often used to highlight the mode’s difference from what can be called the ‘male’ Gothic mode of writing, of which Lewis’s anti-Radcliffian works were prime late eighteenth-century examples. Much has been written on the two modes despite their common heritage – that is, that they share conventions like gloomy castles, evil aristocrats, dark crypts, ghosts, murders and strange doublings – but to date, Anne Williams’s discussion in Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic (1995) remains the most straightforward. She states that while the female Gothic encourages reader-character connections, has happy endings with marriages, explains supernatural occurrences and specializes in generating terror with imagined threats, the male Gothic observes characters from a distance, has tragic endings without closure, assumes the reality of the supernatural and specializes in generating horror with such things as blood and corpses.6 These differences, Williams adds, originate from the different cultural positions of the female and male; the female, oppressed by patriarchal culture, is driven to create new worlds/possibilities which critique this culture, while the male, privileged but reminded of his separation from his mother, creates dark worlds that express both desire and hatred for this mother.7 Of course, in practice, the two modes were not so clear cut – especially in later Gothic works – as elements of both may appear in a single work.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

If Radcliffe’s success was an important moment, so was the rise of the Gothic short story in nineteenth-century Britain and America. The Gothic short story – which includes the ghost story, as Diana Wallace has argued8 – became immensely popular with the nineteenth-century reading public for several reasons. Firstly, it became widely available. Throughout the nineteenth century, there occurred on both sides of the Atlantic a remarkable growth in print media, particularly magazines that specialized in publishing such stories. By the fin de siècle, these magazines numbered in the hundreds. Secondly, Spiritualism, a movement that arose in the 1840s and 1850s which sought to prove, through communication with spirits, that souls survive physical death, grew in popularity and whetted the public’s appetite for ghost stories, which gradually became a permanent feature in Christmas editions of magazines.9 And thirdly, the Gothic short story provided an increasingly literate public with not just a quick fright, but one with a scary twist that delighted readers. While these short stories, like their lengthier counterparts, continued to entertain readers with plots filled with wailing heroines and live burials, they were the first to bring the source of terror/horror closer to home. Now, there were haunted houses as well as haunted castles, and the darkness of the crypt was matched by the darkness within – what Edgar Allan Poe has called the terror of ‘the soul’.10 Because of this demand for Gothic short stories, writers were always needed; and as Michael Cox and R. A. Gilbert have noted, a large number of middle-class women stepped up to the plate.11 During the fin de siècle and the first few decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of British and American middle-class women wrote Gothic short stories, with authors such as Edith Nesbit, Edith Wharton, May Sinclair, Rosa Mulholland, Vernon Lee and Cholmondeley generating plots as spine-tingling as those by William Wymark Jacobs and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. These women were attracted to short story writing for various reasons. The task offered a stable income, a concept that appealed to a growing number of women who wanted financial independence.12 But it also gave women an opportunity to write narratives that countered and critiqued those in the male vein. Many popular masculine Gothic romances at the time, like H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), portrayed men as rationally minded heroes who go on action-packed adventures with other men and combat supernatural villains. Women responded to these works by writing Gothic short stories (which may or may not fully conform to the female Gothic vein) wherein male characters are caught off guard by supernatural beings or incidents, which disrupt the performances of their carefully crafted masculine identities. In Vernon Lee’s ‘A Wicked Voice’ (1890), the composer Magnus is tricked by Zaffirino, a castrated singer turned ghost, and is doomed to compose effeminate music for the rest of his life, and in Edith Wharton’s ‘The Eyes’ (1910), Andrew

Revising the Gothic


Culwin, an intellectual man, is dumbfounded by a pair of floating eyes that mysteriously haunt/stare at him at random times in his life. These Gothic stories also presented an alternative view of women. While female characters in male narratives are usually minor, passive objects or monstrous subjects – note the passive background female witnesses to Mr Hyde’s crimes in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Helen Vaughan’s wildness in Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (1894) – females in women’s short Gothic narratives are often complex, multifaceted individuals who are comfortable with, and understand, the supernatural. For instance, in Edith Wharton’s ‘Kerfol’ (1916), Anne de Cornault knows that her husband was killed by the ghosts of her dead dogs, and in May Sinclair’s ‘The Victim’ (1922), Dorsy is comforted, not frightened, by Mr Greathead’s ghost. This familiarity with ghosts and other things that go bump in the night was, on one level, a reaction to the male-centred scientific discourses that were prevalent at the time, discourses which, aside from purporting to know the female mind and body, championed the idea that man can understand the natural world through careful categorization and dissection. But on another level, it was an effect of yet another important moment in the history of the female and the Gothic, and the last that I will mention here: a late nineteenth-century occult revival on both sides of the Atlantic. This revival involved a rising interest among middle-class women in not only astrology and spiritualism, but also theosophy – a religion based on Eastern teachings which believed that human beings have latent powers and that the universe evolved to consciousness by having its diverse but interconnected forms experience reincarnation and karma.13 For many women, the unseen was a reality. At this point, I should add that this female interest in the occult coincided with the Women’s Movement and the implementation of all its ‘projects’, such as suffrage and the crafting of the New Woman in life and literature, leading to a unique fusion of first-wave feminism and spirituality that later affected Cholmondeley. Ann Heilmann has already described this fusion in New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird (2004), but it is worth mentioning again the importance of theosophy in this fusion and why feminists were attracted to it. The main organization which promoted theosophy – the Theosophical Society, which was founded in New York in 1875 and then spread to London and Madras – took the unusual step of encouraging female participation in its activities, a step that echoed the society’s first object, ‘to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour’.14 The leader of the Society was a woman – Helena Petrovna Blavatsky – and many of its key posts were held by women.15 In addition, sexual discrimination did not seem to be part of its teachings. The theosophical concept of reincarnation, for example, involved an eternal spirit which evolved from mineral to angelic form and which, in its countless incarnations, could either be


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

female or male.16 Because theosophy gave women social and cultural authority, as Heilmann has put it, many feminists joined the Theosophical Society.17 This symbiosis, as well as symbioses involving other religious societies and feminists, eventually gave birth to the idea that spiritual mastery, not just tolerance of the supernatural, was an ideal characteristic of the New Woman. The idea of a female who could supernaturally overcome the limitations of the physical world in which she lived was an immensely powerful one, and feminist writers at the time soon realized that such a female character could prove disruptive when placed in a traditional Gothic world where marriages between submissive females and powerful males were the norm. A notable authoress who crafted such spiritual females was Sarah Grand. According to Heilmann, Grand was initially sceptical about supernatural experiences, but eventually came to see that they could reflect ‘the spiritual powers of exceptional women’.18 In such novels as The Beth Book (1897), Adnam’s Orchard (1912) and The Winged Victory (1916) – which played a part in establishing what I call a New Woman Gothic strand in the Gothic tradition – heroines possess intuition and clairvoyance which help them navigate around difficult situations/Gothic conventions.19 One may argue that there were already dominant females in Gothic novels written by New Women; readers may recall Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael (1889), in which the passionate heroine Viola manages to injure Philip, the Gothic villain. However, not only does Viola ultimately marry Philip, but she also fails to escape afterwards and is driven to kill him, thereby setting the stage for her unhappy demise or what Agnieszka Žabicka has called her ‘final melodramatic failure’.20 Spiritual females, on the other hand, transcend personal limitations (such as rage, pride, desire for material comfort, etc.) to emerge stronger than before; moreover, their positive transformations modify the Gothic environments in which they reside. I mentioned earlier that, according to Williams, marriage was a positive event in the female Gothic tradition; with female spiritual power, however, marriage can be questioned. While Grand crafted these exceptional female characters in conjunction with the Gothic, so did Cholmondeley, a point which has remained unrecognized despite recent interest in the authoress. To some extent, this neglect is due to her lower profile as a New Woman writer in scholarship, but it is also due to the existence of at least two inaccurate beliefs about her that have remained to this day: firstly, that her short stories are less important than her novels; and secondly, that her literary ability declined after the success of Red Pottage (1899). The fact of the matter is that Cholmondeley’s short stories are not only more daring than her novels, but were responsible for keeping the authoress’ reputation afloat, especially after Red Pottage. At one point near the end her career, she was offered over £200 for ‘The Goldfish’.21 That said, Cholmondeley’s spiritual females, who appear in the Gothic stories in her 1921 The Romance of His

Revising the Gothic


Life collection, are similar to Grand’s females, with a slight difference: they are more idealized. As we will observe in the next section, they show a deep understanding of human relationships and, most of all, are unaffected by the material world. Indifferent to money, social status and even marriage – key features of the Gothic – they take on an otherworldly, if not supernatural, quality.

Cholmondeley’s Gothic Readers should be aware that Cholmondeley’s relationship to the Gothic actually began much earlier in the 1890s and that her first Gothic stories were written in the male mode. Two works from this time stand out in particular: ‘Let Loose’, which was first published in the April 1890 edition of Temple Bar, and ‘Run to Earth’, which the Monthly Packet ran in February and March of 1893. The former is a traditional crypt tale: upon opening a crypt to inspect a fresco, a young male architect/art historian unwittingly unleashes the ghostly dismembered hand of an evil aristocrat, which then strangles the sleeping inhabitants of a remote village. The latter gives the ghost story a comic twist: after hearing rumours of a lady ghost in their Gothic ancestral home, two aristocratic brothers and a friend spend two nights there to catch a glimpse of the lady and, after much trembling in shoes, eventually discover that the ghost is a male cousin in disguise. Although these two stories differ in plot, both feature rational male thinking and close relationships between men. In ‘Run to Earth’, Challoner, his brother Lord Carden and his friend Mostyn make plans to ‘capture’ the ghost, and Challoner depends on Mostyn (‘Most Tin’) for financial support. In ‘Let Loose’, the clergyman and the architect develop a father-son relationship, and the elder man ignores his negative gut feelings when he lends the crypt keys to his young colleague, reasoning that the evil aristocrat’s curse is nonsense. By giving what her readers expected at this early stage of her career – a fright, a little laugh and some testosterone – Cholmondeley was playing it safe. Her priorities, at least when it came to writing short stories, were financial gain – which I mentioned earlier was an incentive of many middle-class women – and establishing herself as a conventional Gothic author. However, the latter desire changed. With the exception of ‘In the Small Hours’ (1907) – a story about a man who sleeps in a room with what he believes to be a corpse – no other Gothic short story came out of her pen during the next decade, a surprise considering that she corresponded at this time with American supernatural writer Edith Wharton.22 Perhaps a result of what Linda Peterson notes as Cholmondeley’s reading of New Woman fiction of the 1890s,23 Cholmondeley’s stories in the 1900s turned to focus, like those of many women writers at the time, on illustrating female experiences. A notable story is ‘The Understudy’ from The Lowest Rung (1908). Here, two very different women – Marion Wright, an independent play-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

wright, and Lenore, a poetic, womanly actress – are capable of immense sacrifice; Marion gives up love for success while Lenore gives up success (and her life) for love.24 However, what appeared to be an abandonment of the Gothic mode on Cholmondeley’s part turned out to be a period of incubation, for not only did she eventually return to the Gothic in the late 1910s, but she also returned with a woman-centred approach: a Gothic story need not be built around a rational male character, but around a spiritual female character. Cholmondeley’s interest in this character was likely inspired by Grand’s efforts, though her open-mindedness towards the existence of a world beyond the one that she could immediately observe was probably another factor. Ghosts interested her; at one point she wondered if there was one residing in her ‘Gothic’ Suffolk cottage, writing that, ‘[I]n the principal bedroom a rich penetrating aroma of roast hare made its presence felt the moment the window was shut … The room was not over the kitchen. We have never had a hare roasted on the premises … Perhaps it is a ghost!!!’25 Moreover, although Cholmondeley was not a member of any occult societies or organizations, she possessed knowledge of astrology and was quite proud of it. In her letters to Broughton in the late 1910s, she mentions her light-hearted story ‘The Stars in Their Courses’ several times and reveals at one point that the astrological part within it is entirely accurate.26 This openness towards the unseen world equipped Cholmondeley with the necessary mindset to craft different types of spiritual females in ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, a story in the Romance of His Life collection. The story contains three female characters, each at a different level of spiritual attainment. Most conspicuous and advanced is Sinclair’s soul mate or dream woman, who despite her Westernized manners and appearance seems to be a proficient practitioner of Eastern occult arts. Aside from being able to materialize at key moments in the story, she is able to connect herself telepathically to Sinclair via meditation: [A]s I sat I became very still, as if I were waiting in a great peace. And gradually I became conscious as at an immense distance of someone in trouble … And from a long, long way off a man came swiftly to me.27

Less talented, though not less important, is Anna, one of Sinclair’s two sisters. Probably named after the famous feminist-mystic Anna Kingsford, Anna not only devotes herself to helping others, is well travelled and has frequent flashbacks of past lives, but she also has the ability to connect with people on an intuitive/non-rational level; her brother is always perplexed as to why ‘barrier[s] seemed … to go down in Anna’s presence’ and ‘[p]eople momentarily [lose] their fear of each other’.28 Then we have Mildred, the seemingly ‘normal’ woman in the story. Despite her conventional ways, she is still able to understand the dream

Revising the Gothic


woman’s message to Sinclair – that if he had chosen to walk the ‘high road’ or done his duty without self-interest, he would be with her now.29 What is interesting about these spiritual gifts is that they allow these females to direct the narrative rather than have it direct them. Although the story begins with a key social expectation of the traditional Gothic – Sinclair is introduced to readers as a wasted, wealthy and handsome Rochester-type villain in need of a wife and who discusses, with his unattractive friend/sidekick, Chipps, his plans to ‘capture’ one – it soon becomes apparent that this expectation is only for show; in reality, the women in the story are not passive objects to be caught, but have agency, controlling themselves and what happens to those around them. Sinclair is only prompted into action because the dream woman gives him the message to find her on the high road and that he is on his way to her. Because of Anna’s kindness to strangers and deep understanding of life, the dream woman stays at the Sinclair family house for a night and talks about her dream man (Sinclair), thereby giving Sinclair a second chance to act. In addition, Mildred’s initiative enables Chipps to marry her, and her interpretation of the high road metaphor allows us to see, in retrospect, the dream woman’s generosity and plenitude; sensing that her dream man thinks denotatively rather than connotatively, she literally appears on an empty highway – a high road – before arriving at the house. The women’s agency is especially heightened when juxtaposed with the impotence of the men in the story. While possessing the trappings of a powerful Gothic villain such as accumulated wealth and a mesmerizing look, Sinclair is far from powerful; throughout the narrative, he finds it extremely difficult to ‘capture’ the dream woman due to his over-rationality and self-interestedness. Upon receiving the dream woman’s message, Sinclair goes to Mildred instead of his ill sister (who was being nursed by the dream woman), as he had been on his way to Mildred before receiving the letter which describes his sister’s deteriorating condition. Likewise, when he realizes that the dream woman is in front of him, he crafts an elaborate plan to approach her at the right moment, but loses his chance when he fails to get up early to save his servant’s farm from sale (his duty), an action that would have brought him into contact with her, who woke early. Unfortunately, even with his modest means and appearance, Chipps is equally helpless. After an argument with Mildred, he takes ten years to reconcile with her despite the fact that she gives him multiple chances; she remarks, ‘And poor me, with hardly a rag of self-respect left from laying it in your way over and over again for you to pounce on’.30 This amplification of female power may seem extreme, but Cholmondeley was trying to make a point: the Gothic female needs to be re-imagined. Since Radcliffe’s time, female characters in Gothic narratives have been victims of convention; they have been frightened by men and/or trapped in enclosures like the castle or house. Granted, marriage enabled the husband to replace the tyrannical


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

father and the castle/house to become a home, but husbands and homes may not be supportive and safe; as Michelle A. Massé has noted, in later female Gothic narratives, ‘[t]he husband who was originally defined by his opposition to the unjust father figure slowly merges with that figure’, and as Kate Ferguson Ellis has pointed out, the castle can ‘confine and conceal … and evil can flourish in a climate of privacy’.31 But with the spiritual female, these dangers are neutralized. In ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, the dream woman is not only able to come to, and leave, the Sinclair family house whenever she pleases, but is also able to avoid being caught in Sinclair’s marriage trap. Like the men in countless masculine Gothic romances who convene to plan the defeat of a supernatural foe, Sinclair and Chipps meet to discuss how to ‘capture’ the dream woman, whom Sinclair calls ‘she’,32 linking her to Ayesha from Haggard’s She. Sinclair’s plan fails, however. He cannot find her because she has gone to South America and has never given him her name. This move turns out to be a wise one as we later learn about his view of marriage. Chipps says, ‘[W]hat I want, what we all want, [is] someone to bully, something weaker than ourselves to trample on’, to which Sinclair replies, ‘Don’t I know it!’33 Cholmondeley re-imagined the Gothic female in this way to present her readers with characters who embodied the hopes of women at the time. By the late 1910s when she penned the stories in the Romance of His Life collection, married middle-class women in Britain over thirty could vote thanks to the Representation of the People Act (1918). This small amount of freedom came about in recognition of women’s contributions to the nation during the First World War, contributions which did much to begin the process of emancipating women from many Victorian notions of female behaviour.34 Basically, women at the time began to have more power, and Cholmondeley (as well as Grand) responded by crafting females with considerably more power and who fearlessly exercise it in imaginary worlds. They have such control over their lives that they survive trauma and look forward to a brighter future at the end of the narrative. Interestingly, perhaps worried that such an idealized portrayal of the spiritual female could alienate readers – after all, self-actualized humans with agency rarely exist in reality – Cholmondeley also crafted imperfect females who, despite being temporarily oppressed by traditional Gothic conventions, eventually emerge as spiritually aware. One notable story with this plot is ‘The End of the Dream’ in the Romance of His Life collection. Here, we are presented with two female characters: Beatrice and Essie, both of whom are sitting on the fence spiritually. However, the narrative centres on the latter woman, whose self is split between the spiritual world and the material world. Early in the story, Essie tells Beatrice that her spirit escapes into a dream world at night – wherein lie a Gothic-style house, an aristocratic lover and freedom – when she is not by day fulfilling the duties of a wife to Ted, Beatrice’s wealthy brother. This division brings to mind a famous one in the masculine Gothic tradition:

Revising the Gothic


that involving Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll. What is interesting about these two splits is that they represent conflicting desires in the modern individual; in Jekyll, there is a desire to express an inner wildness which is incompatible with his need to be a rational, professional man, and in Essie, there is a desire for personal freedom and love which is incompatible with her need for material security in marriage. However, while the split in the former narrative (or in the male Gothic mode in general) leads to destruction – Jekyll must kill himself to get rid of Hyde – the split in the latter presents an opportunity. Freedom and love can be obtained, but the challenge to get them is great. Ted, who is the story’s Gothic husband-villain, leaves absolutely no room for Essie to express her opinions in matters great and small. He not only purchases their new house, Kenstone Manor, without consulting her, but also makes her wear woollen socks like himself. A window presents itself when her spiritual and material lives overlap one fateful day. When Ted takes Essie and Beatrice to see Kenstone Manor, Essie realizes that it is the house in her dream. Her reaction is one of terror: ‘“Not here! Not here!” gasped Essie, clinging to the car. “I can’t live here.” She was trembling violently.’35 Essie’s terror is not caused by the uncanny circumstance, as one would expect, but by the prospect of a life without freedom; if her dominating husband has entered her dreams, then she will have nowhere to escape: ‘If Ted lives here – I shall have nowhere to go’.36 This fear of imprisonment – for the house can, as mentioned earlier, switch from haven to hell – takes on such a reality in her mind that, once inside, she attempts to escape through a window: ‘She was frantically endeavouring to break the lattice of the central casement … There was blood on her hand’.37 Interestingly, there may be another source of terror at play. As Essie’s husband encroaches upon her spiritual world, the house and its owner, the Duke of Urrutia, encroach upon her material world. This double invasion bestows upon Essie the problem of choice: she must choose the life that she wants – and the responsibility that comes with it – which is a frightening concept for a woman who has always lived the life of a passive Gothic heroine, believing that agency belongs to man. Indeed, at the start of the story, we are told that Essie was at the mercy of a disreputable brother until Ted ‘swooped down, and rescued her, and ordered her to marry him, which she did’.38 The climax of the narrative involves a rivalry between Essie’s two selves as she meets the Duke, and it is not until the conclusion that her choice is revealed: she secretly escapes with her lover the next day, thereby relinquishing her need for material comfort and choosing a spiritual life with freedom and love. One may argue that it was the Duke’s choice, as Beatrice states that Ted was ‘surprise[d] at hearing that the Duke had gone to Essie in the garden’,39 but Beatrice did not witness events in the garden, and the couple’s interaction the day before demonstrates that the Duke is ready to obey her sister-in-law, contrary to Gothic convention. After she tells the Duke, ‘Go!’, he ‘walked slowly from the room’.40


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

One may also argue that the Duke is a wealthy aristocrat so Essie does not choose the spiritual path; but the Duke not only practises genuine detachment from material things by taking the train, avoiding expensive food, selling the manor at an unprofitable price and making his servants call him ‘Mr. Rupert’, but he also links himself with individuals who serve; for his coming-of-age party, he dresses up not as King James I, but as an ‘equerry to [the] martyred King’ named Henry Vavasour Kenstone.41 Eventually, even this association is relinquished. He gives away his Vandyck portrait of Kenstone as a gift to Ted who, rather than learning from this generous act, can only see the portrait’s material value: ‘It’s worth thousands … Thousands. These bigwigs are queer customers.’42 All this information is made known to Essie before she escapes with him. With Essie’s transformation from divided self to whole spiritual female, Cholmondeley argues that embarking on the spiritual/non-material path, which leads to freedom, is possible for women. But this path is not easy. To become spiritual means dying to the world – embodied in Essie’s motionless and death-like figure in a chair shortly before leaving Ted, and her rejection of marriage – an act often held in check by fear of the unknown.43 This sacrifice is why Beatrice’s reaction to Essie’s escape is one of horror and meta-fictional distance. She says, ‘Reader, I thought I could write this story to the end, but the pen shakes in my hand … The horror of it rushes back upon me.’44 Interestingly, this distance heightens Essie’s non-materiality. She is neither a speaking character in the last part of the narrative nor part of the narrator’s current time frame. She also disappears from the story in another sense: like the dream woman in ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, her whereabouts are unknown, and the man who desires such knowledge is at a loss. Upon discovering that his wife is not in London, Ted goes into a ‘fever fit of rage’.45 All that is left of Essie are Beatrice’s string of metaphors – Essie ‘had sailed away across “perilous seas”’ and ‘had passed beyond [her] ken’46 – which reiterate her spiritual transformation and possible means of escape, as the Duke returned to Spain by ship. This argument that women can (and should) take the spiritual path may seem somewhat moralistic to some readers, but it should be remembered that this moralizing was a feature of Cholmondeley’s writings after Red Pottage. Linda Peterson has noted that it stemmed from her appreciation of the writings of George Eliot;47 to this I would like to add that when she was writing ‘The Ghost of Chance’ and ‘The End of the Dream’ in the late 1910s, there were life circumstances which likely made her more inclined towards it. At this time, Cholmondeley was in her early sixties, living a peaceful and reclusive life in the Suffolk village of Riff ;48 not only was she now an older, wiser woman with life experience, but she also had more time for reflection. Moreover, Cholmondeley had the misfortune of witnessing first-hand some unpleasant effects of the First World War, which piqued her sense of right and wrong. Aside from seeing the total destruction of a neigh-

Revising the Gothic


bouring town, hearing about missing or dead soldiers and worrying over family members who fought in the War,49 she had to prepare psychologically for death every time enemy aircraft attacked her area. She mentions one particularly harrowing night in the introduction to the Romance of His Life collection in which she had to take refuge with her niece in the garden because the cottage ‘shook as in a palsy’ when bombs were being dropped from above.50 Her writing did, however, have moments of humour. Worth noting is that Cholmondeley parodied her own conception of the spiritual female, displaying self-reflexivity. In ‘Her Murderer’, which is also found in the Romance of His Life collection, she gives readers a glimpse of what the spiritual female and her path are not.51 About an old, sexually repressed woman named Aunt Pussy who becomes obsessed with a man she believes is out to kill her, the story derives its humour not from exposing men’s inadequacies but from the excesses of its ageing ‘spiritual’ heroine – excesses which make her resemble a Gothic villain. Aunt Pussy is so detached from material luxuries (that is, in order to save money) that she is ascetic; aside from wearing only black clothes, she and her niece Janet move into increasingly small living quarters as the story progresses, from a house to a flat and then into a hotel room. She has so much agency that she does whatever she wants, much to the detriment of her dependants; although generous to Janet, she does not allow Janet and her fiancé to marry, making the couple wait for over twelve years. Moreover, Aunt Pussy is so ‘spiritually aware’ that she imagines connections between unrelated incidents in life, leading to the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent man; believing that Clarke is a killer – thanks to a dream she once had wherein he tells her that he is her murderer – she holds him responsible for the murder of Mrs Curtis at the hotel in which she resides. It is no accident that Cholmondeley’s spiritual females are, even in humorous stories, associated with death (Anna is widowed and her sister dies, Essie ‘dies’ to materiality, Aunt Pussy wears mourning clothes and is obsessed with being killed, etc.), and I wish to conclude this essay by pointing out that as much as these females were part of a larger feminist ‘programme’ starting in the late nineteenth century which sought to overturn patriarchal Gothic conventions, they were also Cholmondeley’s personal response to the War, a time when death was unavoidable. The War contributed to Cholmondeley’s moralizing, as mentioned earlier, but it also compelled her to craft a fictional character which could effectively handle loss. That she championed the spontaneity of the dream woman in ‘The Ghost of a Chance’ and the non-materiality of Essie’s spiritual self in ‘The End of the Dream’ is hardly a surprise; these are the very qualities that enable human beings to deal with an uncertain material world, a world in flux where one can lose not only one’s material possessions and loved ones in an instant, but also one’s life. The spiritual female was, in Cholmondeley’s eyes, more than just a solution to the Gothic heroine trapped in a castle and/or marriage; she was


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

someone whom we could all hold onto so that we would not fall into what she once described to Broughton as ‘the great crevasse of the war’.52 Cholmondeley is thus a much more complex writer than critics have made her out to be, a writer who, in revising the Gothic with the well-being of others (especially women) in mind, should be a figure worthy of study for scholars working on connections between literature and spirituality.


What would it have been like to be presented to the world as a character in a novel? When Mary Cholmondeley, New Woman novelist, created her characters in her controversial novel Red Pottage, she was inspired by some of her own family. This essay will deal with the significance of one of her very minor characters, Stella Gresley, a four-or-five-year-old niece of one of the heroines of the novel, Hester Gresley. Described by her Aunt Hester as an analytical child, with ‘determination to reach central facts and to penetrate to the root of the matter’, the fictional Stella is clearly both curious and independent. These qualities lead Aunt Hester to ponder what her rigid clergyman brother ‘would make of his daughter when she turned her attention to theology’.1 Cholmondeley had a niece, Stella, who was just about the age of the fictional Stella when Cholmondeley was writing her novel. In 1899 when the novel was published, the seven-year-old Stella Benson was probably not aware of the compliment being paid her. Later Benson would have found the tribute amusing. Her appearance in Red Pottage had predicted her coming of age as a second-wave New Woman writer. Cholmondeley, on the other hand, would have had reason both to congratulate herself and to wring her hands as her prediction about the fictional Stella proved only too accurate in the real Stella. This insight was especially the case as Cholmondeley would become the mentor of her niece. Their important relationship was not always easy or simple. Stella Benson (1892–1933) owed a considerable debt to her aunt and the women writers of earlier generations. While the aunt and niece did not share similar subjects and styles, the early guidance and encouragement by Cholmondeley deeply affected Benson’s successful career as a fiction writer, essayist and diarist. Cholmondeley shared her own literary influences and understanding with an imaginative young girl growing up uncertain of her place in a slowly changing society where gender still made a significant difference. Today, thanks to the renewed appreciation of Cholmondeley’s work, particularly Red Pottage, Cholmondeley is better known than her niece, who had – 117 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

won considerable recognition in the literary world in 1932. Just a year before her death, caused by pneumonia in Indo-China, Benson was awarded the coveted Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize and received the Silver Medal of the Royal Society of Literature. She was at the cusp of her career at age forty-one, when her death removed her from a promising place in literature. Her early novels, which were experimental psychological fantasies, set in England during the First World War, continue to offer insights into the time and place. Her later more sophisticated works set outside of England – frequently in China where she spent most of the last thirteen years of her life – won immediate literary recognition and even now provide an important understanding of the complex cultures who peopled the China Benson knew, one which few other Westerners knew or wrote about.2 If penicillin had been discovered earlier, Benson, who suffered from debilitating respiratory illnesses throughout her life, might have lived longer, and if postmodernism had been a paradigm in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Benson’s books would have earned the place she deserves. Some of Benson’s essays have survived the changes in time and taste and are still enjoyed in particular by readers of travel literature. What remains and would appeal to diverse readers is her most remarkable contribution to literature – her diaries. They need no qualifications or explanations.3 For Benson diary-keeping was in the family. At least two of the Cholmondeley sisters kept diaries, as Mary Cholmondeley’s memoir and the sketch of her life illustrate. On her Benson side Stella was a descendant of Samuel Pepys. Her own diaries are rich indeed. One can see, taste, hear, feel and live Benson’s life and the times with her. She began keeping a diary when she was ten, just three years after Red Pottage was published. For the next thirty odd years, she listened, observed, thought and wrote wherever she was. The diaries travelled with her to and fro as she crossed continents and oceans, and surprisingly they survived in quite good condition. It is these diaries in particular that provide a fascinating study of the complex relationship between aunt and niece. Two other works, Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory, a brief tribute by Cholmondeley’s friend and literary executor Percy Lubbock, and her own earlier memoir Under One Roof, offer limited but significant insights into the New Woman world where Cholmondeley found her voice and the one that her niece would inherit and reject. In Red Pottage Cholmondeley created her New Woman heroines freer of some of the complex burdens that broke the spirit of her mother Emily Beaumont Cholmondeley, who was left an invalid for several years before her death in 1896. Cholmondeley describes her mother as a bright, scholarly and attractive young woman when she married at twenty-three, but who after frequent pregnancies and her inability to adjust to the consuming role of the wife of a country vicar withdrew from a life that ‘was absolutely uncongenial to her’.4 As the eldest girl in a family of eight, Cholmondeley was only sixteen when she had

Guiding Spirit


to assume the role of acting mother to her siblings. She worked closely with her father whom she portrayed as being kind and sensitive to the concerns of his children. She never blames him for any part in her mother’s unhappiness. However, Emily Beaumont Cholmondeley made the sacrifices for her husband and his career that other married women did at that time, leaving their own aspirations unfulfilled and hoping that their children might do what they could not do. What did seem telling of the mother of the Cholmondeley children was her inability to express her feelings or complain of her fate. On one occasion when Mary Cholmondeley had been ill and naturally was feeling depressed and sorry for herself, she records how she went to the drawing room to seek some sympathy from her parents: Father had asked how I was, and I had shown want of courage and burst into tears. Presently Father had gone out. When Mother and I were alone, she got up slowly and with great difficulty … leaning heavily on her stick, while I shed foolish tears of weakness, she spoke to me with great nobility, enjoining on me that for Father’s sake she and I must do our best to conceal our suffering.5

It is ironic and sad that a mother with so strong a spirit repressed her girls and perpetuated the struggle for women to become independent. Is it any wonder that Cholmondeley’s fiction champions women who are able to become independent? Yet, in a forthright manner Cholmondeley declares in writing her respect for her mother’s unused analytical ability: She ought to have been a bachelor professor in a white-washed laboratory, instead of the invalided mother of many children. She read and was deeply interested in books on hydraulics, astronomy, anything that had a law behind it, and was bitterly disappointed that her children refused to be interested in these – to her – entrancing subjects. I can imagine Mother very happy as a Don in a college, secluded from contact with fellow-creatures and household bills.6

One of the personal tragedies in the family was the death of the youngest child when she was only twenty-two. An aspiring writer, Hester left her stories and papers in her eldest sister’s care. Hester had been a frail child, and the family had tried to protect her from the severe seasonal weather of Shropshire as much as possible by sending her to the south of England. During one of these periods in 1892, Hester had become very ill. Cholmondeley wrote that Hester had longed to have her sister Essex (Caroline) Benson with her, but Essex was in Shropshire, giving birth to her third child, Stella, whom she named after Hester.7 Essex Benson was the only one of the Cholmondeley sisters to marry. Whether her sisters’ decisions were based upon observing the marriage of their parents, desires to pursue their own artistic dreams, failed romances or simply fate is uncertain. Lubbock says that in 1886 in one of her private journals, Cholmondeley refers to an early


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

romance and proposal that did not end in marriage: ‘“I am not going to marry the clever man however, and composed a letter to that effect last week …”’.8 Cholmondeley’s sister Essex, however, had married Ralph Benson, a member of another old Shropshire family. An Oxford graduate and a landowner, he probably seemed like a good match for a young woman of a good family without money. Ralph Benson is a puzzle in this story. He was certainly bright and concerned about important social issues. For example, he had genuine feelings for the downtrodden of the world, especially those who had been victims of slavery.9 Since his daughter’s diary does not begin until she is ten, it is difficult to know what kind of father he had been in her very early years.10 What is known is that Benson drank, was away from home often and rarely saw the children when he finally left his family.11 What is not known is if he supported the family financially. Benson’s diaries refer to her mother’s visits to her father. Whether these trips involved Essex’s trying to get support is another question. Perhaps the diaries of Hester, entrusted to Cholmondeley, mentioned Ralph Benson as she knew him before he married her sister. Cholmondeley suggests that Hester was not prepared for romances turning out successfully: ‘that lovers did not always die as in [Hester’s] pages, that occasionally they married instead’.12 Alas, those diaries were destroyed with any possible explanations of Ralph Benson’s behaviour. Another important missing clue in both Cholmondeley’s life and that of her niece is the death of Stella Benson’s slightly younger sister Catherine, who died two years before Benson began keeping her diary. The references to her dead sister are few, but they are always filled with regret.13 Catherine’s death may have been caused by the same vulnerability to respiratory weakness that plagued the lives of Benson and other members of the Cholmondeley family, including her Aunt Mary. This fear of another death in the family was undoubtedly a major reason why Essex Benson and her Cholmondeley sisters were so protective of Stella Benson, who was herself aware of the vital role sisters played in her mother’s family. As she missed Catherine, Benson turned to her diary more often than not and to her aunts. As a young girl Stella Benson felt the benefits of the protective group of sisters, spear-headed by her Aunt Mary, yet as a young adult often Benson felt what Lubbock described as one friend’s reaction to Cholmondeley’s protective care: ‘“Oh, Mary, if only you could leave something for God to do!’”14 In truth, Benson, who early on was a religious sceptic, probably would have thought: ‘Let the person work out whatever it is for herself or himself ’. The name of Mary Cholmondeley or ‘Auntie Mary’, as Stella Benson referred to her, appears frequently in Benson’s diaries. Cholmondeley’s presence indicates she often put aside her own work – writing – to visit her sister and her family. A single woman without children herself, Cholmondeley drew from her own experience of mothering her siblings. Benson often noted the dates of her aunt’s visits

Guiding Spirit


and the gifts she brought – money and books, particularly. She first mentions her Aunt Mary in 1902 when Cholmondeley joined the Benson family at a seaside holiday.15 It seems probable that what encouraged this visit was that Benson’s mother needed support from her sister in dealing with her, by then, unpredictable husband, Ralph Benson. On a later occasion when he suddenly left the family group, his daughter notes in her diary, ‘Poor old Father’.16 What exactly happened in 1902 is not clear. On a more positive note later that same year Aunt Mary thrilled her niece by giving her ‘a round’ or a gold sovereign. Benson writes, ‘It is the first gold I have ever had’.17 In 1905 Cholmondeley gave her niece another first: a puppy.18 Pepper became the first of a long line of dogs in Benson’s life. Initially influenced by Cholmondeley, Benson was an enthusiastic reader. While Lubbock says Cholmondeley was ‘not a passionate reader’,19 she certainly kept her niece busy with suggestions and probably read more than Lubbock realized. Early in 1906 when she is responding to a letter from Benson, Cholmondeley praises Stevenson and Kipling, but also recommends George Eliot: ‘I do not know whether you read George Eliot. I have read most of her books several times.’20 Benson’s diary for 1906 is full of references to the novels that her aunt and mother have recommended to her. The list includes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815). They are in the company of Kim (1901), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) and others, including Northanger Abbey (1817) and Persuasion (1817).21 This same year her aunt had been busy getting her own novel Prisoners published. In September Benson writes, ‘Auntie Mary has come to stay here’. Less than ten days later Benson notes, ‘Father has gone away from Mother’.22 It is likely that Cholmondeley had come to rescue her sister and prepare the children for their father’s departure. When she was not visiting, Cholmondeley also kept in touch by letter. A few days after Ralph Benson had left his wife and children, Benson received an important letter from her aunt asking her to be kind and patient with her mother as she was having a difficult time. Cholmondeley emphasizes what a blessing it was for Essex to have her daughter to help. She adds touchingly, ‘I often wish I had a Stella or a Hester [another niece of Cholmondeley’s] of my own as I grow older’.23 These praises do not go unnoticed by Stella Benson. Later in the month she notes, ‘I love Aunt Mary best of all the aunts and uncles’.24 When Stella won the top prize in poetry given by the popular magazine for young readers, St. Nicholas Magazine, she immediately wrote to Cholmondeley and to her father to tell them of her exciting news.25 Stella Benson had a penchant for listing favourites – books, characters in books and people. Under ‘aunts’ in February of 1908, it is ‘Auntie Mary’ again.26 To make this choice Benson had both her mother’s siblings and her father’s to choose from, so her choice is telling. The other aunts and uncles come and go in Benson’s diary both during this period and later on. Interestingly, Aunts Vi


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

and Di, the other Cholmondeley sisters, are rarely discussed in detail with a few exceptions, such as when Stella mentions that she showed some of her poems to Aunt Di and previously only Aunt Mary had been allowed to see them.27 While all of these visits were taking place, it is important to realize that Cholmondeley was trying to follow her own career as a writer, encouraged by her good friend and mentor, Rhoda Broughton, whose relationship scholar Linda Peterson analyses so astutely in her essay, ‘Mary Cholmondeley (1859–1925) and Rhoda Broughton (1840–1920)’. Cholmondeley, who took on mothering siblings, needed a mother too, and in Broughton she found a literary mother and loyal friend,28 a role that Emily Beaumont Cholmondeley could not and did not fill. In 1908 Cholmondeley’s The Lowest Rung was published. During this year and the previous one the diaries report that books were read aloud by Cholmondeley, Mrs Benson and Benson, including one of Aunt Mary’s early works, Sir Charles Danvers (1889). They were also reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (1865). The fifteen-year-old Benson did not comment on her aunt’s novel, but on Wives and Daughters, she says, ‘I think I like it almost better than any other book I have read. What a pity Mrs. Gaskell died and could not finish it.’29 Benson did not say if she liked or disliked Cholmondeley’s novel or another of her earlier novels, Diana Tempest (1893), which Essex Benson read aloud to her.30 Being read to was an invaluable part of Benson’s introduction to literature. This tradition allowed Benson to savour the sounds of language at an early age. Red Pottage, however, was not mentioned among the lists of books read. Perhaps Benson thought it impertinent to comment on her aunt’s work. In 1918 Benson saw the film version of Red Pottage and noted in her diary that she liked it even though it was only a segment of the novel,31 implying that she did know the original. Generally the diary entries about ‘Auntie Mary’ illustrate the important influence Cholmondeley had on what her niece was reading. One entry notes, ‘Aunt Mary read Stephenson [Stevenson] to us. He is splendid.’32 In 1908 when Benson is visiting her aunt in Ufford, Suffolk, she writes, ‘Aunt Mary is giving me a course on Emerson’. She goes on to say that she does not respond to Emerson the way Aunt Mary does: ‘I don’t think he is like a friend who knows all one’s secret thoughts like she does’.33 The point about secret thoughts may have struck a sensitive cord in Benson as throughout her life she entertained ‘secret thought people’. She first mentions them in 1907. They appeared when she was not feeling well and was by herself – reading and recuperating – and in her dreams. Clearly her developing imagination played into their appearances. Sometimes she tried to stop thinking about them; at other times she enjoyed their company. This group remained with Benson – in her mind and diary that is – until shortly before her death. Undoubtedly there was a connection between her secret thought people and her keen interest in the psychological.34

Guiding Spirit


Cholmondeley was unflagging in her role as mentor. During the 1908 visit to Ufford, Benson talked – or rather listened – to Aunt Mary about how to deal with her home life. Cholmondeley told her niece that hardship makes and fosters genius and everybody who has had a bad time either pain or trouble or poverty has if they meet it bravely generally something more than the others who are brought up and live without any mishap.

Benson, on the other hand, tells her diary: ‘I did not tell Aunt Mary all of my utmost thoughts though I told her more than I should have told others’. She makes a point of saying that only the diary knows about her secret people.35 In the next few days Cholmondeley cautioned her niece that she would probably not like balls and explained that her mother, Essex Benson, did not have the connections (and the money) necessary for Benson to meet people. The whole idea of coming out seemed impossible, and it was likely that Cholmondeley either offered or was asked by her sister to explain this difficult point to Benson.36 Later, when her cousin Mary was coming out and attending balls, she stayed with Cholmondeley in London. This situation was a bitter pill for Stella Benson to swallow. Not only was she not pretty – by the current standards of beauty – and poor, but also she was isolated in other ways. She writes, ‘I am sure that a pretty girl with money lives a very much more enviable life, however silly she may be, than a plain girl with things’.37 Benson goes on to discuss the differences between brains in men and women. Could she have wanted to say ‘a plain girl with brains’? Benson was aware of her good enquiring mind, but she felt frustrated by not having opportunities to train it. Mary Cholmondeley and her niece both realized they were plain. Lubbock says of Cholmondeley, when she was a young woman, ‘Pretty she wasn’t, but there was a charm of intelligence in her irregular face, distinction in her appearance’.38 He did not actually know her then, but he assumes this upon his knowing her in early middle age. According to Lubbock, eighteen-year-old Cholmondeley wrote in her journal in 1877, And yet what a pleasure and interest it would be to me in life to write books. I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry (for at best that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty nor charms) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties39

The 1906 photograph of Cholmondeley in the first edition of Lubbock’s book shows her at her desk where she is sitting perfectly erect (see Figure 2). She looks thoughtful. Based upon the photographs I have seen of Benson, the resemblance between her and her niece is striking. According to Lubbock, Cholmondeley was tall, slim and graceful.40 Benson was slim but not as tall as her aunt. Yet when Benson was in her early thirties a good friend, Margery Spring-Rice, took a pho-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

tograph of her and fellow writer Naomi Mitcheson engaged in what looks like a happy conversation. Both attractive women are laughing and seemingly unaware of being photographed.41 The more formal photographs of Benson show a serious or a sad expression on her face. Neither aunt nor niece seemed comfortable posing before a camera. Cholmondeley had her work cut out for herself in trying to keep up her niece’s spirits when Cholmondeley herself endured periods of depression.42 At times Benson thought a woman was simply not as able as a man.43 In a 1911 entry, Benson says that she has reread some letters from Aunt Mary, written five years earlier. Obviously, Cholmondeley had been trying to help her niece stay the course when Benson had been very depressed and unable to go out among strangers.44 This was the year when her father had left his family, causing considerable changes, including having to live in Fleet, which Benson regarded as a dull town, near London. Benson longed for London and noted any visit to the aunts. During parts of her seventeenth through eighteenth years Benson was in Europe and Jamaica where her doctors and family sent her hoping that the climate would help her respiratory conditions. She was briefly in Germany and then longer in France and Switzerland, where she lived in sanitarium-like environments. A member of her extended family accompanied her, but this glimpse of another world allowed her to become more independent. She tried sports, such as sledging and ice skating, and had a social life. For the first time she was aware of what she might do if she were not so confined. For instance she saw pictures of China and the seed to travel was planted.45 These changes in Benson did not please everyone: ‘the aunts were worried whether her time at Arosa (Switzerland) had “ruined her morals”’. Benson’s view was that it had helped. In fact, she felt it had been ‘the making’ of her.46 Whether Mary Cholmondeley was one of the ‘aunts’ the diary does not say. During these periods abroad Benson mainly wrote about the new places and people, not family. Two years earlier Benson wrote of her aunts that those on her mother’s side ‘rather thrust their virtue in your face’. She added that her father’s sister, Aunt Freddie was ‘the most jovial kind of ungoody-goody Aunt we have, I think, but then she is on Father’s side which has a different character altogether and I can’t help thinking a less pretty one’.47 Yet in Benson’s lists of favourites, Aunt Mary is still ‘the number one Aunt’.48 It would be another year before Benson realized that her father was an alcoholic, but she already seemed to feel there was something lacking in her Benson side.49 While thoughts of being a writer were always at the back of Stella Benson’s thoughts, when she is nineteen, she notes in her diary that if she writes a book she will sign herself, ‘Stella Benson, author’.50 Cholmondeley continued to encourage her niece’s reading and training by sending her money to buy books.51 One day Benson writes in her diary that Aunt Mary’s Emerson is speaking to her: ‘I suddenly met Emerson and he gave me everything I have been looking for. I read an Essay called “The Oversoul” and it showed me that after all there is a god.’ She

Guiding Spirit


also realizes that in order to understand Emerson she must read ‘Kant, Hegel & Coleridge’.52 A constant worry was her lack of education. But she was hardly the only woman writer of her time who felt this concern. Nor was she the only one who sought travel as a way to become better educated and to heal herself. She shared this hope with the heroines of Red Pottage, who at the end of the novel travel to India.53 Lubbock notes that Cholmondeley felt this lack too.54 Here is where fiction can transcend life; if Cholmondeley could not make the journey, her heroines could, and given time so could Benson. Stella Benson’s diaries written during the First World War and her novels of this period describe some of the pain people were suffering on the home front, as well as news from the front.55 What is most striking in the diaries is the view that daily life must go on. Cholmondeley’s letters to Broughton show this same sense of duty.56 Benson serves her country in various ways, but primarily as a volunteer gardener, which was a forerunner to being a land girl, and by helping women in the East End of London. Like many other young people, she grew up considerably during this time. At one point Benson writes in her diary, I do want to get away again when this dirty horror of war is over and forget the griefs that it will leave behind, and forget the superfluity of women, and the sorrow of women, and go into calm green seas, and see the palms again, and hear a hot night growling. I hope I won’t die or want to get married first.57

Along with this maturity, Benson also learned that she could say ‘no’ to her aunts. In May 1915 she visited Aunt Mary in Ufford where Aunt Di was too. They had arranged for her to work with a friend – ‘the very admirable Miss Cox’– in a war office. Benson writes that the aunts ‘seem slightly hurt and surprised that I did not leap’ at this chance, but she wants to remain working with her East End ‘babies’ and adds, ‘also I never work well in a herd, and feel oppressed among many beautifully dressed ladies’.58 This decision does not seem to alter Benson’s talking to (and ‘being talked to’ by) Aunt Mary. Benson worries that her aunt is not looking well. In fact she writes in her diary with an element of dark humor that she worries that Cholmondeley might die while she is worrying about her niece.59 During this visit Benson read Rhoda Broughton’s Cometh up as a Flower and was not amused by it. Aunt Mary had told her that it was ‘very witty’. Signs of generational differences are growing as Benson notes, I believe Aunt Mary must have read it as a child … it is no good disagreeing with Aunt Mary on such points she would never give the young generation any credit for having reason or criticism. The worst of these aunts is there is no question of anybody young being right or reasonable.60

Beginning to rebel, Benson, of course had not considered or perhaps did not know of the close bonds of friendship between Cholmondeley and Rhoda Broughton. Cholmondeley would have felt great loyalty to Broughton. After


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

all it was Broughton who encouraged and helped Cholmondeley to be a writer. It is likely that Benson would have been annoyed to learn that in a letter to Broughton a few years later, Cholmondeley refers to her niece as the ‘fragile little daughter’ of her sister Essex.61 Cholmondeley continued to offer guidance, wanted or not, to Benson. A rather telling diary entry is the following: ‘Much conversation with Aunt Mary about Family matter. I don’t do most of the talking in these interviews, but still I always feel as if part of my golden reserve was being stolen from me.’ At the same period Benson, while visiting in Ufford, feels that Aunt Mary has a ‘worn wild look’.62 Exciting good news came to Benson and Cholmondeley amidst the bleakness of wartime in 1915. Macmillan had accepted Benson’s first novel, I Pose. She describes the letter of acceptance as the publisher ‘practically jumping at the Book, offering to bring it out at once … I have done something worthwhile’. Of course she wanted to share the news. And where did she go first? To 2 Leonard Place, Mary Cholmondeley’s little house in Kensington. Her diary reads: with great luck, I found Aunt Mary. I gave them 3 guesses they all of course guessed 1st I was engaged to be married (oh no much better than that) & 2nd a fortune left me. Aunt Mary guessed right – she laughed and nearly cried and hugged me & ran all about.

This exuberant show of enthusiasm and affection from Aunt Mary is the centre of Benson’s diary entry. They would both be published writers now. Benson also mentions that her mother’s reaction was not what she had dreamed it would be. She was not ‘snubby’.63 The reserve of the Cholmondeleys had broken down. The following weeks brought reviews, mainly comparing the niece’s novel with her aunt’s work. One review fanned Benson’s ego, saying her novel ‘showed more genius than all Aunt Mary’s books together’.64 Just how Cholmondeley took these reviews Benson does not mention. Clearly Aunt Mary recognized her protégé was beginning to fulfil both of their dreams. Cholmondeley’s publisher had trusted the niece of a seasoned novelist and with good reason. Benson was on her own with her next novel, This is the End, which came out in 1917. A collection of poems, Twenty, was published in 1918 and Benson notes that she ‘heard from Aunt Mary in reply to “20”’. Benson counted on Cholmondeley to respond and Cholmondeley did not let her down.65 The war years continued to test the endurance of all and there was great relief that the end looked to be in sight in 1918. Armed with letters of introduction from her publisher and friends, Benson was getting ready to begin her first trip abroad by herself. In April Benson writes an important entry in her diary in response to her mother’s gift of a copy of Cholmondeley’s new book, Under One Roof:

Guiding Spirit


I was surprised that the Aunt should have written it & was not enthusiastic, it seems to me a very little book & I think it misses a lot of chance of explaining a misunderstood generation to the present lot. Aunt Hester seems to have followed much the same lines as me to a certain point, but of course never got the chance of freedom & the feeling of work, as I have. If she had lived I should think she would only have collected like the other aunts a lot of amateur interest. It was apparently the only thing to do in their generation, nobody could so far forget they were ladies as to break away at all. The whole book shows one a charming & kindly & most amateurishly artistic family, too refined to be brilliant.66

Benson’s surprise indicates that she had come to expect more of her aunt’s writing than the memoir offered. Was Mary Cholmondeley included among the aunts who ‘have collected … a lot of amateur interests’? Benson tries to explain their obstacles by suggesting that they were products of their generation and limited by it. Her full appreciation of their efforts would only come later in Benson’s own life when she had to worry about being a writer first and a wife second, paying bills, keeping long-distance relationships, meeting publishers’ deadlines, dealing with family conflicts and many of the other issues Mary Cholmondeley and her sisters faced in their time, as well as some new ones. Evidently the audience for this book was limited. Did the public wonder why a woman was writing her memoir? Men wrote memoirs, but what experiences did women have to write about? Cholmondeley confided to Broughton that she made very little money from it.67 Yet, for today’s readers it provides considerable insights into a family like the Cholmondeleys and women authors like Mary Cholmondeley; however, it is a far cry from Cholmondeley’s candid fiction. One understands Benson’s wish that her aunt had written more of what she was thinking and experiencing and asked one less to read between the lines. In a way Benson does understand the construct of women not having had experiences worth writing about, but perhaps she is too close to the author to accept this silence. Once Benson stepped into the courageous shoes of Hester Gresley of Red Pottage, she set out to explore the world and to establish a place in literature. During her travels to the United States, China and India, there are few references to the aunts in her diaries. But in a significant way Aunt Mary is there. Cholmondeley had given her niece an important friend who would serve as surrogate aunt throughout the rest of Benson’s life: a loving aunt without the lectures the niece had grown to resent. Cornelia Sorabji, barrister and social reformer, was a longtime good friend of Victoria and Mary Cholmondeley.68 After studying law at Oxford, Sorabji, who was an advocate for women’s rights, spent part of the year in England and part in India. It was natural for Sorabji to invite Stella Benson to visit her in Calcutta. After nearly a year in the San Francisco area (which influenced her next two books) and a year in Hong Kong and parts of China, Benson headed for India. Sorabji showered her with hospitality, opened doors for her


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

and showed her India to Benson. Both Benson and Sorabji wrote affectionately of each other. In India Calling Sorabji describes Benson, the writer, as ‘part fairy and part a shrewd observer and portrayer of human foibles’. She also writes that even at age nine Benson had shown signs of being a writer: ‘I was immensely impressed by a short story she had written … I used to chaff Stella’s aunt, Mary Cholmondeley, then at the height of her fame, and prophesy that some day she would be known only as “the aunt of Stella Benson”’.69 India was full of overwhelming experiences for Benson. She and Sorabji managed to arrange for Benson to interview Gandhi. He was surprised that Benson turned out to be a woman, but granted the interview and was extraordinarily kind to her.70 For some reason Benson never published the essay she wrote about the interview, nor did she write a novel about India. Would it have been too close to the heart of Sorabji? Benson was cautious about hurting her loved ones. She supported Indian independence; however, for good reasons based upon Sorabji’s own gender-related experiences in India, Sorabji did not. A most remarkable woman, she spent her life working for the rights of Indian women. Her story is important and touching and Benson recognized her goodness. In one of Benson’s last letters to Virginia Woolf, Benson tells Woolf, ‘by the same post as brought me your letter, I heard from my dear Cornelia Sorabji, asking if I could ask you if she might go over and see you – she has so long wanted to meet you’. Benson goes on to say that she had told Sorabji about Woolf ’s ill health, implying that the timing was not good. Then she adds, ‘But if you ever do come across her, I believe you would think her a wonderful person, as I do. She is burning and golden, somehow, like a lantern, there is such a very thin glass between her and the world.’71 During her time in India, Benson also met with Sir Valentine Chirol, another friend of Sorabji’s and Aunt Mary’s, and one of Cholmondeley’s Thursday dinner guests.72 Through Sorabji, and perhaps Sir Valentine, she also met the young economic historian Eileen Power, who as recipient of the Kahn Travel Scholarship was travelling in India. Their friendship, while not close, remained important to Benson. It kept her in touch with a group of intellectuals, particularly women, in London while she was continents away from the heart of the literary world of the day. Although Cholmondeley travelled some, her travels did not compare with those of her niece, but while her health held up she enjoyed the frequent company of her literary set and London itself, something Benson sorely missed. In September 1921 in London Benson married James (Shaemas) Carew O’Gorman Anderson, a member of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service whom she had met while in China. Mrs Benson, Aunt Di and Aunt Vi were among the wedding guests, but Aunt Mary was not present. Obviously she was too ill to attend. Before Benson and her husband left for his reassignment to China, Benson visited her aunt. She writes plaintively, ‘I wonder much whether

Guiding Spirit


I shall ever see her again. She is in a way a valuable & remarkable person to have in one’s memory.’73 Benson had come to realize the role that her aunt had played in her development and she was correct in her fear of not seeing Cholmondeley again. During the next few years, Benson mentions little about her. Whether her mother’s frequent letters kept her posted on Cholmondeley’s health, Benson does not say. In the first biography of Benson, R. Ellis Roberts thanked Benson’s mother for sharing letters from her daughter, ‘and several written to the late Mary Cholmondeley and Victoria Cholmondeley’.74 These letters serve as evidence that while the aunts may have been out of sight, they were not out of mind. In mid-July 1925 Benson returned from China for a home visit by way of New York. While her niece was crossing the Atlantic, Cholmondeley died in London on 15 July. A ‘rather sad & wornout’ Essex Benson broke the news of her sister’s death, long in coming, to her daughter upon her arrival in London. Benson writes that the death has been hard on her mother. Of Aunt Mary the niece writes that ‘she had not been at all her real self for many months and was only waiting to die’. In one of those many undocumented conversations between niece and aunt, death must have been discussed, as Stella Benson also notes, ‘She always hoped that she would be conscious enough to enjoy that last adventure – I hope her optimism aroused her to meet it – even if the adventure was an illusion’.75 No mention of a funeral occurs in Benson’s diary. When Benson visited ‘The Cottage’, in Ufford later in the summer, Aunts Vi and Di were there, but what Benson notes in her diary is ‘the place is very much haunted by Aunt Mary’.76 That summer of 1925 proved to be a most important step towards saving Benson’s diaries so that readers like myself could know about her personal experiences and relationships and her insights into cultures little understood by her contemporaries at home. Her reputation as a novelist, short story writer and travel writer was growing, and she had a chance to spend time in France with several other writers, including Naomi Mitcheson and her brother, J. B. S. Haldane. Benson was working on a book, but Haldane also noticed the time she spent writing in her diary. Haldane, then at Cambridge, understood that the university was seeking contemporary diaries. He suggested that Benson leave her diaries to Cambridge and offered to be the go-between. From that point on Benson felt a certain relief that all of the hours of observation and writing would have some justification. Eight years later – early in the year of her death – Benson found out no plans had been made at Cambridge to accept her diaries as a gift. Her disappointment, which was considerable, lasted only a few days as then she heard they would be accepted. Benson agreed to give her diaries to the university, not to be opened until fifty years after her death.77 They were opened in 1983 and made available in the Manuscript Room of the University Library, Cambridge. A very significant difference exists between the diaries Stella Benson kept and those Mary Cholmondeley kept. According to Lubbock, Cholmondeley left


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

him a ‘neatly arranged and labelled collection of packets and documents, all in such good order that they may be inspected and mastered with ease, with no vexing or perplexing loss of time’. In this collection, along with a personal letter, were Cholmondeley’s journals. Lubbock describes the cache as ‘three solid thick volumes, each guarded with its own lock, her journal. No one but herself has unlocked her journal until now.’ The author had left Lubbock to do with the items what he thought best.78 The result was his sketch of her life, drawn from her work that she left in his care, perhaps hoping for more than the slim volume Lubbock gave readers. Benson’s diaries, on the other hand, were ordinary notebooks – chock full of details of the world around her and her own feelings. Often they had only her name on the cover, sometimes with ‘private’ in bold writing, and sometimes nothing. Certainly there were no locks and keys. As close as Cholmondeley was to her sisters and good friends, were her precautions simply ways to keep someone close from reading her innermost thoughts and being hurt? Clearly, one of the benefits for Benson of being a second generation New Woman was having a more cavalier attitude towards many things, including her important diaries and expressing her own views. She had more freedom to be herself than her aunt did. Among the rich layers in Benson’s diaries, there is woven the story of the role Auntie Mary played in helping her niece ‘penetrate to the root of the matter’79 and find her voice, both private and public.


It has been rightly noted that Mary Cholmondeley’s 1887 novella The Danvers Jewels resembles the writings of Wilkie Collins, specifically in echoing significant aspects of The Moonstone published nearly two decades earlier.1 Nevertheless, the correspondences between the two texts have been virtually untapped in scholarly discussion. Yet The Danvers Jewels presents an important response to The Moonstone, ultimately imparting a pessimistic message on the issue of empire. While Wilkie Collins’s 1868 novel can be read as an indictment of the British imperial mindset that nevertheless leaves open the possibility of resistance and change,2 The Danvers Jewels closes the gaps of the earlier text to suggest not only that disturbing conceptions of empire and a sense of British entitlement continue to prevail but have, in effect, been naturalized at home, with injurious results. The two texts appeared during and are set under somewhat different historical conditions, which help illuminate their diverse readings of imperial effects. Collins’s novel takes place in the late 1840s, about a decade before the 1857 Indian Mutiny that left such a marked impression on the British psyche and was still a fresh memory when The Moonstone appeared. The enormous significance of the Mutiny on British perceptions as well as on fiction about India has been abundantly catalogued, of course, both by contemporaneous accounts and modern scholarship. As Patrick Brantlinger puts it, ‘[n]o episode in British imperial history raised public excitement to a higher pitch’. In citing an Orientalist tenor, Brantlinger remarks that writings about the Mutiny reveal ‘an absolute polarization of good and evil’ in service to ‘an imperialist allegory that calls for the total subjugation of India and at times for the wholesale extermination of Indians’.3 Afterward, accounts continued such Manichean portrayals, and ‘racist and imperialist attitudes toward India grew more dogmatic’, even in the decade preceding publication of The Danvers Jewels, during which Queen Victoria was named Empress of India.4 Between the publication of The Moonstone and The Danvers Jewels, set after the Mutiny had occurred, Britain continued to hold a – 131 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

tight grip over Indian affairs, which helps to explain the naturalization of the imperialist mindset that distinguishes the latter text. Although the stirrings of Indian nationalism had emerged with the first gathering of the Indian National Congress at the end of 1885, shortly before Cholmondeley’s tale appeared, a robust independence movement was still years away. In The Danvers Jewels, we see presented not the beginnings of an enlightened view of India but instead a calcification of the attitudes Brantlinger identifies in post-Mutiny fiction, evidencing a perception that violence against Indians and seizure of their property was both justified and expected. Whether this novella by the generally conservative Cholmondeley is read as an insightful condemnation or a ready acceptance of such views, the effect in either case is to foreground the perils of an indiscriminate response to the imperialist agenda.5 Serialized in Temple Bar before its one-volume publication, The Danvers Jewels opens in India as an indisposed British military official, Sir John, asks Colonel Middleton to undertake a charge while returning to England on leave. Sir John has brutally obtained extraordinary jewels while in India and wishes Middleton to deliver them to Ralph Danvers, the second son of a woman he once loved. Hours after Middleton agrees and accepts the jewels, Sir John is murdered. Upon a ship returning to England, Middleton is befriended by a charming American, Valentine Carr, and Middleton reveals the secret of the concealed jewels. After the pair arrive in England, where the rest of the novel’s action will take place, several unsuccessful attempts are made to steal the jewels. Middleton embarks for the Danvers estate, shortly before Ralph is to be married to Aurelia Grant. Upon arrival, Middleton is advised by the irresponsible elder son, Charles, that a private theatrical is being rehearsed for a large gathering. When one of the performers falls ill, Middleton sends for Carr, who had acted the same role aboard ship. Middleton presents the jewels to Ralph and Aurelia, and the gems are carelessly concealed. Soon the jewels are stolen, and suspicion immediately falls upon the debt-laden Charles. Adding to the family’s woes is the worsening illness of its head, Sir George, and guests begin preparations to leave the estate. Though the Danvers brothers, Middleton and others attempt to trace the jewels, they fail. Aurelia, distraught over the loss, retreats to her room. Later that evening, it is discovered that Aurelia has fled, apparently with the jewels. Racing to the rail station in the midst of a harsh snowstorm, the search party learns that a train accident has occurred. Aurelia is found dead, with the jewels in her possession. A police inspector on the scene removes her hat and discovers that Aurelia had disguised herself with a wig. Unexpectedly, Carr appears briefly before taking flight. The inspector informs the Danvers party that Aurelia and Carr were married and had plotted the theft. Originally intending to steal the jewels of Ralph’s aunt, whom she had met on a sea voyage, Aurelia changed her

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plans when Carr contacted her about the much larger treasure heading to the Danvers estate. Carr had travelled to India to steal the jewels from Sir John but had arrived too late, and the frustrated American killed the soldier. Carr’s foiled robbery led to his following Middleton aboard ship and insinuating himself into the colonel’s friendship as a way of attempting burglary there and upon arrival in London. After Aurelia’s death, Carr continues to remain at large. A few months after the incident, Ralph marries his cousin, Evelyn Derrick, one of the participants in the theatrical. Similarities between the plot lines of The Danvers Jewels and The Moonstone are immediately evident, but the contrasts are compelling indicators of the ideological disparities in Victorian England about the British imperial mission. These distinctions most arrestingly appear in the texts’ treatment of India and its relationship to the purloined gems; widely diverse narrative structures whereby the earlier novel’s multiple narrators are reduced to one voice in The Danvers Jewels; and the effects on the domestic realm indirectly experienced as a result of imperial policy. If we consider The Moonstone to reveal fissures that complicate and problematize an unquestioning acceptance of the imperialist enterprise, then we can view The Danvers Jewels as revealing the damaging consequences from closing those gaps and naturalizing the sense of rightness that validated British dominance of its empire.

Treatment of India A startling difference between the two texts is the presence – or absence – of India as a narrative component. The prologue of The Moonstone and the initial chapter of The Danvers Jewels herald the disparity in attention to India and foreground the naturalization of the imperial sense of entitlement that is so markedly demonstrated in the novella. The Moonstone’s opening sentence promptly establishes India as a focal interest in the tale, with the narrator stating that his words were penned in India before he turns to the historical setting of the British attack on Seringapatam in 1799, the event customarily identified as the beginning of British rule in India.6 The lengthy provenance of the Moonstone is chronicled in detail, contextualizing the gem’s fate through the centuries as presented ‘in the native annals of India’ and tracing its ‘adventures’ as a religious icon seized by a succession of conquerors. Though dismissed as a ‘fanciful story’ by the narrator, the gem’s tale is nevertheless accorded primary consideration.7 In listing the various plunderers of the Moonstone, the prologue also places British seizure of the jewel in the same register as a crime against India.8 John Herncastle’s theft of the gem is depicted not only as an act of brutality by his narrating cousin, for Herncastle holds the dagger in which the jewel is set in a hand ‘dripping with blood’ and acts ‘like a madman’ in the grip of a ‘frenzy’,


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

but Herncastle is additionally deprived of any defensible right to the gem. He is tacitly designated a ‘thief ’ through the order of the commanding general prohibiting looting, and the narrator refers to Herncastle’s act as a ‘crime’ in observing that he is ‘persuaded of Herncastle’s guilt’.9 Added to the sense that Herncastle is no rightful owner of the Moonstone is the narrator’s extensive discussion of the Brahmin priests who selflessly strove over generations to regain the gem and, as the epilogue will reveal, return it to its proper place in an icon of the Indian god of the moon that had rested for centuries in a Hindu shrine. All of these prologue elements carry the forceful message that Herncastle’s theft of the Moonstone cannot be justified on any level, in part because of the importance of the gem to Indian history in the account. Yet the opening chapter of The Danvers Jewels presents a very contrastive scenario in marginalizing India without delay. In the initial sentence, the narrator is ‘on the point of leaving India and returning to England’, implicitly establishing the island nation as a marker of the metropole, and he accentuates the presence of the British colonial operation in asserting that he ‘had been up to Government House to take my leave’. Emphasis continues to be accorded to England as the narrator, Colonel Middleton, describes the ‘commission’ he will undertake – a noun conferring an imprimatur of sorts upon a vicious theft so egregious that its perpetrator could be hanged – in transporting the jewels to England on behalf of the dying Sir John.10 Interestingly, Middleton’s first name is ‘Bob’, and the presumed full name of Robert carries a homonymic echo to ‘robber’, underlying Middleton’s complicity in the crime as a subsequent accessory. The narrator’s visit to Sir John indirectly continues interest in English concerns with a reference to another official Briton, as Sir John’s aide-de-camp leads the colonel to the sick room, while India takes on the status of a curiosity with Middleton’s ‘bearer’ packing his collection of ‘Indian kookeries’.11 Indeed, Sir John’s given name itself underscores the national connection in that the phrase ‘Honourable John’ is conventionally identified as a reference to Britain.12 Lacking the particularity of a surname, Sir John seems an emblem of England itself. The correspondences between John Herncastle and Sir John apparent in the opening pages bear mention in assessing the textual perspectives on India. Most obvious is the common given name, which binds the pair as analogous imperial representations. Both characters are British military leaders who commit acts of extreme savagery, and both escape official punishment in a seeming acceptance of their heinous deeds against India.13 Yet the taint of guilt surrounds Herncastle through familial disapproval of his actions, while no similar stain from any source mars Sir John. In fact, Sir John holds a position of honour through the title he bears; whether bestowed for valour in India or acquired through lineage, the title elevates him to a position bringing respect and regard. The inescapable suggestion is that an apparent widespread acceptance for Sir John mirrors a

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prevalent Victorian embrasure of the imperialist enterprise. For such imperialist adherents, atrocities against India would be labelled instead as necessary measures to preserve this jewel of the empire. Unlike the prologue of The Moonstone, the first chapter of The Danvers Jewels situates the gems within merely a fragment of context, with no historical lineage or sense of Indian entitlement given but simply the story of Sir John’s acquisition of the treasure. Indeed, the only link Sir John provides to India is a reference to a necklace he ‘tore’ from ‘an old she-devil of a Rhanee’s neck after the Mutiny, and got a bite in the arm for my trouble’. The overdetermined explanation not only equates the Rhanee with barbarism and superstition, but it also invokes the selfjustified British response to the Mutiny with the savage treatment of mutineers. Not surprisingly, then, the Rahnee’s death is a relatively inconsequential act to her murderer, whose comment that ‘she’ll tell no tales’ is followed by chuckles and no evidence of guilt in musing that he did not ‘mind saying now how I got [the jewels]’ and designating himself as ‘a humble Christian, now … so near heaven’.14 Following another series of chuckles, Sir John examines a crescent adorned with diamonds, observing that ‘[a] duchess would be proud of them’ and indicating that he obtained the jewels ‘from a private soldier’ for two rupees.15 The crescent’s story poses a crucial difference from the theft of the other treasure, for it quietly attenuates the link between the jewels and Indian ownership. Though Sir John’s preceding thievery comes directly from an Indian source, the crescent is distanced from an Indian connection through the intermediary agent of the soldier, whose ambiguous ‘private’ status seemingly moves the crescent from a national to a personal plane and places the piece within an economic register as a commodity to be purchased. Even Sir John’s death dilutes the India connection, for he is killed not by an Indian but, as will ultimately be learned, by the American Carr, who will expiate any presumably untoward impression of British guilt. The awareness of familial culpability emerging in The Moonstone prologue, signalled by the narrator’s urging other relations to shun the infamous Herncastle, has no counterpart in The Danvers Jewels. Instead, the weakening of the association of the jewels from rightful Indian ownership continues unremittingly after the gems are first displayed when Sir John directs Middleton to hand them to Ralph Danvers. Though the intended recipient is not Sir John’s relative – he has none, he informs an inquisitive Middleton who believes that property should be inherited by family members – the narrative begins to establish a nonIndian lineage for the treasure by tracing Ralph’s heritage instead as ‘the second son of Sir George Danvers, of Stoke Moreton, in D—shire’.16 As this legitimizing process for the jewels begins, it is further developed through Sir John’s desire that they be given to Ralph’s bride and presumably become family heirlooms. By the end of the second chapter, the gems’ firm placement as an English entitlement is signalled through their anglicized designation with the titular name.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

By the third chapter, the jewels have been so firmly insinuated into British possession that they are referred to as ‘Sir John’s legacy’, without a lingering hint of their Indian origins.17 After this early point in the narrative, virtually no references to India are made, and the nation recedes into near invisibility. Though only one Indian character, Middleton’s bearer, appears in the story before the colonel returns to England, no Indians are present once the colonel arrives home. Moreover, just one individual besides Middleton has any direct connection to India – a military man like the narrator, although of higher rank. General Marston, identified as an ‘Indian officer’,18 is merely a minor character, however, who operates in a social rather than military milieu in the novella. The sole other textual link to India comes through a brief and unreported conversation between Marston and Middleton to ‘talk over our Indian experiences’; however, so insignificant is their discussion that it apparently occurs simply to pass the time while other guests play billiards and enable the pair ‘perhaps [to] doze undisturbed’.19 In contrast, India leaves dramatic tracings throughout The Moonstone. With the Brahmin priests continually attempting to regain the gem, their travels across the English countryside serve as both literal and metaphoric footprints that provide a constant reminder of a rightful Indian claim to the jewel that is established in the prologue. As critics have argued, the acts of the Brahmins as they strive to retrieve the Moonstone, though initially condemned for the threat posed to the English characters associated with the jewel, shift perceptibly to evoke a degree of sympathy for the priests’ cause.20 In part, sympathy is generated through the selfless pursuit of the gem as a religious pilgrimage of sorts whereby the priests suffer a loss of caste for their devotion to the cause. The self-sacrificial quest taps also into the British veneration of religion and duty, despite the fact that the priests are bound to the Orientalist religion of Hinduism. Also providing a periodic link to India is the hybrid character Ezra Jennings, product of an English father and Indian mother, who serves as a heroic figure in revealing Franklin Blake’s unconscious pilfering of the gem. Additionally, Mr Murthwaite, linked to India not by birth but by exploration, emerges on occasion. Numerous other associations to India, though more subtly framed, abound in The Moonstone and continually direct attention to it, as critical commentary has mentioned. Rachel Verinder, for instance, bears a surname that evokes the nation as a combination that could be read as ‘very Indian’; moreover, she has a darkish complexion, reveals a rebellious temper as did the Mutineers, and is robbed of the gem.21 Franklin Blake unwittingly steals the gem under the influence of opium, the infamously successful import derived from China via India.22 Rachel, Franklin and their cousin Godfrey Ablewhite are all connected to the imperialist Indian enterprise through their blood relationship to Herncastle.23 Through

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such textual associations to India, a reader would be insistently reminded of the imperialist enterprise and the disturbing questions that it raises.

Narrative Structure As all of these comparisons between the two narratives suggest, the dearth of an Indian presence in The Danvers Jewels foregrounds the novella’s revelation of a naturalized quality to British imperialist attitudes. Accentuating the naturalization process is the narrative structure of the 1887 story, especially in contrast to that of The Moonstone. The Danvers Jewels is built on the words of Colonel Middleton, unlike the framework of multiple narrators that undergirds Collins’s tale. Nonetheless, D. A. Miller points to the ‘thoroughly monological’ quality of The Moonstone in contending that it is ‘always speaking a master-voice that corrects, overrides, subordinates, or sublates all other voices it allows to speak’, thereby stifling any ‘authentic “dialogism”’. Thus, Miller maintains, even though The Moonstone ‘formally lacks a monological narrator’, the novel ‘remains an essentially monologic narration’.24 One could argue, however, that the mere presence of multiple narrators furthers dialogism, if for no other reason than the fact that several voices are relating the story with sometimes conflicting perspectives. Through these varied voices, ranging across generational perspectives, class levels and ideological vantage points, space is opened for more voices to issue forth even though they are not accorded their own narratives. Each voice exerts its own pressures and makes its own marks on the narrative such that even if a controlling voice attempts to convey an overriding message and govern the Victorian readership’s interpretation of the novel, monologism cannot be unproblematically achieved. Whether pushed to the peripheries, lowered in volume, or overtly discounted, the many voices still surface in the overall fabric of the text. In The Danvers Jewels, however, the presence of a single narrator allows a far greater measure of monologism, though even this voice cannot avoid allowing others to emanate quietly. Nevertheless, the monologic format does contribute to the novella’s message that imperialism has been naturalized in the Victorian mind, in large part through the particularities of this narrative speaker. In an odd way, Middleton is the perfect narrator to reveal the extent to which the imperialist mission pervades the quotidian structure of British domestic life. Central among the narrator’s flaws is his glaring lack of acumen, a deficiency highlighted in rare contemporary commentaries on the novella. Punch castigated the ‘stupidity’ of the ‘middle-aged Indian Colonel, who prides himself on being remarkably astute, and on possessing a perfectly marvellous insight into character’ while displaying himself as ‘a conceited, shallow-pated old ass’.25 In less colourful language, the Edinburgh Review described the narrator as presenting ‘that childlike faith in his own knowledge of the world, which is certainly more


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

characteristic of elderly colonels, when they happen to be stupid, than of any other type of stupid man’. The novella, the reviewer continued, employs ‘[t]he trick of making a narrator unconsciously expose his own oddities and shortcomings’, but the technique is one ‘worn rather threadbare’.26 Though his foolishness is readily discerned by other characters, so obtuse is Middleton that he has absolutely no comprehension of his own inadequacies and fails to recognize his innumerable mistakes. Even in the act of making a point, Middleton frequently undercuts his own contention with no realization he has done so. ‘[I]n my youth I had always been considered the fool of the family’, Middleton recalls early in the narrative, but adds, ‘most unjustly so considered when I look back at my quick promotion owing to casualties’.27 Proclaiming himself ‘rather a judge of character’, Middleton recounts his ‘great fancy’ for the villainous Carr upon their first meeting and contends ‘a nicer young fellow I never met’. After he muses that ‘I do not know how I do it, but I always seem to know what people really are at first sight’, Middleton proceeds with a character sketch that could not be more fallacious in describing Carr as being ‘rather simple and unsophisticated, and with less knowledge of the world than any man I ever knew’.28 Middleton never apprehends that Carr has manipulated him into revealing the location of the jewels, nor does the colonel make the obvious connection that Carr instigated several attempted robberies. Middleton fails to catch the irony of his statement about ‘how easily one may be deceived by appearances’ as he perpetually falls prey to them.29 Even at the novel’s conclusion, and despite abundant evidence, Middleton maintains Carr’s innocence. Also contributing to the portrait of Middleton as a buffoon is his dismissive and patronizing attitude towards women. Middleton’s statements reflect the reactionary posture of many Victorians in the period when the New Woman was – in their minds – an ominous figure and they resorted to time-worn platitudes attesting to female inferiority. ‘[W]omen, I find’, Middleton sniffs in making a typical comment, ‘are impervious as a rule to masculine argument, and it is a mistake to reason with them’. Moreover, ‘[i]t is, in fact, putting the sexes for a moment on an equality to which the weaker one is unaccustomed, and consequently unsuited’. According to Middleton’s logic, ‘a woman should have a certain amount of mind; just enough, in fact, to enable her to appreciate a superior one’. Furthermore, a young woman’s role, Middleton opines in observing the anxious demeanour of the Danvers cousin, Evelyn, is ‘to be bright and happy, with a smile for every one’. Middleton continues with the pompous notion that ‘[i]t is all very well for us men, who have the work of the world to do, to look grave at times, but with women it is different’.30 Middleton’s statement will be belied by events, though, for it is Evelyn who performs the novelistic work of the world as the only character to suspect Aurelia as the thief, an achievement particularly ironic in that ‘Evelyn’ is considered a masculine name.31 Evelyn’s accomplish-

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ment, however, is blithely dismissed as intuition, widely labelled a female trait manifesting inferiority. At first glance, the choice of Middleton as the narrative voice may seem a curious decision, one that apparently has been made to provide an amusing element in the story. Certainly, the entertainment Middleton’s account furnishes was appreciated by Punch, which found ‘a genuine vein of humour running through [the novella]’.32 On further scrutiny, however, the choice takes on a much more serious cast. Despite Middleton’s typically doltish observations, the colonel nevertheless acts as the narrative’s authoritative presence. The fact that the bumbling Middleton is a high-ranking military official who in his position serves as both a representative and facilitator of the empire calls into question the wisdom and implementation of the imperialistic mission itself. Proclaiming in the novel’s first paragraph that ‘I am always accurate’ and reinforcing the point at closure in stating that ‘I do not mean at the last moment to depart from the exact truth, and dabble in fiction just to make a suitable conclusion’, Middleton sets up his version of the truth in the account he has been asked to write as the one that will guide the narrative, which presumably would lead a perspicacious reader to interrogate the larger ‘truth’ Middleton represents as an agent of empire.33 Middleton, however, is never directly contested, and his story, even with its unmistakable inaccuracies, is allowed to stand as the record of the Danvers jewels. All events are presented through Middleton’s self-aggrandizing perspective, mirroring the egocentrism of the British imperial stance. With his surname suggesting a ‘middle tone’, the colonel embodies the prevalent British conception of the empire: erroneous, misguided and self-deceptive, yet widely embraced. In that regard, Middleton personifies an attitude engendering the empire that Victorian historian J. R. Seeley identified in famously observing that ‘[w]e seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind’.34 With the action of The Danvers Jewels taking place almost entirely in England, Middleton moves comfortably within the social class that provides a bulwark of support for British policies not only as a guest but as an agent of continued prosperity in providing the gems, suggesting by his unquestioned acceptance in that environment an analogous sanctioning of imperialist philosophy. Middleton, as well as the ideology he represents, is an integral part of the Danvers household that he fits into so readily and smoothly.

The English Home Yet the novel’s depiction of the Danvers family points to the damage that the naturalization of the imperialist mindset inflicts upon Britain itself. Critical commentary of The Moonstone has positioned the Verinder home as a synecdoche for England,35 and the same comparison holds true in The Danvers Jewels.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

In The Moonstone, as Jaya Mehta notes, the home is figured as a tranquil space before the gem appears within it, referring to Gabriel Betteredge’s statement about ‘our quiet English house’ that was ‘suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian diamond, bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues’.36 The intervention of the gem into the placid domestic realm serves as a striking reminder that British imperial policy affects the homeland as well as its colonized countries. The havoc unleashed in the Verinder estate by the gem’s appearance, along with the numerous ties to imperialist activity that are revealed by individuals connected with the household, implies that the homeland’s fate is inextricably intertwined with that of its distant colonies. In The Danvers Jewels, however, the English home is damaged before the gems ever appear. In its role as a synecdoche for England and assessed through an imperialist lens, the Danvers residence calls attention to the detrimental effects that the imperialist mission in India (and elsewhere) has already wrought in fissuring the ostensibly solid environment of the domestic realm. With The Moonstone being set in the late 1840s, we see England in its relatively early stages of Indian occupation, while the Danvers household suggests the results decades later of imperialist perceptions being naturalized in Victorian England; the synecdochical home is not only impaired but destabilized, with ominous repercussions for the nation at large. At first glance, the Danvers estate imparts an impression of tradition, solidity and endurance, as evidenced by Middleton’s first sight of the property:37 Stoke Moreton is a fine old Elizabethan house standing on rising ground. As we drove up the straight wide approach between two rows of ancient fantastically clipped hollies, I was impressed by the stately dignity of the place, which was not lessened as we drew up before a great arched door-way, and were ushered into a long hall supported by massive pillars of carved white stone. A roaring log-fire in the immense fireplace threw a ruddy glow over the long array of armour and gleaming weapons which lined the walls … As [Charles] stood inside the wide fireplace, leaning against one of the pillars which supported the towering white stone chimney-piece, covered with heraldic designs and coats of arms, he looked a worthier representative of an ancient race than I fear he really was.38

Though Middleton has proved himself a myopic narrator, the discordant note he inserts in describing Charles belies the home’s positive representation. The fractures within the Danvers home are manifested in numerous ways, as an examination of the family members indicates. The ailing patriarch, Sir George Danvers, is absent from this scene, suggesting his similar absence as a sound paternal figure binding his family into a cohesive entity. Indeed, he disdains his elder son so intensely that the father suspects Charles immediately when the jewels disappear. The relationship between father and son had long been strained; the two ‘rarely spoke, and … it was evidently only with a view to keeping up appear-

Naturalized Imperialism in The Danvers Jewels


ances that [Charles] was ever invited to the paternal roof at all’. The guiding moral presence of a Victorian home, the mother, is also absent, for Sir George is a widower. Standing in for her is Charles’s impressionable aunt, Lady Mary Cunningham, who despises her nephew and considers him ‘the ungodly’.39 Of special import are the myriad failings of the elder son, which portend poorly for the family’s continued prosperity. Identifying himself as the familial ‘black sheep’, Charles is deemed a ‘spendthrift’ whose father has ‘had to pay the debts and hush up the scandals’ and ‘know[s] Charles is head over ears in debt at this moment’.40 After all, so disreputable is Charles that even Sir John, the embodiment of dishonour, refused to give the purloined jewels to him. In bypassing the pattern of primogeniture, the narrative raises an enormous question about the prospects for future generations of Danvers offspring in this unsettling break with tradition. That concern is accentuated by the novella’s closure, when Charles fails to attend Ralph’s nuptials and must flee abroad to escape creditors. Even the derivations of the male Danvers names offer a dismaying and ironic commentary about the family’s fortunes. As evidenced by Charlotte Yonge’s tome on nomination, the sickly Sir George holds the name of the heroic St George, underscoring the sharp contrast between weakness and strength; Charles is far distanced from the puissant associations of Charles the Great, Charles the Bold and Charlemagne; and Ralph is derived from ‘house wolf ’, which could be interpreted as either a protective figure in or a destroyer of the home.41 Additionally boding poorly for the family’s future is the fact that Ralph carries the actual first name of Sir John, which implies that the latter’s unsavoury influence has extended into the Danvers family in that Ralph’s mother saw fit to confer the erstwhile suitor’s name upon her son. Moreover, Sir John wants the younger son to receive the jewels because they ‘will sweeten matrimony for Mr. Ralph’, and if his fiancée ‘is like other women it will need sweetening’;42 the implication is that this form of bribery is essential to preserve hope that the Danvers line will be perpetuated. Adding to the picture of a disintegrating household is its welcoming not only of the criminal Carr but also of Ralph’s fiancée, the treacherous Aurelia Grant. Through a casual shipboard meeting, Lady Mary had befriended Aurelia, and the romance between the young woman and Ralph was initiated. Lady Mary’s faulty discernment in readily accepting Aurelia and indulging in ‘warm friendship’,43 as well as the aunt’s role in bringing Aurelia and Ralph together in a potentially bigamous union, attests to a troubling misjudgement, in part because so little is known about the young woman and that information itself is dubious. The orphaned Aurelia has ‘no connections’ apart from uncles who are not even in England, with one in Australia and one in Ireland. Betraying the ‘suspicion of an Irish accent’,44 Aurelia is dually associated with foreignness and the undesirable connotations of a supposedly primitive Ireland and of a former site of criminal transportation. Furthermore, Aurelia carries the taint of trade in


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

that her grandfather reportedly indulged in the inelegant profession of selling mousetraps as a Birmingham merchant, ‘so people say’. To visitors at the Danvers home, however, the story seems true, since Aurelia ‘looks like it!’ and discloses ‘[n]o breeding or refinement’.45 Representing another indictment of the Danvers’s indiscriminate acceptance of Aurelia is the family’s inability to penetrate the guise of a conventional Victorian maiden, albeit a highly petulant one, that she adopts to conceal her felonious scheme. Aurelia looks the part; with her fair hair, pretty face and petite features, she suggests the doll-like appearance and childish behaviour of a Dora Copperfield, amplified by repeated diminutives in descriptions. ‘[A] charming little creature, with a curly head and a dimple, and a pink-and-white complexion’ as well as ‘pretty little teeth’ and ‘plump little hands’, Aurelia is a querulous individual who pouts, dissolves into tears and indulges in ‘the prettiest little outburst of temper imaginable’. Tellingly, Aurelia literally wears a mask, with her complexion ‘so thoroughly well done’ and with ‘colouring [that] was so true to nature’.46 The performative role of Aurelia, as well as that of her secret husband Carr, offers an interesting gloss on the actual performance of a private theatrical at the Danvers estate.47 As Ian Duncan observes about The Moonstone, Ezra Jennings directs a kind of theatrical in restaging the conditions under which the gem was stolen so that Blake repeats his unconscious theft under the influence of opium. In that way, the ‘theatrical’ in The Moonstone ‘reverses the convention’ of negativity associated with such acting.48 The theatrical solves the mystery and restores order in the Verinder home in vivid contrast to the theatrical in The Danvers Jewels, which instead initiates mystery and disorder, contributing to the novella’s portrayal of a damaged domestic environment. Importantly, Carr is tightly linked to theatricals, in that the ocean voyage that led to his friendship with Middleton also was the site of his ‘splendid acting’,49 on stage as well as off. Through the connection with Carr, theatricals carry an unsavoury tone, and the planned performance in the Danvers residence continues the negative perception in that the theatrical initiates Carr’s entry into the home. Moreover, the influx of acquaintances attending the theatrical is so overwhelming that the family is literally divided, for Ralph is forced to move to a lodge house to accommodate the many guests. The theatre, of course, had a chequered reputation both in actuality and in fiction. In the nineteenth century, the disdain of theatrical behaviour is certainly apparent, as scholarship has noted.50 Indeed, Nina Auerbach comments that theatricality was linked to insincerity in the Oxford English Dictionary, and ‘[r]everent Victorians shunned theatricality as the ultimate, deceitful mobility’ that ‘connotes not only lies, but a fluidity of character that decomposes the uniform integrity of the self ’.51 Nevertheless, the enormous popularity of the theatre in Victorian life ‘penetrated even the sacred domestic interior of respectable homes in the shape of amateur theatricals’, as Sara Hudston states.52 Though

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‘[a]round 1870 the theater cast off its aura of tabooed disrepute and began to win respectability’, Auerbach notes,53 the theatre continued to receive rebuke by some. In 1887, when The Danvers Jewels was published, ‘many agreed … that the theatre presented an “avalanche of trash”’, Hudston remarks.54 Henry James was among the most vocal critics of English drama, terming it in the late 1870s ‘violently and hopelessly irresponsible’ and claiming the ‘stage has probably never been so bad as it is at present’.55 James did not fail to castigate amateur theatricals either; saying that the highly popular ‘private theatricals are incessant’, James attributed their abundance to such factors as ‘the prevalence of country life’ and an ‘enormous class of people who have nothing in the world to do’ but seek to avoid ‘the considerable danger of being bored’ by ‘playing at histrionics’.56 With such unenviable associations, the amateur theatrical at the Danvers home is certainly problematic, in part because, as opponents of theatre contended, the distinction between appearance and reality is blurred. That flaw is definitely evidenced in The Danvers Jewels, for the most gifted actors on stage, Charles and Evelyn, are not the ones playing a part off stage, as are Aurelia and Carr. In confusing the boundary between actuality and fictionality, the theatrical complicates an accurate appraisal of the thieving spouses and underscores the dearth of sound judgement by the Danvers family. Extrapolating the situation to the synecdoche of the Danvers home as a signifier for England, we can see a corresponding deficiency in British understanding of the theatricality of empire as well. With both fictional and supposedly non-fictional accounts of India masking as accurate representations of India but instead confusing fact with fabrication, these forms of perhaps unwitting propaganda themselves assume theatrical dimensions. In ignoring British culpability for offences against India, such theatrical accounts enable the naturalization of the imperialist perspective to flourish unabated.

Deflecting Guilt The Danvers Jewels reveals one effective approach for not merely denying but excising such guilt. We have already seen the many strategies at work in the novella for attenuating the connection between the pilfered gems and India so that the jewels can be unambiguously positioned as Danvers property. With the legal system allowing material appropriated from the empire to become private property when it is transferred to England,57 the theft at the Danvers estate becomes not a loss of Indian treasure but the robbery of the family’s possessions. The fact that the robbery is not enacted by Indian representatives, as in The Moonstone, strengthens the notion that the jewels indisputably belong to the Danvers family. Yet the novella goes a step further in depicting the obviation of guilt by placing responsibility for the theft on two non-English characters.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

The choice of Aurelia and Carr as the robbers provides a dually satisfying resolution for the English reader. In a time when pressures on the empire from its subjects were apparent though not ruinous, the demise of the Irish Aurelia for attempting to wrest property from an English household likely would seem an appropriate punishment to a Victorian public. After all, the readership would recall the empire’s traumas not only from the Indian Mutiny but also from the quashed Jamaica rebellion. With the ongoing Irish home rule controversy on a much closer geographical front, the obliteration of the threat from an unruly Irish individual would appear a comforting resolution to the vague peril of colonial unrest. Gender and class status also contribute to the circumvention of English guilt. The fact that the thief is a devious woman – a daughter of Eve – and of dubious social class provides additional distancing from the original theft by a respected English officer. The American Carr presents a different kind of menace to the empire as a citizen of a nation well on its way to recovery from civil war. By the 1880s, the United States was enjoying a time of prosperity that was escalating dramatically as developments in industry and exportation were positioning America to become a usurper of British economic might. Indeed, Carr begins his scheme to steal the jewels in India, an invasion of sorts into a central component of the empire. The disparaging sentiment displayed in the novella towards Carr can be read as reflecting anxieties about America’s glowing prospects and the effects on Britain, with condescension disguising apprehension. When Lady Mary is advised of Carr’s nationality, for example, ‘he sank … at once in her estimation’.58 Middleton’s patronizing remark early in the narrative that ‘Carr did his best, but being only an American’ was unable to thwart an attack on Middleton59 is an ironic one in view of Carr’s designs on the jewels. The Danvers Jewels anticipates Dracula to an extent in the treatment of an American threat, in that Quincey Morris, as a representative of the nation playing an integral part in the destruction of Dracula, is expelled from the narrative through an unexpected death.60 The Danvers Jewels follows a different and more disturbing trajectory in that Carr not only survives after his unsuccessful crime but escapes punishment. In fact, the police inspector’s caution to Charles not to pursue Carr can be read as an appraisal of American menace. ‘It can do no good’, the inspector warns, ‘and might do harm. He is armed, and you are not; and he would not be over-scrupulous if he were pushed.’61 The nascent power Carr represents is intimated as well by his first name of Valentine, glossed by Charlotte Yonge as healthy and valiant.62 With the robbery checked at the novella’s closure, The Danvers Jewels seems to end on a positive note. Like The Moonstone, the story ends with a wedding, which presumably bolsters the English home through the prospect of future generations of Danvers offspring. The novella’s conclusion apparently is even more satisfactory to a Victorian reader in that the jewels will remain in England and

Naturalized Imperialism in The Danvers Jewels


are regained by the Danvers family as their legal property. Yet in The Moonstone, peace is restored to the English home seemingly as a result of the gem being returned to its rightful place in India. Though an analogous tranquility seems to be achieved in The Danvers Jewels, the effect is only superficial; instead, a dismaying sense of anxiety pervades closure, heightened by the deadening effect of the paralysing snowstorm. Carr, for instance, is free to continue as a threat, possibly still resident in England. Despite her ultimate comeuppance, Aurelia did succeed in ingratiating herself within the household, undetected, through her disguise as a fashionable young woman, leaving open the possibility that the undiscerning family could be fooled by a disreputable individual again. Though Ralph weds, his bride is his cousin Evelyn, and Sir George strongly disapproves of marriages between cousins. Charles is forced to leave England and unable to attend the wedding, leaving the family geographically and metaphorically riven. The jewels, though firmly part of Danvers fortunes, do not quite achieve the desired goal of being an integral part of the marriage rite that supposedly portends continuation of the family line. Instead, Evelyn ‘has refused to wear any of Sir John’s jewels on her wedding-day’ and only agrees to wear the diamond crescent after it has been reset.63 The immediate explanation for her initial refusal would seem to be the connection to the former fiancée but also can be viewed as an uneasiness about the gems’ ownership that cannot be completely dispelled in musing upon the kind of legacy Sir John has actually left. The fate of the jewels other than the crescent is left unstated, further fostering the impression of uncertainty. Thus, the Danvers story ends as it had begun: in a state of division and instability. In so doing, the novella reinforces its message about the deleterious effects to England itself emanating from a naturalization of an imperial mindset. Although the Danvers residence may appear to outsiders as a model of domestic harmony and security, it most certainly is not. Unquestioning acceptance of British imperial policy, The Danvers Jewels compellingly warns, carries destructive consequences not only abroad but at home.


Mary Cholmondeley’s people were Anglicans and had been for many generations. Her father, Revd Richard Hugh Cholmondeley, was the rector of St Luke’s Church in the village of Hodnet in Shropshire, England. He assumed the living1 of his father, and stepfather, who had both been rectors of Hodnet before him, as had been his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather. An uncle, Bishop Reginald Heber, besides holding the Hodnet benefice, was a bishop in Calcutta where a statue was erected in his honour. He became famous for his hymns, many of which are familiar to most Protestants and Anglicans today. In addition, he published several volumes of poetry and sermons.2 Her family’s history was steeped in the Church of England, but by the time Cholmondely was writing her novels, she had cause to bemoan that the Anglican Church had become as insipid as weak tea when once it was as crucial as one’s daily bread. In The Making of Victorian England, G. Kitson Clark makes a convincing case that except for the twelfth and seventeenth centuries, in no other time than during the Victorian era did the ‘claims of religion occupy so large a part in the nation’s life, or did men speaking in the name of religion contrive to exercise so much power’.3 In 1832 England, there were 140,000 church seats for a population of 1,380,000.4 By 1851, an additional 2,529 churches were built that cost about £9 million, in expectation that all of the empire would get itself to services on Sunday. As the long century wore on, though, half of the pew space remained empty and most of it filled by the lower classes. A census in 1851 indicated that 66 per cent of the available seats on any given Sunday were left empty,5 and those statistics would become even more dire. It was a shocking realization to rectors like Revd Cholmondeley, and to his daughter, that every week fewer pews were being filled. Beginning with the 1880s, all over the United Kingdom, church attendance was on the decline.6 An 1881 census concluded that only one-third of townspeople in England and Wales attended church.7 A newspaper reported: [w]hatever the reasons – and they are manifold – the masses of the population remain outside our places of worship, and the public ministrations of religion are, to a great – 147 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered extent, regarded by the working people in our towns as a matter which concerns the classes that are higher in social position, but has no particular relation to them.8

Compared to an 1850 census, attendance at Salvation Army services in cities like Liverpool and London dropped by two-thirds by 1890 and by four-fifths by 1912.9 By 1900, London’s Anglican churches were two-thirds empty, and Catholic churches were one-half empty.10 All of the Free Church rolls were down as well. Those who did attend were mostly women and children, with only one in eighty men ever setting foot in a church.11 By the end of the nineteenth century, some scholars says that less than 15 per cent of the English were attending church – Anglican or otherwise.12 The Church had lost its spiritual bearings, and it was regarded by many simply as ‘a national institution, the preserver of order and decorum, and the home of culture’,13 and for still others, it did not even merit those values. With scientific theory, the women’s movement, doctrinal schisms, secularization of education, economic swings and political and social changes of titanic proportions, the English had more to reconcile in their belief system than any Christians before them. At the turn of the century, the Church of England was in crisis. In fact, one writer used the date of 1881 to demarcate the beginning of the death of Christian Britain.14 The Church of England – either reformed, not reformed, orthodox or evangelical, whatever brand, location, church or chapel – as well as the Nonconformist and the Catholic churches were all in decline, and what was left was a lot of conflict. This calamity is apparent in Cholmondeley’s writing as it pulsates with the religious distress of the later Victorian and Edwardian periods. Specifically, Cholmondeley anguished over the corruption, hypocrisy and inefficacy of the Church, especially the Church of England. She was critical of its condition and feared that the pronouncement made by the Irish theologian Alexander Knox – that ‘the old High Church race is worn out’,15 made in 1816 – was more of a prophecy coming true in her time than an indictment of his own. Knox was incensed at the clergy for their secularization and complacency. Nearly a century later, the vice-provost of Eton College, Francis Warre Cornish, echoed a similar jeremiad, but at a moment in Church history when it would be too late. He warned that clergy would have to become more serious about their duty to combat the growing influences of the evangelical and liberal movements.16 The Church of England was never strong about evangelism. It just expected people in a parish naturally to be churchgoers and members of its congregation, as most of them used to be, voluntarily or otherwise, ever since the reign of the Church of England’s founder, King Henry VIII. After all, Britain was divided into geographical parishes, each overseen by a rector. For most of the nineteenth century, the Church of England

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did not realize it had to proselytize.17 However, that century ushered in irrevocable changes in society that essentially rendered the Church of England obsolete. Cholmondeley was deeply troubled by the apathy of Anglican clerics as well as the empty pews. These are concerns that she expressed in most of her works, but they are no more salient than in the story that points to them in its very title, ‘Moth and Rust’ (1902). The phrase comes from scripture: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal’.18 Not only is this the epigraph for the first chapter, it is the text for the sermon by Easthope’s vicar, which opens the book. His congregation ‘settled down peacefully to listen’; not to be moved in any way by Mr Long’s preaching, ‘for they never associated his sermons with anything to do with themselves’.19 The parishioners of Easthope had become ‘churchified’, that is they habitually went to church on Sundays but not for any other reason than social duty. Mr Long emphasizes the folly in valuing wealth too much, to a congregation who know very little about wealth. At the most, they have a pig that is to pay for their rent.20 They assume the lesson was chosen only for the squire and his family. Apparently they were used to hearing sermons that had nothing to do with them, except for the one time the pastor preached ‘against drunkenness’, which offended a ‘respectable widow’ who took it personally when for many years she was ‘“on the teetotal”’.21 On these first pages of her novel, Cholmondeley launches several attacks on the Church of England. First she gives notice that only four members of the church have wealth, signified by the carved pews. Parishioners were expected to sit in pews indicative of their social and economic rank.22 Surprisingly, the Nonconformists, who were predominantly lower and middle class, likewise rented pews. The Catholics did not, but apparently they complained about having to sit with the Irish, who they said smelled.23 This blatant observance of class within the church, which had been a time-honoured convention in England, grew more and more anachronistic, and a source of contention for many of the lower classes, especially after the passing of the reform bills that gave all men the vote. Why should they allow the Church to keep them ‘in their place’ if the government had granted them the power to influence politics and if the economy gave them opportunities to rise about the station into which they were born? A second issue that Cholmondeley addresses is that too many clerics were far removed from the daily lives of their parishioners. They neither knew enough about their flock to write sermons of relevance, nor did they care. Not that the vicar had any more money than did his parishioners, which is another complaint by Cholmondeley, despite the unethical acquisition of wealth by his church superiors. The poor vicar had a ‘pale wife’ and several children who were considered ‘encumbrances’ by the cousin who was supposed to provide his living,


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

which meant his housing and salary.24 On the other hand, many of the clergy came from the upper classes, who alone could afford to give a son a university education,25 and they knew and understood very little about the less privileged lives of their congregation. About her own father, Cholmondeley wrote that he ‘belonged to a generation whose conscience was awakening to the responsibilities and opportunities of its position as parish priest, though it had not yet acquired the panoplied organization of the present day’.26 In short, from Cholmondeley’s account in her memoir, Under One Roof, he was a sacrificial lamb to his parish, always available for any need with no thought to himself and generous with his money to a fault.27 He rebuilt a school, restored the church, began children’s services and gave lectures.28 Tellingly, Cholmondeley wrote: ‘Father was one of the last representatives of a by-gone class of clergyman of whom probably not one survives now’.29 She objected to clergy who paid little attention to their parishioners and felt no obligation to serve them. Cholmondeley’s Uncle Heber, another exceptional minister, was described by Thackeray as the charming poet, the happy possessor of all sorts of gifts and accomplishments – birth, wit, fame, high character, competence – he was the beloved parish priest in his own home at Hodnet, counselling the people in their troubles, advising them in their difficulties, kneeling often at their sick beds at the risk of his own life; where there was strife, the peace-maker; where there was want, the free giver.30

In that her father and uncle modelled Christ in these respects, practising love above all other concerns, it is not surprising that Cholmondeley censured the hypocrisy, bigotry and religiosity of the Anglican Church. In ‘Moth and Rust’ Cholmondeley also expresses disdain for the wayward, cavalier attitude of people in general at the end of the century. The simple but pure-hearted Janet promises her dying friend that she will never reveal that her child is illegitimate, a fact unbeknownst to her husband and to the biological father, who happens to be Janet’s brother. Keeping this secret will cost Janet a tremendous price, the greatest being that her fiancé will desert her. The love that she has borne for him – apparently an earthly treasure – becomes corrupted by the moth and rust – just as Matthew 6:19 warns. Later, evidence will surface to exonerate her, her former fiancé will realize he married the wrong woman, and Janet will marry someone else who truly merits her worth. She has had to learn that the love she cherished was mutable. This is Cholmondeley’s exhortation to her readers; they should relinquish their hearts to God and receive His love, the only one that is perfect and unchangeable. Although Cholmondeley and her family were loyal Anglicans, they did embrace many ideas and practices that had become characteristic of the Dissenters, especially the Methodists, such as Arminianism. The passage below also

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articulates this view of salvation, that it is through God’s grace and only through His grace that one is able to enter into a relationship with Him, but that He never forces salvation on anyone: Perhaps that moment of discovery of our real identity in another is the first lowest rung of the steep ladder of love. Does God, who flung down to us that nearest empty highway to Himself, does He wonder why so few travellers come up by it; why we go wearily round by such bitter, sin-bogged, sorrow-smirched bypaths to reach Him at last?31

Instead of trust in God, the expanse between obsolescence and legalism characterized much of Anglicanism during the period of Cholmondeley’s writing. It was relentlessly beset with the rise in Catholicism and battles between the two, plus the burgeoning of Evangelicalism within and without. These strains scuttle through all of her fiction, but they clash the most in Red Pottage (1899), her most popular novel. Its title refers to the biblical story of Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Rebekah and Isaac. In that Esau came from the womb first, he is the eldest and heir. One day Esau returns from working in the fields, famished, and finds that Jacob has made some red pottage. Jacob is willing to share only if Esau sells him his birthright, which he does. After that, Jacob tricks their father into giving him the firstborn blessing.32 Cholmondeley’s characters are just as heedless and reckless in selling their birthrights, and they are blind to deception. The year 1901 marked the end of Victoria’s reign, an age of strict morality that included forty years of wearing black. In short, the fin de siècle ushered in an extreme backlash to socially imposed morality when the established Church had already lost its own moral moorings. Cholmondeley viewed her generation as eroded and devoid of probity, reduced to aspiring to nothing more than the gratification of the flesh. To Cholmondeley, the consequence of such behaviour can be only personal dissatisfaction, a great deal of unhappiness to others, desperation, disease, despair and chaos. This assessment of widespread immorality is reflected in Red Pottage. Reassured by a magazine article in which he read that infidelity was an acceptable modern practice, Hugh Scarlett has an affair with the married Lady Newhaven who is beautiful and vain. She also thinks herself quite religious and virtuous. Like many people, she has used ‘religion’ to justify her sin; she has deceived herself in believing that she made a mistake in marrying Lord Newhaven and that it was God’s will that she marry Hugh. She wishes and prays for her husband’s death, so that she can be free to marry Hugh. Lord Newhaven discovers her infidelity. Unlike most nihilistic people of her generation – as Cholmondeley understood them – he will not tolerate this behaviour. He reinforces his stand on morality by compelling Hugh to pull from two straws. Whoever chooses the short end will have to kill himself in five months’ time, thus ensuring that there will be only one husband for one wife.


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Lady Newhaven will not know until the end of the novel who lost the draw. When his wife tries to force him to say, Lord Newhaven calmly retrieves from his library shelf a volume of Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Written in the fifteenth century, this devotional has powerfully touched the hearts of Protestant and Catholic alike through the ages. Its precept is that the only way to holiness is through self-renunciation. Therefore, it is a fitting reminder for how people are supposed to live and especially for what Lord Newhaven must do. His resolve will be sorely tested when Hugh almost drowns in a boating accident. He does rescue Hugh, who afterwards becomes so convinced of his despicable behaviour compared to Lord Newhaven’s nobility that he wishes he had drowned. Yet, as Yeats put it, ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, / while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity’.33 Hugh continues to lack the backbone to do the honourable thing by killing himself, for he was the one who pulled the short straw. Instead, he challenges Lord Newhaven to a duel, but the Lord refuses to give rise to scandal. When the deadline arrives, Lord Newhaven throws himself into the path of an oncoming train. Because Hugh failed to hold himself accountable for his sin, Lord Newhaven sacrificed his own life for the sin of another. Even so, Cholmondeley would have God intervene and exact payment from Hugh. He had given Hugh a warning through the boat accident that he was to repent and make restitution. Failing to do so, Hugh falls through ice and drowns. This time no one rescues him. Hugh had thought that he could defy God, have Lady Newhaven and win the virtuous, long-suffering Rachel West. But Rachel marries Dick Vernon, a man who is anti-religious but not anti-religion. At the end of the novel, Cholmondeley rejoices in their union: ‘How, then, can life be sad, when [Hope and Love and Enthusiasm] walk beside us always in the growing light towards the Perfect Day’.34 The paired story in this novel belongs to Rachel’s friend Hester Gresley. She is forced to live with her pharisaic brother who is a vicar at war with the Dissenters.35 His wife is self-righteous and jealous of her talented sister-in-law’s success, with her first book, An Idyll of East London, being a best-seller. The vicar and his wife perceive Hester as a profligate; it is their duty to bring her back into the fold. Hester takes wine with her meals when the Gresleys are abstinent. Hester elects to walk in the garden instead of attending early morning church. By her actions, even though Hester is a likable character in contrast to her brother, Cholmondeley is not lifting her up as a model Christian. Hester is like many lapsed churchgoers at the turn of the century who were the first in their class to perceive Sunday as a day for rest and leisure. They could participate in sports or be spectators to them, attend a music hall, socialize in parks, tour museums, visit zoos and menageries, hear lectures, take walks. Before 1880, the Young Men’s Christian Association offered Bible study and prayer meetings, but

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afterwards it became known as the place for exercise.36 Leisure opportunities like these were readily available and affordable, and if activities failed to suffice, there were 80,000 pubs.37 Of course, despite what her brother thinks about his sister’s lack of temperance, Hester is not spending Sundays getting drunk or playing croquet or betting on the horses. Two other characters do elect to take leisurely strolls on a Sunday instead of attending church: Doll and Hugh, ‘whose orthodoxy obliges them to regard Sunday as a day of rest’.38 It does seem that Cholmondeley justifies these characters’ neglect of church services, when she differentiates nature as God’s creation and ‘the little stout church in their midst’ as man’s creation.39 This is only because the pulpit has been filled by Pharisees like the vicar Gresley and was, at the turn of the century, unable to attract many men who possessed ‘able and enlightened minds’.40 James, Hester’s brother, is self-righteous and spiritually arrogant. The Cholmondeleys fought legalism and ritual as obstacles to ministering Christ’s love to others. Revd Cholmondeley was not legalistic and therefore came under attack by Anglicans who set the law above love. For example, he held afternoon communion for those who could not make earlier services, even after doing so got him into trouble with his superiors.41 And yet it is exactly the Church of England’s failure to change with the times in order to be more effective in ministering to its adherents that was another major reason that people gave up on the Church. There were many other issues that divided the Church and made it anything but a safe harbour. The vicar, Hester and Dick hotly contest issues of apostolic succession, temperance, evolution42 and the woman’s movement, through which Cholmondeley articulates her own position. Apostolic succession as God’s authority on this earth was a major wedge that separated the Church of England from the Catholic Church. It was a major dispute that spawned the Oxford Movement,43 so the threesome in the parlour would most likely not come to a consensus. Aside from the historical animosity over doctrinal issues within the High, Low and Broad Church,44 which had greatly diminished by the end of the Victorian period, something else had been occurring that culminated by the time of Cholmondeley’s novels. In early England ‘the parish church and the manor house were the twin seats of local power, and the vicar and the lord or laird were the joint holders of that power’.45 By the nineteenth century in practice were ‘High Victorian politics’,46 or, simply put, very little separation between the Church of England and Parliament. Especially during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Parliament and the upper crust saw that it was in their best interest to support the Church, and the Church did more than any other agency to convince the working classes to submit themselves to their economic status quo according to God’s will for them and with His help to endure it. The Church of England consisted mostly of the upper class, their domestics, south


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

England and the agricultural labourers. However, even John Wesley encouraged his congregations, who rarely included aristocrats, to give honest labour, trust in God for provision and abhor materialism. Even though Wesley disliked the idle rich, he reinforced the feudal system, the foundation of England’s class structure, by teaching that the masters were responsible for the well-being of their workers and that they should emulate God as a force of good instead of a tyrant of power; therefore, Wesley was greatly instrumental in dissuading his followers from participating in labour strikes or riots.47 As the Nonconformist churches grew stronger and more numerous, especially with the great migration of people into the industrial cities in the north where there was minimal Anglican presence,48 a political divide widened between the two camps, with the Anglicans digging in as conservatives, resisting any reform that would give the lower classes more power. The Nonconformists were becoming more and more liberal, fighting for the enfranchisement of all males. Thus from 1850 until the First World War, religious loyalties aligned with political loyalties and vice versa.49 However, with the rise of trade unions and the Reform acts that eventually gave all males the vote, politics became increasingly secular, and the labourers in particular saw less need to turn to any church for help.50 This is one reason by 1908 an industrial town like Liverpool saw only 13 per cent attendance in morning services and 28 per cent in the evening.51 With such a history, it is not surprising that numerous Anglican clergy like Revd James Gresley regarded Dissenters with less than brotherly love. Gresley ardently despises them and wants Hester to edit an article he has written that denounces them. From the pulpit he insists that Dissenters are worms, but ‘possibly God in His mercy may let them slip in by a back-door to heaven!’52 Instead of fuelling dissension in his parish, Cholmondeley’s father promoted unity. Although her Uncle Charles was Roman Catholic, her father treated him – as well as Dissenters – with respect and regarded them as ‘soldiers of different regiments’, fighting on the same side of a war.53 This was a radical view when these three religions (Anglicanism, Evangelicalism and Catholicism) were creating impassable chasms between them throughout England. Despite Gresley and all of the other reasons why people like Hester were avoiding the church, Cholmondeley does not advocate apostasy. She wants churches to be led by men as good as her own father, a man who rarely spoke of his faith,54 but lived and walked it. He was the model for the good bishop in the story, whose godly, kind behaviour transforms many a life – not from the pulpit, not through the sermon and not through sacraments, but through the consistently generous life he lives.55 So, when Hester meets her darkest hour, when her brother has burned her book for its critical assessment of the clergy, she does not turn to nature for solace or to any other counterfeit spiritual panacea; she flees,

‘Moth and Rust’


on foot, the ten-mile distance to the bishop. And he does exactly what a man of the cloth should do: he puts her in God’s hands.56 Cholmondeley was aware of the social consequences of an age when people could not find God in the Church. It was apparent to her that the result was misplaced values, bad decisions, materialism, carnality and a host of evils she identifies in Diana Tempest (1893). The centerpiece of the novel is Overleigh Castle, which has been in the Tempest family since the time of Edward II. The present owner, John Senior or Jack, is on his deathbed. The property is to pass, naturally, to his only son, John Amyas, but his selfish, self-absorbed brother is determined to persuade him to bequeath it to his own son, Archie, the replica of his greedy self. Colonel Tempest had stolen from Jack the love of his life, the first Diana. He married her and treated her with so much ill and disregard that she died shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Diana, Archie’s younger sister by seven years. Needless to say, Jack fails to be convinced to declare John’s illegitimacy before he dies. John becomes the master of Overleigh and spends most of his youth paying his cousin Archie’s debts. Diana is raised by her maternal grandmother and thus grows up unspoiled, unlike her brother. She is sober about romance and forewarned about the realities of marriage by her grandmother, who comments that she is glad that there is no marrying in the next world and adds ‘Perhaps God Almighty sees it is a mistake’.57 Diana knows a young woman – Madeleine – who marries for money, although Diana implores her to do otherwise. The marriage quickly deteriorates into sheer misery for both husband and wife. Lord Hemsworth and his sixteenyear-old brother fall in love with Diana and are determined to marry her, but of course, she is destined to marry John. There are wonderful twists and turns in this novel, one of the best attributes of Cholmondeley’s writing. Angry that his brother would not accede to his wishes, Colonel Tempest signs an agreement with a sleazy lawyer, Mr Swayne: ‘I, Edward Tempest, lay one thousand pounds to one sovereign that I do never inherit the property of Overleigh in Yorkshire’.58 Mr Swayne hires assassins to kill John so that Swayne can win the bet. Close to the end of the novel, John discovers that he is illegitimate and therefore Archie is the rightful master of Overleigh, but this causes another shocking twist. Archie and John are walking in Paris when a man asks John if he is Tempest, and John denies it because he now believes he has no legal right to the name. The assassin’s knife, intended for John Tempest, plunges again and again into Archie’s back. Subsequently, Diana inherits Overleigh and marries John, and thus he is the master of Overleigh after all. These twists are not happenstance. Nor are they simply the plotting of a skilful author. Throughout the novel, the existence of God and then His nature as capricious or benevolent are vehemently contested, but the outcomes of each character’s life ‘prove’ that there is a God and that ‘He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him’.59 These consequences restore and then bolster the hereto-


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

fore floundering faith experienced by John, Diana and perhaps readers who have turned away from the Church. As for the Colonel, he never believed in ‘cause and effect; he believed in chance. He had sown, but perhaps nothing would come up. He had seen the lightning, but perhaps the thunder might not follow after all.’60 Cholmondeley will prove him wrong and others who think like him. The bad will be punished; the good will be rewarded. Before then, the Colonel could not believe that he was a sinner because ‘his heart was in the right place’. He was aware of his failings but deceived himself in believing that there was a breech between the ‘inward and spiritual gracefulness of his feelings and the outward and visible signs of his actions’. He knew that he should act more chivalrously, especially towards women. His treatment of his wife was insufferable, but the fault belonged to everyone else, like his father for spoiling him and his wife for not understanding him.61 Without accountability, he had no relationship with God. Religion to him was mere superstition, albeit handy to apply like ‘mental chloroform’ when one feels guilty, and he did feel guilty.62 Here Cholmondeley indicts her day and age: ‘Perhaps a religion for self-centred people remains to be invented. Even religiosity – the patent medicine of the spiritual life of the age, the universal pain-killer – even religiosity, though it meets almost all requirements, does not quite fill the gap’.63 What does she mean by ‘religiosity’? In Madeleine’s boudoir are two paintings that Cholmondeley calls ‘pendants’. One is Wedded (1881) by Frederic Leighton. It is quite tender, but also quite sensual with the wife leaning her head back on her husband’s shoulder. In déshabillé, her frock has slipped nearly below her girdle, and her breasts, although covered by a sheer chemise or underblouse, are borne to the viewer. The expression on her face suggests post-orgasmic contentment. Kissing the tips of her fingers, he is wearing what looks to be a leopard skin; he is the predator. The other painting is William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World (1851) in which Christ is standing, knocking at the door.64 There is a bright aureole about His head crowned by thorns, and He holds a lit lantern. Cholmondeley could not have meant for Leighton’s painting to represent the wedding of Christ, that is Christ and His bride, the Church; and that this is the contentment that one feels when one is ‘wedded to Christ’ after opening the door to Him. Instead, I think that she is contrasting erotic love with agape love, the temporal with the eternal, the flesh with the spiritual. Madeleine’s name is another version of Magdalene. Some Bible scholars believe there was only one Magdalene in the Bible, who was the sister of Martha and a prostitute who was forgiven by Christ, and she was the one from which He cast seven demons. After that, she followed Him, anointed his feet with expensive oil, wept with His mother at the cross and then was the first person to whom He appeared after resurrection.65 Other Bible scholars believe that there were several Mary Magdalenes and that the sinner (assumed to be a prostitute although the Bible

‘Moth and Rust’


never claims that) was different from the sister of Martha. In short, there seems to be a bad girl/good girl by the same name. Cholmondeley’s character, Madeleine, has to make a decision: which painting will she choose for her life? Will she cater to her flesh and marry for self-centred reasons or will she open the door and let Christ into her life? Madeleine thinks that she has reconciled the two. She informs Diana that she spent all morning in her room, praying about marrying Sir Henry Verelst; she ‘laid it all before – ’, a ‘peace’ came over her, so she was sure that the marriage was ‘meant to be’.66 Besides, she is convinced that a woman can wield a great deal of influence for good over a man; Madeleine intends to turn him into the husband she needs him to be. If that were not enough, she tells Diana that she ‘always mentions him in’ her prayers.67 Madeleine has no relationship with God. She has taken the ‘broad paths of religiosity’, and many are they that travel it, but it is a ‘creed hideous’.68 Diana sees all of this, and it fills her with rage. She – as Cholmondeley’s persona – thinks people like Madeleine greatly discredit religion.69 In contrast, John, who has suffered most of his life from loneliness because he never knew love from anyone except his nurse and tutor, desperately seeks God. At the age of eleven, however, his faith is shattered. His best and only friend, who was his tutor, Mr Goodwin, loses his hands when he rescues John from falling into train tracks after he has been pushed by one of the assassins. John prays and begs God to spare Mr Goodwin’s hands, or least one of them, because he is a scholar, writer and cricketer. John prays without ceasing for two days. He asks the Lord who parted the Red Sea and sent the plagues to deliver Israel to intervene. When both hands are amputated, John swears he will never pray again.70 Later, when John is a young man at Oxford, he intellectually renounces Christianity. John reasons that Christianity expects him to ‘lose hold of the best’ that is in him – that is his intellect and rationale – and expects him to live a ‘goody-goody sort of life’. Rejecting the stale Christianity of the Church, he believes that he hears the voice of God in his heart that speaks contrary to the teachings of the Church. He vows that he will always ‘love, honour, and cherish’ that voice.71 In response, Cholmondeley recalls the story in the Bible of a rich young man (like John) who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Christ tells him that he must give his earthly treasure to the poor. He will have ‘treasure in heaven’, like the king who will never perish. He must ‘[f ]orsake all, leave all, and follow Me’.72 But many of Cholmondeley’s generation dismissed the message as being irrelevant to modern life. To these, Cholmondeley laments that they have missed the ‘point of life’: The individual life, namely, the life of Christ – obedient not to Scripture, but to the Giver of the Scripture – is not lived. The life Christ led – at variance with the recognised faiths and fashionable opinions of the day, at variance just because it did not conform to a dead ritual, just because it was obedient throughout to a personal prompting – that life is not more tolerated to-day than it was eighteen hundred years


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered ago. The Church will have none of it; treats the first spark of it as an infidelity to Christ Himself. Against every young and ardent listening and questioning soul the Church and the world combine, as in Our Lord’s day, to crucify once again the Christ life which is not of their kindling, which is indeed an infidelity, but an infidelity only to them. So the crucifix is raised high. The sign of our great rejection of Him is deified; the Mediator, the Saviour, the Redeemer is honoured. The instrument of His death is honoured; but the thought for the sake of which He was content to stretch His nailed hands upon it, His thought is without honour.73

And Cholmondeley blames the Church – the Anglican Church – for substituting ritual for relationship with the ‘Giver of the Scripture’. In fact, the Church considered it heresy for a lay person to think that an individual could hear from God directly and trust his or her own limited spiritual knowledge to interpret the scripture correctly. In this, the Anglican Church was in agreement with its parent, the Roman Catholic Church. In this, the Evangelicals challenged both. In dismay, Cholmondeley laments the state of those like John, rejected by and disappointed with man, extremely well educated with ‘dangerous’ views, self-sufficient due to wealth, disillusioned with Christianity through their experiences with a dead Church, angry at God because His ways are not our ways. This is disquieting to Cholmondeley as she surmises: How many rush hither and thither and wear down the patience of their counsellors, and whittle away all the best years of their lives to nothingness, fretting and scratching among ruins for the law by which they may live! They look for it in bibles, in the minds of anxious friends who turn over everything to help them, in the face of Nature who betrays the knowledge of the secret in her eyes, but who utters it not. And last of all a remnant look into their own hearts, where the great law of life has been hidden from the beginning. David says: ‘Yea, Thy law is written in my heart.’ A greater one than David [i.e. Jesus] said the same. But it is buried deep, and few there be that find it.74

One Sunday in church, John is asked to read the first lesson: ‘I will arise and go to my Father’,75 while Mr Goodwin prays that God will touch his heart. But John, too, can ‘play religion’, quote scripture and still not believe in God. The Church allows this. His faith is restored only when he comes to the end of himself, literally, when he is no longer John Tempest and he relinquishes all rights to the Overleigh fortune, that he, like ‘love, dead and buried, had arisen out of his grave’.76 The last sentence of the novel is that he and Diana ‘wept and clung together like two children’.77 They have undergone the ‘born-again experience’, a belief held by Evangelicals that, according to scripture, one must die to the natural self and live anew through a spiritual regeneration through Christ. Aside from the Evangelical Anglicans, most Anglicans rejected this interpretation of the Bible.78 As for Colonel Tempest, he is so guilt-ridden over setting in motion the assassination plot, he, too, is desperate to know the truth about God. At this point though, he sees God as an ‘omniscient detective, an avenger, an executioner who

‘Moth and Rust’


mocked his efforts to propitiate Him, to escape out of His hand, who held him as in a pillory and would presently break him on the wheel’. Significantly, Cholmondeley says, ‘A cheap faith is an expensive experience’. Tempest has always been a selfish man. Now, like so many people, he tries to hold onto his life only to see it slip away. He feels repulsed by everyone, including God.79 Yet his guilt does not produce remorse other than that it causes discomfort. It is not until he suffers from the death of Archie, knowing that it has happened by the hand of an assassin intended for John, that he dies and goes to ‘the Infinite Pity beyond’.80 Diana also has to go through a baptism experience: she has to surrender herself, her hopes and her love for John. When she realizes that John really does love her and that they can marry, Cholmondeley makes a profound statement: ‘Sorrow with his pick mines the heart. But he is a cunning workman. He deepens the channels whereby happiness may enter, and hollows out new chambers for joy to abide in, when he is gone.’81 Only through suffering, the sort that happens when one is crucified, only then does one reach the end of a worldly life to live the spiritually full, abundant life that Christ promises, something that cannot be stolen or destroyed.82 To Cholmondeley, marriage meant dying to one’s self instead of self-gratification, and marriage to Christ required no less. She learned this not from the Church, but from her own father. He married a woman who would suffer paralysis due to chronic depression.83 In addition to a busy household of needy children, Aunt Georgiana lived with them for some years in her old age, followed by Uncle Reggie.84 Cholmondeley needed especial care too because of acute asthma85 and because she never married. Revd Cholmondeley cared for them and his parishioners. However, she, in turn, spent most of her youth caring for her mother. Her philosophy perhaps was best articulated in Red Pottage: ‘Every day I live I am more convinced that the waste of life lies in the love we have not given, the powers we have not used, the selfish prudence that will risk nothing and which, shirking pain, misses happiness as well’.86 Cholmondeley’s life itself and her fiction illustrate her firm conviction that people must not desire and acquire ‘treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal’. The treasure and theft are uncompromisingly defined in all of her novels and short stories, but her characters who are hungry and humble recover their faith at a time in England’s history when faith was in short supply. Her assertion that faith is an eternal treasure worth any price is Cholmondeley’s gift to the post-Victorian age of apostasy.


At first glance Mary Cholmondeley’s two works ‘Votes for Men: A Dialogue’ (1909) and ‘The Dark Cottage’ (1919) may appear to have little in common.1 ‘Votes for Men’ is an excoriating one-act suffragist play, whilst ‘The Dark Cottage’ is a short story about the life of a wealthy industrialist who becomes a soldier in the Great War. Yet both texts were written for Christmas editions of popular literary journals, both are set in an imagined utopian – or possibly dystopian – Britain of the future and both deal with the same issues of eugenics, nationhood, the sexual double standard and the responsibilities that come with power. What follows is an exploration of Cholmondeley’s two futuristic fantasies and a comparison of their treatments of these central issues in order to understand how Cholmondeley’s ideological concerns, her feminism, her social and political conscience and her hopes and fears for the future – of Britain, of herself and her writing – had changed in the ten years between their publications. This essay asks if the intervening war years had dampened Cholmondeley’s feminist fervour and how her writing style had evolved during this decade; it also touches upon the ways in which Cholmondeley’s dreams of literary posterity are written into the two focal texts’ treatment of the issues of Victorian cultural and intellectual legacy. The later years of Cholmondeley’s life have – until this edition – received relatively little critical attention; however they mark a most interesting phase in her career as she turned to life-writing, drama and short fiction. Cholmondeley’s first biographer describes these years as characterized by domesticity and quietude enforced by illness, but the archives and writings of this period offer a glimpse into a busy and interesting time of reflection, experiment and creativity.2

‘Votes for Men’ Cholmondeley was fifty years of age when she wrote ‘Votes for Men’ in 1909. The plot sees men long since disenfranchised following the revolutionary election of a feminist government in the year 2009 and now – as the action takes place in the – 161 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

early twenty-second century – ruled by Prime Minster Eugenia. Even in this fantasy Cholmondeley does not dare to imagine the election of a female prime minister during her own century. The ‘shrieking sisterhood’ of late-Victorian and Edwardian suffragists has been replaced by the year 2109’s ‘Brawling Brotherhood’.3 Writing about women’s practical involvement in politics was becoming increasingly common at this time as Cholmondeley’s futuristic dream of a female parliamentary candidate was fast becoming a reality. The very same issue of the Cornhill which carried ‘Votes for Men’ also included ‘Women at the Polls’, an article by the actress and author Florence Cornell Gomme who offers practical advice on how women candidates might stand for local council elections in London boroughs. ‘Votes for Men’ employs the simple rhetorical device of role-reversal which sees a futuristic, all-female ruling class employ the same dogmatic arguments used by the anti-suffrage establishment against pro-vote campaigners of the 1870s to 1910s. The device is used to most striking effect in support of Henry, Eugenia’s husband, who watches a procession of Men’s Re-enfranchisement League protesters pass Downing Street. Henry laments his role as President of the Anti-Suffrage League, saying the procession, ‘makes me proud I am a man’.4 Henry can only counter his wife’s lack of sympathy for the unenfranchised by drawing parallels with the ‘Votes for Women’ campaign; he pleads: But if only you would look into the old records, as I have been doing, you would see that Lord Curzon and Lord James and Lord Cromer and many others employed these same arguments in order to withhold the suffrage from women.5

Thus Cholmondeley intends to hoist the anti-suffragists of 1909 with their own petard and she achieves this to comic effect. For instance Eugenia employs the – by 1909 – familiar anti-suffrage argument that only a small minority of women really wanted the vote whilst the sensible majority preferred the status quo. She brands the louder, more militant protesters ‘hysterical’ and claims this is proof of ‘how unsuited the sex is to be trusted with the vote’.6 By lifting the fight for universal suffrage out of its contemporaneous context much is achieved. The anti-suffrage arguments sound churlish, dogmatic and fragile in this new world in which women have appropriated power. This is due partly to the novelty of Cholmondeley’s approach to suffrage writing. The play appeared in the wake of Elizabeth Robins’s drama Votes for Women! (1906). Jean Chothia points out that despite this play’s popularity it was attacked in the press as ‘old-fashioned for its conventional Society setting in acts one and three, its re-working of the erring-woman plot and its use of melodramatic tricks’ such as the dropped handkerchief device.7 Cholmondeley, on the other hand, could not be accused of old-fashioned plotting; if the flying car-planes of the twenty-second century were not novel enough for her audience, then the device of writing a suffragist drama without any female suffragist characters in it surely is.

Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’


‘Votes for Men’ speaks of Cholmondeley’s ambivalence towards the suffrage movement’s more militant tactics. She reluctantly acknowledges the effectiveness of aggressive action – which was branded by many as detrimental to the cause – whilst expressing concern that all women campaigners would be negatively associated with the violence and disruption of militancy. Prime Minister Eugenia, annoyed by a protestor who had recently riveted himself to the balcony of her private car-plane, states, ‘[t]hat sort of conduct puts back the cause of men’s reinfranchisement by fifty years’, but Henry counters this with: But ought the cause to be judged by the folly of a few howling dervishes? Sometimes it really seems, Eugenia, as if women were determined to regard the brawling brotherhood as if it represented the men who seek for the vote. And yet the sad part is that those brawlers have done more in two years to advance the cause than their more orderly brothers have achieved in twenty. For years past I have heard quiet suffragists say that all their efforts have been like knocking in a padded room. They can’t make themselves heard.8

Henry goes on to criticize Punchinella, the futuristic equivalent of the magazine Punch. For two decades Cholmondeley and her colleagues had been at the mercy of Punch as it lambasted literary, political or learned women as ugly, spinster ‘bluestockings’.9 Likewise, Punchinella always draws Henry’s contemporaries as ‘obese disappointed old bachelors’.10 Henry is, therefore, the eloquent mouthpiece for Cholmondeley’s own feminist opinions – as well as her comic fall guy – but as the drama unfolds her position becomes increasingly ambivalent. Cholmondeley’s didactic tone turns towards a discomforting overcompensation for Edwardian women’s political oppression. She intends to shock her readers with a startling lesson on the corruption that accompanies absolute power and it begins when she subverts the logic of biological essentialism evoked by nineteenth- and twentieth-century anti-suffragists. Just as contemporaneous detractors of feminism cited men’s physical strength as evidence of their fitness to shoulder responsibility and power, Cholmondeley cites women’s reproductive power as a counter-argument. Eugenia states: It is no use arguing; it is merely hysteria to combat the basic fact that the sex which controls the birth-rate must by nature rule the nation which it creates. This is not a question with which law can deal for nature has decided it.11

Just as a generation of women agitating for the vote had been silenced by the supremacy of male brute force, Henry withdraws from this debate in a ‘paralysed silence’.12 Cholmondeley does not take this line any further: she does not suggest that it is birth control, marital sexual abstinence or women’s sexual self-determination that have brought about this reversal in the fortunes of women, but these are certainly implied by Eugenia’s statement, ‘[y]ou know, and I know, and every


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

schoolgirl knows, that what rules the birth-rate rules the world’.13 Cholmondeley’s vision for the future of women champions a universal claim to female sexual self-ownership as a means to achieve political and social emancipation. Indeed, the birth rate has favoured Eugenia’s generation: she explains that it was the sheer numbers of women in 2009 which allowed them ‘to combine, to outvote the men and so to seize the reins’.14 Inspired by the most recent census – of 1901 – which found that females outnumbered men by a little over one million, creating a generational phenomenon of ‘superfluous women’, Cholmondeley dwells on the collective power of Edwardian women, and suggests that their ‘numerical majority’ stands them in good stead to seize political power.15 It is the status of such ‘superfluous women’ which informs the longest speech in the play, as Eugenia muses on the history of women’s oppression as being indissolubly linked to the fates of unmarried women: Yes, thank heaven, all women can marry nowadays. What women must have endured in the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century makes me shudder. For if they did not marry they were never spared the ridicule or the contemptuous compassion of men. It seems incredible, looking back, to realise that large families of daughters were kept idle and unhappy at home, after their youth was over, not allowed to take up any profession, only to be turned callously adrift in their middle age at their father’s death, with a pittance on which they could barely live. And yet these things were done by educated and kindly men who professed to care for the interests of women.16

Cholmondeley famously, and perhaps only half-jokingly, resented her single status though she also acknowledged that not marrying was the key to her success and professional freedom. Her friend and biographer Percy Lubbock records a statement of Cholmondeley’s which mirrors the above sentiments of Eugenia’s: It is not my talent that has placed me where I am, but the repression of my youth, my unhappy love-affair, the having to confront a hard dull life, devoid of anything I cared for intellectually, and being hampered at every turn by constant constant illness.17

By situating the large numbers of disempowered and often ridiculed unmarried women of the period – including herself – at the very heart of political and social change, Cholmondeley champions their cause, demonstrates how strength in numbers can affect change and could allow the appropriation of power and, crucially, renders herself and her contemporaries superfluous no more. By rethinking the suffragist drama and using the imaginatively appropriative move of having a female MP as protagonist, Cholmondeley creates an empowering motif with which to inspire the women’s movement. The press, pamphlets, stage and publishing houses were repeatedly peddling the same images of the suffragette. By offering this alternative image of empowered womanhood Cholmondeley creates an enabling discursive tool with which to refresh and revive the movement.

Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’


Yet Cholmondeley wants to foster debate, therefore Eugenia, initially a symbolic feminist heroine, comes to resemble an anti-heroine and a sinister advocate of eugenicist ideologies, such as the ‘conscription to motherhood, as in Germany’ of all women.18 Eugenia is about to publish a bill which will rule that every healthy married woman or female celibate over twenty-five and under forty, members of the government excepted, must do her duty to the state by bringing into the world … three children, a girl and two boys. If her income is insufficient to rear them, the state will take charge of them. One extra boy is needed to supply the wastage of accidents in practical work, and in the case of war.19

For Cholmondeley’s didactic device to work – getting across her argument that a legacy of sex inequality can only damage a nation – Eugenia must become a tyrant and bully. It is Henry who brings this argument into sharp focus when Eugenia states, ‘Men never did justice to us when they had the upper hand’, to which he replies: They did not. And I think the truth lies there. Those who have the upper hand cannot be just to those who are in their power. They don’t intend to be unfair, but they seem unable to give their attention to the rights of those who cannot enforce them. Men were unintentionally unjust to women for hundreds of years … It seems to be an inevitable part of the rôle of ‘top dog’.20

Interestingly, the only females who support the male re-enfranchisement campaign are women authors and journalists. As the procession passes Eugenia’s windows both male and female authors march together as a mark of solidarity between the literary trades, regardless of gender. Perhaps this is a statement of Cholmondeley’s optimism for the future of the literary establishment and her hope that the work of those who live, write and protest under the scriveners’ banner could bring about social cohesion, equality and progress. The material legacy of the suffrage campaign of the early 1900s is one of literature and through ‘Votes for Men’ Cholmondeley positions herself right at its centre.

‘The Dark Cottage’ As the threat of war increased, Cholmondeley’s life continued in much the same vein: characterized by literary endeavour, her social rounds – despite continued ill-health – and a growing concern for the legacy left by her generation to those of the future. Between 1909 and the outbreak of war in 1914 Cholmondeley continued to write and publish; she even oversaw a dramatization of her short story ‘The Hand on the Latch’ into a one-act play for the Playhouse in the spring of 1911.21 This period continued to be one of socializing too. Throughout the war Cholmondeley entertained literary guests, including Rhoda Broughton


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

and the Findlater sisters. In a 1919 letter to her long-term friend and mentor Broughton she commented, ‘I think I deserve an O.B.E. for having kept up my little Thursday dinner parties all through the war’.22 The war years would have a marked effect on Cholmondeley as they disrupted her novelistic career. She confessed to Broughton her fear that her imagination had ‘dropped dead into the great crevasse of the war’.23 Cholmondeley divided the period 1914 to 1918 between her cottage at Ufford, Sussex, and the family home at Leonard Place, Kensington. The war would affect the lives of both Mary and her sister Victoria, who took posts sending letters to families of missing soldiers. Cholmondeley described this work to Broughton, writing: ‘It is my duty to find out from quantities of reports what a certain regiment was doing on a certain day so as to trace missing soldiers’ last movements’.24 Whilst at Ufford shortly before war broke out, Cholmondeley received a visit from her airman nephew, Reginald. His crew landed their plane behind her cottage and Cholmondeley described it as ‘a most impressive sight and quite new’, though the novelty of the sight of war planes was destined soon to wear off and Reginald would be killed in action two years later.25 Cholmondeley’s correspondence of this period tells of the psychological impact of seeing bombers overhead and of being confined to her garden air raid shelter for hours at a time. A letter to Broughton of 14 July 1917 describes seeing a Super Zeppelin shot down in flames over Ufford, and this incident is retold in ‘In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, which serves as an introductory chapter to The Romance of his Life (1921). This preface exists as the last published piece of life-writing by Cholmondeley, and it offers a glimpse of life in Ufford during the war. Although the village’s name is changed to ‘Riff ’, Cholmondeley speaks in the first person and describes her personal war experience. ‘In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’ describes seeing the Zeppelin shot down at around 2.30 a.m. on 17 June 1917 by British aircraft.26 Cholmondeley describes the moment the airship caught light: There rose simultaneously from every throat in Riff a shout of triumph, the shrill cries of the children joining with the voices of the elders. And after that one cry, silence fell upon us, as we watched that towering furnace of flame, freighted with agony, sink slowly to the earth. At last it sank out of sight, leaving a pillar of smoke to mark its passing.27

Only three of the nineteen crewmen survived. It was the most significant moment of Cholmondeley’s war experience and stayed with her for the rest of her life. Here were the blood and violence of the European battlefield transported to the quiet fields and villages of Suffolk. Despite the hectic nature of her wartime lifestyle, and the constant threat of aerial raids on the south-east, Cholmondeley continued her literary endeavours. Her letters to Broughton confirm she wrote the majority of the collection The

Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’


Romance of his Life during the war years. The disruption to publishing during the war allowed time to write her family memoir Under One Roof (1918), though peace was declared soon after its publication. Cholmondeley was overwhelmed by the news, writing giddily to Broughton, ‘I resist the continual desire to get drunk!’28 Yet, it was business as usual for Cholmondeley as money was getting tight. Victoria Cholmondeley had turned to making furniture to raise money, so it must have come as a relief when the Pears Christmas Annual commissioned ‘The Dark Cottage’. The whole issue was to be dedicated to celebrating the end of the war and imagining a Britain fifty years hence.29 The ethos of this special Christmas number is expressed in the editor’s introductory ‘Twenty-Ninth Annual Message to Our Readers’, which begins: The Shadow of war has lifted, and we can face the coming Christmastide with hopeful thoughts, in spite of the long aftermath we may have to travel through, entering into the spirit of the Christmas season with plenty of the old-time zest, lightened and animated by new ideas. It is a new world that the Christmas Bells will ring us into, and in adapting our annual to the fresh conditions, allowing contributors and artists to exercise their thoughts and fancies upon a Christmas Period of fifty years hence, we trust we have given our readers a Christmas catering that they will heartily enjoy.30

Cholmondeley, who was now sixty years of age, embraced the opportunity to try out these ‘new ideas’ and produced a short story set in 1965 which represents her innovative excursion into science fiction writing. George Locke has identified the 1919 Pears Christmas Annual as ‘[t]he world’s first English-language SF [science fiction] magazine’, and certainly Cholmondeley enjoys the imaginative freedom of creating a future-scape, but the story operates predominantly as a warning for the post-war generation to safeguard a positive cultural legacy befitting their, to use the Pears Annual editor’s terms, ‘new world’ and its ‘fresh conditions’.31 The sacrifice of her young airman nephew to the war, her work on the cases of soldiers killed in action and the memory of the many Ufford boys who did not return from the front, weighed heavily upon her. Her life was touched not only by the war dead but by the war injured. By the summer of 1919 Victoria had a cottage industry running in Ufford; she had turned the morning room into a workshop and was training two disabled soldiers to paint furniture.32 Cholmondeley directed all of this into ‘The Dark Cottage’, which is just as much about the war as it is about 1965.33 The main character, John Damer, is a landowner, industrialist and anti-suffragist who goes to war in 1915; he is injured and returns to England in a deep coma which lasts for fifty years. We are told in the opening lines that, by 1915, Damer was ‘troubled for his country and his wife and child’ so he opted to enlist, but he was not troubled by the threat that his way of life posed to the future life of England.34 Before the war he liked to sit on the hill above his stately home and


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

look across at his great chimneys ‘belching forth smoke’ and the blue fog of pollution which hung over his factory-villages. We are told ‘[t]hat low lying cloud reminded him of his great prosperity’.35 The legacy of his neglect hangs in the air and scars the landscape, yet his privileged position means he need not examine it – or his conscience – close up. Again Cholmondeley directs criticism at her own times by viewing them through the eyes of an imagined future observer. Wakening again in 1965, aged eighty, the aptly named Damer must confront the legacy of his actions which had damned his tenants and workers to a life of illness and deprivation. Damer’s grandson Jack, a picture of ruddy vigour and a symbol of progress, arrives in his plane to meet his grandfather with the intention of interrogating his ‘feudal point of view’, thinking of him as a living relic of a bygone age. Jack has spent many years interviewing war veterans of his grandfather’s age in order to understand him better, but he has found their opinions not as definite as Damer’s ‘because they have insensibly got all their edges knocked off so to speak by lifelong contact with the two younger generations’.36 Damer’s experience is unique since he is a direct and unaltered link to the pre-war industrialist-landowner mentality. When Damer wakes he finds many things have altered. His son Michael has installed a nuclear power station which caused the nearby rookery to be abandoned by the birds, their fledglings killed by its radiation. Damer is devastated, stating, ‘there has always been a rookery at Marcham’.37 His daughter-in-law Serena tells Damer, ‘the gas from the factories has killed all the trees. What was not good for the trees could not be good for the children’, whom she describes as ‘poor grimy fledglings’.38 Yet Damer, who was devastated by the loss of Marcham’s historic rookery of fledglings, had never spared a thought for those of his workers. Damer’s progressive son objects, ‘[w]hat’s a rookery to a thousand children reared in a smoky swamp[?]’39 Damer also learns that the problem of pollution from his factories had been solved by a post-war law that ruled all factories must consume and recycle their own smoky emissions. Michael has relocated the factory workers to a new, healthy model town far from Damer’s marshy, polluted industrial zone where their ‘huddled houses’ used to stand.40 Damer is outraged; he cries, ‘[a]ll my landmarks are swept away’.41 Yet Damer had thought himself rather advanced in his day; he had put electric light in his home, despite his father’s disapproval, but Damer’s grandson is unimpressed with the limited scope of this progressiveness. Jack states: You installed electric light in the house and stables and garage, but there was power enough to light a town. While you were doing it, why didn’t you light the church and village as well? … it must have made you very uncomfortable to feel you had not shared the benefit of it with the community. The village lies at your very gates. You must have hated the feeling that you had lit yourself up, and left them in the dark.42

Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’


Damer only replies, ‘It never entered my head’. By rebuilding the factories and workers’ accommodation and attracting back the labourers who were already migrating to the towns before the war, the new generation of Damers have rescued the failing industry in their part of England. Jack says, ‘we only got them back by better conditions in lighting and housing, and facilities for movement and amusement’.43 Jack goes on to muse over the irony of a generation of men who lost their lives in fighting for justice in Europe, but did not recognize the injustice of their own actions at home. The heart of Cholmondeley’s criticism lies here in Jack’s interrogation of the actions of the ruling classes: ‘It seems to me the national characteristic of the upper classes fifty years ago must have been the opposition to all change, a tendency to ignore symptoms which really were danger signals, and an undeveloped sense of justice’.44 These ‘danger signals’ were heralding a series of riots and strikes and a final revolutionary blow in which the working classes demanded parity, a period Jack calls ‘the Black Winter’ – which sounds astonishingly close to the realities of the British General Strike of 1926 or the ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978–9 and the miners’ strikes which followed. Cholmondeley even hopes to prick the social consciences of post-war mine owners with her admonitory story. Jack recounts a – possibly real – moment of the war in which a northern regiment made up largely of miners came across the devastated mines of France, and discovered that each pit-head was equipped with bath houses. Jack confronts his grandfather on the squalid conditions his own miners had lived in before the war, wondering why he had not provided such basic amenities when he had been so wealthy. Finally, Jack informs his grandfather that the miners, backed by the first labour governments, had ‘wrung’ reform from the mine owners with an activism and violence which eventually brought about the decline of the landowning, industrialist classes.45 This is Cholmondeley’s warning to the ruling classes – adapt or face extinction. Cholmondeley’s England of 1965 is a model of communal equanimity. Everyone dresses in the archaic country-peasant clothes reminiscent of a Thomas Hardy novel at its most nostalgic. In their worsted blue stockings and white smocks the English express their ‘wish to be dressed alike nowadays’.46 Cholmondeley, therefore, dreams of a kind of universal rational dress campaign sweeping aside the pre-war interest in clothing as a statement of one’s social status in favour of a socialist utopian vision of equality, and England itself is a picture of Arcadian perfection as Cholmondeley’s dreams of an end to industrial pollution – with what would today be termed ‘green technologies’ – render the landscape idyllic as it recovers from decades of damage in the nineteenth century. Cholmondeley also dreams of a free movement across the globe for everyone. Damer’s brain surgeon has flown from his home in India to perform the operation which ends his coma, whilst everyone – including Damer’s young granddaughter – has a plane which they can pilot across the world on a whim; she has just returned from a fortnight’s fishing in the Rockies. Cholmondeley was picking up on the greater mobility


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

offered by air travel and anticipating that it could be the leveller of humankind – encouraging equanimity between inhabitants of different continents through closer contact and increased understanding. Her dream of transcending social and geographical boundaries does not end here. Cholmondeley could be said to be at the vanguard of the science fiction movement as she imagined a developmental step in human psychical evolution as her twentieth-century protagonists learn the new, but highly dangerous, skill of teleportation.47 Just as in ‘Votes for Men’, Cholmondeley’s story also features a female politician. As Damer lay unconscious, his wife Catherine was fighting for political change. As an MP she ‘strove for the restriction of the White Slave Traffic and for safeguarding children from the great disease. Some terrible evils were abated by her determined advocacy.’48 Perhaps this character was inspired by the events of 15 November 1919 when Nancy Astor became the first woman MP in England in a Plymouth by-election. Cholmondeley would have followed the election in the last stages of writing ‘The Dark Cottage’. By 1919 Cholmondeley’s characterization of the female MP has mellowed; perhaps because of the progress women were making socially and politically, she no longer had to be an acerbic or threatening Eugenia. Instead, Cholmondeley creates a moderate feminist reformer, a wife and mother who has the whole country’s interests at heart. Damer’s opinion is that his wife would be ‘better employed at home’ and these ‘difficult subjects’ are best left to men. Serena can only reply, ‘They had been left to men for a long time’, but Cholmondeley does not let him off the hook as easily as this.49 Damer’s grandson Jack also wishes to question him about his politics. He tells him, ‘[y]ou were against female suffrage, too I remember … You voted several times against it’. To which Damer replies, ‘I did. I consider woman’s sphere is in the home.’50 The thoroughly modern Jack cannot understand why his grandfather’s generation did not place an emphasis on the education of women and the labouring classes, since the pre-war national school system meant turning out a generation of people ‘not sufficiently educated to rule’ and, according to Jack, as the women’s movement and labour party gained power, they plunged the country into deeper political turmoil, at least at first.51 Interestingly, it is Damer’s unpreparedness to meet a figure of female progress which ultimately ends his life. His granddaughter – who is free to adventure alone far from the domestic sphere – arrives at the story’s end and as she approaches the grandfather she had never met he mistakes her for his late wife; the shock is too much for his wrecked body and he dies in her arms. Again similarly to ‘Votes for Men’, Cholmondeley’s short story also features a eugenicist undercurrent. Just as the disenfranchised men of the twenty-second century had become ‘athletic’ and wholesome due to the newly empowered woman’s sexual self-determination and eugenicist selection, Cholmondeley’s dream of a post-war England in ‘The Dark Cottage’ is equally healthful.52 For instance, Damer’s grandson is a ‘Fatigue Eliminator’, whose occupation is the

Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’


eradication of the factors which ‘retard cerebral activity’ such as laziness, whilst Damer’s granddaughter is quarantined by the ‘Catarrh Inspector’ after catching a cold.53 Cholmondeley imagines rigorous hygiene and health controls designed to wipe out illness and inefficiency in the post-war generation. A modern reader may find discomforting the notion that those Cholmondeley calls the mentally and physically ‘deficient’ have been bred out of the population. In this category Cholmondeley includes ‘the hysterical and melancholic and people who can’t take the initiative, and those who suffer from inertia and tend to become blood suckers’. Cholmondeley tells us that the numbers of persons who ‘live on the energies of others … grow fewer every year’.54 Although in ‘Votes for Men’ Prime Minister Eugenia’s parliamentary bill of eugenicist, conscripted motherhood operates as a device to warn her readers against the dangers of unchecked power, by 1919 Cholmondeley’s notion of eugenics has changed. Instead of a clinical economics of motherhood and biological determinism, Cholmondeley imagines the benefits of hereditary good health, perhaps due to her own increasing ill health throughout the war years and her belief that illness had hampered her career and happiness since her childhood. ‘The Dark Cottage’ was written in 1919 for a readership touched by the loss of beloved family members in the war, and Cholmondeley is cautious not to appear critical of the lost generation of soldiers. She is aiming her critique at those who survive and have a chance to reform the country they have inherited. Serena defends Damer: He doesn’t know – how could he, that his generation let us in. We paid their bill. All the wickedness and the suffering of the great black winter had their root in the blindness and self-seeking of his generation and the one before him.55

In the final passages Damer begins to understand the consequences of his actions and cries, ‘[t]he world is not my world any longer. I am a stranger and a sojourner in it’, and here Cholmondeley pays her own tribute to those lost at war, as Serena states: unless you and countless others, all the best men of your time had given your lives to the country, we should have no country to-day. You bled for us, you kept it for us, for your son, and your son’s son: and we all honour and thank you for what you have done for us.56

With the last words of the dying John Damer – his redemptive confession – Cholmondeley reiterates her message on the necessity of social reform: I see now … that I only died for my country. I did not live for her. I took things more or less as I found them. I was blind, blind, blind … Did the others – all those who never fought – there were so many who did not fight – and those who fought and came back – did they live for her, did they try to make a different England, to make her free and happy – after the war?57


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

With the possibility of a bright future for Britain resonating poignant and unanswered, Damer dies and Cholmondeley’s didactic tale and tribute ends. What then did Cholmondeley hope to achieve with these two futuristic fantasies? As Christmas stories written for the festive family readership, they may have been inspired by the supernatural Christmas literature of Cholmondeley’s own past, with its redemptive messages. Cholmondeley presents her readers with the ‘spectres’ of the collective social conscience and, as in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843), there is yet time for protagonist and reader alike to change, having been shown the error of their ways by Cholmondeley’s all-seeing, guiding spirit. With these texts Cholmondeley advocates political involvement and representation for women, equality in education across the classes, rational dress, clean factories and improved housing, increased social and geographic mobility and – crucially – a drive and determination to leave a better England for future generations. These texts may seem optimistic, even naive, but they are products of the turbulent times they were created in. Cholmondeley was clearly deeply dissatisfied, possibly even guilty, about the state of affairs she was leaving to those younger than her. It is likely that Cholmondeley did not know how close the country was to social and political change; she died only three years before the passing of the Equal Franchise Act and fifty years before the eleven-year prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher. Her life after the publication of ‘The Dark Cottage’ was marked with painful illness, the death of Rhoda Broughton in 1920 and no new publications. Between 1909 and 1919 the readership for Cholmondeley’s brand of realist, didactic novels had dissipated but perhaps she felt she could achieve just as much through the genre available to her, short fiction. She certainly did not shy away from the controversial social issues she had tackled in 1899 with Red Pottage, and her witty, satirical style remains very much in evidence in both of the futuristic fantasies treated in this essay. Yet, as Linda H. Peterson has argued, due to Cholmondeley’s inability to find one periodical with which she could build a relationship and contribute to regularly, she lost the possibility of becoming a household name and ‘it became more difficult for her to produce work in a recognizable permanent form’.58 However, between 1909 and 1919 Cholmondeley was regularly writing for a number of periodicals, publishing her own life-writing and collections of stories and seeing new editions and reprints of her earlier works continue to sell, all ensuring that she is remembered today. Moreover, by writing the two futuristic fantasies, ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’, Mary Cholmondeley has posthumously caught the eye of posterity by writing into her texts her own cultural legacy as a passionate, unfailing advocate of reform, peace and equality, thus ensuring that the new generation of readers who reappraise her work will recognize the literary and cultural valency of her contribution.


Introduction 1. 2.

3. 4. 5. 6.


8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

M. Troughton, ‘Mary Cholmondeley – An Almost Forgotten Shropshire Authoress’, Shropshire Magazine (February 1957), pp. 9–10. Cholmondeley was famously the subject of an article by V. Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”: Mary Cholmondeley and Red Pottage’, Essays in Criticism, 20:2 (1970), pp. 213–28. This label has since been contested by critics such as E. Showalter in A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977); A. Ardis in ‘“Retreat with Honour”: Mary Cholmondeley’s Representation of the New Woman Artist in Red Pottage’, in S. W. Jones (ed.), Essays on Poetics, Politics and Portraiture (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), pp. 333–50; and L. H. Peterson in Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1999). The best-known edition of Red Pottage was published by Virago in 1985, with an introduction by E. Showalter. MS Diary, 16 May 1877, Private Archive. Mary Cholmondeley to James Payn, 3 January 1895, Wolff 1212b, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. M. Cholmondeley, ‘Preface’, The Danvers Jewels (London: Bentley, 1887). M. Cholmondeley, ‘Lisle’s Courtship’, Household Words, 36 (May 1884), pp. 501–7. Cholmondeley identified herself as the author on her personal copy of the issue in which it appeared. M. Cholmondeley, ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, in Moth and Rust together with ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’ and ‘The Pitfall’ (London: John Murray, 1902), pp. 243–66; first published in Graphic (Summer 1885), pp. 28–32. Mary Cholmondeley to Richmond Ritchie, 5 March [1888], Anne Thackeray Ritchie Papers, Eton College Library. Mary Cholmondeley to George Bentley, 24 October 1893, L27, Bentley Archive, British Library, Mic. B.53/177. Mary Cholmondeley to George Bentley, 5 December 1892, L22, Bentley Archive. Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 1 June 1906, MS Nathan 132, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Diary, 9 October 1899. Diary, 20 December 1905. Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 18 May 1907, MS Nathan 132. – 173 –


Notes to pages 6–14

15. Ufford Monthly Magazine, April 1915, S Ufford 283, Suffolk Record Office. 16. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 February 1919, DDB/M/C/2/14, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

1 ‘Social Suicide – Yes’ 1. 2.

M. Cholmondeley, Diana Tempest (1893; London: Macmillan, 1909), p. 52. L. Pykett, The ‘Improper’ Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing (London: Routledge, 1992), passim. 3. Ibid., p. x. 4. A. Richardson and C. Willis, ‘Introduction’, in A. Richardson and C. Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact: Fin-de-Siècle Feminisms (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 1–38, on pp. 11, 9. 5. E. Liggins and A. Maunder, ‘Reassessing Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction by Women, 1825–1880’, Women’s Writing, 11:1 (2004), pp. 3–9, on p. 7. 6. As T. Schaffer cautions in a recent review essay on ‘British Non-Canonical Women Novelists, 1850–1900: Recent Studies’, we need to go beyond mere rediscovery that takes previous neglect as its main premise, and which may end up ‘flattening out’ complicated sets of representations to defend ‘the apparently hopelessly popular author’ (Dickens Studies Annual, 37 (2006), pp. 325–41, on p. 336). In ‘Women and Domestic Culture’, Schaffer goes further to warn against the pitfalls of traditional ‘advocacy feminism’, which ‘like Foucaldian criticism, risks incorporating all artifacts into pre-set narratives that may flatten out what is actually a much more complicated set of representations’ (Victorian Literature and Culture, 35 (2007), pp. 385–95, on p. 386). 7. B. R. Weber, ‘“Were Not These Words Conceived in Her Mind?” Gender/Sex and Metaphors of Maternity at the Fin de Siècle’, Feminist Studies, 32:3 (2006), pp. 547–72, on p. 550. 8. Ibid., p. 550. Weber compares Cholmondeley’s Red Pottage with Rhoda Broughton’s A Beginner (1894) and Elizabeth Robins’s George Mandeville’s Husband (1894). 9. L. Pykett, ‘Portraits of the Artist as a Young Woman: Representations of the Female Artist in the New Woman Fiction of the 1890s’, in N. D. Thompson (ed.), Victorian Women Writers and the Woman Question (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 135–50, on p. 135. 10. Ibid., pp. 144, 148. They may seem ‘defeatist’ in contrast to the self-representations of ‘womanly’ writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant, [who] repeatedly represent themselves as reconciling the conflicts between their writing and their feminine, domestic vocations with cheerfulness and equanimity’ (ibid., p. 143). In a study of female artistic labour that focuses on domesticity’s empowering functions, P. Zakreski has recently reassessed the established connection between work, domesticity and domestic art, suggesting a careful differentiation between forms of work that hinge upon motivation as much as upon actual output (Representing Female Artistic Labour, 1848– 1890: Refining Work for the Middle-Class Woman (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p. 123). 11. W. Parkins, ‘Home and Away: The New Woman and Domesticity in Mary Cholmondeley’s Red Pottage’, Women: A Cultural Review, 10:1 (1999), pp. 47–55, on p. 48. 12. Ibid., p. 52. See also Pykett, The ‘Improper’ Feminine, p. 181, and Pykett, ‘Portraits of the Artists’, p. 141. It is vital to note that Cholmondeley’s later fiction shows that Hester Gresley eventually publishes after all. In her 1902 novella ‘Moth and Rust’, for example, Hester’s works are read and briefly discussed. A clergyman significantly ‘does not

Notes to pages 14–19

13. 14. 15.


17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.


approve of her books; they have such a low tone’ (‘Moth and Rust’, in Moth and Rust, pp. 1–239, on p. 52). Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’, pp. 222–3. Compare Parkins, ‘Home and Away’, p. 52. L. H. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals in the (Re)making of Mary Cholmondeley as New Woman Writer’, Media History, 7:1 (2001), pp. 33–40, on pp. 34, 37. Colby terms the novel published directly after Diana Tempest, A Devotee: An Episode in the Life of a Butterfly (1897), a ‘much slighter work and a total failure’, a ‘slight, almost plotless novel’, and a ‘trial-run for the more ambitious Red Pottage [that] introduced some of the characters who reappear in the later novel’ (‘“Devoted Amateur”’, p. 222). A. L. Ardis, New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), p. 169. Ardis lists Emma Frances Brooke, Mona Caird, Mary Cholmondeley, Gertrude Dix, Ella Hepworth Dixon, Florence Dixie, Arabella Kenealy, Edith Johnstone, Dorothy Leighton, George Paston, Olive Schreiner and Netta Syrett as ‘both using and transforming nineteenth-century modes of representation at the same time as the customarily accredited proto-modernists and modernist originators’ (pp. 169–70). R. Gagnier includes Cholmondeley as well as Ella Hepworth Dixon and Margaret Harkness among the ‘New Woman novelists still committed to realism and its late Victorian efflorescence in Naturalism’ (‘Women in British Aestheticism and the Decadence’, in Richardson and Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact, pp. 239–49, on p. 243). But compare also C. Rainwater and W. J. Scheick, ‘Aliens in the Garden: The Re-Vision of Mary Cholmondeley’s Red Pottage’, Philological Quarterly, 71:1 (1992), pp. 101–19, on ‘Cholmondeley’s new reader’ as ‘actively insist[ing] upon an art and a life that more genuinely (in a transcendental paradox) both reflect and influence the reality of humanity’s birthright than do fashionable turn-of-the-century examples of aesthetic artifice’ (p. 112). Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 33. Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’, p. 213; Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 34. Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’, p. 222. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 33. B. T. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1988), p. xv. Diana Tempest, p. 210. Ibid., p. 49. Ibid., p. 8. Ibid., p. 50. Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’, p. 224. Diana Tempest, p. 206. Ibid., p. 191. Ibid., p. 189. Ibid., p. 52. Ibid., p. 251. Ibid., p. 257. Ibid., p. 136. Ibid., pp. 136–7. Ibid., pp. 25–6. Ibid., p. 26. Ibid., pp. 1, 16. Ibid., p. 1.

176 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44.

45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55.

Notes to pages 19–27 Ibid., p. 239. Ibid., p. 131. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 33. Diana Tempest, p. 244. Ibid., p. 239. Ibid., p. 241. For a recent account of the idée fixe in Victorian literature, see M. Van Zuylen, Monomania: The Flight from Everyday Life in Literature and Art (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), ch. 5. Diana Tempest, p. 134. Ibid., p. 28. Ibid., p. 240. Ibid., p. 248. Ibid., p. 259. Ibid., p. 295. Ibid., p. 295. Ibid., pp. 54, 278, 280. Ibid., p. 317. Ibid., p. 2. Ibid., p. 7.

2 How to be a Feminist without Saying So 1. 2.


4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

S. C. Shapiro, ‘The Mannish New Woman: Punch and its Precursors’, Review of English Studies, 42:168 (1991), pp. 510–22, on p. 510. In a review of an 1894 play entitled The New Woman, C. Short noted, ‘If we are to discuss the “New woman”, let her be fairly discussed. The midgets and mosquitoes and faddy feminists are all very well and proper objects for chaff. But Mrs. Sylvester might have been a true as well as a new woman, and thus show us the earnest side of the movement in contrast to the ridiculous side of it, which has been in the hands of writers for comic journals long enough to grow stale’ (‘“The New Woman” at the Comedy Theatre’, Illustrated London News, 105 (8 September 1894), p. 296). Several scholars recently have noted the difficulty late Victorian authors had in defining the New Man. See, for example, B. Tilley, ‘New Men?: Exploring Constructions of Masculinity in Late Nineteenth-Century New Woman Novels’ (PhD dissertation, University of Florida, 2002); G. Cunningham, ‘“He Notes”: Reconstructing Masculinity’, in Richardson and Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact, pp. 94–106; and S. Forward, ‘The “New Man” in Fin-de-Siècle Fiction’, Women’s Writing, 5:3 (1998), pp. 437–56. Diana Tempest, p. 52. Ibid., p. 62. Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 14 March [1911], MS Nathan 132, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. P. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928), pp. 51–2. ‘The few professions open to women at present are hopelessly overstocked, at least the nursing, type writing and teaching professions are. I think it is this predicament in which women find themselves that makes them snatch at a vote in the hope of making their voices heard. Personally I do not think it is a vote, but legislation that she needs. It is hard that women anxious to make an honest livelihood should be stigmatized as hysterical

Notes to pages 27–33

9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29.


by men when they agitate for a vote. Yet how continually men say this, how tired one is of hearing that if these suffragettes were not disappointed spinsters there would be no agitation for a vote. It may be so in a few instances but working women are indignant against men and I think with some reason on this head’ (Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 14 March [1911]). R. S. Kranidis, Subversive Discourse: The Cultural Production of Late Victorian Feminist Novels (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995), p. xiv. M. Cholmondeley, Red Pottage (London: Edward Arnold, 1899; reprint New York: Garland, 1976), p. 23. Ibid., pp. 25, 23. Ibid., p. 24. Ibid., p. 29. Ibid., p. 36. Rainwater and Scheick, ‘Aliens in the Garden’, p. 107. Red Pottage, pp. 84–5. Interestingly, part of what attracts Rachel to Hugh Scarlett is his financial need, an inverse situation from most couples where the man would be helping the woman economically and socially. Deciding between accepting Scarlett’s attentions or Dick Vernon’s, Rachel leans toward the man who most needs her money: ‘If Dick had been in trouble … Rachel might possibly have been able to give him something more valuable than the paper money of her friendship. But Dick was obviously independent. He could do without her, while Hugh had a claim upon her’ (ibid., p. 104). Ibid., p. 85. S. Grand, ‘The New Woman and the Old’, Lady’s Realm (August 1898), pp. 466–70, on p. 470. Ibid., pp. 467, 470. Red Pottage, p. 263. Ibid., p. 258. Ibid., p. 373. Ibid., p. 375. Ardis, New Women, New Novels, p. 164. In her 1902 short story ‘Moth and Rust’, Cholmondeley has a character reading a book. Another character enters and the following dialogue ensues: ‘What is your book called?’ ‘“Inasmuch.”’ ‘Who wrote it?’ ‘Hester Gresley.’ ‘I think I’ve heard of her,’ said Janet, cautiously. ‘Mrs. Smith, our rector’s wife, says that Mr. Smith does not approve of her books; they have such a low tone. I think Fred read one of them on a visit once.’ (‘Moth and Rust’, in Moth and Rust, p. 52) This almost anecdotal scene – it certainly adds nothing to the plot of the story – is evidence that not only did Cholmondeley envision Hester continuing to write but, as specified, she eventually publishes several books. Grand, ‘The New Woman and the Old’, p. 470. Ibid., p. 470. M. Caird, ‘A Defence of the So-Called “Wild Women”’, Nineteenth Century, 31 (1892), pp. 811–29, on p. 827. Red Pottage, p. 50.

178 30. 31. 32. 33.

34. 35.

36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

Notes to pages 33–9 Ibid., p. 52. Ibid., p. 55. Ibid., p. 7. I think another interesting choice of appellation on Cholmondeley’s part is Hugh Scarlett’s paramour Lady Newhaven’s given name, Violet. The colour violet is a mixture of red and blue; the latter a hue often associated with indecency and sexual impropriety. That Lady Newhaven is the instigator of her and Scarlett’s relationship – and that she feels no guilt about it – is reflected in her name. Also, as the blue violet flower meant modesty and faithfulness in Victorian times, Cholmondeley’s sense of humour is highlighted. Red Pottage, pp. 356–7. J. Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley 1859–1925: A Bibliography, Victorian Fiction Research Guides 6 (St Lucia, Queensland: Department of English, University of Queensland, 1981), p. 22. Red Pottage, pp. 28, 327. S. Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 26. ‘Some Recent Novels of Manners’, Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal, 192 ( July– October 1900), pp. 208–28, on p. 222. Ardis, New Women, New Novels, p. 135. Red Pottage, pp. 127, 126, 121. Ibid., pp. 84, 127. Ibid., p. 367. E. H. Dixon, ‘Why Women are Ceasing to Marry’, Humanitarian, 14 (1899), pp. 391–6, on p. 394.

3 ‘The Bad Women are Better than the Good Ones’ 1.

2. 3.


5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Rachel tells the Bishop’s sister that she would expect to find ‘cats’ at a woman’s meeting. See the unpaginated manuscript of the play of Red Pottage, British Library, Department of Manuscript, LCP 1900/16. Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 12 August 1904, MS Nathan 132, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. M. Cholmondeley, ‘Votes for Men: A Dialogue’, Cornhill, 27 (1909), pp. 747–55; S. Grand, ‘The New Aspect of the Woman Question’, North American Review, 158 (March 1894), pp. 270–6, on p. 270. Grand uses this term as a direct counterpart to Eliza Lynn Linton’s ‘Shrieking Sisterhood’, popularized in her article ‘The Girl of the Period’, first published in Saturday Review (14 March 1868), pp. 339–40. W. Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs, in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age and Advanced life, Considered in their Physiological, Social and Moral Relations (1857; London: John Churchill, 1875). I am grateful to Peter Merchant for pointing this out. Mary Cholmondeley to Henry Newbolt, 15 October 1901, Wolff 1215a, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. A. Richardson, ‘Introduction’, in A. Richardson (ed.), Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914 (London: Penguin, 2001), pp. xxxi–lxxxi, on pp. lxx–lxxx. Mary Cholmondeley to Henry Newbolt, 15 October 1901. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Pitfall’, first published in Monthly Review, 5 (December 1901), pp. 162–84, reprinted in Moth and Rust, pp. 269–312, on p. 272.

Notes to pages 39–49 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42.


Ibid., pp. 274–5. Ibid., p. 274. Ibid., p. 275. Ibid., p. 299. G. Egerton, ‘Virgin Soil’, in Richardson (ed.), Women Who Did, pp. 103–14, on p. 111. ‘The Pitfall’, p. 312. Ibid., p. 312. Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 14 March [1911], MS Nathan 132, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The End of the Dream’, in The Romance of His Life and Other Romances (London: Murray, 1921), pp. 216–52, on p. 216. Ibid., p. 218. Ibid., p. 218. Ibid., p. 222. Ibid., p. 224. Ibid., p. 251. Ibid., p. 252. See Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 5 December 1919, DDB/M/C/2/22, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Goldfish’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 109–45, on p. 109. W. S. Playfair, An Introduction to a Discussion on the Systematic Treatment of Aggravated Hysteria and Certain Allied Forms of Neurasthenic Disease (London: Smith Elder & Co., 1883), p. 69. ‘The Goldfish’, p. 119. Ibid., p. 125. Ibid., p. 123. Ibid., p. 138. See A. Heilmann, ‘Feminine Resistance, the Artist and “A Room of One’s Own” in New Woman Fiction’, Women’s Writing, 2:3 (1995), pp. 291–308. ‘The Goldfish’, p. 120. Ibid., p. 121. See E. Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980 (London: Virago, 1987), p. 134. ‘The Goldfish’, p. 121. Ibid., p. 137. Ibid., p. 139. Ibid., p. 139. Ibid., p. 142. Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 144.

4 Writing Women 1.

2. 3.

M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Lowest Rung’, in The Lowest Rung, together with The Hand on the Latch, St. Luke’s Summer and The Understudy (London: John Murray, 1908), pp. 5–81, on p. 33. Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 8. Ibid., pp. 32–4.

180 4.

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

Notes to pages 49–57 These include ‘Run to Earth’, Monthly Packet, 85 (February–March 1893), pp. 153–71, 266–77; and ‘In the Small Hours’, Lady’s Realm, 23 (December 1907), pp. 129–33. See also ‘Dick’s Ordeal’, in L. B. Walford et al., Life’s Possibilities (London: Mowbray, 1899), pp. 61–81. Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 33–4. ‘The Pitfall’, in Moth and Rust, pp. 270–1. Ibid., pp. 275, 274, 288. Ibid., p. 288. Ibid., p. 288. C. de la L. Oulton, Romantic Friendship in Victorian Literature (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), p. 10. Marcus, Between Women, pp. 119, 131. ‘The Pitfall’, p. 287. Marcus, Between Women, p. 119. ‘The Pitfall’, p. 285. Ibid., p. 299. ‘The Skeleton in a Novelist’s Cupboard’, Pall Mall Magazine, 42 ( July–December 1908), pp. 413–17; ‘The Lowest Rung’, Windsor Magazine 28 (August 1908), pp. 264–74. See Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 34–5. A. Levy, Other Women: The Writing of Class, Race, and Gender, 1832–1898 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). Mary Cholmondeley to Matthew Nathan, 14 June 1908, MS Nathan 132, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. ‘The Lowest Rung’, in The Lowest Rung, p. 34. Ibid., p. 26. Ibid., p. 38. A. Federico, Idol of Suburbia: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2000), p. 27. ‘Marie Corelli’, in Encyclopædia Britannica (2008), online at http://www.britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/137490/Marie-Corelli [accessed 21 November 2008]. Federico, Idol of Suburbia, p. 24. Ibid., p. 19. ‘Obituary: M. Cholmondeley’, The Times, 17 July 1925, p. 19D. Quoted in Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 12–13. Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 19. K. R. King, ‘New Contexts for Early Novels by Women: The Case of Eliza Haywood, Aaron Hill, and the Hillarians, 1719–1725’, in P. R. Backscheider and C. Ingrassia (eds), A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 261–75. ‘The Lowest Rung’, p. 42. Ibid., pp. 44–5. Ibid., pp. 45–6. Ibid., pp. 61, 62. Ibid., p. 69. Ibid., p. 68. Ibid., p. 70. Ibid., p. 54. Ibid., p. 55. Ibid., p. 70.

Notes to pages 57–66 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61.



Ibid., p. 52, 50. Ibid., p. 54. Ibid., p. 71. Ibid., p. 50. Ibid., p. 55. Ibid., p. 57. Ibid., p. 74. Ibid., p. 81. Ibid., p. 79. Quoted in C. de la L. Oulton, ‘Works’, in ‘Mary Cholmondeley’ (2008), Canterbury Christ Church University, at . P. L. Dunbar, ‘Sympathy’, in Lyrics of the Hearthside (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899), pp. 40–1. See B. Green, Spectacular Confessions: Autobiography, Performative Activism, and the Sites of Suffrage 1905–1938 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1997). ‘The Goldfish’, in The Romance of His Life, p. 144. Ardis, New Women, New Novels, pp. 132, 129. G. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. M. Jolas (New York: Orion Press, 1964), p. xxxii. S. Gilbert and S. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, 2nd edn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 88. Ibid., p. 84. E. Scarry, The Body in Pain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 41. Ibid., p. 45. Ibid., p. 39. Peterson, Traditions of Victorian Women’s Autobiography, p. 174. ‘Moth and Rust’, in Moth and Rust, p. 18. T. Schaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2000). M. D. Stetz, ‘Debating Aestheticism from a Feminist Perspective’, in T. Schaffer and K. A. Psomiades (eds), Women and British Aestheticism (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1999), pp. 25–43, on p. 31. Of Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1897) and Gertrude Dix’s The Image Breakers (1900), respectively.

5 Cholmondeley’s Fables of Identity 1.

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

For the reception of Red Pottage, see M. Cholmondeley, Preface to The Lowest Rung, pp. 9–32, on pp. 20–1; and D. Tindall’s Introduction to Red Pottage (1899), ed. D. Tindall (London: Anthony Blond, 1968), p. vii. The Cholmondeley Family, Private Archive, Marquis of Cholmondeley. M. Cholmondeley, Under One Roof: A Family Record (London: John Murray, 1918), p. 8. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 19, 20. Ibid., p. 45. Quoted in ibid., p. 75. Quoted in ibid., pp. 91–2. Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’.

182 9.

10. 11. 12. 13.

14. 15. 16.

17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.

25. 26. 27.

28. 29.

30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35.

Notes to pages 67–73 See L. Pykett, ‘Writing and Gender at the Turn of the Century’, in Engendering Fictions: The English Novel in the Early Twentieth Century (London and New York: Edward Arnold, 1995), pp. 54–76; and S. Ledger, The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997). P. K. Gilbert, Disease, Desire and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 6. Tindall, Introduction to Red Pottage, p. x. See Parkins, ‘Home and Away’. P. Boumelha, ‘The Woman of Genius and the Woman of Grub Street: Figures of the Female Writer in British Fin-de-Siècle Fiction’, English Literature in Transition, 40:2 (1997), pp. 164–80. See also L. Dowling, ‘The Decadent and the New Woman in the 1890s’, in L. Pykett (ed.), Reading Fin de Siècle Fictions (London and New York: Longman, 1996), pp. 47–63; Schaffer and Psomiades (eds), Women and British Aestheticism. Under One Roof, p. 8; Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892–1956, ed. R. Hart-Davis (London: John Murray, 1950), p. 99. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 53. M. B. Lowndes, The Merry Wives of Westminster (London: Macmillan & Co., 1946), p. 227; M. B. Lowndes, Diaries and Letters of Marie Belloc Lowndes 1911–1947, ed. S. Lowndes (London: Chatto & Windus, 1971), p. 45. Cholmondeley, Preface to The Lowest Rung, p. 18. Temple Bar, Graphic, Windsor Magazine and Monthly Packet among others. H. James, ‘The Story-Teller at Large: Mr Henry Harland. Comedies and Errors’, in The Critical Muse, ed. R. Gard (London: Penguin Books, 1987), pp. 333–4, on p. 334. The obvious reference is to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Wakefield’ (1835) and to Edgar Allan Poe’s, ‘Willliam Wilson’ and ‘The Man of the Crowd’ (1840). ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, in Moth and Rust, pp. 244, 251. Ibid., pp. 254, 257, 259, 261. Ibid., pp. 260–1. W. Benjamin, Selected Writings, ed. M. Bullock and M. W. Jennings, 4 vols (Cambridge, MA, and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996–2003), vol. 3: 1935–1938, ed. H. Eiland and M. W. Jennings, trans. E. Jephcott, p. 37. ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, p. 264. Ibid., p. 265. G. Gissing, The Unclassed (London: Chapman & Hall, 1884). See P. Ingham, The Language of Gender and Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); C. Mew, ‘Passed’, Yellow Book, 2 (1894), pp. 121–41. For an analysis of these themes, see S. Ledger, ‘Wilde Women and The Yellow Book: The Sexual Politics of Aestheticism and Decadence’, English Literature in Transition, 50:1 (2007), pp. 5–26. M. Kent, ‘A Novelist of Yesterday’, Cornhill, 151 (February 1935), pp. 194–200. Cholmondeley, ‘The Hand on the Latch’, in The Lowest Rung, pp. 82–106; reprinted in ‘The Hand on the Latch’, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine 14:71 (October 1949), pp. 123–32. References are to the first edition. ‘The Hand on the Latch’, p. 85. Ibid., p. 82. Ibid., p. 98. Ibid., p. 46. Cholmondeley, ‘The Lowest Rung’, in The Lowest Rung, p. 42. Ibid., pp. 52, 50.

Notes to pages 73–9


36. Ibid., p. 56. 37. Ibid., pp. 72, 73. 38. Ibid., pp. 56–7.

6 Negotiating the Terms of Celebrity Culture 1.

2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

10. 11. 12. 13.

14. 15. 16.

17. 18.


For an assessment of her early work, see ‘Some Recent Novels of Manners’, Living Age, 226 (22 September 1900), pp. 733–9. The praise of Diana Tempest comes from a review in the London Times, quoted as the first of ten endorsements in the Appleton edition of 1900. American reviews praised this novel as ‘a sparkling piece of fiction’ (Philadelphia Public Ledger), ‘an unusually strong and clever story’ (Charleston News and Courier) and ‘one of the best English novels of the day’ (San Francisco Chronicle). See Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 38. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 25. Ibid., p. 24. J. E. Hodder Williams, ‘The Reader: Mary Cholmondeley’, Bookman, 18 (May 1900), pp. 40–7, on p. 41. The portrait appears on p. 41 of Hodder Williams’s interview. G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. J. E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 198. Hodder Williams, ‘The Reader: Mary Cholmondeley’, p. 40. This anecdote is omitted from the American Bookman version of the interview. B. Masters, Now Barabbas was a Rotter: The Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978), p. 220. A. Federico discusses this and other photographs of Corelli in ‘Literary Celebrity and Photographic Realism: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian “Picture Popularity”’, Nineteenth-Century Studies, 11 (1997), pp. 27–50. Quoted in J. Badeni, A Slender Tree: A Life of Alice Meynell (Padstow, Cornwall: Tabb House, 1981), p. 100. J. E. Hodder Williams, ‘The Reader: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler’, Bookman, 18 (April 1900), pp. 7–10, on p. 7. Hodder Williams, ‘The Reader: Mary Cholmondeley’, pp. 40–1. This statement must, of course, exclude the recently published biography by C. de la L. Oulton, Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009). Hodder Williams, ‘The Reader: Mary Cholmondeley’, p. 47. Ibid., pp. 43–4. C. Tuite, ‘Tainted Love and Romantic Literary Celebrity’, English Literary History, 74:1 (2007), pp. 59–88, p. 62. Tuite does not discuss the celebrity interview, a technology that developed later in the century, but I have adopted her phrase to describe this mode of creating and sustaining celebrity. C. Rossetti to D. G. Rossetti, [13 March 1865], in The Letters of Christina Rossetti, ed. A. H Harrison, 4 vols (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1997), vol. 1, p. 234. J. E. Hodder Williams, ‘Two Women Novelists of the Day: John Oliver Hobbes, Mary Cholmondeley’, Bookman, American edn, 12 (September 1900), pp. 28–39. This ‘interview’ with Cholmondeley appears on pp. 32–9, with photographs and Condover Hall and ‘Stoke Morton’ on pp. 35–6. ‘Autobiography and Fiction – Mary Cholmondeley’s Stories and her Life’, Munsey’s Magazine, 22 (August 1900), pp. 709–10. The biographical details of Mary’s relationship



21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

41. 42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47.

Notes to pages 79–85 with her grandmother do not appear in the Bookman, but are included in the American preface to Diana Tempest discussed below. F. Heermans, ‘Introduction to the Illustrated Edition’, in E. N. Westcott, David Harum: A Story of American Life (New York: D. Appleton, 1900), p. v. Heermans was a native of Syracuse, New York, where Westcott had lived and worked until his death in 1898. M. Cholmondeley, Diana Tempest: A Novel (1893; New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1900). I thank Carolyn Oulton for identifying the photographer. Oulton notes that the original is still in the Cholmondeley family. See Genette, Paratexts, pp. 178–81. Diana Tempest (Appleton edn), pp. vii–viii. Cholmondeley, Preface to The Lowest Rung, p. 11. The preface also appears in the American edition, The Hand on the Latch (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1909), pp. vii–xix. Ibid., pp. 10, 13. Ibid., p. 18. These examples come from ibid., pp. 10, 13, 18, 20–1. Cholmondeley quotes the critic in the Guardian, Thomas J. Ball, at length in a footnote. Preface to The Lowest Rung, p. 11. Ibid., p. 13. Ibid., p. 21. Ibid., pp. 22–3. Ibid., p. 22. Ibid., pp. 14–16. Aunt Anne told the story of a woman of sixty-eight who falls in love with a married young man of twenty-seven. Cholmondeley recounts how two cousins, ‘elderly maiden ladies’, insisted that Aunt Anne must be her own and that she was therefore maligning ‘an old great-aunt of mine, “Aunt Anna Maria,” long since dead, whom I had only seen once or twice when I was a small child’ (ibid., p. 14). Ibid., p. 25. Ibid., pp. 26–7. O. Wilde, ‘The Decay of Lying’, in Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. V. Holland (New York: Harper Perennial, 1989), pp. 970–92, on p. 982. Preface to The Lowest Rung, p. 12. Genette, Paratexts, p. 198. In this tactic Cholmondeley continues a practice of Victorian women writers discussed by H. E. Howells in ‘Facing the Page: A Study of the Prefaces of Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers’ (PhD dissertation, University of North Carolina, 2001). M. Cholmondeley, ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 11–24, on p. 11. Ibid., p. 12. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 47; Colby, ‘“Devoted Amateur”’. W. Besant, The Pen and the Book (London: Thomas Burleigh, 1899), pp. 24–5. See my chapter, ‘The Woman of Letters and the New Woman: Reinventing Mary Cholmondeley’, in Becoming a Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship, Facts of the Victorian Market (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), pp. 207–23. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 46–7. W. Howitt, Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets, 2 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1847), vol. 2, p. 145.

Notes to pages 85–93


48. ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, pp. 11–12. The quotation from Christina Rossetti is the first line of ‘Autumn Violets’, in Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1875), reprinted in C. Rossetti, The Complete Poems, ed. R. W. Crump (London: Penguin Books, 2001), p. 188. 49. ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, p. 14. 50. Ibid., p. 21. 51. Lubbock uses this photograph as the frontispiece to Mary Cholmondeley.

7 ‘I Know that to be Untrue’ 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35.

Rainwater and Scheick, ‘Aliens in the Garden’, p. 111. Ibid., p. 114. Ibid., p. 116. Parkins, ‘Home and Away’, p. 51. Cholmondeley, Preface to The Lowest Rung, pp. 9–10. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid. Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., pp. 26–7. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 48. C. de la L. Oulton, e-mail to the author, 11 November 2008. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 46. Plato, Theaetetus, trans. B. Jowett (New York: Library of Liberal Arts, 1949), p. 5. E. L. Gettier, ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge’, Analysis, 23 (1963), pp. 121–3. Plato, Theaetetus, p. 20. Ibid., p. 61. R. W. Emerson, ‘Experience’, in Essays: Second Series (New York: AMS Press, 1968), pp. 45–86, on p. 48. Ibid., p. 59. Ibid., p. 75. Ibid., p. 79. Ibid., pp. 82–3. Ibid., pp. 84–5. W. James, ‘The Will to Believe’, in The Will to Believe and Other Essays (New York: Dover, 1956), pp. 1–31, on p. 14. B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 132. H. Vaihinger, The Philosophy of ‘As If ’, trans. C. K. Ogden (London: Routledge, 1952), p. 341. Ibid., p. 8. M. Cholmondeley, ‘St. Luke’s Summer’, in The Lowest Rung, pp. 107–55, on p. 107. Ibid., p. 112. Ibid., p. 122. Ibid., p. 121. Ibid., p. 122. Ibid., pp. 122–3. Ibid., p. 129. Ibid., p. 133. Ibid., pp. 129, 134.

186 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.

57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73.

Notes to pages 93–100 Ibid., pp. 137, 143, 146. Ibid., p. 143. Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 152. Ibid., p. 154. Ibid., p. 152. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Romance of His Life’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 25–54, on p. 27. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., p. 51. Ibid., p. 28. Ibid., p. 42. Ibid., p. 38. Ibid., pp. 41–2. Ibid., p. 51. Ibid., p. 48. Ibid., p. 49. Ibid., p. 28. Ibid., p. 53. Ibid., p. 54. W. James’s 1896 address offers within its philosophical argument a relevant example. James talks about the force of the ‘mere sanguine insistence of some man that [a woman] must love him!’ and argues that in romance ‘the desire for a certain kind of truth here brings about that special truth’s existence’ (‘The Will to Believe’, p. 24). When connected to how Cholmondeley develops Maitland’s romance, this argument demonstrates a specific way in which she weaves philosophical debate into her fiction. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Stars in Their Courses’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 146–72, on p. 154. Ibid., p. 155. Ibid., p. 168. Ibid., p. 147. Ibid., pp. 147–8. Ibid., p. 148. Ibid., pp. 157–8. Ibid., p. 159. Ibid., p. 161. Ibid., pp. 152, 154, 162. Ibid, p. 168. Ibid., p. 151. Ibid., p. 171. Ibid., p. 172. Under One Roof, pp. 14–15. Ibid., p. 72. Ibid., p. 97.

Notes to pages 103–8


8 Revising the Gothic 1. 2.

3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.


10. 11. 12. 13. 14.


16. 17.


Under One Roof, p. 78. Italics are in the original. Crisp, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 19–20. For the reference to her father’s readings, see Under One Roof, p. 30, and for her connection to Edith Wharton, see The Letters of Edith Wharton, ed. R. W. B. Lewis and N. Lewis (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988), p. 517, n. 2. Rhoda Broughton was not only a prominent ghost story writer, but was also the niece of Sheridan Le Fanu, the leading supernatural story writer in the nineteenth century. For more information on the relationship between Broughton and Le Fanu, see L. H. Peterson, ‘Mary Cholmondeley (1859–1925) and Rhoda Broughton (1840–1920)’, in J. Cognard-Black and E. MacLeod Walls (eds), Kindred Hands: Letters on Writing by British and American Women Authors, 1865–1935 (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2006), pp. 107–19, on p. 109. E. Moers, Literary Women (London: W. H. Allen, 1977), p. 90. J. E. Fleenor, The Female Gothic (Montréal: Eden Press, 1983), p. 4. S. T. Coleridge, quoted in F. Botting, Gothic (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 79. A. Williams, The Art of Darkness (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 102–4. Ibid., p. 107. I agree with Diana Wallace’s view that if the Gothic is ‘detached from the “Gothic novel” and regarded as a mode of writing rather than a genre then it becomes flexible enough to encompass the ghost story’. See D. Wallace, ‘Uncanny Stories: The Ghost Story as Female Gothic’, Gothic Studies, 6:1 (2004), pp. 57–67, on p. 57. J. A. Weinstock, ‘Female-Authored Gothic Tales in the Nineteenth-Century Popular Press’, in E. Yarington and M. De Jong (eds), Popular Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and the Literary Marketplace (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), pp. 74–96, on pp. 76–9. E. A. Poe, Preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 2 vols (Philadelphia, PA: Lea and Blanchard, 1840), vol. 1, pp. 5–6, on p. 6. M. Cox and R. A. Gilbert (eds), ‘Introduction’, Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. ix–xx, on p. xvi. Ibid., p. xvi. J. Dixon, Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 4, 8. D. Burfield, ‘Theosophy and Feminism: Some Explorations in Nineteenth-Century Biography’, in P. Holden (ed.), Women’s Religious Experience (London: Croom Helm, 1983), pp. 27–56, on p. 32. As Burfield notes, ‘the first secretary of the London branch was Miss Emily Kislingbury … and its treasurer a Miss Arundale. Mabel Collins … co-edited the journal Lucifer with HPB [Helena Petrovna Blavatsky] before Annie Besant appeared on the scene, and Annie became de facto leader … on HPB’s demise in 1891’ (ibid., p. 35). Ibid., p. 35. A. Heilmann, New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), p. 91. Drawing from a study by Olive Banks, Dixon gives the following names of feminists who joined the Theosophical Society: Annie Besant, Ursula Bright, Charlotte Despard, Flora Drummond, Eva Gore-Booth, Annie Kenney, Dora Montefiore and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (Divine Feminine, p. 6). Heilmann, New Woman Strategies, p. 91.


Notes to pages 108–14

19. In S. Grand, The Winged Victory (London: Heinemann, 1916), Ella, who possesses intuition and clairvoyance, survives multiple traumatic situations such as the shooting and killing of an unwanted suitor in self defence, losing her true love (the Duke), hearing of the untimely death of her husband (Lord Melton) and having a life-threatening illness. Interestingly, some characters in the novel expect her to die from the illness – the death of the heroine being a common motif at the end of the Gothic novel: ‘She is not goin’ to die then?’ he let fall at last, after lengthy reflection. ‘Die? No! Why should she die?’ ‘They generally die,’ said Lord Terry de Beach. ‘Convention, my dear Terrier, old-fashioned convention,’ Strangworth answered hotly. ‘The wronged heroine was done for!’ (p. 651) 20. A. Žabicka, ‘Female Gothic Motifs in Mona Caird’s The Wing of Azrael’, Victorian Review, 31:1 (2005), pp. 5–20, on p. 12. 21. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 5 December 1919, DDB/M/C/2/22, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 22. The Letters of Edith Wharton, p. 517, n. 2. 23. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 35. 24. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Understudy’, in The Lowest Rung, pp. 156–82. 25. ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, in The Romance of His Life, p. 17. 26. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 5 October 1918, DDB/M/C/2/12, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 27. M. Cholmondeley, ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 83–108, on p. 100. 28. Ibid., p. 97. 29. Ibid., p. 107. 30. Ibid., p. 108. 31. M. Massé, In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), p. 20; and K. F. Ellis, The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p. 45. 32. ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, p. 84. 33. Ibid., p. 85. 34. M. Collins, Modern Love: Personal Relationships in Twentieth-Century Britain (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2006), pp. 38. 35. Cholmondeley, ‘The End of the Dream’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 216–52, on p. 234. 36. Ibid., p. 236. 37. Ibid., p. 243. 38. Ibid., p. 216. 39. Ibid., p. 250. 40. Ibid., p. 247. 41. Ibid., p. 237. 42. Ibid., p. 249. 43. Ibid., p. 250. 44. Ibid., p. 250. 45. Ibid., p. 251. 46. Ibid., p. 252. 47. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 37. 48. ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, in The Romance of His Life, p. 21.

Notes to pages 115–22


49. Ibid., p. 22. In Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 8 August 1918, DDB/M/ C/2/11, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, she mentions a gruesome account of German casualties, and in Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 1 April 1919, DDB/M/C/2/15, she speculates that a number of missing soldiers have been sent to work, presumably in camps, behind enemy lines. In Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 27 June 1919, DDB/M/C/2/18, she mentions two nephews (sons of her brother Reginald) who fought in the war. One of them received a Military Cross. 50. ‘Introduction: In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, p. 23. 51. M. Cholmondeley, ‘Her Murderer’, in The Romance of His Life, pp. 173–99. 52. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 February 1919, DDB/M/C/2/14, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

9 Guiding Spirit 1. 2.


4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

Red Pottage, p. 108. M. B. Davis, ‘Editorial Introduction’ and ‘Notes to the Diaries’, in Women, Writing and Travel, Part 1: The Diaries of Stella Benson 1902–1933 from Cambridge University Library. A Listing and Guide to the Microfilm Collection (Marlborough: Adam Matthew Publications, 2006), pp. 13, 19, 33, 36, 38–9, 41–3. S. Benson, Diaries and Letters, Cambridge University Library, MSS Add. 6762–803; and Add. 8367). Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. In future notes I will refer to individual dates and shelfmarks. Under One Roof, p. 42. Ibid., p. 52. Ibid., p. 48. Ibid., p. 122. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 85. R. E. Roberts, Portrait of Stella Benson (London: Macmillan, 1939), p. 22. Benson MSS, 1902 (the year Benson began her diary), Add. 6762; 17 October 1911 (reaction to her father’s death), Add. 6770. Benson MSS, 21 April and 5 July 1910, Add. 6769. Under One Roof, pp. 84–5. Benson MSS, 18 February 1909, Add. 6768; 10 May 1910, Add. 6769. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 30. Benson MSS, 16 April 1902, Add. 6762. Benson MSS, 17 September 1911, Add. 6770. Benson MSS, 1–6 December 1902, Add. 6762. Benson MSS, 24–5 October 1905, Add. 6764. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 46. Benson MSS, Mary Cholmondeley to Stella Benson, 27 February 1907, Add. 8367. Benson MSS, list at the end of the diary for 1906, Add. 6765. Benson MSS, 10 September 1906, Add. 6765. Benson MSS, Mary Cholmondeley to Stella Benson, 14 September 1906, Add. 8367. Benson MSS, 27 September 1906, Add. 6765. Benson MSS, 1 January 1907, Add. 6766. Benson MSS, 10 February 1908, Add. 6767. Benson MSS, 16 September 1907, Add. 6766.


Notes to pages 122–7

28. Peterson, ‘Mary Cholmondeley (1859–1925) and Rhoda Broughton 1840–1920)’, p. 108. 29. Benson MSS, 15 February 1907, Add. 6766. 30. Benson MSS, 1 September 1907, Add. 6766. 31. Benson MSS, 27 June 1918, Add. 6777. 32. Benson MSS, 8 April 1907, Add. 6766. 33. Benson MSS, 8 July 1908, Add. 6767. 34. Davis, ‘Editorial Introduction’, pp. 15, 28, 34–5. 35. Benson MSS, 6 July 1908, Add. 6767; 9 December 1917, Add. 6776. 36. Benson MSS, 10–11 July 1908, Add. 6767. 37. Benson MSS, 15 November 1908, Add. 6767. 38. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 53. 39. Ibid., p. 75. 40. Ibid., p. 53. 41. Unpublished photograph of Benson and Mitcheson. With thanks to the late Professor Martin Robertson and Mrs Robertson, Cambridge, England. 42. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 83. 43. Benson MSS, 10 November 1910, Add. 6769. 44. Benson MSS, 1 June 1911, Add. 6770. 45. Benson MSS, 15 April 1910, Add. 6769. 46. Benson MSS, 8 June 1911, Add. 6770. 47. Benson MSS, 9 January 1909, Add. 6768. 48. Benson MSS, 9 January 1909, Add. 6768. 49. Benson MSS, 5–6 July 1910, Add. 6769. 50. Benson MSS, 19 November 1910, Add. 6769. 51. Benson MSS, 25 May 1911, Add. 6770. 52. Benson MSS, 28 May 1911, Add. 6770. 53. Red Pottage, p. 373. 54. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 88. 55. Benson MSS, 31 May 1915, Add. 6774; 5 July 1916, Add. 6775. 56. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 14 July and 21 November 1917, DDB/M/ C/2/6 and DDB/M/C/2/9, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 57. Benson MSS, 17 July 1915, Add. 6774. 58. Benson MSS, 21 May 1915, Add. 6774. 59. Benson MSS, 13 July 1915, Add. 6774. 60. Benson MSS, 14 July 1915, Add. 6774. 61. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 November 1918, DDB/M/C/2/13, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 62. Benson MSS, 13 July 1915, Add. 6774. 63. Benson MSS, 2–3 September 1915, Add. 6774. 64. Benson MSS, 27 November and 1 December 1915, Add. 6774. 65. Benson MSS, 18 June 1918, Add. 6777. 66. Benson MSS, 14 April 1918, Add. 6777. 67. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 17 June 1918 and 20 May 1919, DDB/M/ C/2/5 and DDB/M/C/2/17, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 68. For Sorabji’s legal career, see S. Gooptu’s Cornelia Sorabji: India’s Pioneer Woman Lawyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). See also Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda

Notes to pages 127–31

69. 70. 71. 72.

73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79.


Broughton, 17 June 1918, DDB/M/C/2/5, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. Cholmondeley refers to a visit her sister Victoria made to India. C. Sorabji, India Calling: The Memories of Cornelia Sorabji, India’s First Woman Barrister (1934; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 126. Benson MSS, ‘Notes of an Interview with Mahatma Gandhi’, 21 January 1921, Add. 8367, 222. Stella Benson to Virginia Woolf, 1 September 1932, Virginia Woolf Collection of Papers, ‘Manuscript Box’, New York Public Library, Berg Collection. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 May 1919, DDB/M/C/2/13, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. Cholmondeley refers to Sir Valentine Chirol, a political journalist and friend. On this occasion Cholmondeley notes what he has said about the Peace Treaty. Benson MS, 13–15 October 1921, Add. 6785. Roberts, Portrait of Stella Benson, p. viii. Benson MSS, 21 July 1925, Add. 6792. Benson MSS, 5 September 1925, Add. 6792. Davis, ‘Editorial Introduction’, p. 19; Benson, Add. 6801, 3 May 1933. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 9–10. Red Pottage, p. 108.

10 Naturalized Imperialism in The Danvers Jewels 1.


Both contemporary and modern critics have commented on the Collinsesque style of The Danvers Jewels. J. R. Reed makes The Moonstone connection in declaring that the novella ‘owes a good deal’ to the earlier novel (‘Laws, the Legal World, and Politics’, in P. Brantlinger and W. B. Thesing (eds), A Companion to the Victorian Novel (Malden: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 155–71, on p. 170). Reed is credited as originating an anti-imperialist reading of The Moonstone. Reed states, for instance, that the gem ‘becomes the sign of England’s imperial depredations – the symbol of a national rather than a personal crime’ (‘English Imperialism and the Unacknowledged Crime of The Moonstone’, Clio, 2 (1973), pp. 281–90, on p. 286). Other critics who see an anti-imperialist tone in the novel include: L. Nayder, who argues that The Moonstone ‘underscores the criminality of the British imperialists rather than that of the natives’ (‘Robinson Crusoe and Friday in Victorian Britain: “Discipline”, “Dialogue”, and Collins’s Critique of Empire in The Moonstone’, Dickens Studies Annual, 21 (1992), pp. 213–31, on p. 219); A. D. Pionke, who notes ‘anti-imperial leanings’ but observes that the novel ‘appears to reestablish a social order that is distinctly conservative’ (‘Secreting Rebellion: From the Mutiny to the Moonstone’, Victorians Institute Journal, 28 (2000), pp. 109–40, on p. 131); L. Pykett, who asserts that ‘The Moonstone examines the racist thinking of the British and explores the ways in which they blamed the oppressed people for the crimes of the imperialist oppressor’ (Wilkie Collins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 161). On the other hand, some critics do not see the novel conveying a strong anti-imperialist tone. I. Duncan argues that The Moonstone ‘does not propound an anti-imperialist sympathy for oppressed colonial peoples, or admiration for a devilish Hindu culture, but neither does it enthrone the imperialist subject-position’ (‘The Moonstone, the Victorian Novel, and Imperialist Panic’, Modern Language Quarterly, 55:3 (1994), pp. 297–319, on p. 300). J. Sutherland remarks that ‘Collins is not in the last analysis writing an anti-colonial tract’ (Introduction to The Moonstone (Oxford: Oxford


3. 4. 5.

6. 7. 8.

9. 10. 11. 12.


14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22.

Notes to pages 131–6 University Press, 1999), pp. xxii–xxiii). A. Roy states that ‘The Moonstone produces a mythos entirely consonant with arguments for empire’ (‘The Fabulous Imperialist Semiotic of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone’, New Literary History, 24:3 (1993), pp. 657–81, on p. 657). P. Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 199, 200. Ibid., pp. 201–2, 216. Crisp offers a perspective on the issue in remarks about The Times obituary’s description of the novelist as ‘an Englishwoman of good old stock’ with a ‘deep sense of duty’ resonating with ‘traditions of an honourable past’. In Crisp’s estimation, Cholmondeley’s ‘books reflect the conservative values of her country background’, and the novelist ‘shows no desire for changes in the structure of the society she examines at times with such penetration’ (Mary Cholmondeley, p. 13). Crisp additionally comments on ‘[t]he oldfashioned conservatism of Mary Cholmondeley’s novels’ (p. 14). As Nayder has observed, the siege was widely viewed as ‘the founding event of British India’ (Wilkie Collins (New York: Twayne, 1997), p. 119). W. Collins, The Moonstone (1868; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 1, 2, 3. On this point, T. Heller argues that ‘the history of imperialism becomes a family story’ with ‘the revelation of Herncastle’s guilt’ (Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 145). Collins, The Moonstone, pp. 5, 6. M. Cholmondeley, The Danvers Jewels (1887; New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d.), p. 9. Ibid., p. 9. Pionke observes that the phrase ‘Honourable John’ was ‘a title also applied to both John Company (the British East India Company) and John Bull (Britain)’ (‘Secreting Rebellion’, p. 123). See M. Sabin for a discussion of the class-linked aspects of British looting (Dissenters and Mavericks: Writings about India in English, 1765–2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 94–5). The Danvers Jewels, p. 11. Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., p. 20. Ibid., p. 41. Ibid., p. 50. For example, Nayder states that ‘Collins encourages us to think of the Brahmins as martyrs rather than murderers; they are purified rather than punished’ (‘Robinson Crusoe’, p. 220). Reed comments that ‘the Indian priests are heroic figures, while the representatives of Western Culture are plunderers’ (‘English Imperialism’, p. 283). One Victorian reviewer also found the Brahmins to be sympathetic characters. G. Jewsbury wrote in the Athenaeum that ‘[f ]ew will read of the final destiny of The Moonstone without feeling the tears rise in their eyes as they catch the last glimpse of the three men, who have sacrificed their cast [sic] in the service of their God’ (in N. Page (ed.), Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 170–1, on p. 170). Duncan, ‘The Moonstone’, pp. 308, J. Mehta, ‘English Romance; Indian Violence’, Centennial Review, 39 (1995), pp. 611–55, on pp. 645–6. Mehta, ‘English Romance’, p. 629.

Notes to pages 136–43


23. J. B. Taylor, In the Secret Theatre of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth-Century Psychology (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 179. 24. D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 54, 53, 55. 25. ‘Our Booking Office’, Punch, 93 (22 October 1887), p. 192. 26. ‘Some Recent Novels of Manners’, Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal, 192 ( July– October 1900), pp. 208–28, on p. 214. 27. The Danvers Jewels, p. 12. 28. Ibid., p. 14. 29. Ibid., p. 22. 30. Ibid., pp. 24, 28, 29. 31. C. Yonge, History of Christian Names (London: Macmillan, 1884), p. lvi. 32. ‘Our Booking Office’, p. 192. 33. The Danvers Jewels, pp. 9, 85–6. 34. Quoted in Sabin, Dissenters and Mavericks, p. 90. As Sabin comments, ‘the notorious sentence’ in Seeley’s 1883 text illuminates the ‘false innocence of British imperialism’ and the ‘oblivion’ associated with empire building (p. 90). 35. Both Mehta (‘English Romance’, p. 613) and Duncan (‘The Moonstone’, p. 307) draw the synecdoche analogy. 36. Mehta, ‘English Romance’, p. 612. 37. Cholmondeley’s own background conveys the sense of solidity, too, as Lubbock’s memoir suggests. Cholmondeley ‘never ceased to belong, to her stock, her county, her England – an England of the English … England had made her … [S]he had a quality, native, ancestral’ (Mary Cholmondeley, p. 15). 38. The Danvers Jewels, p. 26. 39. Ibid., p. 31. 40. Ibid., pp. 25, 11, 35. 41. Yonge, History of Christian Names, pp. 115, 385, cxiv. 42. The Danvers Jewels, p. 11. 43. Ibid., p. 29. 44. Ibid., p. 28. 45. Ibid., p. 42. 46. Ibid., pp. 28, 64, 37, 28. 47. Interestingly, Cholmondeley herself experienced theatricals both early and later in life. She states in her memoir that her parents enacted doll theatricals for their children (Under One Roof, pp. 26–9, 44), and Cholmondeley engaged in theatrical amusements as an adult (ibid. pp. 115–17). 48. Duncan, ‘The Moonstone’, pp. 313–14. 49. The Danvers Jewels, p. 18. 50. See, for example, ‘Trees and Transfigurations’, in N. Auerbach, Private Theatricals: The Lives of the Victorians (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 1–18. 51. Ibid., p. 4. 52. S. Hudston, Victorian Theatricals: From Menageries to Melodrama (London: Methuen, 2000), p. 3. 53. Auerbach, Private Theatricals, p. 13. 54. Hudston, Victorian Theatricals, p. 4.


Notes to pages 143–8

55. H. James, The Scenic Art (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957), pp. 94, 119. For a discussion of English theatricals and Henry James’s judgement of them, see Hudston’s Victorian Theatricals, especially pp. 11–36. 56. James, The Scenic Art, pp. 120, 121. 57. Sabin clarifies that ‘English inheritance law brings imperial loot into the domain of legal private property, so that its subsequent thievery … is a crime’. She adds, however, that ‘[n]o clear rules in the Victorian period … adjudicate the legitimate ownership of property derived from conquest’ (Dissenters and Mavericks, p. 96). 58. The Danvers Jewels, p. 34. 59. Ibid., p. 21. 60. S. Arata comments that ‘Dracula … is subdued by the weapons of empire’ and Quincey Morris is also killed since ‘the American represents, however obliquely, a second threat to British power’ (‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization’, Victorian Studies, 33:4 (Summer 1990), pp. 621–45, on p. 641). 61. The Danvers Jewels, p. 85. 62. Yonge, History of Christian Names, pp. cxxxv, 153. 63. The Danvers Jewels, p. 90.

11 ‘Moth and Rust’ 1.

The clergy of the Victorian Anglican Church consisted of a hierarchy that is defunct today. A benefice or a parish or group of parishes was overseen by a rector, who was of equal class and landlord status as a squire. A living or glebe – which included a parsonage and often farmlands, factories and other property that could be lent out, as well as tithes (taxes of 10 per cent of agricultural goods) – was the compensation to the rector. The inheritance of this living went to his son. A vicar collected a salary instead of tithes and lived in a modest vicarage instead of a rectory. A curate, being an assistant to a vicar, handled all duties except preaching. 2. He wrote fifty-seven hymns, most of which are still sung today, such as ‘Bread of the World’, ‘Lord of Mercy and of Might’, ‘Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning’, ‘God that Madest Earth and Heaven’ and probably the best known, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’. See Revd W. C. Proctor, The Story of the Sacred Song (London: James Clarke & Co., 1930), pp. 106–9. 3. G. K. Clark, The Making of Victorian England (London: Routledge, 1966), p. 20. 4. H. Mann, Census of Great Britain, 1851: Religious Worship in England and Wales (London: Routledge, 1854). 5. However, according to the 1851 census, people who claimed to be members of the Church of England came to 3,773,474, and those who were Catholics, Dissenters or Nonconformists came to 3,487,588. The intelligentsia fell away. See E. R. Norman, Church and Society in England, 1770–1970 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 124–5. 6. P. J. Bowler, Reconciling Science and Religion: The Debate in Early-Twentieth-Century Britain (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 194. 7. In order to ascertain the state of church attendance, two censuses of twenty-eight towns were taken in 1851 and 1881. See R. Gill, The Empty Church Revisited (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), p. 21. 8. The Noncomformist and Independent (2 February 1882), p. 106. 9. Gill, The Empty Church Revisited, p. 114. 10. Ibid., p. 125.

Notes to pages 148–51


11. Ibid., p. 130. 12. Norman, Church and Society, p. 9. 13. J. Overton, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1800–1833 (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1893), p. 47. 14. C. G. Brown and K. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation, 1800–2000, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 153–6. 15. A. Knox, Remains of Alexander Knox, 2 vols (London: J. Duncan and J. Cochran, 1834–7), vol. 1, p. 54. Alexander Knox (1757–1831) was a theologian and politician in Ireland who became friends with John Wesley. His own thread of doctrine blended Anglicanism and Evangelicalism, and he taught that one can have a personal relationship with God through no other intercessory priest than Jesus Christ. This was a belief that clashed with the basic tenet of the Catholic Church that expected confession to be made to priests or other official ecclesiastics; that the ultimate authority of God on earth was given to the Pope, and that intercession was to be made through saints and ecclesiastics. Catholics were not encouraged to believe that they could talk to God directly or know spiritual revelation through the Holy Spirit and personal reading of the Bible. Except for the Evangelicals, the Church of England similarly frowned on the Nonconformist belief that one can have a personal relationship with God without an ecclesiastical intercessor. 16. F. W. Cornish, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, 8, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1910), vol. 1, p. 63. 17. R. Currie, A. Gilbert and L. Horsley, Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 87. 18. Matthew 6:19. 19. ‘Moth and Rust’, in Moth and Rust, pp. 3–4. 20. Ibid., p. 3. 21. Ibid., p. 4. 22. Brown and Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, p. 17. 23. Norman, Church and Society, p. 162. 24. ‘Moth and Rust’, pp. 4, 5. 25. At the end of the eighteenth century, all of the clergy were from the upper classes. In the first half of the nineteenth century, two-thirds of all of the bishops were of aristocratic birth. During the second half of the century, although there were still aristocratic clerics, the profession was filling with landed and professional middle-class people (Norman, Church and Society, p. 9). 26. Under One Roof, p. 8. 27. Ibid., pp. 9–21. 28. Ibid., p. 9. 29. Ibid., p. 3. 30. W. M. Thackeray, The Four Georges: Sketches of Manners, Morals, Court and Town Life (New York: Harper, 1879), p. 198. 31. ‘Moth and Rust’, p. 138. 32. The story is found in Genesis 27. The elderly, blind father asks his hunter son, Esau, to kill a deer, cook it and serve it to him. Esau goes off to do his bidding, while, at the instructions of his mother, Jacob comes to his father’s tent wearing hairy goat skin on his neck on hands so that Isaac, through touch, will think that he is Esau, who is a hairy man. Jacob brings venison prepared by Rebekah, just the way his father loves it. Then, thinking he is Esau, the father blesses Jacob.


Notes to pages 152–3

33. W. B. Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’ (1920), ll. 6–8, in S. Greenblatt et al. (eds), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th edn (New York: Norton, 2006), pp. 2402–3. 34. Red Pottage, p. 375. These last words are in the postscript which follows the novel. 35. The term originated in the late seventeenth century for those Christians who did not agree with the precepts of either the Catholic or Anglican Church. The Dissenters included Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists or Independents, Quakers, Unitarians and Baptists. Their numbers and influence had grown significantly so that by the nineteenth century they were a substantial threat to the Anglican Church. In fact Penal Laws, that restricted liberties for these Dissenters or Nonconformists, were in effect until the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, 9 May 1828. By Cholmondeley’s time, there were as many Dissenters as there were Anglicans in England. She was never forced to live with a brother, but she did spend the first thirty years of her life caring for a mentally ill mother. She died at the age of 66, never having married. Her father, a rector, disdained the widespread and vituperative prejudice that many Anglicans flung at Dissenters and Catholics. 36. Brown and Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, p. 96. 37. In England and Wales. See K. L. Roberts, Why Europe Leaves Home: A True Account of the Reasons which Cause Central Europeans to Overrun America (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1922), pp. 266–75. 38. Red Pottage, p. 177. 39. Ibid., p. 154. 40. R. D. Richardson, The Causes of the Present Conflict of Ideals in the Church of England (London: John Murray, 1923), p. 227. 41. Under One Roof, p. 21. 42. The degeneration of Christianity in England was further exacerbated by the readily accepted theories of evolution, especially those proffered by Darwin. Cardinal Newman’s definition of ‘Liberalism’ in the High Church includes: ‘No revealed doctrines or precepts may reasonably stand in the way of scientific conclusions’ (Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), ed. I. Ker (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 260). In 1860 seven Church of England scholars published Essays and Reviews, which cast into high relief the debate of literal versus metaphorical reading of Scripture. Then, in 1867, Parliament passed the Compulsory Church Rates Abolition Act which ended mandatory tithing which had been first put into effect in 855, thus severing a major tie between Church and state. 43. So named because most of its members were fellows of Oxford University, it is also known as the Tractarian Movement due to its publication of ‘Tracts for the Times’ from 1833 to 1841. It also has been called the Puseyite Movement for one of its leaders, Edward Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford. Other key leaders were John Henry Newman (who converted to Catholicism), John Keble, Isaac Williams, Henry Edward Manning and Richard Froude. See M. I. M. Bell, Before and After the Oxford Movement (London: Catholic Literature Association, 1933), at http:// [accessed 1 October 2008]; K. Knight, ‘Oxford Movement (1833–1845)’, in ‘New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia’, at [accessed 31 July 2008]; J. C. Livingston and F. S. Fiorenza, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006); and C. P. Morehouse, ‘The Oxford Movement’, in ‘Project Canterbury’, at acb/17.html [accessed 31 July 2008]. 44. The High Church was the Church of England. The Low Church included these denominations: the Evangelical Anglican and the Nonconformists or Dissenter churches (see

Notes to pages 153–7

45. 46. 47.


49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65.



note 35 above). The Broad Church consisted of those who believed that salvation was an individual, personal matter of which one rarely spoke. They prized scientific thought in religion and were sceptical of emotional leanings; they were also proactive in bringing about social and political reform. Brown and Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, p. 17. Currie et al., Churches and Churchgoers, p. 73. M. Edwards, ‘John Wesley’, in R. Davies and G. Rupp (eds), A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 2 vols (London: Epworth Press, 1965), vol. 1, pp. 37–79, on pp. 56–61. From 1851 to 1871, there was a 43.8–34 per cent loss of jobs for men in agriculture, fishing, mining, quarrying and textiles. Between 1881 and 1911, 30.9–25.8 per cent of men had to find jobs elsewhere (Currie et al., Churches and Churchgoers, p. 103). The railways and cheaper public transportation allowed men to relocate for jobs, but then they were uprooted from the church that their families might have attended for generations or they might go to an area where there were no churches of their own denomination. Ibid., p. 107. Ibid., p. 88. Gill, The Empty Church Revisited, p. 115. Red Pottage, p. 162. Under One Roof, p. 12. Ibid., pp. 14–15. Ibid., p. 19. Red Pottage, p. 282 Diana Tempest, p. 306. Ibid., p. 141. Hebrews 11:6. Diana Tempest, p. 28. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., pp. 27, 29. Ibid., p. 30. Revelations 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me’. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory I determined that Mary Magdalene was one and the same. In Luke 7:36–50, she is the sinful woman who wipes Christ’s feet with her tears and expensive ointment. As the sister of Martha and Lazarus, she is the Mary who sits at Christ’s feet while Martha does all of the work and complains about it (Luke 10:38– 42). In John 11:1–2, she is the sister of Martha and Lazarus who is dying, but she wipes Christ’s feet with her tears and expensive ointment. When Christ is healing a leper in Bethany, she is a woman who wipes his feet with expensive oil (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; John 12:1–8). In Luke 8:2–3 she is the woman from whom Christ exorcised seven demons. She is the follower (Matthew 27:55–6; Mark 15:41) and preparer of his body for burial (Mark 16:1). She came to the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2). In John 20:1–2, she is the first to see the resurrected Lord and runs to tell the disciples. Beginning with the third century, Magdalene became a term used for ‘prostitute’, although the Bible never uses that word. The term persisted into and throughout the Victorian period, even though the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches canonized her and celebrated 22 July as a feast day in her honour. Diana Tempest, p. 39.

198 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74.

75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86.

Notes to pages 157–61 Ibid., p. 40. Ibid., p. 208. Ibid., p. 208. Ibid., pp. 75–82. Ibid., p. 85. Matthew 19:21: ‘Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me’. Diana Tempest, pp. 85. Ibid., p. 86. Several Psalms say this, but here is one: ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:8). It also appears in Romans 2:15 and in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16. Luke 15:18: ‘I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee’. Diana Tempest, p. 309. Ibid., p. 320. Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ ( John 3:3, 7). Diana Tempest, p. 139. Ibid., p. 316. Ibid., p. 312. ‘The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’ ( John 10:10). See ‘Mother’, in Under One Roof, pp. 41–52. Ibid., pp. 22–3. Ibid., p. 22. Red Pottage, p. 134.

12 Dreams of Futurity in ‘Votes for Men’ and ‘The Dark Cottage’ 1.


‘Votes for Men’ appeared in the Cornhill in 1909, and again in The Romance of His Life, pp. 200–15. It is also reprinted in C. C. Nelson’s Literature of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign in England (London: Broadview Press, 2004). ‘The Dark Cottage’ was published in the Pears Christmas Annual, 29 (December 1919), pp. 8–11. It was also included in The Romance of His Life, pp. 55–82. Page references for both texts are taken from The Romance of His Life. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, pp. 17, 26, 88, 92. Lubbock states that ‘after the war [Cholmondeley] began to look frailer, to seem older; a sudden illness in 1921 left her greatly shaken. Thenceforth she lived quietly in London, enjoying the frequent sight of her friends – gradually losing her little strength’ (pp. 95–6). However, prior to the First World War, Cholmondeley was circulating in literary networks, for instance having the Findlater sisters stay at her Ufford cottage during May 1909 and socializing with D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound and Violet Hunt at the Reform Club in November 1909, whilst maintaining her close literary friendship with Rhoda Broughton. Lawrence recorded meeting Cholmondeley in a letter dated 20 November 1909 to Louise Burrows, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. J. T. Boulton, 8 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979–2000), vol. 1: 1901–1913, p. 144. The Cholmondeley sisters’ relationships with the collaborative novelists Mary and Jane Findlater are documented in Eileen MacKenzie’s The Findlater Sisters: Literature and Friendship (London: John Murray, 1964).

Notes to pages 161–6

3. 4. 5.

6. 7.



10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.


They had been friends since 1906. ‘Votes for Men’ is followed in the Cornhill Magazine by ‘The Tattie-Bogle’, a story by Jane Findlater. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 203. ‘Shrieking Sisterhood’ was a term used widely in the anti-suffrage press and promulgated by Eliza Lynn Linton in ‘The Girl of the Period’. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 201. Ibid., p. 208. Veteran politician Lord James of Hereford had ‘helped formulate the case against women’s suffrage in the 1870s’, according to J. Bush, Women against the Vote: Female Anti–Suffragism in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 171. Lords Curzon and Cromer were dominant members of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage and later the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. For more on their roles, see ibid. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 203. J. Chothia (ed.), ‘The New Woman’ and Other Emancipated Woman Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. xxi. Votes for Women! was performed in 1906 and directed by Granville Barker for the Court Theatre. The play’s run was extended due to demand. Robins’s play is reprinted with introductory notes in ‘The New Woman’ and Other Emancipated Woman Plays. Chothia argues that Robins’s play does manage to subvert dramatic convention, if not with her plot then with her characterizations, p. xxi. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 203. Cholmondeley borrowed this term of the padded room from the conversation of the suffragist Mrs Arthur Lyttleton. With grateful thanks to Carolyn Oulton for this information. The term ‘bluestocking’ originates from an eighteenth-century group of literary and intellectual women centring around Elizabeth Montagu, Frances Boscawen and Elizabeth Vesey. Originally a term celebrating these fashionable saloniers, in the nineteenth century ‘bluestocking’ had come to be associated with a dowdy, sexless, over-reaching feminism. For more on the ‘bluestocking’ as caricatured in the popular press, see Richardson and Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 208. Ibid., p. 207. Ibid., p. 207. Ibid., p. 207. Ibid., p. 205. Ibid., p. 205. The 1891 Census in England and Wales found that of the 29,001,018 persons enumerated, 14,050,620 were males and 14,950,398 were females, giving an excess of 899,778 females. The 1901 Census of England and Wales found that of the 32,526,075 persons enumerated, 15,721,728 were males and 16,804,347 females. This gives an excess of 1,082,619 females. This was largely due to the armed forces and emigration taking vast numbers of men overseas. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 212. Lubbock, Mary Cholmondeley, p. 92. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 214. Ibid., p. 214. Ibid., pp. 214–15. The Hand on the Latch opened on 18 March 1911 according to The Times, 20 March 1911, p. 12. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 11 May 1919, DDB/M/C/2/16, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 February 1919, DDB/M/C/2/14.


Notes to pages 166–72

24. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 21 September 1917, DDB/M/C/2/8. 25. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 29 August 1913, DDB/M/C/2/2. 26. For more information on the crash of Zeppelin L48 (or LZ95), see N. Faulkner and N. Durrani, In Search of the Zeppelin War: The Archaeology of the First Blitz (Gloucester: Tempus/History Press, 2008). 27. ‘In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, in The Romance of His Life, p. 24. 28. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 18 November 1918, DDB/M/C/2/13, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 29. The annual contained an introductory essay by W. L. George, illustrated stories by A. A. Milne, G. K. Chesterton, Amy A. Leake, E. A. Wodehouse, Reginald Higgins, F. Britten Austin and S. L. Bensusan, and a play by Dion Clayton Calthrop. Cholmondeley’s ‘The Dark Cottage’ is illustrated with striking colour drawings by W. Hatherell, RI. 30. Pears Christmas Annual, 29 (December 1919), p. 1. 31. G. Locke, ‘An English Science-Fiction Magazine, 1919’ Science Fiction Studies, 19:6.3 (November 1979), pp. 304–8, on p. 304. 32. Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 27 June 1919, DDB/M/C/2/18, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. 33. Cholmondeley told Broughton that ‘nineteen Ufford lads’ died in the war (Mary Cholmondeley to Rhoda Broughton, 17 June [1918]), DDB/M/C/2/5), and her own nephew Reginald Cholmondeley, Captain of the Royal Flying Corps and Rifle Brigade, died in action on 12 March 1915, aged 26. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds a record of his death and burial place. 34. ‘The Dark Cottage’, p. 55. 35. Ibid., p. 57. 36. Ibid., p. 76. 37. Ibid., p. 69. 38. Ibid., p. 70. 39. Ibid., p. 71. 40. Ibid., p. 70. 41. Ibid., p. 81. 42. Ibid., pp. 75–6. 43. Ibid., p. 76. 44. Ibid., p. 70. 45. Ibid., pp. 78–9. 46. Ibid., p. 67. 47. Ibid., p. 65. 48. Ibid., p. 66. 49. Ibid., p. 67. 50. Ibid., pp. 76–7. 51. Ibid., p. 77. 52. ‘Votes for Men’, p. 200. 53. ‘The Dark Cottage’, p. 74. 54. Ibid., p. 71. 55. Ibid., p. 71. 56. Ibid., p. 81. 57. Ibid., p. 81. 58. Peterson, ‘The Role of Periodicals’, p. 39.


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adultery, 16, 17, 18, 21, 33, 34, 47, 151 Anderson, James Carew O’Gorman, 128 ‘Angel in the House’ motif, 35 anti-suffragists, 162–3, 199n5 Appleton publishers, 79, 80, 83 Arata, S., 194n60 Ardis, A. L., 35, 175n16, 177n25 artists, fictional, 152 Eliotean/Brontëan, 61 ‘The Goldfish’, 43–7, 60 Künstlerroman, 14, 20, 62, 75 New Woman, 13–14, 20, 58, 60–3 Astor, Nancy, 170 astrology, 97–101, 110 Auerbach, Nina, 142 Austen, Jane, 49, 55, 60, 103

‘bluestockings’, 13, 163, 199n9 Bookman, 75–80 Braddon, Mary Elizabeth, 1 Brantlinger, Patrick, 131, 132 Brontës, 60 Brooke, Edward, 5 Broughton, Rhoda, 3, 58, 67, 103, 116, 122, 125–6, 165–7, 172, 187n2 Browning, Robert, 49 Burfield, D., 187n15 Burton, Lady Richard, 79

Bachelard, Pierre, 60 Ball, Thomas J., 81 Becker, Suzanne, 104 Behn, Aphra, 52 Benjamin, Walter, 70 Benson, Catherine (niece), 120 Benson, Essex (Caroline) Cholmondeley (sister), 4, 66, 119, 120, 122, 123, 126, 129, 167 Benson, Ralph (brother-in-law), 120 Benson, Stella (niece), 4, 66, 117–30 I Pose, 126 This is the End, 126 Twenty, 126 Bentley, George, 3 Bentley, Richard, 75 Besant, Walter, 84 Bible, 152, 156–7, 195n15, 197n65 birth control, 163 Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, 107

Caird, Mona, 25, 52, 108 Catholic Church, 148, 149, 151, 153, 154, 158, 195n15, 197n65 celebrity journalism, 75–7 Chirol, Sir Valentine, 128, 191n72 Cholmondeley, Emily Beaumont (mother), 1, 2, 118–19, 122, 159 Cholmondeley, Mary amateur theatricals, 193n47 appearance, 68, 86, 123 asthma, 2, 3, 5, 27, 44, 159 celebrity interview, 75–9 character, 3, 68, 85 death, 129 declining years, 198–9n2 depression, 124 diary, 2, 129–30 early life, 1–4, 118–19, 196n35 influences, 54, 87, 89–91 literary professionalism, 83–6 morphine addiction, 4, 56 move to London, 4, 65–6 myth surrounding, 5, 65 nephew, 166, 167, 189n49, 200n33 niece, Stella Benson, 117–30

– 211 –


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

obituary notice, 55, 192n5 opinions, 41, 148–59, 176–7n8 sisters, 2, 3, 4, 6, 66, 100, 103, 119, 120, 166 social background, 193n37 socializing, 165–6, 198n2 Ufford, 5–6, 166, 167, 198n2 unhappy love affair, 5, 119–20 war experience, 166 novels see individual titles short stories ‘The Dark Cottage’, 48, 69, 161, 165–72 ‘The End of the Dream’, 38, 42–3, 47, 48, 50, 112–14, 115 ‘Geoffrey’s Wife’, 3, 26, 38, 49, 69–71 ‘The Ghost of a Chance’, 110–11, 114, 115 ‘The Goldfish’, 38, 42, 43–7, 48, 50, 58–63, 67, 108 ‘The Hand on the Latch’, 50, 71–2, 165 ‘In Praise of a Suffolk Cottage’, 166 ‘In the Small Hours’, 109 ‘Let Loose’, 68, 109 ‘Lisle’s Courtship’, 3, 173n6 ‘The Lowest Rung’, 53–8, 72–4 ‘Moth and Rust’, 149, 174–5n12, 177n25 ‘The Pitfall’, 38, 39–41, 47, 48, 50–2, 69 ‘The Romance of His Life’, 94–7 ‘Run to Earth’, 109 ‘St Luke’s Summer’, 5, 87, 91–4 ‘The Stars in their Courses’, 50, 87, 97–101 ‘The Understudy’, 5, 37, 50, 69, 109–10 see also collection titles works by, general belief and reality in, 87–101 dramatizations, 165 essays, 81 false claims to authorship of, 81 futuristic fantasies, 161–72 Gothicism, 103–16 humour in, 55, 81, 115, 139, 178n33 narration, 49–62 origins of fictional characters, 35, 78, 81, 88–9, 117 for periodicals, 172

play, ‘Votes for Men’, 26, 37, 69, 161–5, 170, 171 prefaces to, 53, 54, 79–80, 82–6, 88, 115 semi-autobiographical, 53–8, 78–9 serializations, 49, 68, 132, 198n1 spiritual female characters, 108–16 Cholmondeley, Richard Hugh (father), 1–2, 5, 65, 100, 119, 147, 150, 153, 154, 159, 196n35 Cholmondeley, Richard Vernon (brother), 35, 78 Cholmondeley family, 65, 78, 79, 80, 120, 159 Chopin, Kate, 15 Chothia, Jean, 162, 199n7 Christianity, 157, 158, 196n43 church attendance, 147–8, 149, 194n5, 194n7, 197n48 Church of England, 147–59, 195n15, 196n43, 196n44 Churchill, Winston, 54 clairvoyance, 104, 108, 188n19 Clark, G. Kitson, 147 clergy, 65, 67, 79, 81–2, 109, 148–50, 154, 194n1, 195n25 Clery, E. J., 104 Clifford, Lucy, 82, 184n34 Colby, Vineta, 14, 15, 16, 55, 66, 84, 175n15 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 105, 125 Collins, Wilkie, 1, 14, 131–45, 191n1, 191n2, 192n20 Conrad, Joseph, 15 Corelli, Marie, 53–5, 73, 77 Cornhill, 162, 198n1 Cornish, Francis Warre, 148 Cox, Michael, and R. A. Gilbert, 106 Crisp, Jane, 34, 55, 192n5 Danvers Jewels, The (MC), 3, 67, 75 compared with The Moonstone, 131–45 narrative structure, 137–9 serialization of, 15 Darwin, Charles, 196n43 Davis, Marlene Baldwin, 66 Devotee, A (MC), 75, 79, 175n15 Diana Tempest (MC), 3–4, 11–23, 67, 82–3 adultery plot, 16, 17, 18 biographical preface to, 79–80

Index courtship plot, 11–12 elopement, 18, 19, 22 existence of God, 155–9 feminism, 26 inheritance plot, 11, 12, 18, 21, 22, 23, 155 as New Woman novel, 20 original for character in, 89 reviews of, 75, 183n1 self-destruction theme, 12, 15–23 sexual fall, 38 Dickens, Charles, 85, 103, 172 Dickinson, Emily, 60 Dissenters see Nonconformists Dix, Gertrude, 49, 62 Dixon, Ella Hepworth, 25, 36, 49, 52, 62 domesticity, 58, 59–60, 61, 86, 161 Dowie, Ménie Muriel Dowie, 26 dress, 72–3, 169 Du Maurier, George, 50 duality, 13, 16–17, 27, 30, 39, 43, 55, 57, 72 Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 58–9 Duncan, Ian, 142, 191n2 Edgeworth, Maria, 103 Edinburgh Review, 35, 137–8 Egerton, George, 26, 40, 49, 52, 67 Eliot, George, 14, 65, 114, 121 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, 71 Ellis, Kate Ferguson, 112 elopement, 18, 19, 22, 39–40, 42, 43 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 80, 87, 89, 90, 122, 124–5 ‘English home’, 139–43 Equal Franchise Act, 172 eugenics, 161, 165, 170, 171 Evangelicalism, 151, 154, 158, 195n15 fallen women, 40, 52 see also prostitution Federico, Annette, 54–5 female hysteria, 45–6, 59 female population, 41, 163–4, 199n15 femininity, 39–40 feminism, 7, 161, 163 Gothicism, 103–4 The Lowest Rung, 37 ‘The Pitfall’, 38, 39–41 Red Pottage, 25–36


Theosophical Society, 107–8, 187n17 Victorian, 13 fin-de-siècle literature, 11, 12, 13, 14, 23, 68–9 celebrity journalism, 75–6, 77 Gothic short stories, 106 loss of identity, 70 model of authorship, 77, 84, 85 Findlater, Jane and Mary, 166, 198n2 First World War (1914–18), 6, 58, 112, 114–15, 118, 125, 126, 161, 166–7, 171 Fleenor, Juliann E., 104 Fowler, Ellen Thorneycroft, 77 Gaskell, Elizabeth, 122, 174n10 Gates, Barbara, 16 Genette, Gérard, 76, 80 Gettier, Edmund L., 89 Ghandi, Mahatma, 128 ghost stories, 106, 107 Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar, 60 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 15, 59, 60 Gissing, George, 71 Gomme, Florence Cornell, 162 Gothicism, 103–16 Grand, Sarah, 30, 32, 52, 67, 110, 178n3 The Beth Book, 62 ‘brawling brotherhood’, 37 The Heavenly Twins, 25, 36, 59 supernatural, 108, 188n19 Graphic, 49, 68 Guardian, 81, 82 Haggard, H. Rider, 106, 112 Haldane, J. B. S., 129 Hardy, Thomas, 52 Haywood, Eliza, 55 Heber, Bishop Reginald (uncle), 80, 147, 150, 159, 194n2 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 125 Heilmann, Ann, 107–8 Heller, T., 192n8 Henry VIII, King, 148 Her Evil Genius (MC), 3 Hinduism, 136 Hoeveler, Diane Long, 104 Hogarth, William, 52, 65 Household Words, 3


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

Howells, H. E., 184n40 Howitt, William, 85 Hudston, Sara, 142–3 Hunt, William Homan, 156 identity, 52, 65–9, 115, 151 and crime, 71–2 and dress, 72–3 dual, 55, 57, 72 and the Metropolis, 69–71 social, 11, 16, 22 illegitimacy, 14, 21 imperialism, 131, 132–40, 143, 145, 191n2, 192n8, 193n34 India, 31, 107, 125, 127–8, 131–7, 140, 143 Indian Mutiny (1857), 131, 135, 144 industrial pollution, 168–9 inheritance, 11, 12, 18, 21, 22, 23, 135–6, 141, 155 invalidism, 44 Irish Home Rule, 144 Jacobs, William Wymark, 106 James, Henry, 15, 68, 69, 143 James, William, 87, 89, 91, 93, 186n56 James of Hereford, Lord, 199n5 Jewsbury, G., 192n20 Kant, Immanuel, 125 King, Kathryn R., 55 Kipling, Rudyard, 56, 121 knowledge, 87–91, 94, 97, 100, 110, 114, 137, 138 Knox, Alexander, 148, 195n15 Korstsch, Christine Bayles, 38 Kranidis, Rita S., 27 Künstlerroman, 14, 20, 62, 75 see also artists, fictional Le Fanu, Sheridan, 187n2 Lee, Sophia, 105 Lee, Vernon, 106 Leighton, Frederick, 156 Levy, Anita, 53 Lewis, Matthew, 105 Liggins, Emma, and Andrew Maunder, 13 Linton, Eliza Lynn, 178n3 Locke, George, 167 London, Jack, 71 Lovecraft, Howard Phillips, 106

Lowest Rung, The (MC), 5, 37–8, 53, 54, 76, 81–3, 88, 122 see also Cholmondeley, Mary, short stories Lowndes, Marie Belloc, 68 Lubbock, Percy, 2, 27, 68, 86, 89, 118, 119, 120, 121, 164 on accessible diaries left by MC, 129–30 on character of MC, 68 description of MC as an ‘amateur’, 84 on MC’s celebrity, 75 on MC’s last illness, 198–9n2 on MC’s London home, 65–6 Lugard, Flora, 37 Lyttelton, Mary, 37, 199n8 Macaulay, Samuel Heyrick, 2 Machen, Arthur, 107 male aestheticism, 44, 61–3, 67 male brutality, 40 Malet, Lucas, 67 Mansfield, Katherine, 68 Marcus, Sharon, 35, 51 marriage, 156 of convenience, 12, 16, 17, 38, 39, 41, 42, 155 conventional, 61 Diana Tempest, 11, 12, 16, 17–18, 20, 26 at end of nineteenth century, 36 female Gothic tradition, 108, 111–12 Red Pottage, 31 Mary Magdalene, 156, 197n65 Massé, Michelle A., 112 Mehta, Jaya, 140 melodrama(s), 56, 63, 67, 103, 108, 162 MC’s love of, 103 Marie Corelli, 54 criticism of MC’s use of, 55 Diana Tempest, 15 Gothic fiction, 108 Red Pottage, 1, 67 Mew, Charlotte, 71 Meynell, Alice, 77 Millais, John Everett, 68 Miller, D. A., 137 Mitchell, Silas Weir, 44 Mitcheson, Naomi, 124, 129 modernism, 15, 69 Monthly Packet, 109 Mores, Ellen, 104

Index morphine addiction, 4, 56, 72 Moth and Rust (MC), 5, 49, 50 see also Cholmondeley, Mary, short stories Mulholland, Rosa, 106 Müller, Max, 89 Munsey’s Magazine, 79, 83 murder, 14, 18, 19, 21–2, 155 Nathan, Sir Matthew, 53 Nayder, L., 102n20, 191n2 Nesbit, Edith, 106 New Man, 26, 32–5, 176n3 New Woman, 4, 176n2 bad women, 28, 36, 39, 41, 50 New Man and, 32–5 novelists, 175n16 spirituality, 107–8 New Woman fiction, 1, 12, 42 approved model of femininity, 39, 58 artists, 13–14, 20, 58, 60–3 mystery of dream states, 39 personal space, 45–6, 60–1 Red Pottage, 15, 20, 25, 26–36, 37 sexual double standard, 52 sexual fall, 38–48 Nonconformists, 150–1, 152, 154, 195n15, 196n35 Notwithstanding (MC), 5 objectification, 51, 62, 107, 111 occult, 54, 104, 107, 110 Oliphant, Margaret, 4, 174n10 Ouida, 67 Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L., 51 Oxford Movement, 153, 196n43 Pall Mall Gazette, 53, 81 Parkins, Wendy, 88 parody, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21 passivity, 42, 62, 107, 111, 113 Pears Christmas Annual, 167, 200n29 Pepys, Samuel, 118 Peterson, Linda H., 14–15, 20, 61, 109, 114, 122, 172 Pionke, A. D., 191n2, 192n12 Plato, 87, 89–90 Playfair, William, 44 Poe, Edgar Allan, 106 poetic justice, 16, 19


postmodernism, 118 Power, Eileen, 128 preaching, 14, 17, 149 Prisoners: Fast Bound in Misery and Iron (MC), 5, 121 prostitution, 70–1, 156, 197n65 public and private spheres, 38, 48, 53, 57, 60, 130 Punch, 25, 137, 139, 163 Pykett, Lyn, 12, 13, 14, 191n2 Radcliffe, Ann, 55, 60, 104, 111 Rainwater, Catherine, and William J. Scheick, 28, 87 Red Pottage (MC), 1, 4, 12, 16, 79, 118, 159, 172, 177n17 artists, 61, 152 burning a manuscript in, 30, 31, 67, 79, 154 choice of appellation, 178n33 clergymen, 81 complete breakdown of Hester Gresley, 14 dramatization of, 37 female characters in, 88 film version, 122 forgotten best-seller, 68 ‘New Man’, 26, 32–5 religion, 151–5 semi-autobiographical, 78 sexual temptation, 38 Stella Gresley minor character in, 117 sublimation, 60 transformation, 25, 28–33 Reed, J. R., 191n2, 192n20 Reeve, Clara, 105 Reform Acts, 154 religion, 14, 17, 149 Representation of the People Act (1918), 112 rest cure, 44 Richardson, Angelique, 39 Richardson, Angelique, and Chris Williams, 13 Ritchie, Anne Thackeray, 3 Roberts, R. Ellis, 129 Robins, Elizabeth, 162, 199n7 Romance of His Life and Other Romances, The (MC), 6, 38, 41, 49, 76, 110, 167 introductory chapter, 166


Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered

preface to, 83–6, 115 spiritual female characters, 108–9 see also Cholmondeley, Mary, short stories romances, 55, 92–4, 105–6 Romanticism, 59, 84–5 Rossetti, Christina, 78, 82, 85, 185n48 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 89 Roy, A., 191–2n2 Russell, Bertrand, 87, 89, 91, 93 Sabbath, 152–3 Sabin, M., 193n34, 194n57 Salvation Army, 148 same-sex relationships, 51 Sand, George, 82 satire, 33, 53, 55, 63 Scarry, Elaine, 60 Schaffer, Talia, 62, 174n6 Schiller, Friedrich, 89 Schreiner, Olive, 26, 36, 49, 50, 52, 62–3 science fiction, 170 Scott, Sir Walter, 85, 103 Seeley, J. R., 139 self-destruction theme, 12, 15–23 self-reflexive metaphors, 19, 20, 21 sensationalism, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18–21, 67 Seringapatam, battle of (1799), 133, 192n6 sex education, 41 sexual double standard, 3, 7, 38, 52, 161 sexual fall, 38–48, 50 Shapiro, Susan C., 25 Sharp, William, 81 Short, C., 176n2 Showalter, Elaine, 173n2 Sinclair, May, 106, 107 Sir Charles Danvers (MC), 3, 15, 75, 79, 122 social convention, 40, 47 social reform, 170–1, 172 social suicide, 11, 12, 21–2 Sorabji, Cornelia, 126–7 Spiritualism, 106 Spring-Rice, Margery, 123 Stetz, Margaret D., 62 Stevenson, Robert Louis, 71, 103, 107, 113, 121, 122 Stoker, Bram, 106

strikes, 169 Sturgis, Howard, 68 sublimation, 60, 63 suffragism, 41, 59, 162–5, 172 suicide, 1, 12, 151 ‘The Goldfish’, 59, 63 metaphors, 16, 20–1, 22 Red Pottage, 33, 34 supernatural, 103, 105–9, 110, 112, 172 Sutherland, J., 191n2 Temple Bar, 15, 49, 109, 132 Thackeray, William Makepeace, 103, 150 Thatcher, Margaret, 172 theatre, 142–3 Theosophical Society, 107–8, 187n17 Thoreau, Henry David, 80 Times, The, 55 trade unions, 154 Tuite, Clara, 78, 183n16 Under One Roof (MC), 2, 6, 100, 103, 118, 126–7, 150, 167 United States, 144 urban migration, 154 Vaihinger, Hans, 87, 89, 91 Victoria, Queen, 54, 131 Wagner, Tamara, 26 Wallace, Diana, 106, 187n8 Weber, Brenda, 13 Wesley, John, 154, 195n15 Wharton, Edith, 68, 103, 106, 107, 109 widowhood, 26 Wilde, Oscar, 71, 83 Williams, Anne, 105, 108 Williams, J. E. Hodder, 75–80 Windsor Magazine, 53 Woolf, Virginia, 44, 68 Woolson, Constance Fenimore, 67 Young Men’s Christian Association, 152–3 Zabicka, Agnieszka, 108 Zakreski, P., 174n10