Mrs. G Forsyth Grant

Here’s a little post about one of my favourite Victorian authors: Mrs. G. Forsyth Grant.

Largely forgotten now, she wrote five mawkish and sentimental novel length boy’s school stories that were quite popular in their day: The Boys of Penrohn (1893); The Hero of Crampton School (1895); Burke’s Chum: a Story of Thistleton School (1896); Chums at Last (1898); and The Beresford Boys (1906).

A contemporary review in the Spectator said of The boys of Penrohn that ‘boys and girls, except the hysterical ones, could only laugh at the excessively feminine idea our author has of the young men and the way they behave’. To some extent I would agree with this statement, and there are indeed some flaws: her descriptions of cricket matches and sporting events are both naive and inaccurate. She also depicts a surprisingly large number of sensitive boys in her works, and she places too much emphasis on their looks.

The novels are set in fictional British boarding schools with classrooms that abound in romantic friendships. This is evident in dialogue such as ‘Jolly little fellow. Hasn’t he got a jolly little face. Look at his hair … isn’t it pretty and curly’, and in soppy descriptions like ‘Arnold was exceedingly pleasant looking, a nice mannered boy, who was very much liked and respected’, and ‘Burke had a sort of secret admiration for Arnold – an admiration suppressed and hidden’. Be this as it may, her books also have merit. She creates many enjoyable boyish adventures with ‘moral dilemmas and their consequences’ that are aptly suitable and interesting for young readers.

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There is something quite beautiful about her quaint and tender-hearted novels, but after reading all five of them, I am definitely left wondering if Mrs. Grant ever met a real boy!

Vicars, Rectors & Curates

If you’re anything like me, and fascinated with the trials and tribulations of Victorian clergy and parish life, or just enjoy disappearing into the world of Victorian realism, then here’s a little bibliography that may be of interest. I shall be reading through this list over the next year, and writing some reviews and spoilers on my blog.

BOOKS ABOUT VICTORIAN CLERGY AND PARISH LIFE

The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) – Oliver Goldsmith

The Curate of Elmwood (1795) – Anthony Pasquin

The Country Curate (1830) – G.R. Gleig

The Vicar of Wrexhill (1837) – Frances Trollope

Milford Malvoisin, or Pews and Pewholders (1842) – Francis Edward Paget

The Warden of Berkingholt, or Rich and Poor (1843) – Francis Edward Paget

The Parish Rescued (1845) – W. F. Wilkinson

My Uncle the Curate (1849) – Marmion Savage

The Rector of St. Bardolph’s, or Superannuated (1852) – F. W. Shelton

The Warden (1855) – Anthony Trollope

The Village Curate: an Interesting Tale (1855) – Joseph Crawhall (Chapbook)

The old Grey Church (1856) – Caroline Lucy Scott

The Curate of the Holy Cross (1857) – Ernest Richard Seymour

Philip Paternoster (1858) – Charles Maurice Davies

The Curate and the Vicar (1859) – Elizabeth Strutt (American)

The Curate of Cumberworth and The Vicar of Roost (1859) – Francis Edward Paget

The Rector (1863) – Margaret Oliphant

The Perpetual Curate (1864) – Margaret Oliphant

The Curate’s Friend – A Story (1867) – Mrs. J. C. Wilson

The Vicars Courtship (1869) – George Walter Thornbury

The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870) – Anthony Trollope

The Rector of St. Marks (1874) – Mary Jane Holmes (American)

The Curate in Charge (1876) – Margaret Oliphant

Thomas Wingfold, Curate (1876) – George Macdonald

The Care of Souls (1879) – J.M. Cobban

Philip Hazelbrook, or the Juniour Curate (1887) – Henry Faulkner Darnell

Robert Elsmere (1888) – Mary Augusta Ward

The Vicar of Berrybridge (1889) – Charles R. Parsons

The Curates Home (1889) – Agnes Giberne

The New Rector (1891) – Stanley J. Weyman

The Little Minister (1891) – James Barrie

The Mystery of the Rat-Tailed Grey, or the Curate in Charge (1891) – WJ Hodgson

My New Curate (1899) – Patrick Augustine Sheehan

An Obstinate Parish (1899) – M. L. Lord

The Cathedral (1922) – Hugh Walpole

The Shadow of Ashlydyat (1863)

Considered by Ellen Wood, aka Mrs Henry Wood, to be the favourite of her fictional works, this is without a shadow of a doubt (excuse the pun) my book of the year!

First published as a serialised novel in monthly installments, it made its appearance in the New Monthly Magazine between October 1861 and November 1863.

The Shadow of Ashlydyat is a superb Gothic novel that charts the downfall of the Godolphins, a rich banking family who lose their estate Ashlydyat, after George the ‘gay and handsome’ second born son, destroys the family business through his reckless and dishonest actions.  Set in a financially unstable time when reputation was everything, the loss of Lord Averil’s bonds, and general gossip in town, contribute to a massive ‘run’ on the bank which has catastrophic consequences.

Throughout the novel a sinister portent known locally as the ‘Shadow of Ashlydyat’ appears nightly to signal the end of Godolphin rule in Ashlydyat. This ancient and mysterious family curse is aptly described in Chapter X: ‘Thomas Godolphin’s voice ceased, and his heart stood still. He had turned the corner, to the front of the ash-tree grove, and stretching out before him was the Dark Plain, with its weird-like bushes, so like graves, and – its shadow, lying cold and still in the white moonlight’.

According to the kindle introduction to the Shadow of Ashlydyat ‘the house and its environs were modelled on the small hamlet of Lydiate Ash, near Birminham, now, alas, dominated by a junction of the M5 motorway!’.

Five star rating - shiny golden stars

 

The Broom-Squire (1896)

This dark novel, published by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1896, is set at the Devil’s Punch Bowl near Hindhead. The novel begins with the vicious murder of a sailor, travelling across country to deliver his baby daughter to a relative, after the death of his wife. He sets out from the Thurstley Ship, a wayside inn between Goldaming and Portsmouth with three drunken, dubious characters, who murder and rob him in the middle of the night. Soon captured, the men are hanged in chains on Gibbet Hill, and the sailor’s baby is taken into care by the woman of the Inn, and supported by the charity of the parish. The baby is amusingly lay-christened by a frightened boy called Iver (son of the inn-keeper), who is convinced she will become a ‘wanderer’ and walk the face of the earth if she dies unbaptised. During the baptism he decides on the name Mehetabel, a rather obscure name from the bible, which he recalls from one of his Sunday school lessons.

In their younger days Iver and Mehetabel become great friends, and in her early adult life we find Mehetabel working at the Inn with her adopted mother and father (who also maintains a local farm). Iver now estranged from his folks – due to his artistic inclinations – has left the family home, and during his long absence, Simon the father becomes increasingly fond of Mehetabel and considers leaving her his fortune. The heart-broken and jealous mother feels this is a slight on Iver, and forms a cunning scheme with the bachelor Kink from the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Mehetabel is eventually coaxed into marrying this ‘Broom-Squire’, so called because he is one of a settlement of squatters whose chief skill is broom-making. Unfortunately, their marriage is desperately unhappy, as Kink, self-centred, cruel and obnoxious, thinks only about making money. At this point Iver is back on the scene and flirting with Mehetabel, which not surprisingly sparks Kink’s fury. When Mehetabel goes to Thor’s Stone to ‘wish’ Iver out of her life, Kink mistakenly thinks she means him, and hides in the bushes to shoot Iver. There is an altercation between Mehetabel and Kink, and the Broom-Squire is shot. Iver patches him up with Mehetabel’s dress then heads off to seek medical assistance. On their journey back to the Punch Bowl, Kink strikes Mehetabel and leaves her face down in the swamp. He tells his kinsmen that Mehetabel deliberately shot him. Kink and his sister now believe Mehetabel is dead, and the Broom-squire is worried there will be implications when they find her body. Mehetabel, however, is quite alive, and returns home apparently oblivious to being attacked by her husband.

In due course Mehetabel has a baby with the broom-squire, and she finds comfort in her child. Her repentant adopted mother (now on her deathbed) leaves 100 pounds for Mehetabel’s child, to be held in trust by Iver. Simon adds another 50 pounds. After the broom-squire’s life savings disappear with the collapse of his local bank, he attempts to wangle the baby’s money out of Iver. At this point the baby becomes ill, and it’s here we truly realise Kink’s evil nature when he attempts to kill the baby with poison in the guise of medicine, to get his hands on the funds. Mehetabel aware of her husband’s evil designs, thwarts this first attempt on her baby’s life. She later catches Kink trying to smother the baby with a pillow in the middle of the night. After this, Mehetabel leaves her home at the Punch-Bowl for good, and wanders the countryside seeking refuge. She is turned away by all her old friends and even by Iver (who has formed another attachment), and is advised by the locals to return to her husband ‘if she knows what’s best for her’. She hides in the caves, but is eventually discovered. Her baby dies, and after a brutal argument with her husband, he steps backwards into a disused lime-kiln shaft and plummets to his death. Mehetabel then goes through a humiliating public trial, where she is accused of killing her husband with a blow to the head. Matters are made worse when squatters from the Punch-Bowl give false statements against her. Interestingly, Iver is selected for the jury on her trial, but this is an intense time for the reader, as most of the men of the jury lean towards giving the guilty verdict, to make an example of her sex. Sexist pigs! In the end she doesn’t swing from the gallows (the locals didn’t want the hassle of another trial). Mehetabel, totally defeated, and with no desire to fight for her dead husband’s property (now hijacked by the pikeys from the Bowl), dedicates the rest of her life to working as a ‘dame’ school teacher, where she finds purpose in teaching the rudimentary basics to generations of local children.

 

 

Interesting Words from Orley Farm & Vicar of Bullhampton

A load of old Trollope from the masterful mid-Victorian novelist!

Incorrigible – adj. Incapable of being corrected or reformed: “an incorrigible criminal”.

Disquisition – noun. A formal discourse on a subject, often in writing.

Hoyden – noun. A high-spirited, boisterous, or saucy girl: “she was a veritable hoyden”.

Harangue – noun/verb. a long, passionate, and vehement speech, esp. one delivered before a public gathering.

Objurgate – tr/verv. To scold or rebuke sharply; berate.

Excoriate – tr/verb. To censure strongly; denounce: “an editorial that excoriated the administration for its inaction”.

Sagacious – adj. Having or showing keen discernment, sound judgment, and farsightedness.

Matutinal – adj. of or occuring in the morning.

Dudgeon – noun. A sullen, angry, or indignant humor: “Slamming the door in Meg’s face, Aunt March drove off in high dudgeon” (Louisa May Alcott).

Animadvert – int.verb. To remark or comment critically, usually with strong disapproval or censure: “a man . . . who animadverts on miserly patients, egocentric doctors, psychoanalysis and Lucky Luciano with evenhanded fervor” (Irwin Faust).

Equipoise – noun. Even balance of weight or other forces; equilibrium

Superlative – adj.  Of the highest order, quality, or degree; surpassing or superior to all others.

Cupidity – noun. Excessive desire, especially for wealth; covetousness or avarice.

Rapacious – adj. Taking by force; plundering.

Laconic – adj. Using or marked by the use of few words; terse or concise.

Plaintive – adj. Expressing sorrow; mournful or melancholy.

Myrmidon – noun. A faithful follower who carries out orders without question.

Surreptitiously – adj. Obtained, done, or made by clandestine or stealthy means.

Approbation – noun. An expression of warm approval; praise. Official approval.

Sophistry – noun.pl. A plausible but misleading or fallacious argument.

Spoliation – noun. The act of despoiling or plundering.