Thursday, 31 July 2014


HAVE NEW DRESS AND BIG HAT. The Life of Victorian Actress Nancy Price.

Another guest post from Alice Violett, who studies the experiences of only children.

Nancy Price (1880-1970) – real first name Lillian – was born and brought up on an estate in rural Staffordshire by a beloved mother and more distant father. Her sister, May, died at the age of five, when Nancy was not yet one. In the absence of siblings, Nancy’s main companions were pets and dolls, but never animal toys, because:

Human companionship I knew little about, save for my father and mother, therefore dolls served their turn, but animals never.

Extracts from her diary, printed verbatim in her autobiography, sometimes make it difficult to determine at first sight whether she is talking about dolls, pets, or other children:
February 15 [1887].  Tommy very gay to-day – ran away.  Spot norty – I lost him. (I later worked out that Tommy was a horse and Spot was a dog)

June 1 [1887].  Have new dress and big hat.  Liked it at first, but Clara larfed at it.  Feel orful now – hope I don’t have to wear it again Sunday.  I don’t know wether I like Clara very much, anyway, not as much as Spot.  She is rather silly. (p. 14 – Clara turned out to be the gardener’s daughter and one of Nancy’s first friends)

April 20 [1888].  Had party with my dolls.  Spot bit Susan and all the sawdust came out.

She was allowed considerable freedom by her parents:
As a child, I was always walking or riding, and never hindered or stopped in either of these pleasures, although I believe it was thought extraordinary by many that so young a child should have been allowed this liberty.

She was able to recall several adult friends, including the local parson. Once she had placed a jujube in the collection plate instead of a coin.
After the first Sunday upon which my righteous decision had been made with its attendant sacrifice, I met my friend and he said: “I missed your sweet in the collection plate this Sunday, and I always look forward to that in the vestry after the service.”
In future my precious coin and the sweet were laid in the plate, in order to satisfy both my conscience and my friend.


Despite her father’s disapproval of the stage, Nancy achieved her ambition to become an actress – again possibly demonstrating the independence and possibilities open to only children in possession of strong minds and lofty ambitions.
(Source: Nancy Price, Into An Hour-Glass, London, 1953)


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Sunday, 27 July 2014


FIGHT YOUR OWN WAY: The life of Victorian actress Julia Neilson.
Guest post from Alice Violett:
As part of my research into public perceptions and personal experiences of only children born between c. 1850 and 1950, I have been reading many autobiographies, including those of actresses Julia Neilson (1868-1957) and Nancy Price (1880-1970).
Julia Neilson was born in London. When she was a young child, her parents separated.  Brought up by her mother in straitened circumstances, her upbringing was characterised by both caution and strength:

“You must fight your own way in the world, Julia,” was a remark frequently made to me by my mother when I was still but a little girl.
There was no talk of the theatre in those days.  It was cautiously decided that I should become a governess – mother’s courage on her own account evidently falling short when it came to the disposal of a daughter’s future.

Julia did not think being an only child had affected her too unduly: Lacking brothers and sisters, I suppose my childhood’s days must have been lonely ones; but solitude does  not seem to have afflicted me with a shortage of spirits, since one of my earliest recollections is of receiving a sound smacking across my grandmother’s knee, for staying out late to play in the gardens of Torrington Square.
She was also in frequent trouble for chronic untidiness of the pockets.

Despite her mother’s caution, Julia was allowed to make decisions for herself.  At boarding-school in Germany (by this time her mother had more money, and wished to tame her wild daughter a little), she struck up a friendship with two Russian girls. They told me of the beauties of the Greek Catholic Church, which, of course, was then the national religion of Russia.  So I wrote to my mother telling her that I had been converted, and wished to join the Greek Catholic Church.  My mother at once replied, saying that it was a serious step to take, but that if I had really made up my mind, I was quite at liberty to become a Greek Catholic.  How wise of her.  There being no opposition of any kind, the charm of the idea faded away, and I came to the conclusion that I would remain a member of my own church.
She was also allowed to join a profession previously untested by any other member of her family. I was to head a kind of mild family stampede towards the theatre ...  We were to become a ‘theatrical family’ – which I am sure would very much have astonished handsome Great-Grandmother Davis, if she had lived to hear about it.  I can just remember Great-Grandmother Davis: a stately old lady with lace lappets descending on her bosom.  I used to be taken to see her and my two cousins, who played the piano so beautifully that out of mortification and envy I retired to sit under the table.

For more quotes from Julia Neilson’s autobiography see Alice Violett’s blog at http://aliceinacademia.tumblr.com/post/91446046596/in-which-i-actually-get-to-read-some-autobiographies-by.

Thursday, 24 July 2014


THE SAVAGES OF NEW BRUNSWICK AND THEIR WIVES: THEY HAVE NO OTHER SERVANTS, SLAVES, OR ARTISANS.

More from Pierre Biard’s Relations of New France, 1616.
  • In Europe fathers supply dowries when their daughters marry. Here the suitor brings fine presents to the father…dogs, beavers, cooking vessels, axes, etc., depending on the status of the father and the beauty of his daughter.
  • The father then meets with his relatives to discuss the qualities of the suitor: Is he of a desirable age? Is he a good and active hunter? What about his race, standing, and valour?
  • If the suitor is accepted, they set the date of the wedding which is celebrated with a solemn tobacco ceremony and a banquet with speeches, dances, and songs.
Women do all the work, as their people have no other servants, slaves, or artisans.
  • They build huts and furnish them, look after the fire, collect wood and water, prepare and smoke the meat to preserve it… sew together the canoes and waterproof them, tan the hides, …make clothes and shoes for the whole family, go fishing and pull valiantly at the oars.
The natives accuse the French of poisoning them, but the principal reason for their illnesses and deaths is this:
  • When our ships arrive in the summer, they greedily devour an enormous amount of unfamiliar food over several weeks. They get drunk on wine or brandy, so that it is not surprising if they have very sore stomachs come fall. But this nation, like all the other American tribes, does not worry at all about the future. They enjoy the present and work only when absolutely necessary.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


THE SAVAGES OF NEW BRUNSWICK: RATHER LIBERAL AND IN NO WAY MALICIOUS.

When the Jesuit Pierre Biard visited what is now New Brunswick and Maine in 1616, he had this to say about the inhabitants:
  • The savages are by nature rather liberal and in no way malicious. They are intelligent, at least when assessing and evaluating things that can commonly be perceived. They are able to reason, make apt comparisons, and draw valid inferences.
  • They also have an excellent memory of concrete things. For example, they remember what they have seen, the characteristics of places they visited, the events they witnessed over the last twenty or thirty years.
  • But it is very diffiult for them to learn anything by heart. It is impossible to teach them a long monologue.
  • Neither men nor women have any facial hair.
  • At first they thought our hair, especially hair around the mouth, extremely ugly, but eventually they got used to it and no longer considered us terribly marred.
  • None of them has a fat belly, or a hunchback, or is crippled in any way. They have never heard of leprosy, gout, kidney stones, or madness. They notice and greatly mock anyone among us who has a physical defect, who is one-eyed or cross-eyed, or has a flat nose.
  • Although they live a wretched life and have no polity, no power, no literature, art or wealth, they are quite self-satisfied.
(Source: Pierre Biard, Relation de Nouvelle France, 1616. Image: douglashunter.ca)

MORE IN MY NEXT BLOG POST.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


THE BOOK OF MORMON – NO, I DON’T MEAN THE MUSICAL. I MEAN THE SATIRICAL.

Some years ago I was given a Mormon Bible, but it’s only now that I realize its relevance to my secular life. Let me quote you a few bits.

This one, I think, is about politicians:
And thus they were supported in their laziness…by the taxes put upon the people. Thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity (Mosiah 11:6).

This may be about the Middle East and peace being short-lived under the best of circumstances:
They were favored by the Lord, and thus they were free from wars and contentions among themselves, yea, even for the space of four years (Alma 28:20).

I’m pretty sure this one is about self-publishing.
Thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the book.
Pay the debt you have contracted with the printer and release thyself from bondage (Doctrine and Covenants 19:26, 35).

This may help Al-Anon:
He built wine-presses and made wine in abundance. And therefore he became a wine-bibber.

(And, no, I didn’t make up the quotes)