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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