Constance Savery: Unpublished Biographies CWS

Savery's Unpublished Biographies

Fiction sells much better than biographies, but sponsors frequently ask for the biography of some favored person, and a book or article results. Sometimes the biography sells; often, it does not.

Always a Tramp. 1948, 23,000 words, typed, double-spaced.

On April 2, 1947, Savery wrote in her work diary: "Have been asked to write a biography of Lilias Trotter." Trotter was an indefatigable missionary to Algeria. The next pertinent entry is an addendum for February 25-28, 1948: "Also trying to write the Life of Lilias Trotter." Evidently it wasn't easy, because on May 25 she wrote: "Temporarily abandoned the life of Lilias Trotter." The following entry says that Lutterworth was soliciting a missionary biography, but Trotter was apparently not an appropriate subject. I wonder why. Six weeks later she returned to the task, writing in the diary: "July 5th - July 16th: Finished Always a Tramp (biography of Lilias Trotter)."

Evidently the person who requested the biography wasn't pleased with the result, because the book is not mentioned again until August 20-23, 1956: "Continued to retype Always a Tramp." there are no further diary entries, but the memorandum books where she kept records of submissions record that the manuscript went to Lutterworth Press in September 14, 1956, and to Oliphants on November 16. The Algiers Mission Board accepted it provisionally (underlined) on October 21, 1958, but nothing came of that, either.

Algeria became independent in 1962, and by 1967 had severed diplomatic relationships with most of the western world. Trotter's Christian enclaves did not survive these changes, although there must have been those who remembered her and the work she did.

Savery's manuscript mentions another biography by one of Trotter's colleagues, Blanche Pigott, but I recommend A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Rockness.

Isabella Bird Bishop. March 28, 1951, 9 pp, typed, double-spaced, with pencilled corrections.

A cousin of Mary Bird of Persia, the intrepid Isabella Bird ignored a variety of chronic ailments while traveling thousands of miles unabashed by creature discomforts, hazardous terrain, and unfriendly natives. A wilderness encounter with "Mountain Jim" that was followed by a regular correspondence ended when that trapper was shot, but she survived her disappointment to marry Dr. John Bishop, who restrained her world-traveling until his death, after which she returned to her journeying, dying at the age of seventy-two on the eve of a trip to China. Pat Barr's A Curious Life for a Lady includes some, but not all, of Savery's anecdotes. I have not verified that the 21-year-old Bird thwarted an anarchist plot in London, but that was the least incredible of her adventures.

The biography was sent to EVERYBODY'S, which returned it. There is no evidence it was submitted elsewhere.

Charles-Marie de la Condamine. September 1956, 1,770 words, typed, double-spaced; title and first page are missing.

Because Savery maintained a word count as she proceeded, we know that this fragment begins with the 196th word. Curiosity is a recurring theme in the remaining pages, and I think "Curiosity Killed the Cat" is a likely title, especially since Savery quotes that cliche in words 199 through 202. The work diary indicates that the article was begun on August 20, 1956, resumed on September 20, and then shortened and retyped "about September 30." There is no record of its submission to a publisher.

As an 18-year-old soldier in 1719, la Condamine showed conspicuous bravery at Rosas during the Franco-Spanish War, but he found his metier when sent to Peru in South America in 1735 to measure two degrees of longitude along the equator. In collaboration with two others, both more distinguished, but less flamboyant, he completed his task in 1743, then spent an additional two years in exploration of the continent before returning to Paris, where he busied himself promoting innoculation against smallpox.

His curiosity continued unabated:
...He nearly paid with his life for his rash behavior in a village church on the Italian shore. Its priest had asserted that if by any dire calamity an ever-burning taper were extinguished, the village would immediately be swallowed up by the angry waves.

  "Are you perfectly convinced of the truth of what you say?" asked la Condamine. "You are? Then we will presently make the thing certain"--and he blew out the taper. Pursued not by angry waves but by very angry villagers, he was lucky to escape with a whole skin.
Aged fifty-six, deaf, disabled and armed with a Papal dispensation, he wedded his own niece. The marriage was a happy one, and his life was crowned with scientific honors. He offered prizes and took up poetry. His curiosity continued unabated. Old and diseased, he proposed a controversial operation be performed upon him, only objecting when the surgeon performed too rapidly for la Condamine to observe him closely. Still expostulating, he died.

Savery's account is lively reading, and I have found no contradictory evidence of her account on the Internet.

Joseph Wolff. Sep. 20, 1973, handwritten draft of reply to letter from Lutterworth editor:

It is difficult to account for the almost total eclipse of a man whose name was a household word in the mid-nineteenth century.

He was born in 1795, the son of a Jewish rabbi of Franconia. From childhood he was interested in the Christian faith. At an early age he left home for the life of a wandering scholar. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and was for a time the centre of an admiring circle in Vienna. Going to Rome, he studied in the College of the Propaganda, intending to become a missionary.

But his reckless inquiring mind could not accept blindly all that he was taught, and eventually the College of the Propaganda dismissed him.

Wherever Wolff went, he made friends. The wealthy and influential banker Henry Drummond helped him most generously with money and advice. (Wolff named his son Drummond after the great-hearted friend, and all W's descendents have taken the name Drummond-Wolff.) Going to London, Wolff examined the various denominations and decided to attach himself to the Church of England. It was arranged by Charles Simeon & other friends that he should go to Cambridge to prepare for missionary work among the Jews at the expense of the Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews...
Savery's interrupted draft was undated, but she responded to letters so quickly it is probable that she wrote on the back of the letter the day she received it.

The Story of Lewis Carroll. May 22, 1975 to Oct. 12, 1979, 23 pp, 5,057 words, typed with carbon copy, double-spaced; carbon copy has list of 24 suggested illustrations.

The editor of Ladybird Books Ltd found the first manuscript of the Carroll biography "distinctly uneven" in its appeal to differently aged children. Following Savery's reply, the editor suggested rewriting for an age of "12+" and aiming at a length of 7,000 words. After receiving a prompt revision, the publisher waited until May 19, 1978 to apologize for taking so long to decide about the manuscript. On Oct. 12, 1979, they wrote again, returning the manuscript with the explanation that they did not plan any more books in their 'History' series.

The biography devotes four pages to Charles Dodgson's childhood, mentioning his precocious aptitude for mathematics and the puppet plays he wrote for his siblings. The pages about his Oxford education are more about Oxford than about Dodgson. This is consistent with Savery's love of her alma mater.

Writing for children, Savery contents herself with one long title for Dodgson's contributions to Mathematics, but she mentions his stammer, his ordination as clergyman, his habit of taking twenty-mile walks in a top hat, his prowess as a photographer, and his self-training as a physician.

'Lewis Carroll' first appeared as the author of nonsense verses. Dodgson was sixty years old when he went on a boat ride with Alice Liddell and her sisters and found himself telling of Alice's adventures after tumbling into a rabbit hole. On his return home, he wrote the tale down, amplified it considerably, and showed it to poet and novelist George MacDonald, who shared it in turn to his own family. The book's publication was followed by Through the Looking Glass and many other books, some learned and some not.

Dodgson's correspondence of nearly one hundred thousand letters included thousands to "child-friends", nearly all of them girls. The letters include puzzles, anagrams, poetry, and short fantasies, a wonderland in themselves.

Savery was over eighty years old when the manuscript was returned for the last time, and she was busy with her completion of Brontë's Emma, which may explain why the Carroll biography was never submitted elsewhere.

Text of this web site © 2010-2011 by Eric Schonblom. The unpublished works of Constance Savery are reproduced with the permission of her literary heir and copyright owner, E.C.W. Hummerstone.