Why prepare an annotated bibliography of Constance Savery, an author of children's books? Who cares about seventy-year-old short stories or sixty-year-old reactions to World War II? It is irrelevant that I spent nine years locating and reading both her works and the old books which she reviewed and praised. I could have spent the same nine years in my backyard, examining every square inch as an archeologist does, arriving at the end with a catalog of two hundred and twenty-three rocks, each described in painstaking detail. The age of Dada has passed, I am not into Zen, and a bibliography requires a reason beyond its own existence.
So why this celebration of forgotten works?
When I was eleven or twelve years old, one of Savery's books, Emeralds for the King, was important to me. In 2000 I located a copy and found that it still was. So I asked, "What else did she write?" As I was finishing her fifty books, I found her work diary in Oregon, where I discovered there were scores of stories, articles and other things. Before I finished raking my metaphorical backyard for these, I was lent two unpublished manuscripts, that led me in turn to the British Library and another five cubic feet of manuscripts in hospitable Devonshire. I never had a chance.
I might argue that you should read Savery because she lived over a hundred years, and her work spans the 20th Century, beginning with a child's journal in 1904 and ending with a bit about Stroud, England, that was appended to The Reb and The Redcoats in 1999. But, with the exception of a few articles, Savery rarely commented about current issues. Her books are a thin lode for a historian. The good news is that when such works are out of print, they are not out of date.
Should you read Savery because she was a single woman who succeeded in earning her living with her pen? Others in her genré, such as Elsie J. Oxenham and Dorita Fairlie Bruce, wrote more and have active fan clubs.
Does it matter that she was a member of the very first class of women to receive a degree from Oxford? Other women, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, also completed Oxford's requirements, although they did not receive their degrees until later. When Oxford honored Savery in 1997, she wrote:
I have done nothing whatever to deserve being a guest of honour except to outlive all the other women in the first group that was admitted to degrees! It was a very grand occasion for a very insignificant person.
Should I disregard Savery's modesty to celebrate her life, rather than her work? I am in the process of transcribing all her correspondence--hundreds of letters spanning a century, together with family letters from the century before--but that's a biography in progress, and you won't find much of it here. Still, after some initial hesitation, I am now looking under my metaphorical rocks.
Someone--not I--could analyze, categorize, and summarize Savery's place in Children's Literature, explaining, for example, the phonological cohesion of her verse, her construction of seventeenth century childhood, and her idiosyncratic obsessions with twins and dragons. "Not I!" I trust her work to define itself. Although I do describe the girl and boys in To the City of Gold as 'English children in foreign dress' and have my own observations about the twins and the dragons, I have not treated the rocks as geological specimens. I have only described them. The analysis I leave for another.
Let me end my rationale. It isn't complicated: Savery is worth reading. Approach her with the words that changed Augustine's life: "Tolle lege, tolle lege!" I.e., "Get it and read it!" A couple times... then, decide for yourself.
What about me? The less said the better--this is Savery's site, not mine--but you are entitled to know my credentials. I was born in western Pennsylvania and attended Culver Military Academy, which prepared me for M.I.T., where I graduated in 1956 with an engineering degree. I went on to acquire a Masters and stayed at M.I.T. another year before working a little in oil-well exploration. I was four and a half years in the U.S. Army, 'between Korea and Vietnam,' so I timed that well. Then I worked with explosives for three years before trying teaching, at the Bradford campus of the University of Pittsburgh. A professor must be educated beyond his intelligence, so I picked up my PhD from the University of Florida in 1974. After that I taught over twenty-three years for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Then I retired, and three years later began to read Constance Savery again.
An active member of my local Presbyterian church, I read Savery from a Christian perspective that will appear now and again in my annotations, but, like her, I prefer not to lay it on with a trowel.
I am reluctant to post an email address, because I am not clever enough to hide it from spam distributors, but if you drop me a note, I will reply and send you my email address. My address is:
P.O. Box 111
Buckhorn, KY 41721-111
I recall with pain the school teacher who told my skeptical 10-year-old classmates that my name meant 'pretty flower'. She could have kept that information to herself! There is a compensation. You can Google that uncommon name and learn more about me than you want to know. I hope you enjoy browsing, and I hope it encourages you to read more Constance Savery.
Eric Schonblom, Bibliographer