Family Letters of Constance Savery CWS

Family Letters of Constance Savery

The order is as chronological as possible, but some letters are missing the first page or were never dated. Should you wish to locate letters to or from a particular person, I suggest you use your computer's F(ind) command.

In reading about Savery's family, remember that Constance was 'Winifred' at home, but her sisters called her 'Peter' or 'Wib.' In the same way, Irene was 'Tim,' Phyllis was 'Phyl' or 'Pems', Doreen was 'Dor' or 'Ging,' and Christine was 'Chris,' of course, but also 'Brown Rabbit.' These names dated from childhood and were themselves shortened, so 'Winifred' might be 'Petah' or 'Pete,' while Christine might be 'Bunny', Benjamin (for Benjamin Bunny), and so on. When a family name isn't used below, it is likely the corresponding salutation or signature was on a missing page. When I make no comments, it is because the letter speaks for itself.

To Peter, ~ August 1924.

The Fairy Godbrother by 'Frith Xavery' appeared in two consecutive issues of THE GUIDE, and was the second Savery story for which she was paid. The Brown Rabbit wrote:
Congratulations! I am awfully glad about the "Guide" but I am very worried because I think you have sent all the money you got from it to me. Is this so? In which case you ought to have it straight back to buy books. I mean exercise books & a typewriter & a supply of pencils. Frith Xavery was a nice name but you must keep to one now for the sake of literature books 100 years since.
Savery used 'Frith Xavery' only one time, but she signed herself 'Eleanor Xavery' for several stories in THE SUNDAY CIRCLE in the early 1930s. The princely sum she received from THE GUIDE was 3 guineas!

To My dearest Petah from Wicked Xtine, 12 June 1925.

A rambling, endearing letter
I have an awful sin on my conscience. Oh Pete you never did anything really bad when you were up here but I specs you understand badness because of all the people in your stories although they aren't ever really bad & wicked but then I am not usually as wicked as sometimes. You see it was the heat the day before schools. I had refused to join Rene and Marge on the river--Frank had asked the three of us but I thought I ought to work--& then it was... [page omitted]... no nasty people there, only artisticy people on walking tours etc. We took our lemonade out into the garden & drank it. Then we returned for the change. I was just diving into the bar with the glasses--when Marge said in a grand & nervous voice--"Oh never mind the change, only tuppence you know! I hesitated on the threshold of the bar & looked round to find myself face to face with a proctor! Oh Pete it was awful! Fortunately he was just opening his mouth to ask someone else if he was a member of the University & though he saw us & I am sure knew who we were, he finished his conversation with the man & we marched off discussing the sunset in voices that were meant to be calm and composed. The Buller was just outside but said nothing. It was the most awful fright I have ever had in my life--I don't suppose he would ever recognise us again but just fancy if we had been progged in the bar of a public house the night before schools!--Love Xtine.
The bit about Savery's fictional characters not ever being really bad and wicked was as accurate at the end of Savery's career as it was at the beginning, although weak men, narrow, selfish women, and nasty children were common enough. Agneta Thomson mentioned in an email to me that the author identified only one truly evil person in all of her books, the villain in The Memoirs of Jack Chelwood, which was not published in her lifetime.
A Buller is a campus policeman.

To My dearest Pete from Christine, July 7, 1929:

There has been great excitement in my form over Forbidden Doors. I presented a copy to the form library and the whole lot of them have done nothing but quarrel ever since about who is to have it first. ...Mary Bray, who bagged it straight off--says I am to tell you that it is just lovely and... she 'just loves' the dragon... Mr. B. has just been in with a review from todays 'Observer.' Two paragraphs and jolly good too--All that they can find to say against it is Harraps fault that the end is not enough explained which you cut out for old Harraps. "Miss Savery knows how to make our imagination blench with a hint." Don't you come hinting when I come home. I won't have my imagination blenched...

To Pete, Jan 11, 1931, re: There Was a Key

To My dearest Pete from Brown, early 1935.

The BBC purchased the broadcast rights to The Little Dragon on Dec. 29, 1934. There is no reliable record of how often it was broadcast, but the RADIO TIMES did list it for Aug. 22, 1935. It is nice to know about the TELEGRAPH, but I have not looked for an accessible archive. Christine is always encouraging:
How nice about the Dragon. I have been scanning the BBC programmes in the TELEGRAPH all this term. They give the titles of the children's stories usually except from Athlone [independent transmitter in Ireland] & Wales.

To Timfy, Oct. 1, 1937.

Sending Danny and the Alabaster Box, Savery deplores the "utterly hideous" colour cover, and criticizes her editor:
...I have been "edited" to my speechless indignation. In the place where Charlotte is annoyed with Matt for stealing the mustard and cress, biting the person who tried to take away the plate, and then apologizing in the hope of sharing in her sweets, she addresses him, very justly, as "Little pig!" This has been refined by editorial hands into the insufferably patronising "Little rascal!" As if any child of Charlotte's age would ever have thought of using such a word in such a context! Ught!
She mentions "A New Home for Mike ". This "slight, silly story" was retitled Monkey-Puzzle Tree, but it was never published.

To My Dearest Rabbity, Oct. 21, 1937:

I haven't finished "A Little Brief Authority" yet, and fear it is rather too far-fetched to be acceptable tho' it is quite funny. The story about Mr. Albert Guppins and his prize rose is not written yet. Am thinking about resurrecting Mary Bird and doing a little about her. Then I am writing a story about Froxfield College, The Tea-Party, which I don't think at all bad. Lastly, I am writing odd bits of an independent story about the people in Green Emeralds. It may prove ineffective, and in any case it is quite a different type of story from G.E. There is not much plot, and what there is is poor. It is more of the family chronicle type. This unfortunately interests me more than all the other bits of work put together.
A Little Brief Authority was never published and is lost. The Guppins story, Glory de George, appeared in 1940 with the addition of a World War Two connection. The Mary Bird biography, She Went Alone, was published in 1942. The Tea Party, an excellent story, appeared, like the Guppins tale, in WOMAN'S MAGAZINE. The Green Emeralds family chronicle was discarded, unfinished.

To My dearest Rabbit, April 1, 1938.

Servington Savery, M.P., Wib's uncle, is going abroad and taking her, with Tim and Dor, to Paris and Lausanne, but this has necessitated buying clothing, and nothing she finds suits her, including Griffin's knit-wear, which is "rather too knit-weary."

She has written a new service of song, which is unsatisfactory because of a divided interest in the plot, "which is, alas, highly improbable." She has also ceased work for a time on The Good Ship Red Lily. She mentions Danny and the Alabaster Box and Adventures in Candle Street in passing and adds a postscript:
And pray how much did you lose on the Grand National?!!!!

To My dearest Rabbit, Jan. 15, 1939

Here Savery compares the British and American editions of her first book. When her uncle Servington died, she was allowed to choose twenty-five books from his library, among them
a spare Tenthragon which I thought might be useful as it is now pretty rare, also I don't like lending Forbidden Doors when the other is so much better.

To Sisters, Aug. 17, 1954.

Savery describes Five Wonders for Wyn as an elaboration of John 3:16, berates American editors for their prosaic English, mentions an attempt to sell The Good Ship Red Lily and Enemy Brothers to Mr. Derham, whose "soul loathes" caves and treasure quests, such as Emeralds for the King. She also mentions Lutterworth wanting a "baby Gateway for the under sixes. She responded with Four Lost Lambs, but the experience wasn't repeated.

From Irene (and Christine) at Sandes, Whit Monday, 1954.

Irene was pleased with Peter's latest gifts, Young Elizabeth Green, with its "charming and original" dust jacket, and Tabby Kitten, "the one I had read least recently."

My dearest Girls, Feb. 2, 1955:

After organizing her books and her father's,
...I have had two large bonfires, a killing process. Also I have had a good deal of anxiety over To the City of Gold and consequent arrangements.

  Bertha Gunterman [editor at Longmans] cabled to say that "Big Sister" was to be the choice of title, and would I cable a reply if I objected. Well, I didn't much care for the sound of it, but could not afford half a guinea for the pleasure of saying so. A few days later came an air mail, saying that Welcome, Santza was the latest idea. I wrote back, graciously accepting it...

  Then Miss Stewart wrote from the Lutterworth Press, sending a contract for Four Lost Lambs and To the City of Gold...

  [later] Miss Stewart asked me to write
    a 50,000 book
    a senior Gateway
    a junior Gateway
    at least one of three [circled] Pathways that they need immediately. Note this. A Pathway is a very simple story, with definite Christian teaching in it, and plenty of action, 2,500 words in length, cheerful (no deaths or griefs permitted)...the kind of story with a picture on every page.
A synopsis for Another Blue Day follows. That story was never published, and the manuscript is lost; however, Lutterworth did publish Four Lost Lambs as a Pathway.

To My Dearest Girls, Oct. 9, 1955.

Wib was "much amused to hear of the similarity of tastes between Rabbit and C.S. Lewis." I don't know what that was about. Wib had been to the bookstore, where she bought her sisters' books, Phyl's Wild Trehern Moor and Rabbit's The Raven Flew North.

Apparently Mary Delany corresponded with John Wesley for a short while before Mrs. Delany dropped the correspondence. Wib was asked to write about these letters, but hasn't found them yet. At the moment she is writing for the METHODIST MONTHLY about Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Mary Ann Schimmelpenninck, James Smetham and others, not to mention illustrating Little Charles. She mentions a compliment to the sisters from Mrs. Chadburn that they...
were all very good-looking when young. This is consoling to the vanity, but I don't know that it did us much profit!!

To My dearest Girls, Aug. 24, 1956.

After acknowledging Rabbit's cheque and a paragraph of praise about Enemy Brothers, copied out from A Critical History of Children's Literature by Meigs et al., Savery dismisses the Lutterworth criticism of The Throne of the Lilies, now dispatched to Pickering & Inglis, who published it as Boy from Brittany. She has two current projects. The first is a paper about a schoolboy, Theophilus Sampson and his prize poem, The Mediterranean Sea, and the other is a retyping of her biography of Lilias Trotter, Always a Tramp, which was written in 1948 and never published. She mentions a full-page advertisement for Christine's Red Knights in Hy Brasil before ending with an apology for having so little to say!

To My dearest Christine, July 30, 1958.

On the morning after receiving a package from the Lutterworth Press, Wib sends this letter full of praise to its author:
Aircraftsman Poke is splendid, full of fun and humour, poetry, pathos, and the things that matter most. It is so marvelously alive, too, and goes with such a terrific swing, simply bounding along propelled by real people simmering with energy...

To descend with a bump! I'm sorry the price had to be as high as 7/6. It's a mistake, where Christian books are concerned. Either Christians haven't got the cash, or they think they ought not to spend it on a work of fiction. With the regrettable result that the devil gets most of the pretty books as well as the pretty tunes.
Savery is speaking from experience. Her income in 1956 was increasingly that from Christian books.

From Doreen, July 27, 1964:

So glad about Tyndale [Secret in a Cedarwood Box]- but very sorry about Meet Me at the Anchor. Some publishers don't have enough sense.
The Tyndale piece was paid for, but TRAILS FOR JUNIORS, the Methodist paper in which it was to appear, suspended publication. I am still looking for that article. Meet Me at the Anchor was never sold.

To Dearest Rabbit, March 9, 1969

After nearly three pages of her church social calendar, Savery has this report frrom her Lutterworth editor:
M[argaret] Stewart wrote to inquire when "In the City of Flowers" will be ready, and mentioned that "our stern reader" spproved of it, but thought--with full justification--that the ending was "rather scrappy"!--no doubt due to its serial form.
The book did appear originally as a serial entitled Savonarola's Children in FIVE | SIX, but Savery's real problem was that a children's book could not end with Savonarola's execution, so her characters flee Florence instead.

Dear Mrs. Richardson, March 31, 1971, 31-page, single-spaced memoir of Savery's time at Somerville College, Oxford. Annotation under Autobiography.

To Dearest Ging, July 6, 1972.

Savery describes an article she is preparing for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation about the 132 dolls of Queen Victoria and a new biographical piece about Mary Anning. The Lutterworth editor, Jenny Overton, liked The Drifting Sand, but has no openings in 1973. For 1974 she wants a 26,000-word novel "for older children, possibly for boy and girl interest."

To Dearest Ging, Sep. 10, 1975:

After the double rat-hunt, I burnt a suitcase and large cardboard box full of old typescripts to lessen the likelihood of refuges for rodents; but I could not burn all, so my study is in rather a muddle again, as some of the contents of the box were not for burning.
Rats! I hate to read about typescripts being burned. Still...

To Darling Wib & Pems from Chris, 1977:

First of all, Wib is not repeat not to be discouraged about stories- USA, being in a ghastly financial crisis as well as torn to bits by racial warfare & Vietnam & Cambodia, is not at the moment capable of seeing that it is missing the very best. Carry on. Your books are what this world needs most desperately, and your writing today is just as inspiring as it ever was - age has nothing to do with it.

To Doreen (?), ~1977

Savery was pleased that Rabbit liked her play, No King but Christ, as she no longer thinks it as good as she did when she wrote it. Her real disappointment was that she had lost an opportunity to dispose of J.C. [The Memoirs of Jack Chelwood]. Sir William Collins, a prominent publisher, had just expressed his wish to publish exactly such books, and off the manuscript had gone, but at that critical moment, Sir William died suddenly!
He didn't do it on purpose, of course, but it is sad all the same...

From Christine to Joan Lake, Jan. 24, 1980, letter accompanying autographed copy of Emma:

Constance, now 82, still writes. I gave it up some time ago--but Constance has been at it from the age of 3!
Joan Lake wrote a chatty letter to Christine in November of 1990 regretting her poor health, so the correspondence was of long standing.

To Elizabeth Hummerstone, 1990s, Letter of transmittal for accounts of preternatural events in the family.

Dear Elizabeth,

  Well, you asked me to do it--and this is the result! I only hope you can read what I have written--I can barely read it myself.
P.S. I believe that I heard the knock as a young child in my mother's company, but I am not sure of this.

This web site © 2010-11 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.