Constance Savery: Autobiographical material CWS

Savery's Unpublished Autobiographical Material

The arrangement of the autobiographical writings roughly parallels Savery's life, rather than the dates of composition. She would have heard the family histories at home before going to Oxford, so I placed them after the childhood reminiscences and before her Somerville memoir to Mrs. Richardson. Her goddaughter, E. C. W. Hummerstone has a few of these writings, but most are in the manuscript collection of the University of Oregon's Knight Library.

The Irritated Dressmaker. Winifred's Thought Book, p 42. 1907.
When the nine-year-old Savery identified her "best pieces," The Irritated Dressmaker was the only prose on her list. This particular story is a plausible one, and I quote it here as probable autobiography:
A dressmaker, yes, so my story runs,
Went out, one Tuesday to a lady
With children five
All alive
And quite awake
Though 'twas late.
The dressmaker thought, "How am I to make
This dress in all this noise?"
But still they quarrelled with their toys.
But at last when they came to blows
And a top flew by her nose,
The dressmaker said, "I can stand it no longer!"
Then out she flew
Past the wind that blew
Till she reached her home
No more to roam.
Savery was the oldest of five children, who might well have exasperated their mother's dressmaker.

Remembered Charms, Nov. 22, 1954, 38 lines, handwritten in Fair copy of the Work Diary, Vol. 5, pp 72-74.

Remembered Charms is a recollection of Froxfield in Wiltshire, where Savery was born and lived until she was nine years old. It begins...
To fetch the milk, I used to trudge
Uphill along the road to Rudge...
With a map of the village in front of you, it is easy to read the poem and follow a child's walk, from Rudge on the hill, down past All Saints church to the village shop, Savages, where there was confectionary in the window. At the edge of the village, on the Old Bath Road, is an almshouse where Winifred, as she was known as a child, was welcomed by the elderly widows in residence:
Who gave me cakes and kindly looks,
And pictures, toys, and books, books, BOOKS,
And gladdened oft my childish lot,
McKenzie, Stubington, Stiles, and Scott.
In an interview printed in The Junior Book of Authors, 2nd. ed. rev., edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, 1951, Savery mentions one of the widows again, although the spelling has changed:
Thank you, Mrs. Stubbington.
You were one of the Twenty Clergy and Thirty Lay Widows who lived in the Hospital "founded and endowed by the Late Most Noble Sarah, Duchess of Somerset," in 1694. Nobody but the late Most Noble Sarah ever called your home a hospital, though the word was written big and plain on the marble shield above the entrance gateway. Froxfield always spoke of it as the College. Your tiny house, Mrs. Stubbington, was at the far end of the west side of the great quadrangle, under the shadow of the tall chapel. The Vicar of Froxfield was also Chaplain of the College. From the little parlour where you sat invisible, came books for his book-hungry child.
The Froxfield Hospital houses widows to this day, and they will send you their illustrated brochure if you write to them. Savery wrote another reminiscence of the place in a fine short story called The Tea Party
I am grateful to the poem, not least because it led me into correspondence with residents in Wiltshire, who sent me posters, clippings, and pictures, pictures, PICTURES. There has been no change in the Froxfield spirit in a hundred years.

If I am asked how I came to write my books..., 72 lines, double-spaced carbon. After 1956. Probably written for a publisher, this brief account includes information available in Ann Commire's Something about the Author and on the web site of Savery's last publisher, Bethlehem Books:

"Tell me a story" were the first words I can remember saying to my father. He kept a record of his children's activities, in which he recorded that his tiny daughter had trotted into his study to ask him to take charge of a precious picture-book "lest baby Tibby [sister Irene, 'Tim' at home] tear it". And as soon as I could read, my father and friends provided books galore.

The influence of my mother was no less strong. Her childhood was spent in India, which became for me a symbol of all that was romantic and mysterious. Delightful indeed were the too few moments when that busy woman could be coaxed to tell stories of Army life wherein jungles, mutinous soldiers, tigers, monkeys, cobras, cholera epidemics, native bazaars, and Begums flashing with jewels played their part.
Her private world was populated with large families. Her doll-house was the scene of innumerable dramas where paper dolls from fashion-patterns lived 'endless and very melancholy" lives midst home-made paper furniture.
I have had a theatre in my head since I was four years old, and on that stage my every story acts itself in moving procession. I can never be thankful enough that my carefree childhood was not plagued with many lessons, and that my regular school life did not begin until I was nine and a half. At six I was already an avid reader, and at seven I was writing fairy stories. At eight I was attempting doggerel verse, and at nine was compiling a "thought-book".
She "read, read, read... and gobbled books indiscriminately."

Where do her stories arise? From a sight, a phrase, a thought. For whom does she write?
I'm not particular. I write for you, whoever you may be.

Tales My Mother Told Me: The Visit of the Banshee, 44 handwritten lines. 1990s

Savery wrote out this account, together with the three that follow, for her goddaughter. The cover letter is listed with the personal correspondence.

When Savery's mother, Eleanor, was nine or ten, an old woman invaded the family quarters, pointed at Eleanor's grandmother, "by birth an Irish Huddleston," and wailed! Knowing a banshee when she saw one, the grandmother was terrified, but Eleanor's "very English grandfather" sprang to his feet to give chase. The woman had left as suddenly as she had arrived, and Colonel Harbord found no one in the passage or the other rooms. The sentry at the gate, also an Irishman, "knew a banshee when he saw one, and was much too prudent to meddle with her affairs!" He was no help at all, but weeks later, word came from India that the grandmother's brother had taken his own life "that very day and hour."

Tales My Mother Told Me: The Knock and the Apparition, 46 handwritten lines. 1990s

This tale and the one that follows had a common heading in the manuscript that Savery gave her goddaughter, but the events are independent, so I have chosen to separate them. After disclaiming the horrifying thought that her mother was a spiritualist, Savery admits that
...she possessed a curious psychic gift, that of hearing what we called in the family, the knock. From time to time a sharp and unmistakable rap on the wall would tell her that someone of importance to her had died.
When Constance was six, a poor girl in the village drowned herself. The mother heard the knock that time and again when King Edward VII died, although there was not the remotest connection between the king and Eleanor Harbord Savery. Two of Savery's sisters heard the knock the night their father died and knew its significance, although neither mentioned it to the other until neighbours met them coming home to tell them what had happened. Constance was pleased not to have inherited her mother's psychic gifts...
...though I did once see a neighbour's dog walking (or rather waddling) down the garden path a fortnight after he had died.

Tales My Mother Told Me: The Knock and The Apparition, 60 handwritten lines. 1990s

Savery's grandfather Harbord had held orthodox religious views, but his daughter, Constance's mother, was "a very earnest Christian" and was so uneasy about her father's state of grace that she insisted in her prayers on seeing him again and receiving confirmation from his own lips that he was at peace.
And she had her way. Her father did appear to her, but she was in no condition to hear what he said. He spoke, but the only words she could remember clearly bore no reference to his eternal salvation. "I will meet you again," he said, "at W_____". The rest of the word was lost to her as he disappeared from her sight.
The reward for her undue curiosity was a"firm conviction she would die in a place beginning with the letter W." This greatly complicated vacation and travel plans, and Constance's mother did have a bad heart attack after risking a holiday stay at Weston-super-Mare, badly frighteninbg everyone.
In the end, our darling mother succumbed to another heart attack during a short and very happy visit to my Aunt Winifred's home in Finchley... Aunt Winifred was left alone with her dying sister. In the silence of the night she heard the familiar, unmistakable sound of their father's footstep mounting the stairs.

Tales My Mother Told Me: A Glimpse into the Future, 152 handwritten lines. 1990s

Disappointed when a would-be husband broke off the engagement because he "did not want a religious wife," Constance's mother Eleanor wished to join a newly formed society for the welfare of soldiers--in which her daughters Irene and Christine were later to distinguish themselves--but her father would have none of that, so she settled down instead to church activity and to helping her parents raise her younger sisters.

After the Colonel's retirement and move to Bath, the Harbord's attended St. Saviour's Church, which welcomed in turn a new curate, John Manly Savery, fourth son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister. John and Eleanor were attracted, but "their doctrinal views diverged to an extent that made it impossible" for them to marry. There was some disagreement over baptism, and the quiet pastoral pastor was very unlike the enthusiastic evangelist. Eleanor broke the engagement, and John went off to Scotland for seven years. All communication ended.

Some years after the parting Eleanor dreamed that she was being married in a strange church to a veiled bridegroom with a congregation in half-mourning. A voice assured her that as a sign that all this would come true, her cousin Inez would call the next day, and the scene faded.

Her mother was not impressed the following morning:
"...your dream is all nonsense. Inez won't be coming to see you to-day. Haven't you heard she is on holiday abroad, not expected home till next week?"

As my grandmother spoke ...Inez Purcell was walking up the path to the front door.
After some time Constance's grandfather died and his widow moved to London. While they were there, John Savery, his Scotland post ended, had accepted the living at Froxfield and the chaplaincy of Froxfield 'Hospital.' From there he cycled one day to Bath where he learned the Savery address in London from a common acquaintance. The two settled their theological differences--"Don't ask me how"--and were married six weeks later before by a strange minister in front of a congregation in half-mourning. Constance adds...
Granny was so angry at losing her valued daughter that she sulked and wouldn't help in the preparations until Aunt Emily rose up in fury and said, "Charlotte, if you don't get that girl's trousseau ready, I'll give the trousseau myself!"

What was said by Charlotte Harbord's malevolent house... undated, 8 lines, handwritten in "Verses:"

Here's a good spot
  For a bit of dry rot;
A flood in the cellar
  Will just please this feller... etc.
Presumably this is the London house taken by Constance's grandmother after the death of Colonel Harbord.

Curry--But No Jelabees! 1250 words, typed, double-spaced, May 27, 1959.

Eleanor Harbord Savery spent five years of her childhood in India with her parents, and their tales of that experience were part of Constance's early memories. There was the Begum, who would have given priceless jewels to the impecunious British major in the expectation of receiving better jewels in return, tigers that roamed the surrounding jungle, a thief that cut a hole in a tent to draw away grandmother's jewelry, a regimental doctor with a pet monkey, a 'dead' man that revived unexpectedly, a murderous, mutinous soldier, and the wild voyage west. In Malta, the eight-year-old Eleanor became tickled at something in the catacombs and burst into peals of laughter to the apprehension of her worried mother and the scandalized indignation of the Maltese. The Savery sisters ate curry regularly in their Birmingham vicarage, but no jelabees, an Indian sweetmeat beyond their mother's culinary ability.
Flowers for the Vicarage, 5 pp, typed, double-spaced, Jan. 17, 1961.

Flowers were rare in a Savery household with five daughters to raise, and even the projected arrival of the Bishop's wife led only to a flurry of cleaning and dressing the children in Sunday clothes. Alas, word came that the visitor was detained, so off came the fancy dresses, and oranges were issued to the disappointed girls. Alas, alas, here comes the Bishop's wife after all, bringing flowers.
Painless Ordeal: The "Eleven Plus" without Tears, 1220 words, typed, double-spaced, Jan. 20, 1959.

Winifred tried unsuccessfully to sell Painless Ordeal to eight different publishers beginning with the London TIMES. Her first schoolroom was the parsonage drawing-room, where, from age five, she and Irene, one year younger, "did lessons" for an hour daily with a sixteen-year-old tutor. At ages nine and eight, the lesson had been extended to two hours, and they were supposed to peruse "little limp-covered books of historical, geographical, and general knowledge questions" before bedtime. When Winifred wrote The Quicksilver Chronicle, she subjected another set of children to similar books. In both cases the results were successful, but it is evident that Savery did not look forward to that dull bedtime reading!

When the family moved to Birmingham from Froxfield, the girls entered a day school in an enormous villa
kept by a pair of devout Methodist sisters, the elderly Miss Maggie and Miss Sarah P_____ . They and their for the most part unqualified staff were natural disciplinarians.
Would-be musicians had piano practice. There was no other homework. Miss Sarah cooked and taught Scripture and needlework. Miss Maggie taught everything else. There were tableaux and other presentations. Only when the "Eleven Plus" was three months away did the two sisters and a half dozen others take extra tuition three evenings a week and on Saturday mornings. These scarcely perturbed the busy vicarage schedule, and a bout of measles that interrupted studies for three weeks was resented only because they were not allowed to read while it lasted.

Eighty-eight girls sat for fifteen vacancies.
Some of the questions were old familiar friends, like What do you wish to be when you grow up? Others needed careful thought, like What is New Zealand noted for? --oh, yes, for the frozen mutton that had to be consumed by English clerical families because Mother said it was so much cheaper than English lamb... Called up for a reading test, Winifred and Irene were secretly indignant at being confronted with a passage from Alice in Wonderland, a playhours book that had no business to appear in a serious context.

The "serious context" lasted for two days. Latin, French and Science were optional, but Winifred tackled them all. What though Science was not among the subjects studied in the parsonage drawing room or the villa sitting-room. There might be something she knew!

Winifred and Irene were among the fortunate fifteen.
A generous uncle presented them with five shillings each, which they were allowed to spend at a bookstore with bargain prices.
American Books and an English Child, 23 handwritten pages in the Fair copy of the Work Diary, Vol. 5. June 13, 1932.

This article was revised and published in 1947 as American Books in Britain, but I prefer the earlier autobiographical focus. Winifred grew up loving books and surrounded by them. There were undoubtedly a few at the parsonage that were locked up or placed too high for even an inquisitive child, but for the most part she read anything and everything. Here she pays tribute to the American authors she encountered during those formative years. She begins with "the unlikeliest of all books to hold wizardry," Mr. Sankey's Sacred Songs and Solos. Take that, Harry Potter!

The list continues to astound. The second book is a life of Mr. Moody, especially "in the first chapters where he was young and in the last chapters where he died. Next are the works of Dr. Richard Newton, despite his terrifying cautionary anecdotes, because his sermons were preachable for nursery children playing at church. Like many of us she remembers Van Dyke's "jewelled legend," The Other Wise Man. Other titles follow: Laura Richards's Golden Windows and an 1850s Sunday School book, A Child of Jesus, "descended from a Cornish grandmother who had dearly loved it."

She was allowed to read the suspect The Gates Ajar only in conjunction with the severely critical Antidote to the "Gates Ajar". Next to them stood the novels of Miss Augusta J. Evans Wilson, Beulah, Vashti, and St. Elmo, replete with "ecstasies, horrors, and despair" plus a dozen more entrancing phrases. Add to this "Augustan study", Jean Webster's Dear Enemy and the tales of "Pansy."

After this display of pubescent erudition, the well-known name of Louisa May Alcott appears, followed by that of Harriet Beecher Stowe, but then we are returned to obscurity with Elizabeth Wetherell, whose Daisy in the Field entranced and mystified the young Savery until, years later, she discovered it was the third volume of a trilogy.

Other treasures exhaust me just in the typing:
Opening a Chestnut Burr, Little Suzy's Six Teachers, Stepping Heavenward, A Bad Boy's Diary, the What Katy Dids, Helen's Babies, much of Kate Douglas Wiggin and Alice Hegan Rice, fragments of Twain and the dark horrid stories of Edgar Allan Poe...

A genuine ST. NICHOLAS is always in a disgraceful condition, shabby, torn at the edges, flappy-paged...
but she rhapsodizes for three or four pages none the less. She has less to say about poets, but the names are more familiar: Bryant, Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Walt Whitman, and Longfellow:
Few will venture to deny that the heart of the unsophisticated child goes out to Longfellow with the same affectionate enthusiasm that is felt for Bunyan's "Mr. Greatheart."
In truth, are there many unsophisticated children like Savery? One time she
read a bewildering story about a little girl who tumbled down the elevator-well of a skyscraper. Baffled by the remarkable word "elevator" and unsuspicious of its kinship with the English "lift", she invented for it a fantastic meaning of her own and ploughed gallantly on with the tale.
With neither the time nor the money to read all that her heart desired from five years old to fourteen, she promised that read them she would, when she was very old and alone. I don't believe she ever did. Until, and a little after her sight failed, she was too busy writing.

Dear Mrs. Richardson... 31 Mar 71. Letter to (Mrs.) Joanna Richardson from Constance Savery in reply to an enquiry about Enid Starkie. 26 pages, typed, single-spaced.

When Richardson wrote to Savery for information about a classmate at Somerville College, Oxford, it is unlikely she expected this memoir with its affectionate memory of Savery's college days. After Richardson completed her biography, Enid Starkie, she donated the letter to the Somerville College library. Savery retained a carbon copy, now in the University of Oregon's Knight Library.

Savery's recollections of Enid Starkie were published, appropriately acknowledged, in Richardson's book. It was an easy step from anecdotes about the colorful Starkie [largely omitted below] to recollections of other classmates and Dons, and once started Savery wrote and wrote, not for publication, but in simple enjoyment of happy memories:
When I came up to Oxford in the Michaelmas term of 1917, it was to a Somerville dispossessed of its own buildings, which had been requisitioned as an Army hospital. Oriel kindly lent us "Skimmery" (St. Mary's Hall, a formerly independent Hall that had been absorbed by Oriel in 1902). Skimmery ...was not large enough to accommodate all [110] Somervillians ...the surplus had to be bestowed in various ..."out-houses" in the town. We all changed rooms at the beginning of each academic year...

During my first year... I was in an out-house, presided over by the Vice-Principal, the Hon. Alice Moore Bruce. In my second year I shared a study in Skimmery with...Gladys Gaisford... In 1919 Somerville was derequisitioned and we joyfully took possession of it in the 1919 Michaelmas term.

On the first day of my first term I (met) ...a fresher like myself...Winifred Holtby, a royal figure.
There is a natural transition here from Winifred Holtby to a quote by Vera Brittain (two years ahead of Savery in 1917) about the principal, Miss Penrose, to sketches about "The Pen." Savery apologizes for the continual mention of food in these stories:
In those war and post-war years it was a subject of compelling interest to the young, who were always questing for something to supplement College fare.
After lively descriptions of tea with the Pen, the paragraph about Miss Bruce, "The Bruce," is short but sympathetic. Miss Lorimore, "The Lorry," coached Savery in "Pass Mods. Greek and Latin" and is the beneficiary of another sympathetic portrayal. Savery had little to do with Miss Vera Parnell, but she had tales to tell of her, too. Miss Darbishire, "The Darb," is given a longer, and less kind treatment, but the picture of her is as vivid as that of the others. Savery has her own reservations:
I hope this tale does not do Miss Darbishire less than justice. Remember, I never knew her in the days of her Principalship. My recollections relate only to earlier days.

Miss Pope, the Tutor in Mod. Lang., of all the Dons, was perhaps the easiest to approach. I was abysmally shy and lived--as far as I could--a hermit-crab existence, but Miss Pope possessed the magic power of putting the shyest person at ease immediately...

I am not aware that the ever-present shadow (of war) darkened our lives: we were used to it, and I cannot remember that we talked much about the War.
There were few male students, one college reaching the point that it could refer to "the undergraduate." On the other hand, the streets were full of soldiers coming and going, so there was no shortage of flirtatious men. The girls were carefully, but sensibly, chaperoned.
We watched with interest the amatory adventures of our elders. One lecturer was credited with having proposed to every girl he ever coached with two exceptions--and with one of the exceptions he got as far as escorting her down the garden path at the conclusion of the coaching.
There was some unrest after Winifred Holtby followed Vera Brittain's example and left for war work, but the Pen called a College meeting to stress the country's need for educated women after the war, and stemmed the tide. During 1918 and 1919 Savery and her classmates did social service: "attendance at a Town play-centre, digging in the Somerville potato patch, sewing for wounded soldiers and wheeling them out in bath chairs, and flax-picking in vacation."

Somerville was an "undenominational college," so some attended breakfast prayers, most attended Sunday evening prayers, and all did as they pleased. Religious leaders addressed the University, and Savery lists a number of these. There was an abundance of Christian associations, but Savery could not attend her "spiritual home," O.I.C.C.U., because it met in an unsavory part of town, off-limits except to students attending a play centre there. She is amusing in describing the lengths Senior Students went to in raising money for missionaries, but made no mention of what she did herself.

NOTE: In the Quicksilver Chronicle, when the children tell Miss Con, a substitute tutor, that they wish she would be teaching them at the local school next term, she replies:

Do you? I don't. It would drive me mad. Can't stand crowds of youngsters.
Savery gave up her teaching career very readily when asked by her father for help with his parish.

A Visit to the Isles of Scilly. August 11th to 27th, 1926. Sketchbook, 4 by 5-1/2 inches, with drawings and handwritten diary.

Savery met Gladys (Gai) Gaisford when both were at Somerville College, neither married, and although they lived many miles apart, they frequently met at vacation time. This is an amusing account of their visit to the Scilly Isles, where they hiked, toured the islands, fished, and visited everywhere. An excerpt:
Sketch by CWSOn Garrison Head we found ourselves in an immense sloping field running up to towering walls overhung with curtains of creeper—mesembryanthemum or "pigface plant." This in earlier summer would have been sheets of glorified Michaelmas daisies, of a bright magenta colour with a rich burnished glow upon their petals. In August one sees nothing but pale greenish fruits, shaped like a pig's cheek, amid masses of dark green fleshy fingers. Mesembryanthemum grows everywhere, flowing over walls like a careless drapery, deep green against the yellowed stone.

Natural beauty was nothing to us, however, because the owner of the field had carelessly left a bull in it.

Gai plunged over a wall covered with stinging nettles and into someone's back garden. I leaped over a five-barred gate with incredible grace and speed. The bull was left to contemplate the beauties of the mesembryanthemum.

Abandoned Garden. July 26, 1940, 42 lines, double-spaced, typed.

In England, as in the United States, patriotic citizens were asked to grow their own gardens. During the Battle for Britain, Savery was evacuated from her home near the Suffolk seaside. Having made her own previous attempt, she was skeptical the evacuated land could be used for gardens. The doggerel was intended for family consumption.
After quoting from William Morris's The Nymph's Song to Hylas by way of inspiration and describing her own brown roses, Savery writes:
Still, it's a garden, though it ain't
Exactly what the poets paint.
In it I dug for victory
And without fail it worsted me.
I loved it though it wouldn't do
A single thing I asked it to.
She goes on to lament the intention of the Ministry of Food to uproot her flowers to plant onions and carrots, a waste of time, as she has already discovered. This garden will not obey orders:
If HITLER came, I vow he'd find
He couldn't make that garden mind.
(Not once or twice in our rough island story
Pig-obstinate has been the way to glory.)
This meter isn't regular, but there is much to be said for the sentiment. The poem will never make it into the Anthology of Great War Poems, but I found the spirit willing, if the muse was weak.

Wartime Tragedy. 1940's, 31 couplets, handwritten in "Verses."

Savery's introduction:
Written during World War Two, when fuel and soap were severely rationed, and heavy penalties were inflicted on offenders. All citizens had identification numbers.
Here, skipping through the sixty-two lines, I'll give you the gist of the poem:
Savery, Constance Winifred
Was fat, benign, sleek and well fed...

...until last Christmas came.
Among the gifts on that dread day
A neat brown-paper parcel lay.

It was a cake of soap, a treasure
So much exceeding pride and pleasure
That Winifred in ugly pride
Began at once to put on side
And took an extra bath...

And took another bath...

For she was busy playing stoker,
Mending the bath fire with a poker,
That she might wallow as before...

Constance, in stoking higher and higher,
Contrived to set the house afire.

...the Air Warden called...

Policemen flocked...

Said "T X J A, one one seven three,
Now just you come along o'me."

She dwells beyond the prison gate
And feeds on bread and water-gruel
As punishment for wasting fuel.
When she sent her doggerel to Agneta Thomson in 1992, Savery wrote
I did once receive a cake of soap at Christmas in wartime, sacrificed by some noble soul. But I assure you, the above history is pure invention, written to amuse my family. Needless to say, it was never offered for publication. I thought it might amuse you at Christmastide.

NOTE: Cf. Yellow Pamments, which viewed the war more soberly:

Even if the church were blown up to-morrow
Or my eyes blown out...

Pleasures and Pains of Authorship, 23 handwritten pages in the Fair copy of the Work Diary, Vol. 5. Aug. 7, 1965.

After describing, as she has done before (see If I am asked... above) an early childhood invested in story-telling, Savery proceeds to adolescence:
There followed many years in which I filled an enormous number of exercise books with rambling shapeless stories. Their plots were weak, their characterization thin and conventional, and they were modelled on very bad models...
Subsequently she began to earn her living by writing "pot-boilers",
...hurriedly-written books of no permanent value. I have been turning out pot-boilers for the last thirty-seven years or so. I have worked carefully and conscientiously, but never to my own satisfaction. The most I could say of myself is that some of my work is a great deal better than the rest of it.
After this too modest assessment, she catalogues some of the pains of authorship:
Every author knows--how well we know it!--the sound of a rejected manuscript landing on the mat in the hall with a dismal flump...

To add insult to injury, manuscripts are returned smelling vilely of tobacco, splashed with ink, soaked with liquid shampoo, grubbied with breadcrumbs...  ...a MS is accepted. But wait, wait, wait!--the time of mourning is not over. The publisher may depart on a business tour of South Africa without signing the author's cheque before he goes. Or he may stay in England and forget he hasn't paid you...
She quotes a schoolboy's essay that ends "so they do not need to do any work", and rebuts it, speaking of feeling "as if my head were stuffed with cotton wool", mentions the labour of typing or long-hand writing, and then appends a long paragraph listing necessary research, from crop rotation to medieval manuscripts. Inaccuracies are resented and evoke instant responses, such as the penny timetable she received from a train driver when she set a character travelling on the wrong line from Glasgow to Mauchline.

Conceding that her own books had been fairly and generously reviewed, she cites examples of British critics who
use a book merely as an opportunity for displaying their own intellectual brilliance. They will dispose of the work of months and years in a shower of flippant would-be witty criticisms.
Moving on to pleasures, she mentions
a letter telling you that Reginald Birch, who in his youth illustrated Little Lord Fauntleroy, is in extreme old age going to do the pictures for one of yours.
That book was Moonshine in Candle Street. There was the hero of a book whose charm drew a letter from a girl asking for his address and the day one of your books was praised by Eleanor Roosevelt. A rejection letter from a publisher might be softened by a word of admiration from the editor.

She has kind words for American reviewers, as well she might--they liked her books!--and she enjoyed the letters she received from children who read her books. The last pleasure is the joy of creation!

After reading a poem about the glory of a workman's pride, she concludes:
Perseverance and glory; glory and perseverance!--without them no man can hope to write anything worth the reading.

NOTE: See Savery's Life for the valedictory statement with which she concluded her work diary.

Unmailed postcard, 19th March [1998]

Many thanks for Christmas card. I am a hundred now and rather slow! But our dear Lord cares for me.   Constance Savery

Text of this web site © 2010-2012 by Eric Schonblom. The unpublished works of Constance Savery are reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner, J.D. Hummerstone.