Thanks to Kristopher McKie, Collection Manager, Seven Stories, Newcastle, for providing Gene Adams' article 'Mabel Quiller-Couch, An Edwardian Children’s Author in Hampstead'.
'I have never in my life before been without her for more than a few weeks at a time.' So Lilian wrote to their old servant, Florence Eliza Pursell, on Mabel's death in 1924. The touching letter is published in full in Gene Adam's article for SIGNAL Approaches to Children's Books entitled 'Mabel Quiller-Couch: An Edwardian Children's Author in Hampstead.' The lives of the sisters were so interwoven that it is difficult to consider their careers as writers separately.
The sisters were quite close in age: Mabel (baptised Florence Mabel) was born on 17 June 1865 and Lilian on 25 October 1866. Q himself was older than Mabel by a couple of years and they had two much younger brothers: Harold, born in 1872, and baby Cyril in 1877.
The family lived in Bodmin at 63 Fore Street, which was described by the National Gazeteer of Great Britain and Ireland, 1868 as being the 'one principal street about a mile long. It contains many ancient houses, as well as many handsome modern buildings.' Bodmin was depicted as being 'situated in a pleasant valley' and 'well-paved and lighted' with 'a plentiful supply of water.' Bodmin Road Station of the Cornwall and West Cornwall Railway was about five miles away. Old photographs of Bodmin, from the end of the nineteenth century show a fairly narrow thoroughfare lined by varied and quite tall buildings with several shops. The town contained 'a handsome new market-house, built of granite, a county assize hall, a county gaol, and a lunatic asylum.' This last later became St Lawrence's Hospital where Mabel and Lilian's niece, Foy (Q's daughter), ended her days. Although it was the county town of Cornwall, in the nineteenth century Bodmin was essentially still only a small market town with a population in 1861 of 4,466; situated to the south of the dramatic landscape of Bodmin Moor. The moor is a vast tract of open land with low growing heather and furze, punctuated by impressive granite tors, with bogs in the low-lying, badly-drained areas, and abundant wildlife.
The other place central to the Quiller-Couch children's childhood was their maternal grandfather Elias Ford's farm at Abbotskerwell, near Newton Abbot. Q himself lived with his grandparents whilst he was at preparatory school in Newton Abbot, although they had by that time left the farm. The farm was not far from the coast between Teignmouth and Torbay. All these locations are recognisable in the children's stories written by Mabel.
Dr Thomas Quiller Couch was an extremely well-educated man whose interests encompassed botany, and the study of antiquities, folklore and legends. He was also a good amateur painter. He wrote a couple of botanical treatises The Botany of Polperro and its Neighbourhood and The Botanical Register for Polperro, and the Royal Institution of Cornwall published annually, from 1864 to 1875, his On the Observation and Record of Natural Periodic Phenomena; with a Calendar Kept at Bodmin. According to Q, his father's interest in the antiquities, folklore and dialect of Cornwall eventually became his chief interest and occupied what leisure he had. One of Mabel and Lilian's earliest literary projects was the editing of a manuscript written by their father on the Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall. He had a very good library and the children were avid readers from an early age.
Of their formal education, Q writes scathingly in Memories and Opinions of their governess, 'Miss O', an old school friend of their mother's who had fallen on hard times. Mrs Couch employed her out of compassion but the children suffered from her teaching methods: she relied heavily on such manuals for children as Reading Without Tears, Little Arthur's History of England and The Child's Guide to Knowledge, by a Lady. Schooldays consisted of learning pages of these by rote and copying 'her pietistic efforts in water-colour—a succession of Crosses in dark sepia, with lilies at the foot and a text in gilt scraped from a shell.' Q soon rebelled against this instruction and was sent aged seven or eight to a small local private school run by Miss Harriet and Miss Jemina Lutman who gave him such a good grounding in Latin, French, Euclid and arithmetic that when he went to Newton Abbot College at the age of ten, he was promoted to a class of boys aged 13 and 14. It seems as though Mabel and Lilian were left to 'Miss O' and their father's library, as there is no suggestion that they also attended the Misses Lutman's school. Q and Mabel were sent briefly to a boarding school somewhere whilst some fever patients of Dr Couch were being nursed at his home by Mrs Couch, but this is the only mention of exterior schooling for the girls.
How much Mabel and Lilian's careers as writers were due to inclination and how much to necessity is not clear but it is likely that the family situation was a catalyst. In 1884, the childhood idyll ended with the death of Dr Thomas Quiller Couch and the discovery that the family was deeply in debt. It seemed as though Q, at Trinity College, Oxford, might have to leave and earn a living but Mr Ford supported the family at first, enabling Q to finish his degree and obtain a lectureship. Disaster again struck, however, when Mr Ford announced that he had suffered a reversal of fortune and would be unable to continue to support his daughter and her family. It was at this point that Q began writing as a means of providing for the family, as well as undertaking tutoring in the long vacations, in addition to his lectureship. Part of his solution to the family problems was to move them to Oxford, which would enable Harold and Cyril to obtain a good education at minimal cost, as well as providing Mrs Couch with a means of supplementing the family income by taking in undergraduate boarders. It would have been impossible to accomplish this in Bodmin where the family were well-known and where they had been accustomed to a certain standard of living. Much of the domestic cares devolved upon the two sisters and this experience, as well as those of their childhood, shaped their writing.
Rowse seems unfairly dismissive of the of the literary careers of Q's sisters. He says 'Lily had received "astounding praise" from an editor for her first literary effort . . . Lily must have turned in a bit of money with her writing. . .The two girls made good by co-operating in one or two books, including one on the holy wells of Cornwall.' This seems like damning with faint praise (although elsewhere Rowse does refer to the sisters as 'talented' with 'a gift for writing') considering their extraordinary output from the early1890s until their deaths in 1924 and 1942 respectively. Already at the time of the 1891 census Lilian’s occupation was being described as 'literary' (Mabel was away at this date). Perhaps from Rowse's academic point of view the sisters' writing was superficial, in that a great deal of Mabel's writing was for children and Lilian's for the popular press, but they did earn a living from their efforts at a time when for most women of their class, marriage and domestic life were paramount.
Since the publication of Dead Man's Rock and Troy Town, the name Quiller-Couch was already well-known, (and by then the sisters had adopted this although they were born plain Couch) and with his contacts in the publishing world, Q must have helped to launch their careers. Reminiscences of Oxford by Oxford Men was produced at the Clarenden Press, which Charles Cannan, Q's great friend, ran and whose daughter May was later betrothed to Bevil Quiller-Couch. Henry Frowde (in 1880 given the title of 'Publisher to the University' and who was manager of the bible warehouse in London) under Cannan's reforms aimed at augmenting the revenues of the Clarenden Press, enlarged its scope to include popular literature and in 1906 entered into a joint venture with Hodder & Stoughton to publish children's literature and medical books. They published Mabel's The Carroll Girls, Children of Olden Days and Some Great Little People, as well as A Book of Children's Verse, and Lilian's The Romance of Every Day. J.W. Arrowsmith, another friend of Q's, from Clifton school-days, published The Marble King by Lilian and The Recovery of Jane Vercoe and Other Stories by Mabel. In 1890, Cassell's launched The Speaker, for which Q wrote regularly until 1899, when the editor Thomas Wemyss Reid left, and who published at least one piece by Lilian.
The 'astounding praise' for Lilian must surely have been for Reminiscences of Oxford by Oxford Men 1559–1850 which was published by the Oxford Historical Society in 1892. This was the most academic of all Lilian's publications and the earliest. The number of memoirs included from 32 alumni, ranging from Sir Thomas Bodley matriculating in 1559 (and who decided that his life's work would be devoted to the organisation of the library), to the Rt Hon Edward Hugesson Knatchbull-Hugesson, MP, in 1851, must have required months of reading. Each reminiscence is preceded by brief biographical details and the text elucidated here and there by footnotes. The aim of the book was not to give a history of academic politics or the institution itself but to 'vivify' university life as experienced by men who 'came to Oxford to seek an education, though at different periods and with very various notions of what that education ought to be.'
What strikes the reader of the various reminiscences from the point of view of an outsider venerating the tradition of Oxford as an ancient seat of learning and academic excellence is that, in fact, right up until the times of the latest reminiscence, in the 1850s, Oxford was for the most part a sort of superior finishing school for young gentlemen of a certain class. Apart from one impassioned 'Vindication of Magdalen College', by the Rev. James Hurdis, against the attacks on the institution made by Edward Gibbon, many of the accounts testify to the paucity of teaching; the lack of academic rigour in both selection process and examination for degrees; and lack of requirement even to attend lectures in the case of 'gentlemen-commoners' at some colleges. Many undergraduates left without completing a degree, indeed had no such intention from the time of their matriculation.
Matriculation, according to Nicholas Amherst, scholar of St John's and author of Terrae Filius, consisted in subscribing the 39 articles of religion; taking oaths of allegiance and supremacy and fidelity to the university; swearing to 'a great volume of statutes of which he never read, and to observe a thousand customs, rights and privileges which he knows nothing of''; and payment of various fees.
Vicesimus Knox (matriculated St John's 1771) describes in amusing detail the laughable processes by which degrees were then obtained: part of the examination process being the ability to demonstrate logical ability, two candidates agreed to 'do generals' together. They then procured the standard arguments which were handed down through generations on slips of paper; obtained the required permissions and paid a fee; then on the day went into a 'large, dusty room, where. . .they sit in mean desks, opposite to each other, from one o'clock till three. Not once in a hundred times does any officer enter; and, if he does, he hears one syllogism or two and then makes a bow and departs, as he came and remained, in solemn silence.' The candidates otherwise passed the time by carving their names in the woodwork and reading novels. Of a further process, Knox states 'the greatest dunce usually gets his testimonium signed with as much ease and credit as the finest genius.' Frederick Oakeley, who took his B.A. c.1822, wrote of his disappointment (through passing his time in idleness) in only gaining a second: the disappointment being the greater 'because the standard of the time was not particularly high.'
The overall impression of the teaching is that undergraduates were largely left to their own devices apart from, at certain periods and in certain colleges, a requirement to attend chapel and one lecture. In Terrae Filius there is an amusing account of a Doctor of Divinity turning up to a lecture which he had in fact no intention of giving and being astounded to discover he actually had an audience. Thomas Frognall Dibdin (matriculated 1793), said 'College exercises were trite, dull and uninstructive. . .There seemed to be no spur to emulation and to excellence. Whatever was done, was to be done only by means of private energy and enthusiasm.' He was a member of a Society forScientific and Literary Disquisition, set up by those who wanted more intellectual stimulus and who were popularly known as the 'Lunatics', by the less academic.
The system of 'gentlemen-commoners' militated against an academic atmosphere amongst undergraduates. They were distinguished by their superior dress from poorer scholars and had money to indulge their tastes for drinking, hunting and other sports. They had fewer constraints placed on their time than other students, by statute. The poorest of the students were the 'servitors', who acted as servants for the gentlemen-commoners, in exchange for derisory fees and their education, and who were forbidden to consort with normal students on equal terms. The Rev. Richard Graves writing of William Shenstone (matriculated Pembroke College 1732) said that he had a particular friend, ' Mr. Jago, his school-fellow, whom he could only visit in private, as he wore a servitor's gown; it being then a great disparagement for a commoner to appear in public with one in that situation.' Mr Graves wonders that Mr Jago's father, a clergyman in Warwickshire, should not have rather encouraged his son to apply for an exhibition or scholarship, than have placed him in 'so humiliating a position.' The servitors, apart from the very small fee laid down by statute, were dependent on the generosity of their patrons among the commoners and on doing 'impositions' for wealthy students, after the barber, acting as go-between, had pocketed his share of the fee. (Letters from Oxford 1790-1794, in Chapter XIX).
The Reminiscences contain many interesting snippets of information and anecdotes of undergraduate customs and the eccentricities of various personalities. William Laud, later Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote of his embarrassment at having been persuaded to lend a rare volume of Bede to Sir Robert Cotton, who ignored all his later pleas to return it. John Evelyn described Nathaniel Coponios (later Bishop of Smyrna) as being 'the first I ever saw drink coffee, which custom came not into England till 30 years after.' Touring the colleges with his wife, Evelyn later describes Dr Wilkin's of Wadham's glass apiaries built 'like castles and palaces' which enabled honey to be collected without destroying the bees. Anthony Ashley Cooper describes the brutal practice of initiating freshmen pertaining at Exeter College, and the rebellion he led against this. Richard Newton gives a breakdown of the expenses for the quarter of Joseph Somaster, after he asked to transfer from Hart's Hall to Balliol. T.J. Hogg described the character and eccentric behaviour of his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley (they were both expelled) and Frederick Oakeley that of Dr Lloyd, Bishop of Oxford, who dressed in a long garment like a dressing gown and whose method of gaining the attention of favoured students was to accost them 'by a kick on the shin, or by pulling their ears or noses'. There is an amusing chapter on the craze for 'chair tournaments' which started by racing armchairs on castors round quadrangles then developed into jousting, resulting in various injuries. The authorities turned a blind eye for as long as possible until the Dean was finally obliged to intervene, which he did by saying that he did not wish to treat them like schoolboys and appealing to their honour as gentlemen. The craze died a natural death after this. Some of the entries, including the last by the poet Southey, are in verse.
By the time Q entered Oxford the ethos had changed somewhat, starting at Balliol where Dr Jenkyns, Master from 1819 to 1854, had increased the strictness of entrance examinations and thrown open to public competition the scholarships, and who kept a stricter control over the younger members of the college. T.E. Kebbel, in the chapter 'Old and New Oxford' mourns somewhat the change in demographic with the entry of those from lower classes and Non-Conformists, and the expansion of Oxford itself with new suburbs. Even so, Bevil Quiller-Couch at Trinity, many years later, was no academic and left without taking a degree: there was still an element of class attached to attending Oxford or Cambridge after public school, as a matter of course. The difference was by then that those with genuine ability from various backgrounds were nurtured rather than discouraged.
The second of the more scholastic works, published by Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch jointly, was Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, published in 1894 by Chas J. Clark. Q, in Memories and Opinions, describes how his father, Thomas Quiller Couch, after his stroke in 1884, became increasingly anxious to arrange the notes he had made and compose the preface for this work, which he had been compiling over a period of about 30 years, since the early 1850s. However, he 'would sit for long at this task: writing slowly at times with a firm grip on his subject and quite lucidly: but in a while the sentences would tail off into rambling incoherence.' Mabel and Lilian made the best of this in their own preface, glossing over their father's infirmity, by saying that: 'During his last illness it was understood that a rough sketch of the preface was being written; whether this was the case or not, nothing but the few following notes on loose scraps of paper has ever been found. It has been thought best to give them as they are, without any attempt to work them into complete form.'
Dr Quiller Couch, himself, states: My humble aim in this little book is to save, within my very small tether, by pen and pencil, all that continues to us of a nearly extinct faith, its material remains, and its legendary fragments. I fear that if not soon done they will be lost for ever. Within my remembrance the cromlech, the holy-well, the way-side cross and inscribed stone, have gone before the utilitarian greed of the farmer and the road man, and the undeserved neglect of that hateful being—the cui bono man.'
He also said that his aim was not just that of recording the archaeological remains but to record as far as possible the ceremonies associated with the sites 'now only lingering in the memories of hoary-headed eld'.
Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch undertook a 'pilgrimage' of several months in 1891, during which they verified the current condition of the 40 or so sites already visited by their father and supplemented his notes with their own researches, and visited and collected information on a further 50-odd sites themselves. The resulting volume contains a preface, partly written by Thomas Quiller Couch, describing the pre-Christian and Christian origins of wells and springs in different countries, and the ritual practices linked to them. 'Patterns' (Patrons) were the pilgrimages undertaken at certain times of the year connected with the particular saint.
Common to many wells was the use of pins, especially crooked pins, as an offering or for the purposes of divination, although it is pointed out that this must be a relatively recent (sixteenth century onwards) practice. Thomas Quiller Couch relates of St Nun's Well, Pelynt, also called the Piskies Well that 'In the basin of St. Nun's may be found a great many pins . . . I was curious to know what meaning the unlettered peasantry attached to this strange but common custom; and on asking an old man at work near, was told that it was done “to get the good-will of the piskies ,” who after the tribute of a pin ceased to mislead them, gave them good health, and made fortunate the operations of husbandry.' Elsewhere, Dr Quiller Couch says 'this belief in elfish tutelage of wells is common among the Celtic people.' Pebbles and coins were also left (unscrupulous unbelievers often profiting) and in some countries rags were tied to nearby trees, although only one instance, at Madron near Penzance, was known of in Cornwall. This last tradition was similar to the charming of warts with a piece of meat, which was then buried— the wart disappearing as the meat rotted. The rag having bound a wound or diseased part, would take the disease with it.
Some wells and springs were associated with curative properties, often to do with the eyes, and sometimes involving the immersion of sick children together with various rituals such as walking three times (or in multiples of three) around the well in a particular direction; and some with divination. Many were in the vicinity of small chapels dedicated to early saints, and later churches: in some places the water from the wells was still used in baptisms. Dr Quiller Couch, in common with other scientifically minded persons, attributed the curative properties of the wells to the mineral content, rather than to anything miraculous in nature. He made regular observations as to the colour, temperature and weight of the water in several locations.
No official body being responsible at that time for the upkeep of these ancient monuments, many of them had fallen into disrepair and the stones plundered. Thomas Quiller Couch was asked to supervise the restoration of St Nun's Well at Pelynt, after he had drawn the attention of the landowners, the Trelawnys of Trelawne, to its state of dereliction. He was annoyed by the mason who made a square recess over the door into a triangular aperture 'in my temporary absence . . . notwithstanding my instructions.' Some of the structures surrounding the wells seem to have been originally quite elaborate, with arched doorways, roofs and even stone seats in the interior as at Treloy Well, near Rialton.
After the preface, each well, 96 in all, is described, with details of the current appearance; any associated rituals; and commentaries from other writers such as Dr Borlase, where these could be discovered. The volume is illustrated by watercolour sketches by Thomas Quiller Couch, supplemented by engravings by the archaeological artist J.T. Blight, whom Thomas Quiller Couch described as 'my friend'. Blight published two volumes on Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in Cornwall, as well as A Week at the Land's End, in the 1850s and in 1861. It seems as though Thomas Quiller Couch worked with Blight because, of Roche, Holy Well, he mentions 'this well, which I once figured for Mr. Blight and which appears in his Crosses, etc., of East Cornwall.' There are also several photographs taken during the 1891 expedition of Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch. The volume was published under their initials M and L Quiller-Couch, probably to distract attention from the fact that they were female.
Other early works by Lilian include short stories: 'Up Treluggan Hill ', which was published by the Speaker in September 1893; in 1894, 'Dillon’s Maid '(the Sketch), 'The Souls of My Four Sons' (the Scots Magazine) and 'The Peacock Gown'; in 1895, 'Jane Anne’s Substitute', 'The Last Drive', 'The Devil’s Own', 'The Tragedy of Silence', 'The Wife of a Sinner', and the Idler published 'The Misdemeanour of Pamela Rosevear' and, in 1896, 'The Conversion of John Toms'. Also in 1896, were published: 'The Reward of a Woman' (the Sketch), 'The Young Conspirators', 'A Wise Teacher', 'The Fairies and the Bells', 'A Great Occasion', 'The Wooing of the Orphan' and 'Two Small Travellers' (for children); and J.M. Dent published a volume of thirteen short sketches, Man, in the Odd Volume series. In 1898, 'The Battle of Alma Terrace', 'A Christmas Eve Conspiracy', 'Discomfort at Dowden Farm' and 'The Unremembered Man' (the Idler). The 'Young Painter from Parkers', 'Young Rebel 'and 'The Grey Ghost of Landewarne', in 1899; and two full-length tales—'A Spanish Maid '(1898) and 'The Marble King: a Mystery', 1899.
Mabel published short stories: 'One Little Tragedy' (1893); 'Peggy’s Philanthropy' (1894); 'Eureka' (1895); 'A Little Samaritan' and 'A Wasted Love' in 1896; and in 1898, 'A Mistaken Reform', 'A Lost Gem', 'A Talent Developed' and 'A Case of Necessity'. Also, two full length books for children: Martha's Trial or Truth will Prevail (1895), and One Good seed Sown or Jasper's Old Protegé (1896); and The Recovery of Jane Vercoe and Other stories (1896), together with Some Western Folk (1897) both collections of short stories several of which had already been published in magazines.
The Recovery of Jane Vercoe and Other Storiesby Mabel Quiller-Couch was published in Bristol by J.W. Arrowsmith in 1896. Some Western Folkwas published in London by Horace Marshall & Son in 1897. These are collections of short stories, most of which had already been published in various periodicals, as Mabel Quiller-Couch acknowledges.
In The Recovery of Jane Vercoe, the stories listed are the following, with the periodical in which they originally appeared noted in brackets;
In Some Western Folk, Mabel Quiller-Couch begins by thanking the editors of: Temple Bar, The Windsor Magazine, The Monthly Packet, The Young Woman, The New Age, Old and Young, and Helping Words, 'for their kind permission to include some of the tales in this volume.' The stories included are:
The Spectator, reviewing the work on 25 December 1897, stated: 'the volume of stories and sketches by Mabel Quiller Couch, collected under the title "Some Western Folk", bears a curious resemblance in form and typography, as well as literary character, to Mr. Hardy's somewhat ironically entitled "Life's Little Ironies." ' It is quite probable that Mabel read Hardy's stories, published in 1894. Q was later to become a friend of Thomas Hardy, and also, in Memories and Opinions, relates an anecdote regarding Mabel's childhood reading of the cautionary tales and poems in The Ingoldsby Legends. Both Q and his sisters shared their father's liking for the old stories and legends of the West. The stories in The Recovery of Jane Vercoe and Some Western Folk are less sophisticated than the Rev. Barham's tales and lack the darker elements of Hardy's. Reviewing 'A Tragedy of Two Ambitions' (Hardy: Life's Little Ironies) the Spectator says 'It is in such stories as these that Mr. Hardy best displays his wonderful power of illustrating how uncontrolled thoughts and desires "condense within the mind" and lead to terrible and unforeseen catastrophes.' Mabel Quiller-Couch's short stories are closer in genre to Hardy's tales, than the Ingoldsby Legends but reflect, like the latter, local superstitions. Mabel's much simpler stories, like those of the other two writers, deal with the consequences of human folly: pride, obstinacy, greed, jealousy, anger and superstition often ending in tragedy. One or two of the stories such as ‘In Charlock Time’ contain unexpected twists of fate: 'life's little ironies'. Like Hardy, Mabel's upbringing in the West Country gave her an understanding of local people and a feeling for dialogue. The characters ring true: the Yorkshire Post and Intelligencer, 17 December 1897, said of Some Western Folk 'The People in it are alive and their pictures are drawn with tender humour.'
Several of the stories in The Recovery of Jane Vercoe reflect Mabel's first-hand experience of the difficulties of doctors in dealing with the prejudices and ignorance of simple country folk and their faith in their own home remedies. ‘The Recovery of Jane Vercoe’ is an amusing little tale of an old children's nurse who takes gallons of elder-tea for her leg complaint, only telling her husband to ask the doctor for a bottle of 'trade'— a dialect word meaning something of doubtful value, and in this context prescribed medicine—when she had suffered for weeks. The exasperated doctor came to see for himself what the 'inflammation' was— apparently a generic term used by country people for every complaint under the sun– and prescribed leeches. To the doctor's later amusement, Jane Vercoe takes them seasoned and fried in butter! The complaint mysteriously disappears however and the leeches are hailed as a miracle cure.
The final tale in the volume Some Western Folk: ‘A Faith Cure’, was obviously inspired by Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch's researches into the holy wells of Cornwall. Martha's delicate child develops whooping-cough and although the doctor prescribes remedies, they do not work, and the mother is convinced that they are a waste of money and that the cough will persist in any case until the month of May. She is persuaded by her sister-in-law, who has a reputation for infallibility based simply on sheer strength of character, to take the child to the Holy Well at the other side of the village. The waters, combined with certain rituals, are credited with curative powers. Martha is worried but allows her scruples to be overborne. The women carry the heavy child the mile and a half then discover that they have forgotten to bring a mug. The child screams and struggles and refuses to drink the water from his mother's hand. 'Liza Mary Ann, who has brought up 12 children, is not one to stand any fuss from a wilful child and says the thing to do is to dip him. Superstition overrides caution and common sense: Martha can't bring herself to do it herself but 'Liza Mary Ann takes a grim pleasure in stripping the child and plunging the screaming infant three times— according to the ritual— into the freezing water. Tragedy ensues: the child has a weak heart and the shock of the cold water kills him.
All these early works were produced whilst Mabel and Lilian had the domestic cares of 21 St Margaret's Road, Oxford, including the management of the two younger brothers who were to prove such a disappointment to the family, and the requirements of the boarders, to occupy them. It was after the death of Mary Quiller-Couch, in October 1899, Harold and Cyril having already, as Q put it gone 'their ways in life', that Mabel and Lilian were able to think of their own needs and devote themselves to their writing.
Rowse describes, in 1899, Q 'selling up the household at St Margaret's Road.' Mary Quiller-Couch died in October 1899, so the decision to leave must have been made quite quickly. By the time of the 1901 census, Mabel and Lilian and their devoted maidservant, Florence Eliza Pursell, who was by that time aged 29, were living at 16, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London. Mabel is the head of the household and gives her occupation as 'journalist'.
The move from Oxford may have been motivated from a desire to distance themselves from a location which had been a source of great stress and unhappiness, as well as the fact that Cyril, the black sheep, was still living in Oxford, and working in a fairly menial capacity as a 'tailor's traveller'. (In the end both Cyril and Harold lived in London as well, although in less salubrious surroundings than Hampstead). Mabel and Lilian may have felt that a complete break was desirable. Q was by that time married and living at Fowey, so there was nothing really to keep them in Oxford.
The choice of Hampstead as a location is not surprising: the open views across the Heath must have been very alluring to the sisters, whose love of the countryside and moors around Bodmin is so evident, certainly in Mabel's stories for children. Hampstead had a thriving literary and artistic community, was a genteel and attractive residential area and was within easy reach of central London.
Hampstead Heath itself was a tract of sandy heath which had an aspect of moorland about it. The extent of the Heath had gradually been eroded by the 18th century and during this period was the site of much quarrying for sand and ballast, which in fact helped to produce many of the undulations in the landscape. Hampstead Ponds began as a string of reservoirs of the Hampstead Water Co., established to supply London in 1692 and made by damming Hampstead brook, one of the sources of the River Fleet.
One of the most important characteristics of Hampstead was the panorama of London's skyline, including a view of St Paul's, still protected today, and immortalised by painters such as James Herbert Snell (1861–1935), who painted 'The Vale of Heath'. The untamed landscape was an inspiration for painters of the 'picturesque', such as John Constable, who lived in Hampstead, particularly during the summer months, in various different houses (including a short spell at 25, Downshire Hill) from 1819, until his death. Constable, John Linnell (1822) and William Collins (1823) painted scenes of the Heath, and it inspired five sonnets, 'To Hampstead' by Leigh Hunt (1812).
Downshire Hill itself was a desirable street of genteel Regency and Victorian houses, and was thought to be named after the first Marquess of Downshire, Willis Hall (1718–1793). The churchyard of St-John-at-Hampstead, where Mabel is buried, has been described as the oldest unspoiled churchyard in Greater London. John Constable and Gerald du Maurier, Daphne's father, are also interred there. Church Row is a terrace of pretty Georgian cottages. The spire of Christchurch, Hampstead, where Lilian and John Lobban were married, forms a prominent local landmark and was designed by Dawkes in 1850, in the early English Gothic style.
Keat's House—in his time called Wentworth Place— was a pair of semi-detached Georgian houses on the south side of what is now called Keat's Grove, between St John's church, Downshire Hill (as distinct from St-John-at-Hampstead, the parish church) and South End Road. Keats and his friend, Charles Brown, lived in one of the pair from 1818 to September, 1820, when John Keats went abroad for the sake of his health. The house was bought for the nation in 1925, and presented to Hampstead Borough Council. Q gave an address on this occasion, 9 May 1925, and again on16 July 1931 when the Keat's Museum and Branch Library was opened, housing a public library and a display room of artefacts from the Keat's House Collection. Sadly, although Lilian and John Lobban were still at number 37 Downshire Hill, Mabel did not live to see either of these events.
In 1901, by which time Mabel and Lilian were already living in Downshire Hill, Hampstead was far from being a tranquil rural backwater. The Heath had long been a favourite place for walking and riding and Hampstead had been at one time a popular spa. The opening of Hampstead Heath station in 1860, on the Hampstead Junction Railway, meant that the Heath became accessible to less affluent Londoners from the East End and was an enormously popular place for outings. In 1863 the first hotel was opened. Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, who was Lord of the Manor and who had inherited many acres of land in Hampstead, was continually frustrated by opposition from local gentry in his plans to sell off building plots. His Private Estate Bill, which was defeated, would have allowed him to enclose common land. He retaliated by licensing, in 1861, an ice-cream vendor to build a wooden refreshment room at the bottom of Downshire Hill, and assigned a large site for a fair-ground in 1865. Huge crowds were drawn to the area, particularly after 1871 on the new Bank Holidays. Assault and thefts were common, and the noisy crowds caused a great nuisance to residents. After Sir Thomas's death in 1869, his heirs sold his lands at East Heath, Sandy Heath and West Heath to the Metropolitan Borough of Works, which had already acquired powers of preservation in 1866. In 1871, the Hampstead Heath Act was passed, further protecting the area as a public open space. Later, in the twentieth century, the problem for conservationists was to prevent the local authority from changing the wild nature of the Heath to that of more manicured parkland. Two of Mabel’s short stories were inspired by life at Hampstead: ‘Bohemians on Prospect Hill’ (1903) and ‘No 40, Prospect Hill’ (1904) and some scenes in her children's book Zach and Debby were set in Hampstead.
The Quiller-Couch sisters had several interesting neighbours at Downshire Hill. Wikipedia lists: at no. 6 during the First World War, the literary family, the Garnetts; at no. 7, Scottish writer Edwin Muir; at no. 8 theatre designer Edward Gordon Craig and composer Martin Shaw; the author, Sylvia Dryhurst was born at no. 11 and after her marriage to writer Robert Lind, they lived at no. 14; artist Roland Penrose at no. 21; Peter Medawar, biologist at no. 25, where John Constable had stayed; physicist J.D. Bernal at number 35 in the late 1930s; and Flora Robson later moved into no. 37 after the Lobbans had left. Regency House no. 47 was owned by the family of Richard Carline: he and his brother, Sydney, were sent to the Middle East in 1919 by the Imperial War Museum, to record aerial combat. No. 47 was the centre of an artistic circle which included Henry Lamb, who was later chosen to paint Q's official portrait for the Royal Institution of Cornwall and which was unveiled in 1938, Q receiving the freedom of the City of Truro on the same occasion. This portrait caused some consternation in Cornwall, portraying Q as it did in his usual tweeds and mac with a pipe, instead of in academic robes. In 1925, Carline painted 'Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill'. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal had lived at Spring Cottage; and Hampstead Hill Mansions, built in 1896, was later the home of Peggy Ashcroft.
Elizabeth Jenkins' autobiography is called The View from Downshire Hill. Her father bought no. 8, a pink-washed Regency House, for her in 1939, just too late for her to know the Lobbans. She published a biography of Lady Caroline Lamb in 1932 and one of Jane Austen in 1938, as well as several novels, including The Tortoise and the Hare. In The View from Downshire Hill, Elizabeth Jenkins talks of the fight by local residents to preserve the character of Hamsptead. She speaks of a chance meeting with property developer Erno Goldfinger at 'a sherry party given by Amber Blanco White; the house occupied by her and her husband was on the opposite side of Downshire Hill to mine and the two houses were in view of each other. The street had then only one house of ugly modernity: all the rest were varied, enchanting gracefulness.' Goldfinger had already been allowed by left-wing Camden Council to tear down two Regency Cottages in Willow Road and replace then with an ugly modern building. As she was leaving the party, Jenkins heard Goldfinger remark 'All these houses are due to come down anyway'. Jenkins says 'If I could, at that moment, have wreaked on him a severe personal injury, I believe I would have done it.' Another stalwart campaigner in the struggle against Camden Council was Downshire Hill resident, Miss Fanny Seeley, daughter of Sir John Seeley, the Cambridge Professor of Modern History. Under her leadership, residents succeeded in preventing the council from demolishing numbers 47 and 48, immediately opposite Elizabeth Jenkins' house, in order to build a block of council flats.
Q's daughter, Mabel and Lilian's niece, Foy Quiller-Couch's great friend Daphne du Maurier lived in Hampstead in her youth. Gerald du Maurier, who had lived in Hampstead as a child, bought Cannon Hall, Cannon Place, in 1916. Cannon Hall was 'a large Queen Anne House, only a hundred yards from Hampstead Heath, with a small courtyard in front and an enormous walled garden at the back from which there were magnificent views over the whole of London.' (Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier). Daphne lived at Cannon Hall Cottage in the early years of her marriage to 'Tommy', Major Frederick Browning. A letter written to Foy Quiller-Couch from Daphne at Hampstead, offers, if she should 'come Downshire Hill way' as was apparently projected, to show her Kenwood House 'the Hampstead Menabilly.' Gerald du Maurier died in 1934 and Cannon Hall was sold. Daphne's mother and sisters moved into Cannon Hall Cottage, the Brownings having already left.
Gene Adams also mentions William Allingham and Walter de la Mare as both living in Hampstead and several of whose poems were included in A Book of Children's Verse, the anthology of poetry compiled by Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch in 1911. Adams says 'We can assume that Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch were at least acquainted with or perhaps friendly with the Allingham family and with Walter de la Mare. '
Hampstead at the time Mabel and Lilian lived there, offered many opportunities for leisure and cultural activities, including: the Spaniards tea garden and bowling green, which features in several novels including The Pickwick Papers; Jack Straw's Castle, which by 1914 hosted many local clubs, including a musical society; the Everyman Theatre was opened by Norman McDermott with help from private subscribers, in 1920; the New Eldorado Co. opened a cinema at 64 Heath Street in Hampstead Town in 1910; Hampstead Conservatoire of Music and School of Art was founded in 1885 and promoted modern English composers. Cecil Sharp was director from 1896–1905 and the building was used for lectures and concerts—Sharp gave his first lecture on folk-song there in 1903; The Hampstead Public or Subscription Library and Literary Institution was at Stanfield House—free lending started in 1887 and the library and reading rooms were opened free on Sundays in 1889 when lecture rooms were also available.
These years showed the most prolific output from both sisters. At the 1901 census Mabel had described herself as a journalist and this is how both she and particularly Lilian seemed to begin, writing mainly short stories, some of which appeared in more than one periodical. During the 1890s and up until the First World War, there were many publications for girls and women, and most of the provincial newspapers regularly published illustrated short stories, so there was a great demand for the kind of work the Quiller-Couch sisters were producing. Women journalists in 1894 gained their own organisation in The Society of Women Journalists, founded by John Snell, editor of The Gentlewoman. The Gentlewoman, founded 1890, was an upmarket periodical with a reputation for good writing andpieces by Mabel and Lilian were often mentioned in their book lists. Stories by Mabel were regularly published by Young Woman (1891–1914), a monthly illustrated magazine for girls and young women. The Lady's World, published by Cassell's, for whom Q worked at the beginning of his literary career, was another upmarket publication, as was The Lady's Realm (1896-1914/5) which targeted upper and aspirational middle-class readers. It carried details of the London Season and Court, with articles about the Royal family. At 6d it was one of the more expensive magazines. Illustrated papers for the bottom end of the market cost as little as 1d and production was stimulated by the abolition of paper tax in 1861. Universal Magazine only lasted for 21 issues from February 1900 to January 1902: they published some of Mabel and Lilian's early pieces. Other publications are cited above in the acknowledgements at the beginning of Some Western Folk and The Recovery of Jane Vercoe.
The newspaper archives reveal the titles of many of the stories and sketches by the sisters, which were often mentioned in the book lists and reviews of provincial newspapers as far away as Scotland and Ireland, and even New Zealand. Lilian contributed short stories to the Dundee Evening Post on a regular basis. Mabel and Lilian seemed to have a good reputation as writers: The Cornishman on Thursday, 9 November, 1905 stated 'Miss Lilian Quiller-Couch is a Cornish lady who wields a forceful pen, both as a story writer and as a journalist. She may not be as well-known to the public as her brother, Q, but she has equally positive views.' On Wednesday, 23 October 1907, the Aberdeen Press and Journal stated 'Miss Mabel Quiller-Couch has a complete story in today's issue of the Aberdeen Weekly Journal which is entitled "A Rash Experiment", and is marked by all the ability which characterizes this clever writer.'
42 titles of short stories or articles are mentioned in the newspaper archives as having been written by Mabel between 1900 and 1914, and 67 by Lilian. This is in addition to the full length stories for children which Mabel also wrote during these years.
Also published during this period were A Book of Children's Verse; Cornwall's Wonderland; The Romance of Every Day; and The Little Princes and Other True Tales from History. These works were those inspired by historical legends and folk tales from the Quiller-Couch sisters' childhood. The Romance of Every Day was written by Lilian and published, in 1907, by Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton. It featured 'Inspiring stories of people who performed deeds of heroism as the opportunities came into their everyday lives'. These were 'true stories of men, women and children in early centuries.' It was one of the very few things written by Lilian Quiller-Couch for children.
This selection of poetry was arranged by Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch, illustrated by M. Etheldreda Gray and published in London by Henry Frowde Hodder & Stoughton in 1911. Gene Adams describes the book as being divided into various sections such as 'Birds and Flowers, Beasts and Insects', 'Good behaviour', and 'Fun and Frolic', containing 'an encyclopaedic collection of 194 poems for children, from Anon. and Shakespeare to poets still alive in 1911, such as Walter de la Mare' and states 'It is a fine selection, providing in effect an Edwardian canon of children's poetry.'
The book was 'a costly production', illustrated with 20 full-colour plates by Millicent Etheldreda Gray, bound 'in cream with a Beardleyesque design of peacocks and fountains stamped in green and gold.' The book was published at the same time in the USA by G.H. Doran, New York, under the title The Treasure Book of Children's Verse.
Written by Mabel Quiller-Couch, this was illustrated by Thomas Heath Robinson and published in London by Humphrey Milford in 1911.
This volume comprises four tales from history:
This was published in 1914, by J.M. Dent, London. Mabel Quiller Couch's preface reads: 'With a vivid recollection of the keen enjoyment I myself found in the strange and wonderful Romances and Legends of Old Cornwall, now so rapidly being forgotten; with a remembrance too of the numerous long and involved paragraphs—even pages—that I skipped, as being prosy or unintelligilble, written as they were in a dialect often untranslateable even by a Cornish child, I have tried to present a few of these tales in simpler form, to suit not only Cornish children, but those of all parts.'
The tales included in the volume are:
Q based his unfinished novel Castle Dor, on this last legend.
In 1910, Lilian married John James Hay Lobban, a Scotsman born in Aberdeenshire c.1871, so a few years younger than Lilian. The marriage at Christchurch, Hampstead on 28 July 1910 was witnessed by Arthur Quiller-Couch and Alexandra Lobban, the groom's sister.
John Hay Lobban was an academic: a lecturer in English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. He edited various schools' editions of classics, including William Cobbett's Rural Rides, and Much Ado About Nothing based on the 1793 text of Johnson and Steevens; he was general editor of Blackwells' English Classics and wrote prologues to Elizabethan plays presented at Birkbeck College from 1922–1935. He later became Professor of Literature at London University. Q said of him 'He seems to me to be (on our common job) a sound man amongst many fools, ' and dedicated On The Art of Writing to him, in 1915. (Rowse).
The marriage meant that the sisters no longer lived in the same house, but the Lobbans only moved as far as number 37 Downshire Hill opposite Mabel, who continued to live at number 16 with the faithful Florence. They remained there during the war years apparently taking such excitements as zeppelins in their stride. In a letter written to his parents by Bevil Quiller-Couch (son of Q, and Mabel and Lilian's nephew, who was serving on the Western Front) in October 1915, Bevil says 'I am so glad to hear the aunts in Hampstead have been visited by zeppelins without causing apparently any alarm and despondency.' (The Tears of War edited by Charlotte Fyfe, 2000). Mabel's health declined during this period and she moved in with Lilian and John Lobban at number 37 in 1917, remaining with them until her death in 1924.
The war years saw a decline in the publication of periodicals: younger male staff went into the forces and paper was scarce. There was a noticeable reduction in output by the Quiller-Couch sisters. Cornwall's Wonderland was published at the beginning of the war in 1914. Mabel produced Anxious Audrey, a full-length story, in 1915 and a handful of short stories. She also contributed a story to Nelson's Girls' Annual, edited by Jean Lang, in 1915. Lilian published a few short stories in 1914 and in 1918.
The end of the war brought further sadness, with the death of their nephew, Bevil Quiller-Couch, in February 1919 from Spanish 'flu, whilst he was with the army of occupation in Germany.
Mabel published ‘The Making of Mona’in 1919 and her final story ‘A Cottage Rose’ in 1920. ‘The Trodden Path’, a final short story for adults published in 1924 is very reminiscent of her book for children, Kitty Trenire, featuring a young woman unsuccessfully keeping house for her father, a botanist, and dreading the advent of an older cousin who will manage the household. The cousin turns out to be a botanist and she and the father fall in love, leaving the heroine free to marry her lover. This story and the earlier ‘A Cottage Rose’reflect the nostalgia for her childhood and the West Country which was typical of much of Mabel’s work.
Mabel died on 17 November, 1924. Lilian wrote 'Life will be sadly strange to settle down to, but I have very much writing to do . . .I shall not have to sit with empty hands.' (Letter to Florence Pursell, quoted by Gene Adams, see above.)
Mabel Quiller-Couch’s books for children fall into two groups. The first depict middle-class households where the children are high-spirited and mischievous but well-meaning and essentially kind. Their enterprising activities sometimes lead them into adventure and trouble with adults through misunderstandings regarding motives, but all ends happily. These stories are reminiscent of E. Nesbitt’s The Railway Children. E. Nesbitt was one of the other writers whose stories were included, with Mabel’s in Nelson’s Girl’s Annual, 1915, edited by Jean Lang. ‘Kitty Trenire’, ‘The Mean-Wells’, ‘The Carroll Girls’, ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, ‘On Windycross Moor’, ‘A Cottage Rose’, ‘Anxious Audrey’, and ‘Paul the Courageous’ fall into this first group, although the last two have much of the religious and moral content of the second group.
In the second group the central characters are generally from working-class backgrounds and the stories are essentially instructive, containing a strong religious and moral message. They are more sentimental than those of the first group. These tend to be the ones published by the Religious Tract Society and the SPCK. ‘The Story of Jessie’, ‘Better than Play’, ‘Dick and Brownie’, ‘Zach and Debby’, and ‘The Making of Mona’ fall into this group. The central characters are usually girls (with the exception of Zach the young boy in ‘Zach and Debby’) who experience difficulties from poverty, unkindness or even cruelty from adults and a feeling of helplessness and lack of control over their own destinies. A wise and kind adult helps them to understand and improve their own lives and those of others round them through their own actions, an unwavering faith in God and by counting their blessings. There is a strong emphasis on cleanliness and industry as well as simple faith. Mabel Quiller-Couch has been described as an Edwardian children's writer, but her childhood and formative years were mid-Victorian, and the moral tone of her stories is that of the earlier era.
The stories in the first group are clearly influenced by the Quiller-Couch sisters' own childhood. They are set in the West Country and the children come from similar backgrounds to those of the Quiller-Couch’s. ‘Kitty Trenire’ and ‘The Mean-Wells’ both involve the families of local doctors and probably come closest to being autobiographical, together with ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ in which the children stay with their grandparents on a farm in Devon near 'Weston Priors' (Newton Abbot). Descriptions of the farm and gardens; the little room off the main bedroom where Theodosia the central character (whose name resembles that of Mabel's own grandmother Theophilia) sleeps; sharing grandmother's morning tea; the family carriage known as 'the Car' and the awkward horse; together with various incidents in the text, can all be found in Q's Memories and Opinions. ‘The Mean-Wells’ is dedicated 'to Lily—in remembrance' and ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ 'to Foy Felicia, my niece, with love'. ‘Kitty Trenire’is dedicated to 'Purtell', probably a pet name for the maid Florence Eliza Pursell, who was with the family for so long.
The story concerns four children of Dr Trenire, whose mother had died a few years before. Kitty, aged about 13, has persuaded her father, after the previous housekeeper left, that she is competent to run the household. In fact she is dreamy, living in a world of knights and ladies and spending most of her time roaming the local countryside with her brothers and sisters. The servants lack direction, meals are never on time, the housemaid is lazy, bad-tempered and impertinent. Dr Trenire is out on his rounds most of the time and is exhausted. The children are unkempt and run wild. They have a daily governess to give lessons in the mornings but often take it upon themselves to send a note telling her she is not required that day, or have already disappeared by the time she arrives.
Things come to a head when Dan— the oldest boy who is fond of practical jokes which usually end with someone being injured— throws a lump of wood at Jabez, the groom, from the high wall where the children are sitting. Unfortunately, it contains a rusty nail which cuts his head. He complains to the doctor who sends Kitty for hot water. The cook is asleep in her chair, the kitchen range has gone out, and there is no methylated spirits for the little spirit stove. Kitty feels guilty and the hot water is a long time arriving. Dr Trenire decides things cannot go on as they are and tells the children he has sent for their Aunt Pike (whom they detest) to come and run the household.
Aunt Pike arrives with their cousin Anna. Aunt Pike insists on punctuality and cleanliness. She sends the housemaid packing and Dan goes to boarding school, which, however, he is quite happy about, although the younger children are dismayed. Kitty and Betty, her younger sister, are sent with Anna to a day school. Tony the youngest continues to do daily lessons at home. He is lonely. Anna passes letters from one of the boarders, Letitia Kitson, to a person with whom she has been forbidden to correspond. The correspondence is discovered but it is Kitty who is blamed, unjustly. Her father believes her and removes Kitty and Betty from the school, although Anna continues to attend. The slur is still attached to Kitty’s name, however.
Dan comes home for the holidays the following summer and the children, with Anna, go for a picnic on the moor. They are caught in a thunderstorm and, owing to misunderstandings, Anna becomes separated and is lost on the moor. Dr Trenire and Aunt Pike are both away at the time. Arriving home, the children discover that Anna, has not, as they thought, arrived before them. Dan sets off one way to try to find her and Kitty with Jabez and the pony trap go another. Anna is found in a ditch, soaked and unconscious. Dr Trenire and Aunt Pike are sent for but Anna develops pneumonia. She recovers but is very weak afterwards. Aunt Pike blames Kitty for the whole episode. Aunt Pike takes Anna to the seaside and Kitty is sent to boarding school at Plymouth. Kitty is very unhappy at the injustice and being a shy girl hates leaving home. She is happier than expected at boarding school, however, and makes friends.
Dr Trenire is ill with overwork and is ordered on a sea-voyage for three months. Kitty is worried but is persuaded by her father that the best thing she can do for him is to stay at school and be happy. Whilst he is away, however, Aunt Pike, overhears a conversation between Betty and Anna which leads her to realise that her own child was the culprit in the affair of the letters and has been deceitful all along. She suffers a stroke. Kitty is sent for. She runs the household and her relationship with Aunt Pike becomes one of mutual affection. Dr Trenire returns from his voyage looking well, so all ends happily.
This is another story of the family of a doctor probably in either Cornwall or Devon, where the children are high-spirited but well-meaning. They live in a village about 15 miles from the sea and live a comfortable life although they are not well-off enough to afford the number of servants that Mrs Carlyon would like. The children befriend a local shopkeeper whose entire family, excepting her mother, had been lost at sea, and who is quite lonely but keeps a toy shop because she likes children. She has moved right away from the sea so as not to be reminded of her loss.
The two older children suffer a serious accident involving a swing and, while they are recuperating, the youngest, Loveday, is sent to stay with Bessie, formerly a housemaid with the family, and her husband and little boy Aaron. Aaron and Loveday are fascinated with fairies and piskies. Aaron takes Loveday up the cliff to see a fairy ring in the garden of a local recluse, Mr Winter, whose only son was drowned in front of his eyes. Mr Winter has shut up the seaward side of the house and lives a solitary existence. Loveday sees the neglected state of the garden on that side of the house and persuades Aaron that they should get up very early and come in secret to tidy up so that Mr Winter will think the piskies have done it. They find straw covering beds in the kitchen garden and laboriously move it. Next day it has been replaced so they heave it over the cliff. Next day it is back and Mr Winter catches the pair. The straw was covering precious seedlings. He shuts them up in the house for a few minutes and tells them he will call the police. He lets them go home but they are terrified. Loveday writes to her father and tells him she may be imprisoned. He doesn’t believe it but was intending to visit anyway to find lodgings for the family for the summer. He arrives bringing the elder girl, Priscilla, now recovered but in need of sea air, who goes to see Mr Winter to persuade him not to prosecute Loveday and Aaron. He assures her that he only meant to give them a fright. He and little Priscilla become friends. He starts to come out of his shell, and the story ends happily with him moving out of the sight of the sea to a house with a beautiful garden right next door to that of Miss Potts’ toyshop, where he can enjoy the society of his new friends.
Two young children, Roger and Theodosia, are staying at Friary Farm, Weston Priors, the home of their grandparents Mr and Mrs Thorne and the story concerns the series of little misadventures that befall them during the visit. Roger is the instigator of most of the scrapes that they get into, but his loyal little sister bears her share of the blame. The children are taken by the carriage known as the 'car' to visit Squire and Mrs Bond who live on the coast, several miles away. Mr Bond's grandson, Andrew, an unpleasant boy is staying with them. Roger is delighted to have another boy to play with and abandons his sister. The boys take a boat out without permission and get into difficulties and trouble. Soft-hearted Theodosia pleads on her brother's behalf. Another time, Roger persuades Theodosia to follow him onto Farmer Lander's land. Mr Lander and Mr Thorne are arch enemies. Roger kills one of Mr Lander's ducks with his catapult and again, Theodosia gets him out of the scrape but the children have been away from the farm for hours and get into trouble on their return. They are sent upstairs for the rest of the day but Roger again amuses himself with the catapult, shooting from his bedroom window at a child in the lane and injuring him. The child's grandmother comes to the house to complain, embarrassing the children's grandmother who is very annoyed with them. Theodosia, who is an innocent party, is unfairly blamed as well. The most serious incident occurs when Roger is entrusted to hold the reins of the gig whilst their grandfather goes to speak to a neighbour in one of the fields. The obstinate horse, Dandy, starts to eat the hedgerows and will not stand still in spite of Roger pulling on the reins. Mr Thorne does not hear Theodosia calling him and Roger finally loses his temper with the horse, using the whip which he has been warned never to do. The horse bolts and is only stopped by a steep hill. Roger, whose arms have nearly been wrenched out of their sockets pulls on the left rein and the horse turns into an open gateway with disastrous consequences for the gig, one wheel goes into the ditch. The two children are aghast. Roger determines that they will go to their own home and ask their father for help. They set off but are soon lost and hungry. They spend the night in a barn. The next day a young man driving a cartload of hay promises to take them to the station when he has delivered his load. In fact he has recognised the runaways from a description of their distinctive red hair and returns them safely to their relieved grandparents, who have spent a sleepless night worrying. All ends happily. The final adventure is travelling home alone on the train, in charge of the guard, which is achieved without mishap.
It is a temptation in reading fiction to ascribe incidents and sentiments to the author's own experience but elements of all the above stories clearly are based on Mabel’s own childhood. Q specifically refers to ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ in Memories and Opinions, saying 'My grandfather . . . affected a sternness, terrifying enough when he lectured us after one of our many childish scrapes, vide my sister Mabel's story A Pair of Red-Polls.' In a letter to Mabel (quoted by Rowse) when Q is re-visiting the farm at Abbotskerwell, he mentions 'Sally Emmett's cottage'. Sally Emmett, under the name Sally Honey, is the grandmother of the small boy hit by Roger with his catapult. Q describes all the sad changes which have taken place through neglect: 'the old walled garden— you know—ruinous . . . the old summer house bravely hanging together somehow, up in the far top corner.' Theodosia, sent into the kitchen garden to pick strawberries, sits on the step of the summer house to rest and leaves her basket inside when she and Roger slip off on a clandestine adventure. ‘Kitty Trenire’ is set in a small town or large village on the edge of what is obviously Bodmin Moor. The doctor’s house was probably based on that of Dr Quiller Couch at 63 Fore Street, Bodmin. The house in the novel has a street frontage and at the back a stableyard with outbuildings, leading to a higher area of garden. Dr Trenire keeps a cook and a housemaid as well as an outdoor manservant, a household very similar in size to that of the Quiller-Couches. The household in ‘The Mean-Wells’ is very similar although set in a village called Trelint which is described as being 15 miles from the sea. The location resembles that of Abbotskerwell in Devon, the home of Mabel and Lilian's maternal grandparents, although the name is more Cornish. Mrs Carlyon, the doctor’s wife has fewer servants than she would like. Once the children have outgrown babyhood she has to manage without a nursemaid but the children’s nanny doesn’t wish to leave and consents to do the work of a housemaid as well as overseeing the children.
The doctors’ households socially are seen to be on a par with those of the local gentry, which is how the Quiller-Couches regarded themselves. A.L. Rowse describes them as being 'upper middle class'. Kitty Trenire and her sister attend the same day school as the daughters of Lady Kitson. When Dr Trenire goes to attend the Kitson household, Kitty drives him and is invited to join Lady Kitson’s daughters in the drawing room while she is waiting for her father, she is not sent to wait in the servants' hall. Mrs Carlyon in ‘The Mean-Wells’ holds At Home's for local ladies. The drawing room resembles that described in Memories and Opinions. The children are addressed as master and miss by the servants but also the local people. They have been taught to consider the feelings of those below themselves in station and never intrude into the servants' domain at home unless invited. The children in the stories have an affectionate relationship with the family servants and neither party would normally dream of 'sneaking' on the other to adults in authority. In both ‘Kitty Trenire’ and ‘The Carroll Girls’, the children are invited into the kitchen for a special tea. In ‘Kitty Trenire’, the children are given a lift home in the engine of the local goods train. They tip the driver and stoker when they leave but are apologetic because they have to give a lot of copper, not having any silver, and are afraid it will cause offence. The men take it in the spirit in which it is given, however. Even the local farmer’s wife addresses the Trenire children as master/miss, when they go there for tea. They are not invited but order a meal at the farmhouse (provided for a small fee). Because it is a 'plate tea' they eat in the parlour. A 'plate tea' involved cooked food such as ham and eggs or fish, as opposed to a more dainty and lighter 'drawing room tea' of cakes and sandwiches. In ‘The Mean-Wells’ when Dr Carlyon goes to vaccinate all the babies in a village hall, the mothers all stand and curtsey when he comes in.
The doctor in ‘Kitty Trenire’ has a large library of books, including a set of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King in handsome bindings, which inspire Kitty’s daydreams. Local folklore, an interest of Dr Thomas Quiller-Couch which was passed to his children, is a theme of both ‘Kitty Trenire’ and ‘The Mean-Wells’ and appears in many others. In ‘The Mean-Wells’, Loveday and Aaron are obsessed with stories of piskies and fairies. Aaron has no books of his own and is fascinated by the illustrated one that Loveday has brought with her. Also, in ‘Dick and Brownie’, Huldah, the little heroine, is told of the 'brownies' who help people in secret, by the vicar’s daughter, Miss Rose, who befriends her.
All the stories describe the beauties of the local countryside with a particular love of wild moorland, and betray an interest in and love of flora and fauna, a vast knowledge of which was passed from Mabel’s grandfather, Jonathan Couch, to his sons. ‘Kitty Trenire’, ‘The Carroll Girls’, ‘Anxious Audrey’, ‘Paul the Courageous’ and ‘On Windycross Moor’ are all set in locations on the edge of moorland, Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. The dangers of bogs on Dartmoor are a feature of ‘Paul the Courageous’. ‘Zack and Debby’ begins in London and features scenes of Hampstead Heath. In ‘Better than Play’, the children grow flowers and produce for sale, saving the family fortunes by eventually establishing a market garden and greengrocery business. In ‘A Cottage Rose’, Dorothea's great love is the garden, especially old cottage roses, birds and butterflies. Jane in ‘On Windycross Moor’ adores the tea gardens near the castle at Winton (probably based on Windsor) where she is at school. The gardens seem like paradise to her. The garden at Abbotskerwell was the great love and pride of Mabel's grandmother Theophilia Ford. The ' "seven sisters" roses, peonies, ranunculuses, verbenas and lilies' mentioned in the first chapter of ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, are also described by Q in Memories and Opinions, as are the grey barn, the walled kitchen garden and dairy which feature in Mabel's story. Theodosia also loves birds and flowers and is distressed by her brother's exploits with the catapult. It is significant that the photographs of Mabel and Lilian published in Gene Adam's articles show them in a sort of gazebo in the garden, which is clearly a favourite place for working and having the al-fresco meals which feature so often in Mabel's stories.
In ‘The Mean-Wells’, two of the adult characters have known grief through the loss of loved ones at sea. The Quiller-Couch children, many of whose sea-faring Quiller ancestors perished at sea, were well aware of the perils of the coast. In ‘The Making of Mona’, the anxiety of the fishermen's wives and families until the fleet returns safely, is vividly described. Lucy, Mona's stepmother has been ill with rheumatic fever after spending hours on the headland in the wind and the rain because her fear for her husband will not allow her to wait indoors. Also depicted is the joy when a good harvest is returned and rent, food and firing are secured for the year. Theodosia, in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, is both fascinated and repelled by the sea: 'the great waste of heaving grey water' and was 'not sorry when a turn in the road hid it from her sight.'
This is a story of four sisters whose family have money troubles. The father goes to Canada to try to make a living, promising to send for the family. The mother is described as affectionate but rather selfish, liking luxury and is incapable of budgeting. The family moves to smaller and smaller houses and Esther, the eldest, tries hard to make ends meet and keep up standards despite her mother’s incompetence. She hates the run down nature of the house and garden where they are living but is powerless to alter things. Mr Carroll sends for his wife and she intends to send the children to their Aunt Julia for a while. Aunt Julia knows Mrs Carroll of old and that not only would she be burdened with her nieces’ upkeep but her own maids would probably give notice as well. She refuses so Mrs Carroll writes to an elderly cousin, Charlotte Ashe, who used to keep a school and has a kindly nature. The girls are sent to her cottage in Devonshire on the edge of moorland, rather similar to that at Bodmin or Dartmoor. The girls are welcomed, although at first Esther is mortified because her mother writes to Cousin Charlotte that she cannot pay her the money (£150) sent by her husband for the girls' upkeep, immediately, as she has so many expenses herself. Esther knows full well that Cousin Charlotte will never see a penny of the money. The girls are determined to try to help earn money and learn many useful skills. Esther is inclined to be bad tempered and jealous, through a lack of self-worth. It is due to Cousin Charlotte, who offers Esther a home, saying that she cannot do without her, that, after their parents come back and move to the next village, Esther receives a good education and does not dwindle into a resentful household drudge.
The mother in the story seems to have many characteristics of Mrs Mary Quiller-Couch, whose extravagance is blamed by Rowse, and by Q himself, as part of the cause of the family misfortunes. Much of the household cares devolved upon Mabel and Lilian, particularly Mabel, as the eldest, and perhaps Esther, or Esther's resentment and exasperation at her mother's inability to economise, is a reflection of Mabel’s own sentiments. Q in Memories and Opinions is less severe on his mother than this as he says that her extravagance was often on behalf of others. He adored her but makes a telling remark, saying that she was very affectionate towards him and 'in—her own way— to my sisters'. The sisters' relationship with their mother was perhaps more difficult. Several of the stories involve a loss of fortune or middle-class families in reduced circumstances and many of the central characters are girls who have to take on the burden of household cares.
In ‘Anxious Audrey’, the eldest daughter of an impoverished vicar has lived with her grandmother in a relatively affluent, well-ordered household for several years but is summoned home to take care of the household for her invalid mother. The story deals with Audrey’s resentment and ignorance of household affairs. She would rather be reading and has ambitions to write. She makes herself comfortable in an attic where she can shut herself away and write. She wins three guineas in a competition which helps the family at a crucial moment. Mona in ‘The Making of Mona’ is never so happy as when she is alone with a book and in fact sets the house on fire through reading in bed. The Quiller-Couch children were all avid readers from an early age and Mabel herself probably resented the everyday tasks that limited her writing time. Mabel was in her late thirties by the time her mother's death freed her to follow her own inclinations.
The vicar's five children in ‘Anxious Audrey’ are all red-heads, as are Theodosia and Roger in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’. Theodosia is self-conscious about her hair because she is teased by other children. The Couches were red-headed. In Memories and Opinions, Q described himself as 'an ugly little red-haired urchin and Mabel as having 'lanky red hair' which was 'frizzed' for visits to the pantomime in Plymouth at Christmas. Rowse states that the name Couch means 'red'. In fact the Quiller-Couch children had their colouring partly from their mother's side as well: in Memories and Opinions Q describes his mother's 'wonderful wealth of red-auburn hair, dark eyebrows and a Devon complexion of cream and roses.' If Mabel's characters are a reflection of her own, she was a shy person, and self-conscious about her perceived plainness. In ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, Roger says that Theodosia 'didn't look funnier than you often do.' Theodosia is hurt by this remark and 'for years after, until she was quite a big grown woman, it would come back to her, and always at the times when she least wanted it to, making her feel shy and awkward and self-conscious.' Quite a lot of her adult fiction features women with a lack of self-worth.
In 'The Story of Jessie', Jessie’s mother ran away from home some years before to marry a ne'er do well, causing much grief to her loving parents. Destitute and unable to feed or clothe five-year old Jessie adequately, she sends her to her grandparents by train, writing to them to expect her. The child brings joy to them and she spends happy years at the cottage in the countryside until one day, her own mother having died, her father comes looking for her and kidnaps her, taking her back to London with him. He has remarried and his second wife keeps a boarding house, so he reckons Jessie is old enough to be of use. He is brutal and a gambler. Jessie’s stepmother is kind but intimidated by her husband. The lodging house, which used to be well-kept, is dirty and ill-run because Jessie’s father spends all the profits and does not help. Jessie is very unhappy at the thought of her grandparents' worry at her disappearance but she is not allowed to write to them. She does her best to be useful, however, and has very good domestic skills learned at her grandparent's house. After trials and tribulations Jessie's father is killed through his own fault in a fatal accident. Jessie is finally reunited with her grandparents.
Mabel and Lilian had personal experience of the hard work involved in keeping a lodging house, albeit a rather more genteel one than that described in ‘The Story of Jessie’, as their mother was obliged to take in undergraduates as boarders whilst in Oxford to supplement the family income. They only had one servant so a lot of the work would have been carried out by the girls. In ‘The Story of Jessie’, thelodgers’ rooms have to be cleaned, the grates cleaned and fires made and coals taken up; the lodgers expect their boots and shoes to be cleaned and their personal laundry done as well as having clean towels and bed linen, although no doubt the laundry was sent out to be done; their meals are provided.
The stories give an interesting insight into Victorian daily life. There is an efficient postal and telegraph service. The extensive rail network serviced many rural districts, as well as transporting parcels and goods that would have previously gone by carrier. Little Jessie is sent to her grandparents by herself, with the guard to make sure she got off at the right stop. The children in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ are sent home on the train by themselves—an elderly gentleman in the carriage mutters complaints about unaccompanied children—and the guard comes to their carriage at each halt to make sure they are all right and asks if they need anything.
The children in 'Kitty Trenire’ wave a handkerchief to stop the local train and are given a ride home. Neither could happen in these health and safety conscious days but were not unusual then. The other public transport available was horse drawn omnibus, particularly in towns. Bodmin Road Station was five miles from Bodmin and serviced by just such an omnibus which is described in ‘Kitty Trenire’. Henry Rank, who may have been the inspiration for the groom, Jabez, in ‘Kitty Trenire’, was employed by Dr Couch in Bodmin but later drove the omnibus between Bodmin and Bodmin Road. (Obituary, Western Morning News, 12 September, 1929.) Farmers had their wagons; better off people had their own carriages or a pony and trap. In ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ the children’s grandfather has a carriage known as a 'car' which is described as being like a small private omnibus. In Memories and Opinions, Q describes the 'strange vehicle commonly known as "the Car " ' which his grandfather Ford had especially built because the children's grandmother suffered badly from a diseased hip. The obstinate carriage horse 'Punch' belonging to the Fords is portrayed in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ under the sobriquet 'Dandy'. The Trenire children can already drive and are trusted with the donkey cart by themselves as are those in ‘On Windycross Moor’. Priscilla in ‘The Mean-Wells’ is allowed to drive her father, Dr Carlyon, when he goes to vaccinate the local babies, so that he can read as they go along. This was a habit of Dr Quiller Couch. Q describes an occasion when the four-wheeled dog-cart, driven by a groom with the doctor walking behind reading, as was his wont, lost a wheel and the children were 'gently slid in a ditch, a small avalanche of books on top of us.' Loveday in ‘The Mean-Wells’ is offended when a local man laughs because she does not understand the expression by 'Shank's mare'—walking everywhere— the resource of the poorest.
The houses of all classes were heated by open fires and lit with oil lamps and candles. Reading in bed with a candle was a major crime as far as the children were concerned because of the danger of fire, which occurs in both ‘Kitty Trenire’ and ‘The Making of Mona’. Mona in fact sets the house on fire this way. Her grandmother dies in the incident, but is discovered to have died of a stroke before the fire, relieving some of Mona's guilt. In ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, Theodosia has no books in her room because her grandmother once found her reading in bed. Coals were the main source of fuel, supplemented in Cornwall, where woodland was scarce in some areas, by furze and brushwood. Pinecones are collected by the children for the drawing room fire, for the scent. The middle-class households in the story have bathrooms, the water being heated by the kitchen range, and the children bath in the mornings. In ‘Dick and Brownie’ Huldah washes in the scullery where Mrs Perry keeps a basin and a piece of soap and a rough towel. Dirt and untidiness are condemned and are a source of misery for some of the girls who are expected to run households but who lack experience. In ‘Anxious Audrey’, Audrey, coming from her grandmother's well-run house with several well-trained servants, is dismayed and revolted by smeary glasses and badly washed cutlery, and cannot eat her supper although she is very hungry. Even the poorest kitchens, when scrubbed clean and with bright china on the dresser are lovingly described as a source of pleasure. The description of Aunt Grace's kitchen in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’ is a delight and surely drawn from life: it was 'like a very pretty, cosy sitting-room. It had a big sofa with two ends to it, and big white dressers laden with the loveliest of blue china, and jugs such as one cannot buy nowadays.' Mabel and Lilian clearly valued nice, clean surroundings and an ordered household. Of the house in Oxford, Rowse quotes Q as saying 'they are making the house in St Margaret's Road very nice and planting by the gate.'
The Quiller-Couch children grew up in the 1860s, when crinolines were still worn. Q's grandmother wore dresses of black silk of such quality that the skirt would stand up, as she said, 'of itself.' Ladies would come to pay visits with 'their best caps in boxes.' In ‘Anxious Audrey’, Audrey's grandmother has a cap box, it being the custom formerly for married women to wear caps indoors. Elderly women tended to cling to the customs of their youth.
The lower classes are portrayed as respectful but not obsequious. They are not afraid to speak their minds when necessary but 'knowing one’s place' was still very much in evidence. In ‘Dick and Brownie’, Huldah is eventually made the ward of the local vicar but there is no suggestion of her living in his household. She is given a couple of rooms over the coach house in which to nurse the dying 'Aunt Emma' (not her real aunt) but her place is with Mrs Perry, who first took her in, in her cottage. In ‘Paul the Courageous’, Paul is affronted when the farm boy tries to dissuade him from walking around the edge of the bog, which has already caught him out once before. The boy clearly thinks that Paul is an idiot. Paul thinks that the farm boy should not dispute with a 'gentleman'. Dorothea in ‘A Cottage Rose’ is shown to value people of all classes and becomes great friends with a train guard. Her father, who died when she was young, was thought to have married beneath him and his siblings encouraged their father to 'cast him off' from the family, much to the grief of his mother who later finds joy in the company of her grandchild, Dorothea. The slight paid to the mother's family is keenly resented by Dorothea's maternal aunt, who brings her up until she is ten. Alice Millard a character in ‘On Windycross Moor’ is embarrassed when she meets Jane, the central character (whom she has known formerly when her own family were rich) because her uncle with whom she is staying, after the family had suffered financial reverses, is only a farmer, whereas in fact Jane is indifferent to social class.
‘Dick and Brownie’ shows the prejudice in which travellers were held. 'Gipsies' were equated with thieves. Huldah and Dick the dog are at first expected to sleep in Mrs Perry’s barn, until Mrs Perry is frightened by an attempt by two men to steal her hens. Huldah is then allowed to sleep downstairs in the cottage but does not dare get up before Mrs Perry as she is afraid of being accused of things.
One or two scenes in the books betray Mabel’s own reading: gipsies in the district and raids on hen-coops recall Jane Austen’s Emma, and in ‘Paul the Courageous’, Stella helping the escaped convict is reminiscent of Pip in Great Expectations.
The difference in attitude to boys and girls is mentioned in several of the stories. In general the boys are far less sympathetic characters to the modern reader, with the exception of Zach in ‘Zach and Debby’. Paul, in ‘Paul the Courageous’, is positively unlikeable— boastful, belligerent and really not very bright, although he redeems himself in the end by saving his sister. The boys are generally robust characters who enjoy sporting activities and outdoor life. Shooting at birds and animals is a common pastime, although deprecated by the girls. Aggressive and swaggering attitudes are worse when the boys are in the company of their peers, especially older boys, and they seem to feel the need to impress. The girls in the stories look up to their brothers who are also the ones to receive an education if money is short, as they are expected to be able to earn a living in the future. In ‘A Cottage Rose’, Dorothea's grandmother, Mrs Pomeroy, has a positive horror of too much academic work for girls. Dorothea was not one of the 'show' girls because her grandmother 'shuddered at the mere mention of examinations.' Gentleness, neatness and propriety are valued in the girls. After the children in A Pair of Red Polls (who are younger at only seven and nine than most of the children in the stories) get into mischief, their grandmother is much more severe towards Theodosia, who is actually the younger child, because she is a girl and should behave well, saying 'what is bad in a boy is very much worse in a girl,' whereas there is an element of 'boys will be boys' and greater indulgence towards Roger, who is in fact the real culprit and instigator of all their misadventures. 'Whenever Grandma Thorne had to scold Roger, which it vexed her very much to do, she never failed to rap out on Theodosia too.' Even the servants are aware of the injustice. Jane, the housemaid in ‘A Pair of Red Polls’, saying 'missus is that wrapped up in Master Roger she couldn't abide to punish him alone; although 'tis his scrapes most of the time.' The boys are expected to behave chivalrously towards their mothers and sisters and although they may dominate them at home, they protect them from outsiders. An emphasis on 'honour' is common to all the stories and classes: deceit and cowardice are condemned, even by the children themselves, but the difficulties inherent in gaining moral courage are also explored by the writer and are a major theme of all of the stories.
Lilian Quiller-Couch wrote very little for children, and most of her work consisted of short, romantic stories for magazines and illustrated papers. She did, however, write a series of sketches entitled ‘Man’ published in 1896 by Dent in their Odd Volume Series. The Globe on 21 September 1896, in their column ‘The Library Table’ described it as being 13 sketches on different aspects of a man, including: ‘The Word of a Man’, ‘The Courage of a Man’, ‘The Work of a Man’, ‘The Conscience of a Man’ and ‘The Consistency of a Man’. They said the work was 'well-conceived and effectively rendered. All readable and some have a certain power.'
Reviewing the writers in the Christmas number of the Weekly Sun, on 12 December 1896, the Coleraine Chronicle said 'Miss Mabel Quiller-Couch lives and works with her sister, Miss Lilian. The styles of the sisters are singularly different.' Certainly the Idler, which published three early stories by Lilian already mentioned, was a far cry as a publication from the Religious Tract Society and the Sunday School Union who published some of Mabel’s early work. The Idler was an illustrated gentleman's magazine, in which the illustrations 'tended towards the esoteric and romantic, often with a menacing or surrealistic overtone.' It was aimed at the urban sophisticate and had a 'liberal, casual, breezy and irreverent tone.' The readership was largely male with a 'nod towards women' and featured several women writers. (Victorian Fiction Research Guide no 23: The Idler). Ghost stories and detective stories were popular. Lilian’s early writing demonstrates a fascination with the supernatural and mystery.
Lilian wrote two full length novels: A Spanish Maid and The Marble King: A Mystery. Both of these have elements of the supernatural. The Marble King sounds quite intriguing: it is about two young men boating in the Adriatic who drift away to one of the isles of Greece and come across a city of the ancient world still existing, with ancient costumes, manners and customs, and with magnificent statuary. The narrator gradually realises that there is something uncanny about the place. The reviewer for the Bristol Mercury 'Our Library Table on Saturday, 1 April, 1899, calls the book 'very gruesome in conception' but artistically handled and says 'this mystery is entirely off the ordinary lines and although very simple, is very well sustained and cleverly written.'
This is a strange story. It begins in central Spain, on a hot flat plain. Teresa, the central character is the daughter of a cruel man, described as a leader of some kind of nomadic tribe, who punishes Teresa's mother by his brutal treatment of her child. Teresa and her mother escape but the novel begins with the mother's death.
Teresa at first grieves but her grief turns to anger. She snatches up a red shawl on which her mother is lying and runs away, leaving the body in a tent to be discovered by her father and his people. Teresa is portrayed as having extravagant emotions. She is imperious, demanding food and shelter on her way as of right, and being given what she asks for without question. She reaches the coast and there sees a strange ship with black sails. The sailors have pale skin and eyes and lank pale hair. Two of them leave a boat moored on the quay and Teresa hides herself under a sail cloth. She reveals herself when the boat has reached the ship and it is too late for her to be returned to the shore, otherwise the ship will miss the tide. The sailors reluctantly allow her to board. The old prejudice against having women aboard a ship is implied.
There is no actual dialogue in this section of the story. Teresa becomes wildly exhilarated during the voyage and the weather suddenly turns stormy. The sailors are convinced that it is Teresa who has conjured the storm. They surround her and she snatches up a hatchet and brings it down on the arm of one of them, but the wound does not bleed! The crew tie Teresa up and throw her into the hold. They reach the coast of Cornwall and Mary, wife of Peter the coastguard, and her brother, Zekiel, see from the cliff a boat come from the ship and Teresa left on the beach to fend for herself.
Mary and Zekiel are horrified and go to the rescue. Teresa is black-haired and 'swarthy' but very beautiful. Zekiel is smitten but frustrated because he is unable to communicate. Teresa lives with the coastguard and his wife for months, taking her bed and board for granted. The young squire, Humphrey, returns from a tour of foreign parts and can speak Spanish. Teresa is delighted. She is very taken with Humphrey and the comparative luxury of his house. Zekiel is jealous but his attentions have begun to irritate Teresa. Humphrey is both attracted and repelled by Teresa. He has a childhood playmate, Ursula, the daughter of the parson, an antiquarian. Ursula is gentle, kindly and fair, fond of Humphrey but dreams of a handsome prince who will arrive and claim her hand.
The villagers agree that Zekiel is 'mazed'. In fact most of the men are bewitched by Teresa’s beauty. The women mistrust her and she begins to sow discord. Mary is convinced that Peter no longer loves her.
Squire Humphrey holds the annual Christmas dance in his barn. He invites Teresa who, in her self-centred way, assumes he wishes to dance with her. In fact the dance proceeds according to custom, with Humphrey asking the ladies in order of seniority. Teresa is angry and petulant. Flames appear spontaneously from behind her and the dance ends in disaster with a stampede and the barn burning down.
Later, Humphrey and Teresa are on the beach when a casket is washed up. Teresa is convinced that it holds treasure. She pulls from it yards of yellow silk. Humphrey is dismayed and tells her she must put it back. Properly speaking, the coastguard should be informed. Teresa is enchanted with the silk, however, and wraps it round her, running off to the village. There the children follow her, Pied Piper style, and she wraps them and the babies in her silk, deaf to the protests of the mothers. Mary tries to snatch her baby but Teresa demonstrates her power by having the baby turn from his mother to her. Mad with jealousy and fury, Mary slaps the child, who later dies of the mysterious plague with which the village is stricken and which the doctor attributes to the yellow silk.
Zekiel is one of the victims. There is a strange sequence in which Teresa is on the beach and Zekiel rows up to her. He takes her for a trip in the boat and kisses her. Then he abandons her on the beach, running up the cliff path and snatching a handful of sea-pink as he goes. Once he loses interest in her, Teresa wants him more and follows him. At the cottage she learns that he has not, in fact, left his bed, and is believed to be dead, although the doctor, holding a mirror to his lips says that he is just alive. Teresa’s story is not believed at first, although Zekiel’s boat, which he alone can take out, it being under lock and key, is later discovered on the beach and Zekiel is clutching sea pink.
These events all strengthen the belief of the villagers that Teresa is a witch. The story ends with Teresa fleeing to the beach, where the black-sailed ship appears and she is taken by the sailors. On the deck is the menacing figure of her evil father. The scene disappears in the mist but the villagers hear a splash.
It is as though a curse has been lifted. There are sad reminders in the churchyard, but Zekiel recovers and marries Agrimony, Ursula’s maid; Mary and Peter rediscover their love for each other and have another child; Ursula realises that she loves Humphrey and he makes her dream come true by arriving one night in a ship festooned with lights which, in the morning, is discovered to be decked with flowers and ribbons. Ursula’s prince, in the shape of her old childhood playmate, has arrived to claim her hand.
The story has some of the supernatural elements and mystery of the Gothic novel, in the scenes with the mysterious black ship and its spectral crew; the apparent ability of Teresa to conjure storm and fire with her anger; and the love scene with Zekiel and the boat when he is in reality on his death bed in the cottage. It owes a great deal to folklore and fairy tales. Teresa has something of the egocentric, amoral nature of the fairy: she takes what she wants or is offered, without gratitude and is almost totally lacking in empathy; she is attracted to bright, pretty things and loves novelty; she is mercurial in temperament. The conflict between good and evil is a typical theme of fairy tales and popular prejudice and tradition are reflected in the association of the black-haired, swarthy, foreign Teresa and her father, with evil. The fairer village maidens appear pallid and tame by contrast to their menfolk at first, but their essential goodness shines through and triumphs in the end.
The writing is strongest in the descriptions of local scenes and in the dialogues of the villagers. Here Lilian is drawing from her own experience and is more credible. Otherwise, there is no attempt at realism. The characters are caricatures: the noble, paternalistic, handsome, educated young squire; the eccentric antiquarian parson and his gentle, pretty daughter; the lively, mischievous 'soubrette'— the maid Agrimony; the besotted lover. The historical period is vague, although there are hints: Humphrey has returned from a tour of the continent, so after the Napoleonic Wars; the women wear gowns and fichus and shawls or cloaks rather than fitted coats; the black ship is a three-masted sailing ship; Roger, however, is a coastguard, which puts it after 1822. The tale begins on a plain, so somewhere in central Spain, far from the coast, but Teresa manages to arrive there on foot, none the worse for wear and she apparently wears the same clothes throughout the story, apart from a plaid shawl lent by Mary when the weather turns cold. At one stage she dances a Spanish ‘tarantella’ for Humphrey and Ursula —a tarantella is a Neapolitan, not a Spanish, dance.
The Northern Whig, reviewing a story of Lilian's in 1909, mentions the elements of 'suspense and mystery which newspaper readers demand.' According to the Western Morning News, on Saturday, 9 December, 1922, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, President of the Village Drama Society, spoke at the Tonbridge meeting on the subject of the taste for melodrama, which he declared that country people preferred to tragedy. If ‘A Spanish Maid’ falls into any particular genre it is probably this one.
The bulk of Lilian’s output was short, contemporary romantic fiction. Several stories were published by the Sketch, owned by the Illustrated London News, a society magazine with features on royalty and high society. Lilian’s stories appeared in the column ‘A Novel in a Nutshell’.
‘The Reward of a Woman’ begins with the tearful farewells of Ursula and Bertie, who must part for an unspecified time: Bertie to go abroad to earn a living, and Ursula to be condemned to a life of drudgery as a governess until they can afford to marry. They correspond and the weeks stretch into months and then years, until Ursula receives an unexpected legacy of £500 a year from a rich uncle. She is overjoyed and determines to make it over to Bertie by an anonymous deed of gift, so that his amour propre will not be wounded by having to depend on his wife. Ursula eagerly awaits his next letter with the news that they can at last marry, only to receive the news that he has had some good luck and is going on an extended holiday to Italy and Greece with a mother and daughter with whom he has become friendly. Instead of explaining the situation rationally, Ursula makes a grand gesture, writing him one line saying 'goodbye', thus condemning herself to a life of regret and drudgery.
Lilian’s stories were regularly published by the Dundee Evening Post. ‘The Painter from Parker’s’ of 1901, is a happier tale than ‘The Reward of a Woman’ with an element of humour. The Vicar’s daughter goes to Parker’s Shop in the village and engages the young man there— a newcomer— to paint the vicarage dining room. He is strongly attracted to Miss Trent and agrees to do the work. He makes a good job of the dining room and Miss Trent is disturbed to find how much she enjoys his company. She is further astounded when the vicar invites him ‘the painter from Parker’s?!’ to tea. However, the painter reveals himself to be the famous portrait painter, David Dent. ' "Secondly," he added, "I love you".'
Herbert Thomas, in the column 'One and All Notes' for the Cornishman, on 9 November, 1905, wrote 'Miss Lilian Quiller-Couch is a Cornish lady who wields a forceful pen, both as a story-writer and as a journalist. She may not be as well-known to the public as her brother "Q" but she has equally positive views, and apparently considers that the present Government ought to retire either with or without an old-age pension. At least I judge so from an article which she has contributed to the "Daily Chronicle" on "Guy Fawkes", in which she says: "Three hundred years ago Guy Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators planned to do what, in the main, many a man is wishing to do at the present moment, viz: move the Government from Westminster" Miss Quiller-Couch adds significantly that he knew it would take gun-powder to accomplish it, and he provided it! ' From which we learn that Lilian shared her brother's Liberal politics and wrote with a certain tart humour.
Lilian’s career spanned more than 40 years and her stories naturally evolved with the contemporary ethos. The heroines become less lachrymose and sentimental, and more robust, and they drive around in motorcars not horse and carriage. They are all, however, essentially just simple love stories. Her output gradually dwindled until after 1934 there is no mention of her until 1939 at the funeral of her husband, which was attended by Q and his daughter.
Lilian and John Lobban had moved to South Cottage, Great Chesterford, Essex on his retirement in about 1936. He died on 8 February, 1939. On the 1939 register Lilian is noted as living at South Street, Saffron Walden, with one servant but this was only a temporary address, as she died in South Cottage, Great Chesterford in 1942. Probate was granted to her niece, Foy Felicia.
Neither Mabel nor Lilian Quiller-Couch were writers of 'great' literature. Most of what they wrote was light romantic fiction, although some of Mabel’s children’s stories and her collections of stories based in the west, perhaps have a more enduring appeal. However, they did contribute two valuable reference works in The Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall and Reminiscences of Oxford by Oxford Men, and A Book of Children’s Verse has, like Q's Oxford Book of English Verse, been described as a 'canon.'
Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, London, Chas. C. Clark, 1894
A Book of Children's Verse arranged by Mabel and Lilian Quiller-Couch, illus. M. Etheldreda Gray, London Henry Frowde Hodder & Stougton, 1911
The Treasure Book of Children's Verse edited by Mabel & Lilian Quiller-Couch, New York, G.H. Doran, 1911.
Folk tales, legends, history and story collections
The Recovery of Jane Vercoe and Other Stories, J.W. Arrowsmith, Bristol, 1896
Some Western folk, Horace Marshall & Son, 1897
Some Great Little People, Henry Frowde Hodder & Stoughton, 1910
Children of Olden Days, Henry Frowde Hodder & Stoughton, 1910
Cornwall's Wonderland, London, J.M. Dent, 1914
Stories for Children
Martha's Trial or Truth Will Prevail, Sunday School Union, 1895
One Good Seed Sown, or Jasper's Old Protegée, Sunday School Union, 1896
Paul The Courageous, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1901
A Waif and a Welcome, Religious Tract Society, 1905
Zack and Debby, Their Trials and Triumphs, Religious Tract Society, 1906
The Carroll Girls or How the Sisters Helped, Hodder & Stoughton, 1906
A Pair of Red Polls, T.C. & E.C. John, 1907
Troublesome Ursula, illus. Mabel Lucy Attwell, W. & S. Chambers, 1907
Kitty Trenire, Thomas Nelson, 1909, re-issued Hertford Cityscape, 2001
The Story of Jessie, Religious Tract Society, 1910
The Mean-Wells, Wells Gardner, 1910
On Windycross Moor, Collins Clear-Type Press, 1910
Better than Play, Religious Tract Society, 1911
Dick and Brownie, Religious Tract Society, 1912
Anxious Audrey, SPCK, 1915
The Making of Mona, illus. E. Wallcousins, SPCK, 1919
A Cottage Rose, George C. Harrop, 1920
Short Stories other than those from Collections (above)
'One Little Tragedy', 1893
'Peggy’s Philanthropy', 1894
'A Little Samaritan', 1896
'An Inconvenient Sentiment', 1896
'Cornish Scenes', c.1897
'Three men Met', c.1897
'The Chapel Goers', c.1897
'Beside the Cornish Sea', c.1897
'A Wasted Love', 1898
'A Mistaken Reform', 1898
'A Lost Gem', 1898
'A Talent Developed,' 1898
'A Case of Necessity', 1898
'A Memorial Trip', 1899
'A Swift Enlightenment', 1899
'Strangely Met', 1900
'Mrs Sime’s Lodgers', 1900
'A Wild Escapade', 1900 (Dundee Evening Post)
'A Pair of Stoics', 1900
'Invalided Home', 1900
'By Example', 1900
'At Four Cross Roads', 1900
'A Saving Impulse', 1900
'The Beautiful Trio', 1901 (Cornish Telegraph)
'Blunder of Betty', 1901 (Young Woman)
'Trifena's Little Plot', 1901
'A Victim', 1902
'Rough on Jane', 1902
'Behind the Clouds', 1902
'The Love of Lavinia', 1902
'A Born Comforter', 1902
'The Heiress', 1902, (Dundee Evening Post)
'Love on an Omnibus', 1902
'The Redemption of Rosina', 1902 (Dundee Evening Post)
'Old Love and New', 1903
'Bohemians on Prospect Hill', 1903
'A Man's Mistake', 1903
'Down Flatters Lane', 1903
'A Hard-earned Heart', 1903
'No. 40 Prospect Hill', 1904
'Wanted, A Superior Person', 1904
'Driven On,' 1905
'A Rash Experiment', 1905
'Cupid in a Motor', 1906
'The Hill Climbed', 1906
'The Folly of Making Haste', 1906
'A District Visitor', 1906
'Judge of Appearances', 1907
'Men and their Grievances',1907
'Back to the Cornish Home,' 1908
'A June Night Adventure', 1908 (reprinted 1928)
'Lady Wrexham’s Niece', 1908
'The Pawned Bible', 1909
'An Impossible Situation', 1909
'A Christmas Eve Wedding', 1909
'Poor Relations', 1914
'The Captor Captured', 1916
'Her Son’s Wife', 1917
'Proud Peggy Palliser', 1917
'A Jewel in a Snowdrift', 1917 (reprinted 1929)
'The Trodden Path', 1924
Mabel also contributed to Nelson's Girls' Annual, 1915, ed. Jean Lang, and Collins Children’s Annual, 1922 ( a story entitled ‘Humphrey’s Full Morning’)
Reminiscences of Oxford by Oxford Men 1559-1850, Oxford Historical Society, 1892
The Romance of Every Day: True Stories of Men, Women and Children in Early Centuries, Frowde Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1907
Collection of Sketches
Man, J.M. Dent & Co., (Odd Volume Series), 1896
A Spanish Maid, Dodd, Mead & Co; and Service and Paton, London, 1898
The Marble King: A Mystery, Bristol Arrowsmith, 1899
Short Stories and Sketches
'The Souls of My Four Sons', 1894
'The Peacock Gown', 1894
'Dillon’s Maid', 1894 (the Sketch)
'The Misdemeanour of Pamela Roseyear', 1895 (the Idler)
'Jane Anne’s Substitute', 1895
'The Last Dive', 1895
'The Devil’s Own', 1895
'The Tragedy of Silence', 1895
'The Wife of a Sinner', 1895
'The Error of Man', 1895
'The Young Conspirators', 1895
'The Wooing of the Orphan', 1896
'A Wise Teacher', 1896
'The Fairies and the Bells', 1896
'A Great Occasion', 1896
'The Reward of a Woman', 1896 (the Sketch)
'Two Small Travellers', 1896 (for children)
'The Conversion of John Toms', 1897 (the ')
'The Battle of Alma Terrace', 1898
'The Unremembered Man', 1898 (the Idler)
'A Christmas Eve Conspiracy', 1898
'Discomfort at Dowden Farm', 1898
'The Marketplace', 1899
'The Curing of Archibald Arbuthnot', 1899
'Just a Crack and a Joint', 1899
'Change of Opinion', 1899
'The Painter from Parkers', 1899
'Young Rebel',1899 (Penny Illustrated Paper)
'The Grey Ghost of Landewarne', 1899
'A Happy Ending',1900
'A Soldier of the Queen', 1900
'My Godmother’s Scheme', 1900
'The Unnecessary Pain of Love', 1900
'My Music Mood', 1900
'A Misunderstanding', 1900
'Gerald's Camera', 1901
'A Corrected Opinion', 1901
'The Wife of a Sinner', 1901
'Interrupted Honeymoon', 1901
'How I Saved Cousin Eleanor', 1901 (Dundee Evening Post)
'The White Winter', 1902
'On Her Majesty's Service', 1902
'Journey's End in Lovers' Meeting', 1902
'Three-Quarters of an Hour', 1902
'A Christmas Eve Surprise', 1903
'Our New Governess', 1903 (for children)
'Set Fair', 1903
'On Christmas Eve by Special Licence', 1903
'A Case in Point', 1903
'I Help to Save Hermione', 1903
'The Blossomy Girl', 1903
'Wanted, A Situation', 1903
'How It Happened', 1903
'A Gentle Miser', 1904
'Romance of a Spendthrift', 1904
'A Question', 1904
'Cruel Woman. Where the Blame Really Rests', 1904
'A Few Turns of the Fate Wheel', 1904 (Dundee Evening Post)
'A Thrilling Drive', 1904
'The Lady Nurse at Deeling', 1904
'My Little Escapade', 1905
'Through the Lancers', 1905
'A Bride in the Snow', 1905
'A Change of Bridegrooms', 1905
'A Woman’s Privilege', 1906
'Why Lady Anne Wore White Gloves', 1906
'Bells Wedding Bells', 1906
'The Story Roger Howard Told', 1906
'Crispin Capel's Wakening', 1906
'Love in a Tangle', 1906
'Christmas Bells and Wedding Bells', 1906
'Men and Women As They See Each Other', 9 May 1906, (Northern Daily Telegraph)
'Twentieth Century Cupid', 1907
'Popular Fallacies About Women', 1907
'A Two Hours’ Courtship', 1907
'John Merriman’s Proposal', 1907
'The Ways of Love', 1907
'The Poor Rich', 1908
'Is Sentiment Bad Form? How Some Women Spoil Christmas, 1908
'Wanted: A Mother!', 1909
'The Web of Fate', 1909 (Weekly Northern Whig) serial story
'George Clissold’s Wooing', 1909
'An Adventurous Christmas Honeymoon', 1909
'Love and a Snapshot', 1910
'Lady Easton’s Secret or The Wheel of Circumstance', 1910
'The Money Mill', 1911
'Sybil Manette', 1911
'A Christmas Honeymoon', 1912
'Some Humours of Gardening', 1913
'A Wonderful Week', 1913
'Men Women Like', 1914
'By Special Arrangement', 1914
'A Christmas Guest', 1914
'The Girl in the Tea Shop', 1914
'Peace and the Sword', 1918
'The Best Laid Plans', 1918
'Love Pays the Rent', 1918
'A Will and a Way', c.1921
'Betty in Bonds', 1922
'The Girl Behind the Counter', 1924
'The Girl in Grey', 1925
'Love By Parcel Post', 1925
'My Wife', 1926
'The Hand in the Mirror', 1926
'Rough Diamond', 1929
'Fugitives in the Snow', 1930
'John to the Rescue', 1930
'The Last Traveller', 1930
'County Sketches', 1931 (Hampshire Telegraph)
'The Hand at the Window', 1931 (Hampshire telegraph)
'Terry Mount’s Escapade', 1933
'Black For a Debutante', 1934
'Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted', 1934
Lilian also contributed to:
Lady’s World Grand Summer Number,m1905
Illustrated Weekly News, Plymouth Summer Number, 1906
Western Weekly News, Summer and Christmas Numbers, regularly from 1925-1934
Mrs Strong’s Annual for Girls, 1921 (an article on caravanning)
Note:The titles of the above stories have been taken from those found mentioned in newspaper archives and are by no means exhaustive lists; the name of the periodical in which these first appeared is given where known, also the date first published, or an approximate date. Many of the same stories were advertised and published in several different periodicals.
Thanks to Kristopher McKie, Collection Manager, Seven Stories, Newcastle, for providing Gene Adams' article 'Mabel Quiller-Couch, An Edwardian Children’s Author in Hampstead'.