On this day in history….19th April 1989

On this day in history : 19th April 1989 – The death, in Cornwall, of English author and playwright Dame Daphne du Maurier – perhaps best known for her novels ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’….

Daphne du Maurier, Schiphol 1947 – Image credit : Ben van Meerendonk / AHF, collectie IISG, Amsterdam.

Daphne was born in London on the 13th of May 1907, into an artistic family…. Both of her parents were actors, her father being Sir Gerald du Maurier, the actor and manager…. She was educated at home by a governess, along with her two sisters – the eldest of which also became a writer and her younger sister, an artist….

The girls were brought up in a social household, where influential friends such as Edgar Wallace and J.M. Barrie would often visit…. The sisters were cousins of the Llewelyn-Davies boys, on whom Barry drew the inspiration for Peter Pan from….

Daphne, an avid reader from an early age, began to write in her teens…. Her love affair with Cornwall no doubt began in childhood, as the du Mauriers would often holiday there as a family…. There were indications that whilst growing up she was confused about her own sexuality – and it has been suggested since her death that she may have been bi-sexual…. In her own memoirs she talks of her father’s desire for a son – Daphne was always a bit of a tomboy and had said that she wished she had been born a boy…. There are those who take these notions even further to claim she had an incestuous relationship with her father and that he was an abusive alcoholic….

Daphne du Maurier circa 1930 – No copyright restrictions

Her first novel ‘The Loving Spirit’ was published in 1931…. She is often categorised as a romantic novelist – a label she despised…. Indeed her work is often moody, deep, dark, full of suspense and sometimes even includes the supernatural…. ‘Jamaica Inn’ was published in 1936 and ‘Rebecca’, perhaps her most successful novel, was published in 1938 – and was an instant best-seller…. Between 1938-1965 it sold some three million copies and has never been out of print…. Her other notable works include ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ (1941), ‘Hungry Hill’ (1943), ‘The King’s General’ (1946), ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1951), ‘The Scapegoat’ (1957) and ‘The House on the Strand’ (1969)…. Several of her books have been adapted for stage or screen – or indeed even both…. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 production of ‘Jamaica Inn’ gave actress Maureen O’Hara her first major screen role, whereas his 1940 adaptation of ‘Rebecca’ was his first American film…. His 1963 film ‘The Birds’ was adapted from one of Daphne’s short stories of the same name…. She was also to write three plays….

Reconstruction of Daphne du Maurier’s study at the Smugglers Museum, Jamaica Inn, Cornwall – Image : Martinvl – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1932 Daphne married Frederick Browning, a senior British Army Officer, often referred to as the ‘Father of the British Airborne Forces’…. With the marriage came the title ‘Lady Browning’ – but Daphne continued to write under the name du Maurier….

Sir Frederick Browning, October 1942 – From the collections of the Imperial War Mueseums

The story goes that Browning had read Daphne’s ‘The Loving Spirit’ – and so impressed was he by her description of the Cornish coast that he had to see it for himself – which he did so, by visiting it onboard his boat…. He decided to leave his boat moored in Cornwall over winter and returned in April 1932 to collect it…. On hearing that Daphne was in Cornwall, convalescing from an appendix operation, he invited her out for a day’s sailing…. What followed was a whirlwind romance and he proposed….only for Daphne to decline- as she did not particularly believe in marriage…. However, it appears she was quite happy for them to cohabit – until it was pointed out to her by Browning’s friend and fellow senior officer, Eric Dorman-Smith, that simply living together would be disastrous for his career…. So Daphne then proposed to Browning – and the couple were married at the Church of St. Willow, Lanteglos-by-Fowey, South Cornwall on the 19th of July 1932…. They were to have three children – two daughters, Tessa and Flavia and a son, Christian, who was known as Kits…. It was sometimes a difficult marriage – Daphne had a tendency to distance herself from her family, especially when she was immersed in her writing….

Daphne du Maurier – Image credit : gnovi via Flickr

Browning died in 1965 of a heart attack – and Daphne moved to Par in Cornwall…. She was awarded Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander in 1969…. She passed away at the age of 81 at her Cornish home…. Her cremated ashes were scattered off the cliffs of Cornwall….

On this day in history….31st March 1981

On this day in history : 31st March 1981 – The death of author and playwright Enid Bagnold – best known for ‘National Velvet’, which was later to be made into a highly successful film….

Enid Bagnold – Public domain

Enid, the daughter of Arthur Henry Bagnold, an army colonel and his wife Ethel, was born in Rochester, Kent on the 27th of October 1889 – but she spent much of her childhood in Jamaica…. On her return to England she attended art school in London and was to mix with artists such as Walter Sickert and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; she was to be romantically involved with Frank Harris, the Irish-American novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher – with his well-connected circle of friends and 34 years her senior….

During World War 1 Enid trained as a nurse but after complaining about the hospital administration she was dismissed and spent the rest of the War as a driver in France…. Her first books – ‘A Diary Without Dates’ in 1917 and ‘The Happy Foreigner’ in 1920, tell of her wartime experiences….

Enid was always a bit of a rebel…. Virginia Woolf once called her ‘a scallywag who married a very rich man’…. In 1920 she married the chairman of Reuter’s News Agency, Sir Roderick Jones – and became Lady Jones – although she continued to write under her maiden name…. The couple were to have four children – their great grand-daughter is Samantha Cameron, wife of the former Prime Minister David Cameron….

‘National Velvet’ was first published in 1935; the story of 14-year-old Velvet Brown – who trains her horse, ‘The Piebald’ and then rides to victory in the Grand National…. Enid was an accomplished horsewoman herself….and in her writing she created strong roles for women….

1st edition cover – fair use

In 1944 ‘National Velvet’ was made into a film with a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor playing the part of Velvet…. It also starred Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp and Angela Lansbury….

Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and The Pie in National Velvet – Public domain

A 1978 sequel, ‘International Velvet’, was to follow, starring Tatum O’Neal as orphaned American teenager Sarah Brown…. After coming to England to live with her aunt, Velvet Brown – played by Nanette Newman – the pair purchase ‘Arizona Pie’, a descendant of the horse Velvet once owned….

Enid and her family lived at North End House, Rottingdean, near to Brighton…. It was the garden of her home that inspired her award winning play ‘The Chalk Garden’, which premiered on Broadway in 1955…. Its London debut, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, took place in April 1956, directed by John Gielgud it starred Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Gurney….

Part of the former home of Enid Bagnold in Rottingdean – Image credit : Luiza Serpa Lopes – own work – CC BY SA 3.0

It was later to be adapted into a film in 1964 – starring once again Edith Evans, with Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills and John Mills….

Enid died in Rottingdean, aged 91….

On this day in history….30th March 1820

On this day in history : 30th March 1820 – The birth of English novelist Anna Sewell, who brought to us the story of the horse called ‘Black Beauty’….

Anna Sewell c.1878 – Public domain

Anna was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk…. Her father, Isaac Phillip Sewell, owned a small shop and her mother, Mary Wright Sewell, was a successful writer of books for children…. She had a younger brother, Philip and they were educated at home by their mother…. They were a devout Quaker family….

In 1822 Isaac’s shop went out of business and the Sewells moved to Dalton, London…. The family relocated again in 1832 to Stoke Newington – and for the first time in her twelve years Anna went to school…. It was two years later, as she was walking home in the rain, that she slipped and fell…. She injured her ankles so severely that she had to use a crutch for the rest of her life and was unable to walk any great distance…. She took to using horse-drawn carriages for her mobility and this is perhaps where her love of horses came from…. She was particularly concerned for their welfare and whether they were treated well….

In 1836 the family moved again, this time to Brighton with the hope that the climate and sea air would help Anna’s health and then in 1845 they settled in the village of Lancing…. Anna also travelled to Europe around this time to visit spas for treatments…. On her return the family were on the move again, to Wick in 1858 and Bath in 1864…. The family had grown, Philip had married but in 1866 his wife died – leaving him with seven young children to care for…. Anna and her parents returned to Norfolk, to the village of Old Catton, near to Norwich, so that they could help him…. It was here that ‘Black Beauty’ was written….

Anna Sewell’s house in Old Catton – Northmetpit – own work – Public domain

Anna wrote ‘Black Beauty’ between 1871 and 1877, it was to be her only book…. During these years she was often too weak to even leave her bed, she would often dictate her words to her mother…. Once complete ‘Black Beauty’ was sold to local publishers Jerrold & Sons…. The book broke all records for sales – it was the first of its kind, telling a story from the perspective of an animal rather than human….

‘Black Beauty’ tells the story of a black horse from his days as a colt with his mother, through his hard, cruel life of pulling cabs in London, to his retirement in the countryside…. The story deals with the difficulties in Victorian London, particularly amongst the horse-drawn cab drivers and the welfare of their animals…. It is a story of happiness, sadness, joy, fear and pain…. It brought awareness to its readers as to how many of the horses were treated…. Within two years a million copies of ‘Black Beauty’ had even been sold in the United States – where sympathy for these working horses grew….

Back in the United Kingdom animal rights activists widely distributed copies of the book…. It caused outrage amongst the public, many had been unaware of the amount of cruelty these animals had to endure…. Eventually legislation condemning the abusive behaviour was brought in….

On the 25th of April 1878, just five months after the publication of ‘Black Beauty’, Anna died – either of tuberculosis or possibly hepatitis…. She was buried in the Quaker burial ground in Lamas, near to Buxton, Norfolk….

First edition Jarrold & Sons – Public domain

On this day in history….25th March 1811

On this day in history : 25th March 1811 – Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford University for publishing the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism”….

Portrait of Shelley, by Alfred Clint (1829) – Public domain

Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, held radical political and social views which were to be, inevitably, reflected in his poetry and writing….

He was born in Broadbridge Heath, near to Horsham, West Sussex on the 4th of August 1782 and was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a Whig MP…. After attending the Syon House Academy, Brentford, Middlesex and Eton College, Shelley entered University College, Oxford on the 10th of April 1810….

His first novel was published anonymously in 1810…. ‘Zastrozzi’, a Gothic novel, which through its characters indicated its author’s atheist views…. Other publications followed, ‘St Irvine; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance’, and ‘Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire’, which he wrote with his sister Elizabeth…. He also published a collection of verses ‘Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson’, with his close friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg…. Then in 1811 he anonymously published the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ – which saw him hauled in front of the College Dean, George Rowley…. His refusal to admit as to whether he had or had not penned the publication saw his expulsion from Oxford…. It is widely believed Hogg helped him to write the pamphlet….

1811, Title Page – Public domain

‘The Necessity of Atheism’ was first published around the 14th of February 1811…. Few original copies remain as most were destroyed shortly after publication…. At the time its content was deemed to be so shocking….

“As a love of truth is the only motive which actuated the Author of this little tract, he earnestly entreats that those of his readers who may discover any deficiency in his reasoning, or may be in possession of proofs which his mind could never obtain, would offer them, together with their objections to the Public, as briefly, as methodically, as plainly as he has taken the liberty of doing”….

At the end of the pamphlet Shelley writes…. “the mind cannot believe in the existence of a God”…. He signed it…. ‘Thro’ deficiency of proof, AN ATHEIST’….

A page from the 1811 Worthing Printing – Bodleian Library

On this day in history….17th March 1846

On this day in history : 17th March 1846 – The birth of Kate Greenaway – the artist and writer known for her illustrations in children’s books….

Kate Greenaway – Public domain

Kate was born Catherine Greenaway in Horton, London, the second of four children…. Her father, John, was a woodblock printer and engraver and her mother, Elizabeth, a seamstress…. They were a working class family – John also supported his mother and sisters, so very often it could be hard financially….but both he and Elizabeth were determined to give their children a good childhood….

The family moved around quite a lot but Kate spent a substantial part of her childhood in a farmhouse in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire – for her this felt like her real home and where she would often return to as an adult…. She studied at various places and at the age of 12 began nightly art classes at Finsbury School…. She was to go on to study at the Royal Female School of Art, which was part of what is now the Royal College of Art in London….

She began to exhibit her drawings in 1868 and her first published work was in magazines for children, such as ‘Little Folks’…. She also worked at illustrating greetings cards to contribute towards the family’s income….

In 1879 her first successful book was published – ‘Under the Window; Pictures and Rhymes for Children’…. It was to become a best seller, over 100,000 copies were sold…. In 1880 it was followed with her illustrations in ‘The Birthday Book’, ‘Mother Goose’ in 1881 and ‘Little Ann’ in 1883…. She was to go on to illustrate over 150 books – only two were both written and illustrated by Kate, her first ‘Under the Window’ and later ‘Marigold Garden’ (or ‘The Language of Flowers’) in 1895….

Marigold Garden – Public domain

She brought many well-known stories to life, such as Robert Browning’s ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’…. Leading art critics around the world praised her work….

Her own favourite books as a child may have influenced her – Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and illustrated editions of Shakespeare…. In her own illustrations she always dressed her children in the Regency fashions of the late 18th Century….smock frocks and skeleton suits for the boys and high-waisted pinafores and dresses with mobcaps and straw bonnets for the girls…. A style which was to catch on….Liberty of London created children’s clothes by adapting her drawings….

Polly from ‘The Queen of the Pirate Isle’ – by Bret Harte – Public domain

In 1890 Kate was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours; she exhibited at the Fine Art Society in 1891, 1894, 1898 and was exhibited posthumously again in 1902…. From 1883-1897 she published Kate Greenaway’s Almanacs…. Kate died of breast cancer at the age of 55 on the 6th of November 1901…. She was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, London….

May Day – Public domain

The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955 in her honour…. It is awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the UK to a chosen illustrator of children’s books….

Public domain