(‘Sipping their Cups of Dew’, ‘Acheta Domestica’, Episodes of Insect Life, Vol. II (London: Reeve and Benham, 1850); taken from Melanie Keene, Science in Wonderland: The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain (Oxford: OUP, 2015))
I love holidays. I love not working and lounging about in the sunshine and reading lots and not getting dressed until lunchtime and playing with my daughter. I have never understood people who say they’d still work if they won the Lottery. I wouldn’t! I remember on the teacher-training course I followed, all the trainers said sternly that if you wanted to be a teacher because of the lovely long holidays, you Wouldn’t Last Long in teaching. ‘Bother’, thought I, but three years down the line I’m still hanging in there and yes, enjoying the holidays; perhaps there are exceptions to that rule.
So, just in case you aren’t a teacher or don’t have a child at a Belgian school, I should tell you that the last two weeks have been Easter holidays and thus I have not really strayed near the computer. I am sure that you all know by now that the latest wallet-worrying edition of Shiny New Books is out and as usual stuffed to the gills with good things.
I have two reviews in there this time. The first is a new collection of Victorian fairy tales edited by Michael Newton. This was terrific fun and highly recommended: there are other similar collections but this one contains stories not in print anywhere else and a really good introduction by Newton. The other is Science in Wonderland, by Melanie Keene, an exploration of what happens when nineteenth-century enthusiasm for science meets fairy tales and produces some truly bizarre educational texts for children. The dreadful photograph at the beginning of this post is from there (taken by me, as are all the pictures in this post).
Melanie Keene mentions an album by two Victorian teenagers, Madalene and Louisa Pashley, pages from which were published in 1980. The album sounded so appealing I had to track down a copy, of course not much effort with the internet. Madalene and Louisa were enthusiastic entomologists, and their album, lavishly illustrated with their watercolours, outlines some of their adventures (bizarrely written in the personae of middle-aged spinsters). The sisters often shrink to insect size. Their adventures include ‘DARING NIGHT EXPEDITIONS’, lassoing glow worms, being outwitted by a grasshopper and capturing a dragonfly, all very dramatic. However, their lives are complicated by a succession of irritating governesses (‘none of them was interested in beetles and all of them persisted in setting us SUMS’), their ‘sour’ older sister Georgie whose mere presence causes it to rain, a staid drawing master and their admiral Papa, whose duties consist of ‘discussing repairs to ships of the line, and making arrangements for DINNER PARTIES and croquet matches’. Were I not a teacher with lots of holidays, I think I’d be an admiral, that’s a job I could manage. It all ends happily: ‘After that Papa decided that we were too old for governesses and too idle for drawing masters so we were able to entomologise as much as we liked with no one to bother us.’
(The book is The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa: Pages from the Album of L. and M.S. Pasley, Victorian Entomologists, introduced by Tim Jeal, London: William Collins, 1980, should you be interested.)