Monday, January 18, 2010

Mrs Baillie Reynolds, lady novelist

My mother has become obssessed with lady novelist Mrs Baillie Reynolds after being given this card for her birthday. What a cutie! Trenchcoat, gloves and a beret, how can a girl go wrong?

Gertrude Mary Reynolds (c1875 - d.1939) was a writer of romances and romantic thrillers, sometimes dipping her toe into supernatural tales. You get a marvellous sense of her ouvre from Women writers of the First World War: an annotated bibliography by Sharon Ouditt where one of her novels is described as 'a complex tale of family feuds, vendettas and deathbed confessions'. In Some goddesses of the pen Patrick Braybrooks showers praise on her romantic thrillers, saying they must 'convert the commonplace surroundings of everyday life into a hotbed of trap doors, sudden revolver shots, smart meals with smart villains, unshaved ruffians who speak with a very foreign accent, women who are so beautiful but whose execreble morals and disgraceful feminine wiles have to be forgiven'. Just look at some of her titles and you'll get the idea: It is not safe to know; The terrible baron; The notorious Miss Lisle; Confession corner; The daughter pays; and Accessory after the fact.

It's difficult to find out much about her. True to the conventions of the time I found out about the men in her life. She was the eldest daughter of Mr Julian Robins, barrister-at-law, she was married in 1890, and was the proud mother of three sons. You do get a marvelous sense of her personality, gloriously expressed in the journalistic style of the day. Take this for example...

She was 'gladly acclaimed' President of the Society of Women Journalists in an article in a 1912 Journal of Nursing (in between an account of a Women's Freedom League march and a notice of a lecture on eugenics).
She is described as 'a woman of delightful personality, and of very genuine and strenuous character. She is an earnest suffragist, and knows how to play: cycling, travelling, reading, painting and private theatricals - she engages in them with zest. Our portrait portrays her handsome and distinguished appearance, natural gifts every true woman delights in, in her heart of hearts.'

She certainly looks formidable in the photograph held in the National Portrait Gallery (UK).


In another treasure, here's an account of a visit to her home. I'll quote quite a bit (sorry it's long) because I just love the scene it depicts! This is from The Adelaide Advertiser, 29 March 1910

As I followed the trimly-attired maid upstairs to Mrs Baillie Reynold’s writing room in her lovely home at Ladbroke-gardens, London, I could distinctly hear the click-click of a typewriter. The famous novelist was busy, and although she was expecting me I felt just a little ashamed of disturbing her. I need not have been, however, for as soon as I entered the beautifully furnished and artistically decorated room in which Mrs Baillie Reynolds passes all her working hours she rose from her chair with a pleasant laugh, and shaking hands, made me cordially welcome. Seating myself in a cosy armchair by a merrily blazing fire, the flames of which seemed to laugh at the darkness which was creeping over the busy city, I had time, while my hostess was giving some instructions to her maid, to look around me. It was a lovely room. All along one side of it were row upon row of books, in the corner the novelist’s desk; and on a little table nearby her typewriter. The pictures which adorned the walls were exquisite, and above the daintily decorated mantelshelf was was a magnificent collection of photographs of the nearest and dearest friends of the gifted author. Just as I was, with unpardonable curiosity, going to examine these a little closer, Mrs Baillie Reynolds returned and, seating herself gracefully in a chair just opposite me, completed the picture which I had been studying in her absence.

And on it goes: she's a delightful hostess, she talks everything over with her husband and she loves the country. I love the idea of the nosy journalist being caught out!

6 comments:

donnasoowho said...

OMG - you know how I bought you that birthday card in Daylesford and then I lost it (so I just scribbled happy birthday on a piece of paper instead). I am CONVINCED that's the same card!!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful lot of research Thanks for that. she is one scary lady.

Anonymous said...

Genial fill someone in on and this mail helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.

Anne said...

I just finished her book, "The Lonely Stronghold" damn fine! I have to say I enjoy my trip to another era. Thanks for posting info

Bel said...

I also have the same card, given to me by a friend for my birthday a few years ago.(I have it blu-tacked to the wall next to my desk at work - I too am a secretary!) What an interesting lady! Your blog has inspired me to track down some of Mrs Reynolds' titles...

Donna Cumia said...

I am carrying out research and my Great Grandmother, nee Maud Robins was her sister. I have not read her books but will make a start this year. Let me know if you would like any more information. I would be glad to help.
Donna Cumia