Thursday, March 24, 2011

March Meade Read

I pulled a couple of random selections of L.T. Meade works from my antique library, Light O' The Morning and Frances Kane's Fortune. For those of you not familiar with Meade, she was a extremely prolific 19th century Irish authoress, but is strangely an obscure name in today's literary world. Throughout her life, she managed to write over 300 novels and hundreds more articles, editorials and short stories for several newspapers and magazines, including Strand magazine, famous for first publishing the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You would think it would be cake to find information about a woman so widely published but reality turned out to be the exact opposite of that! I researched for hours just to find enough to piece together a meager outline of this talented woman's life:

L.T. Meade 1910

L.T.  Meade was born Elizabeth Thomasina Meade in 1854 in Bandon, Cork County, Ireland to Reverend R.T. Meade and his wife Sarah Lane Meade. R.T. was from nearby Nohoval in Cork County. Elizabeth sometimes went by the name Lillie but started using the pen name L.T. at the age of seventeen when she wrote her first novel. L.T. was determined to make a living with her talent, though her father was what one might call "old school" today, and did not approve of women working outside the home. L.T. found the courage and freedom to move to England in 1874 after coming to terms with the unexpected death of her mother and her father's subsequent remarriage.

Colorful Bandon, Ireland

In 1879, at the age of 34, L.T. married Alfred Toulmin Smith, an English solicitor (lawyer), settled in London and went on to have 3 children with him,  all the while continuing to write. The reason Meade was able to have as large a collection of work as she did was due to her method of working on 2-3 books at once, dictating plot lines to assistants she hired to type or write out her thoughts. While Meade enjoyed writing, she also considered it a serious job, the payments for her work providing extra comfort for her family. This led her to write in several different genres, anything from children's stories to murder mysteries for adults. The mysteries were a collabrative effort with Dr. Robert Eustace Barton, who wrote under the name Robert Eustace (not everyone had a super sexy pen name people). These mysteries often featured female criminal masterminds and gang leaders! Meade also collaborated with "Clifford Halifax, MD" (real name Dr. Edgar Beaumont) to write Stories from the Diary of a Doctor. You'd think that'd be a pretty full plate for any working mom but Meade piled it on even more! While writing all these stories, she also spent six years as the editor of Atalanta magazine (not a typo, that was the name of the mag) for girls / young ladies.

Meade was able to make some serious bank as a female author in a time when women writers were often still hiding out under male pen names. Meade had her mysteries and detective stories printed right alongside Doyle and proved herself to be a talent in her own right (too bad her rep did not carry through as well to modern times but hey, I guess that's what people like me are for). Meade passed away October 1914 at the age of 60.

The two books I mentioned reading at the top of this post were from her work in girls' stories / women's literature. I pulled the two books at random but they both turned out to be about young ladies needing to save their family homes. In Light O' The Morning, there is no romance for the female lead to find, as you might expect for the time period, but in fact it is the story of Nora, a young girl coming into her teenage years who is shocked to find that her parents are pretty much bankrupt and have been keeping it quiet for too long. To be more specific, it is actually the father (an Irish nobleman and landlord) that has been keeping the seriousness of the situation from everyone - not even Nora's mother is aware of the extent of the financial trouble, though she's been slowly selling off her treasured bobbles for years trying to keep clothes on her kids and send her son to college. Turns out that while Dad might be quite the charming Irishman, he's not so good with crunching numbers, and the ancestoral castle is about to be taken out of his ownership.  Nora takes it upon herself to turn things around, and surprisingly finds her life being threatened by a local tenant of her father's when the tenant fears being thrown out of his home for non-payment of rent


Nora's schemes take her all over Ireland and England, where she enlists the help of her cousin Molly who is similarly wild in nature. The story overall is a charming, easy read with a few dark, unexpected moments, particularly with the thinly veiled death threats against such a young girl. There is also quite a sprinkling of Gaelic terms. One thing I loved about Nora's character was the fact that she never apologized or felt ashamed for who she was - if only the adults in her life could have done the same!

In Frances Kane's Fortune, the title character is a spinster and all of 28 years old! (gasp!) She met an amazing guy ten years ago but he apparently had some traveling to do just at the pivotal moment in their relationship and ran off. She never heard a word from him and presumed him dead. Only problem is she never actually got over him and in doing so, ruined herself for any other man or potential romance. She decides instead to live with and help out her father manage The Firs, the family estate.

Just as she has come to terms with this lifestyle,  this old flame writes her a letter basically saying "hey, how's it going and would you like to marry me?" The nerve of some guys! But of course, getting a letter like that was beyond Frances' wildest dreams, so she writes back saying "Hellz Yeah!" but then her dad goes all Lundbergh on her happiness bubble with his "I'm gonna have to go ahead and stop ya there".

You'll find that poor Frances has an unbelievably selfish, needy father. Just awful! He gives her a big sob story about how she owes it to him to stay with him and stop with all this silly love and marriage talk because she's not all that pretty anyway - yeah.. .he goes there! Her own father!  To top it off, it comes out that he might have conveniently "forgot" to pay some loans over the years so the family home is about to be foreclosed on. Frances is cornered into making the tough choice of saving her father who doesn't really deserve it (as he got himself in the situation) or shrugging him off with a "best of luck" and finally starting her own life. Sadly, she leans toward family loyalty rather than herself - but as is often the case, there is a light at the end of her tunnel - and it's not just the oncoming train = ) Luckily, Frances has her cousin "Fluff" (nicknamed for her lighthearted personality) to push her toward her rightfully deserved pot of gold.  Despite all of Frances' protesting, Fluff manages to convince loverboy Phillip to stick around through clever schemes, getting them together or just getting them thinking warmly of each other in even the most negative times.

Frances Kane's Fortune proves to be an example of the old expression "True love will always find a way."

Some food for thought to leave you with, a great quote near the end of Frances Kane's Fortune - Meade worded this perfectly:

“It is neccessary for some people to go away to be missed. There are very quiet people in the world, who make no fuss, who think humbly of themselves, who never on any occassion blow their own trumpets, who under all possible circumstances keep in the background, but who yet have a knack for filling odd corners, of smoothing down sharp angles, of shedding the sunshine of kindness and unselfishness over things generally. There are such people, and they are seldom very much missed until they go away. Then there is a hue and a cry. Who did this? Whose duty was the other? Where is such a thing to be found? Will nobody attend to this small but necessary want? The person who never made any talk, but did all the small things and made all the other people comfortable, is suddenly missed, and in an instant his or her virtues are discovered.'”