Mrs C.W. Earle’s Reading Lists

PotMrs C.W. Earle (1836–1925 – born Maria Theresa Villiers) was one of many of ‘lady writers’ of the nineteenth century whose subject was gardens. We have published a number of such books, from serious botanical and horticultural to domestic idyllic – Jane Loudon, Jane Marcet, Maria Elizabetha Jacson and Gertrude Jekyll at the one end, historians such as Alicia Amherst, Alice Earle (no relation!) and Marie Luise Gothein in the middle, and writers of periodical articles and books for ladies on how to live the gentlewomanly life at the other.

Mrs Earle fits into the latter category, along with Elizabeth Kent, Kathleen L. Murray, Eleanor Vere Boyle, and Marion Cran (on whom more in a later blog). We will be reissuing all these authors, along with Mrs Earle’s Memoirs and Memories, in spring 2015, and her three (essentially) garden memoirs, called Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, More Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, and (you’ve guessed it!), A Third Pot-Pourri, will be available in January.

But I’m not interested today in these currently not-quite-available books. In a few pages at the end of her memoirs, Mrs Earle transcribes seven lists of book, which, as a kind of parlour game, her guests were asked to compile in 1895 or 1896. The object was to suggest a reading list which would be suitable for ‘a badly read girl of eighteen, who was worthy of intellectual development … Some years hence, they may be indicative of the taste and culture of the day.’

So here they are: I have cheated by not including the extensive reasons in the Fourth List, as they would make a long blog even longer, but they are fascinating (read the book!), and the ‘overlaps’ in several of the lists do forcefully demonstrate ‘the taste and culture of the day’ in a circle in which artists and writers themselves overlap with aristocracy. (Mrs Earle’s sister was married to Lord Lytton (Viceroy of India, inter alia, and biographer of his father Edward Bulwer Lytton), and Constance Lytton was her niece.)

First List

  1. Ruskin’s ‘Sesame and Lilies’. Because it makes girls feel the influence of their purity and goodness.
  2. Kinglake’s ‘Eothen’. Because it may refine her sense of literary style and cultivate her sense of humour.
  3. Bagehot’s ‘Literary Essays’. Because he brings high spirits into hard thinking and tells every one something new about old subjects.
  4. Marbot’s ‘Memoires’. To give her a taste for heroism and war and a general notion of Napoleon. [Note: Marbot was a general during the French Revolutionary Wars]
  5. Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ and ‘Ode to Duty’. To stimulate her imagination.
  6. Mrs Gatty’s ‘Parables from Nature’. Combining reverence and fancy and useful if she has a fancy for Sunday-school teaching.
  7. Mrs Ewing’s ‘Jackanapes’. A study of style, pathos, humour and human nature. [Note: Mrs Gatty’s daughter, a children’s author known to her readers as ‘Aunt Judy’]
  8. Don Quixote’. To stir up unknown depths of romance, satire, pathos, humour, etc.

All these first-rate novels:–

  1. Esmond’. Exquisite style.
  2. ‘Through One Administration’. Very human heroine. [Note: by Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess]
  3. Sylvia’s Lovers’. Very perfect novel.
  4. ‘Anna Karenina’. Shows how with everything in her favour a good woman cannot play a bad part.
  5. Middlemarch’. A block cut out of the world.
  6. ‘The Interpreter’. Charming. [Note: this may be the novel by G. J. Whyte-Melville, 1821–78?]

Second List

These books are chosen as being each typical of the kind and not above the comprehension (at least in a great part) of an intelligent girl.

Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters

Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’

Bagehot’s ‘Lombard Street

Lyall’s ‘Asiatic Studies’

Bates’ ‘Naturalist on the Amazon

Lamb’s ‘Life and Letters’

Trevelyan’s ‘Early Life of C.J. Fox’ [Note: this is Sir George Otto Trevelyan‘s ‘Early History of Charles James Fox]

Newman’s ‘Idea of a University’

If I might add a supplementary list giving light novels, they would be :– ‘Guy Mannering’, ‘Emma’, ‘Esmond’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘Evan Harrington’, ‘The Return of the Native’, ‘The Mill on the Floss’, ‘Lavrengo’. [Note: of course, we have done very few works of fiction in CLC, but we have reissued biographies of all the authors in this fiction list except Meredith and Borrow – though we have done The Bible in Spain!]

Third List

  1. Birrell’s ‘Essays’. To create a thirst to know more. [Note: Augustine Birrell (1850–1933), liberal politician and author: Essays about Men, Women, and Books, 1894]
  2. Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’. As a study of the eighteenth century.
  3. Froude’s ‘Short Studies on Great Subjects’. As an index of what to study. [Note: a series of four books published by Froude between 1867 and 1883]
  4. Carlyle’s ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’. The least difficult of his characteristic books,
  5. ‘Ruskin’s ‘Sesame and Lilies’. [Note: again!]
  6. Macaulay’s ‘Essays’. Because for one not accustomed to reading the style is so easy and arresting. [Note: this could refer to one of a number of Macaulay‘s essay collections]
  7. Madame Campan’s ‘Memoirs of Marie Antoinette’. Being the most fascinating account of the court, and the least repulsive history of the Terror.
  8. Addison’s Spectator articles, for the beauty of their style.

Fourth List

(with extensive reasons removed)

Natural Law in the Spirit World

Green’s ‘Short History of the English People’ [Note: J.R. Green’s popular history is cited more than once under various titles]

The Book of Sibyls

Mrs Oliphant’s ‘Literary History of England’

The Nature of Gothic

Dean Stanley’s ‘Seven Memorials of Canterbury’

Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution

Fifth List

Froude’s ‘Short Studies on Great Subjects’. [Note: again!]

Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, ‘As You Like It’, and ‘Henry VIII

‘Ingoldsby Legends’. [Note: this collection, hugely popular in its day, has faded from view. I think I had to learn ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’ at primary school but it has not stuck]

Green’s ‘Short History’. [Note: again!]

Lewes’ ‘Life of Goethe

Stevenson’s ‘Familiar Portraits of Men and Books

Oliphant’s ‘Makers of Venice and Florence

George Eliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’ and ‘Romola’ [Note: we have done Silas Marner!]

Sixth List

Green’s ‘History of England’. Reasons not necessary as obvious. [Note: and again!]

Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Sonnets’. Typical of the highest English poetry.

Kinglake’s ‘Eothen’. Beautiful writing and recommended in consequence of its graphic picture of Eastern life. [Note: again!]

Hans Andersen’s ‘Tales’. Wonderful moral lessons taught in the most fanciful, picturesque and poetical way.

Ruskin’s ‘Stones of Venice’. An epoch-making book; to read for the first time, it opens the mind and the heart.

‘Idylls of the King’. A masterpiece of a great modern poet.

Some of Scott’s. Certainly ‘Quentin Durward’ and ‘Talisman’, ‘Jeanie Deans’ or ‘The Heart of Midlothian’. The two historical chosen as being of such different periods. [Note: This is a bit odd: Jeanie Deans is a character in The Heart of Midlothian]

‘Esmond’. A famous novel which had a very great influence in its day. [Note: again! Nobody seems to think Vanity Fair suitable…]

Seventh List

Macaulay’s ‘Essays’. Because they would teach any fairly educated girl how little she knows. [Note: as above, this could refer to one of a number of Macaulay‘s essay collections]

Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Life of Charlotte Brontë’. Because it teaches what women can do with perseverance under the most adverse circumstances.

Moore’s ‘Life of Byron’. Because as amusing as any novel, and a good way of teaching a girl some knowledge much to be desired of man’s nature. [Note: !!!!!]

Hamerton’s ‘Intellectual Life’. An easy book and yet one that would make a girl think. [Note: P.G. Hamerton (1834–94), soldier, artist and essayist]

Shakespeare’s ‘Plays’. As containing all knowledge of human nature.

Green’s ‘History of the English People’. A good corrective to the teaching of schoolroom history. [Note: and yet again!]

Thackeray’s ‘Newcomes’. Because it teaches life with great tenderness. [Note: but still no Vanity Fair …]

What would you choose?


This entry was posted in Art and architecture, Biography, Education, Fiction and poetry, Gardening, History, Literary Studies, Women's Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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