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Neglected Novelist of the 1890s, Henrietta M. Batson: An Essay & Annotated Secondary Bibliography W. Eugene Davis Purdue University IN 1892 SMITH, ELDER published an anonymous one-volume novel, Dark: A Tale of the Down Country. In commending the book as "a work of decided promise: painful and almost repulsive in parts but marked by genuine force and pathos," the Athenaeum reviewer made two assumptions: that the novel was "a first effort" and that it was the work of a man. The latter assumption is perhaps not surprising since the reviewer alludes to Thomas Hardy's influence on the unknown author of Dark. In "his story of the North Wessex Downs," the reviewer wrote, the author "has rather unceremoniously appropriated Mr. Hardy's nomenclature" (214). The reviewer did not entertain the hypothesis that a woman might have conceived and written this tale of "tragic complexion" which depicts "sordid and even brutal aspects of English rural life." The novel was indeed a first effort, the work of Mrs. Alfred Stephen Batson (née Henrietta Mary Blackman), thirty-threeyear -old wife of the Rector of Welford, Berkshire. She herself helped solve this mystery of authorship two years later by publishing her second novel, Such a Lord is Love (A. D. Innes, 1893) under the name "Mrs. Stephen Batson," and identifying herself as the author oÃ- Dark. The Bookman took note of the arrival of this new novelist with an appreciative essay in its "New Writers" series. Her other novels are Adam the Gardener (Hurst and Blackett, 1894), The Earth Children (Hutchinson, 1897), The Gay Paradines (Stanley Paul, 1909), and A Splendid Heritage (Stanley Paul, 1910). 150 DAVIS : BATSON While it would not have been unusual in any decade of the nineteenth century for a woman writer to choose anonymous publication for a first novel, much lies behind such a decision for one launching her career in the 1890s. As Elaine Showalter and David Weir have recently demonstrated , for novelists male or female, especially those early in their careers, these were turbulent times. With the sociological changes which occurred after 1850, women gradually became the main consumers of novels and, later in the century, the male artist-novelist was therefore in something of a bind: he was "'neither pure artist nor fully masculine '."1 This led to what Weir terms "the female gendering of the male writer." While on one hand the male author had chosen a profession that was more and more becoming women's work, on the other he was also heir to the misogynistic tradition of Schopenhauer, in which women were excluded from any chance of participation in cultural production. Weir further observes that recent commentary by female writers on the exclusion of women from late-nineteenth century culture "is oddly in harmony with the views of the male writers who excluded them in the first place."2 It is in this cultural milieu that the emergence and development of Henrietta Batson's career as a fin-de-siècle novelist should be studied. There is, however, an odd feature of such a project. Not that Mrs. Batson is unknown to our generation, that in other words both the author and her works have been forgotten in the intervening century, but that she was being forgotten even as her works were published. Her fate as novelist was to receive no more than (mostly) polite notices as her novels were published: first editions yielded first reviews, no more. Hence though chronologically she is of the fin de siècle she is actually an outsider, one excluded from the literary world to which she was a noteworthy contributor. Regarding her life in Berkshire, subject and setting for all her novels, however, Mrs. Batson was neither alienated nor excluded. There is documentary evidence that she was a respected and loved member of several communities which centered on her family, parish and town. She cared deeply about her immediate family members, was the active, involved wife of the Rector of Welford and displayed keen interest and sympathy for the lives of the less fortunate members of the rural community around her. In addition to her interests in gardening, Wessex customs and traditions, Mrs. Batson cared...


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