The Child of the Moat

November 1, 2016

What makes good children’s fiction? Is it about education – showing children how the world works and exploring how they might react when it’s their turn? Or is it more about entertainment and giving children something they want?

One of the joys of proofreading books at DP is coming across attitudes that have changed so much that motivations are almost unrecognisable. Especially when the change has been so slow that we only realise things have changed when we look back. The past can indeed be a foreign country.

Illustration from The Child of the MoatToday, children’s books have to compete with a huge range of different entertainment options, and they have first and foremost to appeal to the child. In a previous age they were bought by parents for their children, and it seems to me that a major requirement was to give the child a strong moral compass. If you’re thinking that’s the same today, I would encourage you to take a look at The Child of the Moat, by Ian B. Stoughton Holborn (or Holbourn).

Written exactly a hundred years ago during the First World War, the book describes the adventures of a twelve year old girl, set at the time of the Reformation. In spite of everything that fate throws at Aline, our young heroine always manages to act in precisely the way that a parent would want their children to act. I had to look twice to check that the subtitle wasn’t “A book to teach young girls proper decorum.” Aline is kind, forgiving, intelligent, well-educated, hard-working, selfless, uncomplaining, brave, perceptive, saintly.… At one point, she fights her way into a burning building to effect a rescue without, it seems, any thought of her own life.

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Then I read this about the author on Wikipedia:

Holbourn was a second-class passenger on the RMS Lusitania on her last voyage in May 1915. During the voyage, Holbourn befriended 12-year-old Avis Dolphin, who was being escorted to school and family in England by two nurses, Hilda Ellis and Sarah Smith.

With his insights into the largely hushed-up events surrounding the wreck of the RMS Oceanic off Foula, Professor Holbourn was aware of the imminent dangers presented to ocean liners during the First World War, and as a passenger on Lusitania was prepared to face the worst. Holbourn attempted to insist that Captain William Thomas Turner should take the precautions of ordering lifeboat drills and instructing passengers on how to wear lifejackets. His efforts to stimulate safety awareness during a time of war were unwelcome, and he was asked to keep quiet. When the ship was torpedoed, Holbourn guided Avis Dolphin and her nurses to his cabin where he fitted them with life belts, even offering up his own; he then steered them through the tilting passageways to the decks above and into a lifeboat. This lifeboat capsized while being lowered into the water. Nevertheless, Avis was saved, though her nurses were not.

Holbourn himself dived into the ocean to find himself surrounded by a mass of bodies and wreckage. His hope of reaching the nearest boat was interrupted when he stopped to help a man who was floating helplessly nearby. By the time Holbourn found his way to a boat, the man he had pulled along with him was dead.

Holbourn was picked up by the fishing boat Wanderer of Peel and later transferred to the Stormcock. He was one of over 750 rescued from the Lusitania to arrive at Queenstown in Ireland that night.

Holbourn continued to write and remained lifelong friends with Avis Dolphin. One of his books, The Child of the Moat (1916), was written for Avis because she had complained that books for girls were uninteresting.

Not bad for a professor of archaeology.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed proofreading this book, and am happy to see the finished product posted to Project Gutenberg.

And if you have any thoughts about mentioning any of the inaccuracies or anachronisms in the book, let me give the last word to the author:

When, therefore, your learned uncle tells you that the story is all wrong and that they did not fence with helmets and that the curtsey was not invented till much later and that the library is far too big and so on; you just tell him to write you a sixteenth century story and then you send it to me, and we will see how he gets along.

This post was contributed by wainwra, a DP volunteer. 


A Soldier’s Daughter

September 5, 2015

A Soldier’s Daughter, by G.A. Henty, published in 1906, covercontains three stories. Each one is set in a different continent, but they are all very adventurous. What is more, they all show the bravery of girls — an unusual way to present them at the beginning of the twentieth century, when girls were expected to act like “ladies,” and adventures were considered to be the exclusive province of men.

The first story, “A Soldier’s Daughter,” tells us about Nita, the daughter of a major in a British military camp in Darlinger, India. The following quotes give an idea of what Nita’s father expected from her:

I have quite made up my mind at last, Nita, when I return from this expedition, to pack you off to your uncle in England; you are getting a great deal too old to be knocking about in a barrack-yard, and there are no ladies here who would keep you up to the mark. I know that you are a favourite with all the officers, but that only makes matters worse. You have been a regular tomboy for the last five years, and it is quite time that you were
taught to behave as a young lady.

I like a woman who can play an accompaniment to a good old English, Scotch, or Irish song.…

… there is no more necessary accomplishment on the frontier than for a woman to be able to make her own clothes.

But Nita is a very brave girl. One day, when her father is away with most of the troops, a local tribe attacks the camp, and Nita is captured. Nita not only manages to escape, but after a long, perilous, and adventurous trip, she and an officer — whom she rescued! — finally manage to reach a British camp, where Nita’s father, who thought his daughter was dead, can hold her in his arms again. And of course Nita is proclaimed a heroine!

The second story, which is situated in Germany, is called “How Count Conrad von Waldensturm Took Goldstein.” This is about a young count, who, after a war in which his father was killed, finds out that a rival Baron from a neighbouring castle has attacked Waldensturm and kidnapped the count’s sister Minna, with the purpose of marrying her to the baron’s evil son. With the help of the people of the villages, who are as eager as Count Conrad himself to overthrow the Baron of Goldstein, he is able to free his sister, and, with tricks and an ambush, to kill Baron Goldstein and his son, and make himself master of Castle Goldstein. And all this would not have been possible without the help of Bertha Grun, the daughter of a villager, who was appointed by the baron to be Minna von Waldensturm’s lady-in-waiting.

The last story takes us to Australia, and is called “A Raid by the Blacks.” The Roberts family are living on an outlying farming station in Australia. In those days, when life on a remote farm was extremely hard, people could use all the hands that were available, for every task. But look at the differences in education Effie and her brother received:

The boy, who was now fifteen, had been for the past two years at Sydney, living at his uncle’s and attending school. In another year he was to return to the station. He had gone most reluctantly, but his father had said: “I can quite understand your liking this life, Ned, but I don’t wish you to grow up simply a bush farmer. The colony is increasing fast, and there will be plenty of openings for a young fellow of intelligence and a fair education. I hope that by the time you grow up I shall be able to settle you on a farm like mine, and stock it well for you, if you decide upon following this sort of life, or to start you in any line that you may like to adopt in Sydney. You have had two years of running wild, and if you remain here you will speedily forget what little you have learned; but in any case, three years at school will be a great advantage to you.”

Effie, the daughter, was now fourteen, a strong healthy girl who could ride any horse on the station, had been taught to use both pistol and rifle, and was as bold and fearless as a boy.

Effie had her own tasks on the farm:

Effie went out twice a day with food for the horses, and each time carried a dozen large apples in her apron, which she gave them after they had eaten their corn.

Effie still was a girl of her time, however. When she had to escape the farm in boy’s clothes to ride off and get help from the neighbours, she was a bit embarrassed:

As Effie felt shy about appearing in boy’s clothes, Mrs. Talbot lent her a blouse and skirt.

The reader should note that the stories in A Soldier’s Daughter are not “politically correct” by today’s standards, in terms of how different races are presented. But the book is a creature of its time, and in my opinion, Nita, Bertha and Effie showed that they were real heroines!

This post was contributed by DP volunteer Eevee.


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