Early Biographies of Charlotte Riddell
Compiled by Michael Flowers ©2005
Impressions of Mrs. Riddell in 1873 by Harry Furniss
In those Victorian days most of the poetesses and authoresses affected the long flowing black velvet gown, low cut bodices, lace and jewellery. Even such a practical authoress as Mrs J.H. Riddell was so attired when I, as a youth, lunched with her at Leyton, Essex, in the early seventies. On her writing-table an ordinary cup and saucer answered the purpose of an inkstand, the cup was half-full of ink and half a dozen feather pens lay diagonally across the saucer – these little affectations were a survival of the literary lady Thackeray described so well a generation before in his Character Sketches as “The fashionable Authoress.”
While writing this I was sent the literary magazine, The Irish Book Lover, for January 1920, which opens with some letters I wrote to a literary friend of mine in my youth, containing my first impression of Mrs. Riddell, under date of August 11th, 1873:
“I like London very much indeed, and am sure will like it more the longer I reside here. I have only my boxes over a few days, so at present am busy preparing my samples, if I might call them so. Having an introduction to a Mrs. Riddell, an authoress, who wrote George Geith, City and Suburb, and edited St. Paul’s,[*] etc., etc., I called on her, and had the honour and real pleasure of her company for several hours. I took lunch with her at her rural seat at Leyton, Essex, and came away with a note of introduction to Mrs. Ross Church**, Editor of London Society, who unfortunately had left for the Continent for some months. Mrs. Riddell is a very charming and fine woman: she gave me several ‘tips’ – woman’s ‘tips’ I ought to add – about literary circles. She is to ask me to some of their Bohemian parties, and take me with her to be introduced to all the ‘big’ wigs.’ As you might expect, she is very severe on her sex’s endeavours in writing. Mrs.- [Henry Wood] is ‘simply a brute,’ she throws in bits of religion to slip her fodder down the public throat. She says there is not a magazine in London paying, the libraries destroy the sale: they are too dear. But more anon.”
Mrs. Riddell had made a great reputation with her “prize novel”, George Geith, but she was unhappily married, at least, I believe her husband through some queer way in business was resting somewhere at his country’s expense. This led Mrs. R. to work desperately hard, and by doing so she indirectly led me into a by-way in Bohemia – I have unfortunately come across a good many since – and that was how to publish (she published under another name) catch-advertisement ventures. I illustrated one profusely in the Caldecottian style, which brought in a number of advertisements, but only a few copies were printed – thus saving paper and printing – and I never received a penny for my work, or the advertisers much show for their money.
From the chapter ‘Some Women who Wrote’ (pages 5 & 6) in Some Victorian Women by Harry Furniss (London: 1921).
* Mrs Riddell never edited St Paul’s, but she was still editing St James’s at the time of the interview with Furniss.
** Otherwise known as the popular novelist Florence Marryat.
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