J. A. Hawgood Travel Award 2022

Recipient Emily Vincent undertook an archival research visit to the Florence Marryat Collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Bramall Music Building, on a bright sunny day.

As the recipient of the generous J. A. Hawgood Travel Award, I undertook an archival research visit to the Florence Marryat Collection (GEN MSS994) at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (New Haven, Connecticut) in November 2022. The archival visit yielded a wealth of historic materials relating to the prolific, yet somewhat eclipsed, Victorian author of sensation fiction and spiritualist literature Florence Marryat, one of the key writers on which I centre my PhD thesis and future academic monograph.

Photograph of Florence Marryat holding dog (left) Florence Marryat at Brighton (right)

I studied, transcribed, and photographed correspondence which revealed the breadth and prominence of her literary networks, including letters from Charles Dickens which cautioned Marryat against ‘freely touching forbidden topics’ in her works, as well as insights into her transatlantic notoriety through American publisher A. K. Loring who claimed that ‘To day in America no female novelist has a greater following’, alongside the gushing fan-mail of Bostonian Henry Drake, who, during the 1880s, praised ‘the hands of [a] world-known and world-esteemed lady [which] seems to raise and widen the possibilities of life’. His literary appreciations were particularly striking for me as my research concerns some of the perceived gendered attributes ascribed to the construction of fiction. Drake, for example, noted Marryat’s ‘tenderly conceived and delicately executed novels, largely because in their details and especially in the working out of female characters, they seemed to have the soft & sensitive lines which mark the German Novel of this century, as distinguished from the hands, more masculine, and at the same time, conventional English Novel’.

My most rewarding archival finds came in the form of the familial and spiritualist insights reinforced by the Marryat Collection. As my PhD research focuses on child loss and the impulse to the spiritualist movement in late nineteenth-century women’s writing, I reviewed Marryat’s personal notebook of 1890 which contained tens of poems concerning the loss of child daughters and infants which Marryat had hand-pasted into each notebook page. For me, this highly tactile mode of memorialisation suggested its therapeutic nature and reflected her own experiences of maternal bereavement. As Marryat was a practicing spiritualist (an advocate of using séance mediumship for communicating with the dead), many of these poems framed death as a beginning, or were highly Gothic in tone, and reflected her attitudes on the impermanence of death. This was ultimately reinforced by one of my final findings ̶ an invitation to Marryat’s own funeral which reproduced a renowned poem by Henry Wadworth Longfellow, entitled ‘Resignation’, and stressed that ‘there is no death’.

This is only a sample of the rich materials I consulted in the Marryat Collection and I look forward to the immense value that they will add when transforming my PhD thesis into my first academic monograph which I hope to submit to a major university press publisher for publication consideration in 2023, alongside the various conference presentations and journal articles which will be enriched by these findings.

book covers: There is no death (left), Love letters / Woman of the future (right)

During my visit, I also consulted the Andrew Jackson Davis papers (MS677) in the Sterling Memorial Library, a towering Gothic Revival structure originally designed as a ‘cathedral of knowledge’, a building almost as impressive as the manuscripts it holds!

Photos of the interior of the Sterling Memorial Library

Davis was instrumental in popularising the very topic that I centralise in my PhD thesis, the American spiritualist movement, which promoted purported communications with the (un)dead via séance mediums and, by 1893 (as Spiritualist periodical Borderland claimed) it boasted 10,000,000 spiritualists, and 12,000 mediums in the United States. Davis was a mesmerist who ran what he termed a ‘clairvoyant clinic’ and styled himself as the ‘Poughkeepsie Seer’.

As he considered himself a spiritual ‘physician’, I consulted correspondence between himself and his close friend, William Green, Jr., which were fascinating in detailing the scientific and technological language he used to discuss his apparent extrasensory perceptions (comparing his visionary nature to ‘the process of communicating by the telegraph’), how his ‘received impressions’ on how to diagnose and treat his patient (Green’s wife, Cornelia) with bizarre homeopathic remedies, and even letters discussing how his clairvoyancy enabled him to finish writing his spiritualist literature: ‘Having received day before yesterday a spiritual prompting to prepare myself to pen the second vol. of the “Great Harmonia”, (the contents of which I have as yet no knowledge)’. The Davis materials will prove invaluable while I extend my post-PhD research into publications, conference presentations, and public engagement activities which seek to provide further detail into the unique characters and literature which accompanied the spiritualist movement.

Without the J. A. Hawgood Travel Award, and the logistical travel support provided by the University of Birmingham, my archival research visit would not have been able to take place and so I am immensely grateful for the generosity of the Hawgood family for the financial support which has facilitated this deeply rewarding visit.

 Photo credits 

Images 1 to 4 are courtesy of Yale University Library Digital Collections:

  1. ‘[Photograph of Florence Marryat holding dog]’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Yale Library, Public.
  2. ‘[Photograph of Florence Marryat at Brighton]’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Yale Library, Public.
  3. There is no death / by Florence Marryat’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Yale Library, Public
  4. ‘[Notebook : Love letters / Woman of the future]’, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Yale Library, Public: 

Images 5 and 6 are personal photographs taken in line with Yale’s personal photography guidelines.

  1. Personal photograph, Sterling Memorial Library, University of Yale Library.
  2. Personal photograph, Sterling Memorial Library, University of Yale Library.

Emily Vincent, Doctoral Researcher in English Literature