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Lassie & Laddie
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LassieWRChamberssmall.jpg
W. & R. Chambers
These two books bracket the writing career of Evelyn Whitaker.  Laddie, first published in 1879, marks the beginning;  Lassie, first published in 1903, marks the year of the author's death.  In each book,  the namesake character is a medical professional who has grown more successful than his/her parents and who represents the Victorian ideal of manhood/womanhood.  Both Laddie and Lassie are challenged to "honor your father and your mother."  It is interesting to note the changes in the writer's viewpoint during the more than two decades that separate the books' publications.  It is also intesting to see the differences in gender roles.

Link to Laddie

Digitized by EvelynWhitakerLibrary.org (August 2008):

download txt file Lassie, Little Brown, 1903

lassiecover.jpg
cover: W. & R. Chambers circa 1903

"No reader of this author's Laddie has ever been able quite to forget that pathetic story.  After a lapse of many years the same writer has written its counterpart, in which the heroine, booked as a nurse to South Africa, stays at home for the apparently less heroic duty of keeping house for a rather shiftless father."

          from the publisher's (W. R. Chambers) catalog

 

Synopsis of Lassie:

"A quiet, little, out-of-the-way village is Midgely, and its inhabitants   practice the good old rule of 'Early to bed and early to rise,' though I am not sure that it produces the desired effect of making them ' healthy, wealthy, and wise.'

 

 "Mrs. Wingate's ruling passion had been the care of what the rest of  the world of Midgely called a worthless, drunken, good- for-nothing   husband... though at the bottom of her heart she was shrewd enough to know that the worst they said was true....    But that is the way of love; it sees the clay feet clear enough, but worships the image all the same."   

The story opens on a Sunday evening in the Wingate's thatched cottage where Mrs. Wingate lies dying. The dying  mother says, "Send for Lassie." 

 

Meanwhile, Lassie and her friend Alice Nugent are attending evening services at Westminster Abbey.  Lassie is "unaccountably... distracted by thoughts of home and mother."  The evening sermon on answering the call of the "Captain of our Salvation" is "curiously appropriate to a subject much discussed between the friends of late—a subject in which, as had often been the case, Lassie's enthusiasm had led the way."  The subject is volunteering for nursing in South Africa (Boer War).  They volunteer.

 

The death of Lassie's mother calls her home to a funeral and to a filial duty—the care of a father who deserves and has neither her respect nor her affection.  The father, the community of Midgely, and Lassie herself demand that she reject both her nursing career in London and her call to another duty in the Boer War.  She remains in Midgely.  She does not give up the hope of being rescued by her true love until he rejects her.

 

Her sacrifice is not appreciated by either the father or the community.  Within six months, all think it would have been better if she had not stayed.  Lassie attempts to practice her profession in Midgely but no one heeds her teachings on hygiene and prevention of disease.  After two years,  Lassie dies a victim of a typhoid sweeping the community.  

 

Lassie's friend, Alice Nugent (now married to Lassie's love, Dr. Milton) arrives to attend Lassie's death.  Later Alice is able to teach the people of Midgely "cleanliness and care in sanitary matters of untold value."  

frontis: W. & R. Chambers circa 1903
smallassiechambers.jpg
illustrator: Jessie Wilson

 

"Lassie's hair--that long, dark hair Alice used to envy sometimes--was loose and tangled about her face, and the pillow lay on the floor, plucked away by one of the women as the end drew near, as it might contain a game-feather, which makes it hard for the soul to get free if the dying head is lying on it.

"Lassie! with her love of fresh air, and her dainty niceness that Alice used to laugh at sometimes and think mere fidgets.  Lassie! to die like this!"

 

"And so Lassie's sacrifice led to nothing but failure?  Yes, in the sight of man who can only  judge by results but perhaps a clearer sight than ours will judge differently..."

 

Views of Victorian life and culture:

                  

ideal of womanhood—

"In the nurse's dress it is not always easy to estimate rank, but a discriminating observer, seeing these two girls sitting side by side would have guessed at a glance that the tall, dark girl was a lady born and bred, there being an unmistakably thorough-bred  look about her clean-cut, refined face and the pose of her well  set head...  So you would have judged at first glance—and perhaps for a good many further glances—and you would have  judged wrongly."

In this book (one of E.W.'s later works) the Victorian ideal of womanhood may be giving way to the idea/ideal of the New Woman.  Lassie escapes from Midgely as a nursery maid to the vicar's daughter and discovers a love for tending the ill which leads to her training and career at St. Barnabas hospital. 

 "She took to the work with the greatest enthusiasm, and loved it  so much that she could not fail to do it well; and she was so strong in body, and bright and intelligent in mind that nothing seemed hard or disagreeable to her."

Lassie's thoughts about her mother:

"But the touch of the patchwork brought her mind back suddenly and filled her eyes with tears, so suggestive was it of the mother and the old, homely ways; the constant little unconsidered acts of kindness and unselfishness; the small daily sacrifices of self done without the slightest feelings of heroism, hardly consciously, and without any elegance or idea of effect; and of the never-ending patience..."

Dr. Milton's visit to Midgely:

 "Lassie's hair was rough and disordered and her face stained and flushed with her passionate tears.  The room behind looked squalid and untidy...  It was so different from the Nurse Wingate Dr. Milton remembered... always exquisitely neat and trim, with an indescribable niceness and daintiness about her in  all her ways and movements, which made it scarcely credible  that she did not come from gentle parentage...  What matter if her parentage were not exalted—if her parents were farmers, or even respectable trades-people?  It did not signify; Lassie in  herself was  a lady beyond dispute...  the soft-voiced, mild-eyed  nurse who was his ideal of gentleness and refinement..."

 

"I think Lassie read in his eyes the end of her little   romance...  If he had come a half hour later, and she had washed up the dinner things, and was sitting, as she often did on Sunday afternoons, under the cherry-tree, as daintily neat and tidy as she ever had been at the hospital; if he had come in then and sat down by her, it would all have been different, as she had thought and dreamed and pictured it hundreds of times when work had been distasteful, or the present difficult, and she had wanted something to help her through. 

 "The glimpse of the cottage room... would have been nice and pleasant and cheerful even if it were simple and homely. There would have been a glass of roses on the dresser; she always put some fresh ones there on Sunday afternoons, and never without a thought how he had once said she arranged flowers so tastefully...  The hearth would have been swept up  and the kettle on, and by-and-by she would have...  made some  tea for him in those pretty cups... and brought it out under the cherry tree..."

Medicine—is an important aspect of this story from the illness of the child which leads nursery maid Lassie into the training and practice of nursing at St. Barnabas hospital to the importance of the Army nurses to the success of the Boer War.  "Field nurses are among the Queen's soldiers" and receive red cross medals.  Details of how to keep homes and pig sties clean are presented as Lassie tries to improve the public health and hygiene of Midgely. [Perhaps the author is trying to do the same.] A typhoid epidemic and a short description of how Nurse Nugent helped the people of Midgely wrap up the story.

 

Religion—the service at Westminster Abbey is described, as is the sermon.  All of Lassie's decisions (from volunteering for the Boer War to resigning her nursing position to care for her father in Midgely)  are informed by her religious beliefs.

"It is the same now, but in this hurrying, restless life of ours we are apt to miss the call. We must pray that to us the ephphatha may be spoken, and our dull ears, deafened by the  noises of the world, may be opened; and that, having heard what things we ought to do, we may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same, and whatsoever He saith unto us, do it."

 

"It would have just broken her heart to have given up her dearly-loved work—all that made life bright and interesting—to take up a very doubtful and unpleasant duty in a mean little gossiping place among narrow interests and limited minds.  She tried to occupy her mind with  plans for her father's comfort... endeavoring all the time  to turn a deaf ear to a text that kept recurring again and again with vexatious  appropriateness:  'If a man shall say to his father or his mother, It is Corban...  Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition... "

 

"Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth...      

Sometimes the word comes by the voice of the preacher in the great Abbey, and sometimes by the Mother's voice on a dying-bed..."

Death & funeral practices—The death watch and funeral preparations for Lassie & her mother are described.

 

"She had not cried at all at the funeral, as critical eyes had  noticed she had not even kept her handkerchief to her face as is the usual etiquette at country funerals; and the neighbors  commented on such a want of proper feeling..."

 

"Outside the house was the sweet country silence, so noticeable to an ear accustomed to the great, awful roar of the London streets, a silence accentuated by the tap of a rose-branch against the window, or a little sigh of wind in the chimney; and in the next room reigned the mysterious, solemn silence of death, that seems more than the mere absence of sound, but something tangible and positive like the Egyptian darkness that could be  felt."

Communication: postal service & letter writing are discussed.  The story is structured around letters.  First, the letter is written to Lassie by her father with a note from the Midgely post mistress to call Lassie home to her mother's death bed.  Later Lassie prepares to write:

"She had brought out her little writing-case to write to St. Barnabas to say that she should return to her duties without fail on Saturday, and as she opened it and took out the pen..."   [The pen has been given to her by a friend—this is a second hint of a developing love story—and is dropped and trampled underfoot by the bearer of the coffin.]   "And so that letter of Lassie's announcing her return to the matron was never written... instead she wrote to resign her post at St. Barnabas and to withdraw her name from the list of volunteers for nursing abroad."

London—

"a far cry from quiet little Midgely, to great Babylon and the stately Abbey where so many of the earth's greatest and best sleep." 

But in this book London is not  presented as a Babylon but as a place of opportunity.  London is the location of St. Barnabas Hospital (Barnabas = Encourager). Lassie is happy, successful, respected in London.   Nor is London the scope of the world.  This book has an awareness of Empire.  The Boer War figures heavily in the plot.

 

Village life—the residents of Midgely are described in detail along with pub life at the Jolly Farmer and at the bridge which separates Midgely from the world.   There is a note about the hay harvest being mechanized, "no longer, alas! the scythe"...

 

Victorian language of flowers—Chapter 7 describes "an ideal day for a bicycle ride away, away from London, with its noise and hurry and exhausted air and stale miles, right away into the very heart of the country."  Dr. Milton comes to Midgely as Lassie's suitor.

 

"Dr. Milton's bike ride from " London to Midgely.:

roses  love, grace, beauty, friendship

tall, white lilies  stately purity, youthful innocence

hay    harvest

honeysuckle   rustic beauty

lime blossoms   conjugal love

pine   hope in adversity

wheat      riches

sycamore   curiosity

cherries      good education

beech      prosperity

poppies     consolation

Lassie arranged roses in a glass every Sunday and imagines Dr. Milton discovering her under a cherry tree.  When the hoped-for visit occurs, the smell of the pig sty drowned the fragrance of roses and honeysuckle.  At the sight of Lassie, fresh from the fight with her father amidst the odor of the uncleaned pig sty, Dr. Milton changes toward Lassie—gone are love, grace, beauty, friendship, and rustic beauty.  He goes home by another way devoid of beauty and flowers.

Virginia creeper  vines indicate ties 

Alice Nugent's ties to Lassie as friend, coworker

violets loyalty, modesty, humility, faithfulness   Dr. Milton's gift to Alice,  are buried with Lassie over the objections of a neighbor who suggests

red dahlias  instability and

"yaller" marigolds  health

Publishers' blurbs:

 

"A touching story of faithful and unrequited devotion to duty in humble life."

Christian Intelligencer, New York, 

from publisher's (Little, Brown) advertisement at the back of Gay:  a story.

 

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