Thursday, 21 May 2015

Harriet Parr: bibliography, "Tuflongbo", and a dog's life

Harriet Parr
While we're on Shanklin topics: I've expanded the 2014 Harriet Parr in Shanklin post to include a detailed bibliography, and I'm also delighted to say that I've finally found a portrait of her! Parr is another of those low-key writers who've turned out to be astonishingly prolific (in her case mostly as the pseudonymous "Holme Lee"). En route, I encountered her mid-career children's stories such as the odd "Tuflongbo" elf-saga, and the canine tear-jerker The true pathetic history of Poor Match. I'll only inflict the pictures on you.

The atmosphere of the "Tuflongbo" stories is strange. The text starts off very gently as nursery fantasy with twee botanical names, but once Tuflongbo turns up - I can only describe him as a kind of elf Allan Quatermain - the characters subsequently get into a lot of hard-edged politics, exploration and battles (not to mention an encounter with "Electrical Serpentes"). The costume of W Sharpe's artwork is a weird mix of mediaeval and Highland ghillie (it reminds me of the faux-mediaeval Eglinton Tournament of 1839). It's really hard to tell what readership it's aimed at, with its blend of the highly robust - characters do get killed - and the completely innocent. Some contemporary reviews say it's allegory of some sort, but I don't really see that; it doesn't seem to have the sustained identification of character with concept that goes with allegory.

Whatever Harriet Parr intended by it all, the Tuflongbo stories certainly made an impression on the Scottish lawyer, criminologist and crime writer William Roughead (1870–1952) who commented on Tuflongbo's world in his 1939 Neck or Nothing:
Most prized of all, by reason of being my first love, was Holme Lee's Fairy Tales. I have the book still, and unless old affection blinds me, I esteem it one of the best and most original of its kind ever written for the delight of deserving childhood.
      Why such masterpieces should have been suffered to go out of print, and have to be sought for like Elizabethan quartos, I cannot tell. I know not what form of intellectual pabulum is nowadays provided for the sustainment of our young. Doubtless they would find but little savour in these old-fashioned feasts, which I was wont to devour with gusto. For the drone of no aeroplane ever disturbs the silence of the Forbidden Forest; the Granite Castle is innocent alike of sanitation, wireless, and central heating; and there are neither tubes nor escalators in the Underground City. Tuflongbo's journey, while beset by most engaging perils, does not expose him to the common daily risk of being slain or mangled by some ruthless or incomplete motorist. Even more damning than such defects, the heroes and heroines of these tales are, like the angels, refreshingly unconcerned with Sex, whether in its physical, fictional, or filmic aspects.
- William Roughead, Neck or Nothing (Cassell, 1939).
Maybe Roughead read an edition without illustrations, because that's far from the impression I get. Tuflongbo and his companion Hawkweed, who go exploring in tweed and collar-and-tie, look more to me like upper-middle-class 19th-century gentlemen transplanted into the world of fairy tale. The Contemporary Review for 1868 spotted this clash of genres.
Tuflongbo's Life and Adventures. By Holme Lee.
Tuflongbo and Little Content. By Holme Lee. London: F. Warne & Co.
Allegory is perhaps the most difficult of all forms of fiction. The temptation to strain points for the sake of completeness is great, and very often the necessity of humanizing, through consciously pressing upward and forward a moral lesson, has the effect of so cutting nature in twain, that neither man nor child could preserve interest through the long detail in which all seems forced save the inner purpose. Now Holme Lee's exquisitely easy, graceful manner of writing, and her minute knowledge of natural history, saves her from too obviously falling into this fault. Yet Tuflongbo, tho offspring of Mulberry and Lupine, will not claim interest from the children so much as even the old pilgrim of Bunyan, because here we have two lines of interest running parallel, and disputing the claim of each other on our notice. The books are a sort of crosses between the "Water Babies" and "Dealings with the Fairies." On the whole, we prefer " Tuflongbo's Life;" there is less straining in it, and some of the touches are very clever. The books are beautifully illustrated, and should meet with favour.
- Notices of Books, The Contemporary Review, Vol. 7, February 1868).
Anyway, on to the images:

  • The Wonderful Adventures of Tuflonbo and His Elfin Company in Their Journey with Little Content Through the Enchanted Forest (1861) - (London: Smith, Elder and Co, Internet Archive wonderfuladvent00parrgoog).
Tuflongbo's adventures continue in the prequel, Tuflongbo's journey in search of ogres, illustrated in very Victorian style by H Sanderson, a regular book and magazine illustrator of the period. It tells of Tuflongbo's school-of-hard-knocks upbringing and education. While the picture style is a little different, there's still far more of the grizzled Victorian gentleman explorer to Tuflongbo than elf.

The Athenæum liked the Tuflongbo stories a little more than The Contemporary Review did. But the reviewer still mentioned the incongruously sophisticated elements, such as Tuflongbo's trial for high treason, and fairies who act "like the reasonable and rational beings we meet with in the novels of Miss Young and Miss Sewel" [sic - I assume deliberate misspellings of Yonge and Sewell].
The Wonderful Adventures of Tuflongbo and his Elfin Company in their Journey with Little Content through the Enchanted Forest. By Holme Lee. With Illustrations. (Smith, Elder 8 Co.)
We may as well make our confession before we begin our criticism. We took up these ‘Adventures of Tuflongbo‘ with a great contempt for parvenu fairies and new settlers in fairyland, where we spent the days of our childhood; indeed, we were honoured with the intimate companionship of all the real old fairies and their god-children. ‘We were brought up amongst the fairies of the ancien régime, and we were not disposed to transfer our But we gradually became interested in the fortunes of the heroic Tuflongbo, though he came of quite a modern family, and was nothing like such a fine gentleman as the beautiful Prince in ‘The White Cat,’ or Prince Riquet with the Tuft, or Prince Fortunatus; indeed, he was quite vulgarly able to take care of himself, and did not need a fairy godmother at all. But his adventures interested us more and more as we went on; and though we are old enough to have known better, we confess that from the moment we began to read we never laid down the book until we came to the last page; and we like Tuflongbo quite as well as any of the ancient old heroes of fairy tales, and we hope he never came to any harm, and we would be very glad to hear more about him, and we hope Holme Lee will make haste and tell us about his further history. Holme Lee may be satisfied with her day's work; for she has written a very charming book, full of fancy and good feeling; and most readers will feel regret when they come to the end of it: nevertheless, we have a little criticism to offer. In the first place, there are too many characters, and the incidents are confused. The story would have been better if it had been broken up into several stories. The journey through the Enchanted Forest of Stone is very good, though it gets too much into allegory; but after the adventurers get back to fairyland the story becomes confused and rather heavy. The trial of Tuflongbo for high treason is not managed according to the precedents of fairy tales; it might be the report of a case in the Central Criminal Court. In the latter part there are too many allusions to incidents and personages of other stories; and readers like to feel that they have a complete story; it is not treating them well to allude to matters which do not enter into the story before them. It is like talking of family affairs before visitors, and making them feel they are strangers. There is no poetical justice executed upon Aunt Spite and Lobelia; and we need not remark that in fairy tales we expect the strictest punishment for the wicked characters. It would be an improvement if Holme Lee would forget that she is writing in the nineteenth century, and make her fairies a little less like the reasonable and rational beings we meet with in the novels of Miss Young and Miss Sewell. Fairies and the dwellers in fairyland have always been a peculiar people; but their morals were of the very simplest, and their chroniclers had a. simplicity and unconsciousness of intention, which is one great point in which the old fairy tales and old nursery rhymes surpass, in grace and attraction, all that have followed in their track. It will be observed that we have not said one word to give an idea of what the story is about. We should consider it a breach of confidence; and no persuasion shall induce us to tell what readers may learn for themselves.
- The Athenæum: A Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts (No. 1781, December 14, 1861No. 1781, December 14, 1861).
More pictures:

  • Tuflongbo's journey in search of ogres (1862) - "with six illustrations by H. Sanderson" - Internet Archive tuflongbosjourn00parrgoog). 
On acquaintance so far, I think I'll leave Legends From Fairy Land: Narrating The History Of Prince Glee and Princess Trill and Holme Lee's Fairy Tales for another time...

The true pathetic history of Poor Match is a bit mis-sold. It's not at all the relentless tragedy the original title suggests - probably why they changed it for the later Warne edition - but actually a very readable, and frequently amusing, picaresque cradle-to-grave story of a dog's life (with four illustrations by Walter Crane, one of the iconic children's book illustrators of the era). But the feisty dog protagonist does die at the end, and we get an elegy.

Died, April 20, 1853. Greengates,

Poor Mick is dead! Alas! for poor old Mick,
The wisest dog, the faithfulest, the best!
Tramps, you are free to come without a stick,
Your steadfast foe lies there, for aye at rest.
Your rags may flutter loosely in the blast,
They won't disturb his dignity down there;
His crusty voice has barked its very last;
You're free to come and go without a care.
- Poor Match: his life, adventures and death
(London: Frederick Warne edition., 1870?

Anyhow, check out the Harriet Parr in Shanklin post for the bibliography update at the end. It came as a surprise to me both in its sheer extent, and, considering that Parr (aka Holme Lee) is now a moderately obscure writer, that the vast majority of her known works turn out to be findable online. Some of her books - notably Against Wind and Tide (1859) and For Richer, for Poorer (1870) - use highly identifiable Shanklin settings, disguised only in name. Fans of Isle of Wight topographical connections in fiction might find the whole corpus worth a skim.

- Ray

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