The Ladies’ Library

When looking for something to post for Women’s Day this year we thought we’d have a browse through some of our older, rarer books – and we stumbled upon this gem – The Ladies’ Library, in 3 volumes, 1716 – written by ‘a Lady’ (attributed to Lady Mary Wray.) We felt sure we were the target audience for this. So, we sat down, in the best spot in the library (with a clear view of the sea) and began reading volume one – looking rather like the lady in the frontispiece (we, too, have a few cherubs scattered around.)

 

The Ladies’ Library turned out to be a kind of ‘how-to’ guide on being a proper, well-bred, and devout Christian lady – with chapters including instruction on ‘Wit and Delicacy’, ‘Dress’ and ‘Meekness’. (We won’t lie, we’re often in dire need of instruction on all those things – though our confidence in being the target audience was beginning to waver.)

 

Its author is clearly a product of her time (that ubiquitous defence of historical works) – of its stifling gender prescriptions. And her need to be desirable, and to conform to a purely patriarchal model of woman, is palpable. There are countless encouragements to be modest, deferential, and chaste. Along with constant references to the weaker sex (her italics). But we can’t help feeling some of this is a placation, a version of prefacing something insightful with ‘of course, I know nothing about this, but’ – something women often learn to do, in having to ask permission to speak. 

 

“A young lady should never speak, but for necessity, and even then with diffidence and deference” but nonetheless this lady does speak, very eloquently, and some of the things she has to say are surprising. We were particularly taken with the first chapter on ’employment’ where she urges women not to be idle, and to educate themselves beyond the traditionally ‘feminine’ subjects – to learn arithmetic, law, and even latin. She’s especially fond of history – and of reading in general which she assures will give “solidity to our thoughts, sweetness to our discourse” – we couldn’t agree more! 

 

The chapter on ‘dress’ is lengthy and very much informed by Christian and patriarchal ideologies (not entirely separate.) It can largely be summarised as ‘cover yourself up ladies!’ or risk seduction, sin and eternal damnation (well, that told us.) But she particularly emphasises just how much time women waste on the “dressing up box”, on making oneself attractive for men, when there are far more productive things one could be doing – we suspect Naomi Wolf, in The Beauty Myth, would agree.

 

At this point, the cherubs started to get restless and we’ve had to take a break to placate them – though we look forward to delving into volume two in future. The Ladies’ Library is by no means a feminist work but reading it has reminded us of the complexity – and suppression – of women’s voices in history, and the absolute importance of listening to them. It’s with a sigh of relief, too, that we write this – educated, indelicate, bold, wearing what we like, saying what we like, and working for a library absolutely full of exceptionally brilliant women (staff, volunteers and members.) We feel immense gratitude to the incredible women, and the feminist movements, that have made that possible – and reflect on the work still to be done. 

Introducing the new Arthur Quiller-Couch website

In normal times, Morrab Library would be hosting a large event (with lots of cake!) to celebrate the launch of this major new website exploring the life and works of Arthur Quiller-Couch. But instead, we’re delighted to tell our members all about it through this blog.

 

 

The site is curated by library member and leading researcher Andrew Symons, who has developed the articles and resources it contains in collaboration with Morrab Library, which holds collections of the works of Q and other members of the Couch family.

The product of many years’ study, the website offers the largest and most authoritative online collection of research into Arthur Quiller-Couch. It includes studies of many of Q’s literary works and the cultural landscape in which he worked.  You will also find short articles, maps, summaries, chronologies, biographies of Q and his family – and a wealth of other resources – all of which help to illuminate his writings.

Many people in Cornwall will be familiar with the name of Q but may not know the extent of his work. He was a popular novelist with an international reputation, a poet, a literary critic, an anthologist and an academic who championed the importance of literature in the education of young people. Born in 1863, he lived through an extraordinary period of British history until his death in 1944.  The lives of his grandfather, father and uncles also reveal much about the fascinating scientific and cultural history of Cornwall in the nineteenth century.

This site is designed to act as the fulcrum for wide-ranging study and exploration of Arthur Quiller-Couch and his writings. It welcomes submissions of original academic work from other researchers.

It is hoped that the website will also provide an introduction to the works of this outstanding figure in Cornish cultural life. Newcomers to Q may be surprised to find how contemporary his voice sounds today. Once known as the ‘Greatest Living Cornishman’, Q was a brilliant man who deserves to be rediscovered. The hope is that this important new website will help in that process.

Row Boys Row

Cornish male vocal group, the Bryher’s Boys, recently collaborated with Morrab Library to create a video for one of their recordings. Using evocative images from the Library’s extensive historic Photo Archive, they were able to capture the essence of their song in pictures, and they’re delighted to share the finished product with us. The story follows below…

 

How did this video come about?

Bryher’s Boys are a busy Cornish male vocal group so the restrictions of the Covid Crisis have hit us hard! We’ve adapted by producing our own videos, both for our fans and, sometimes, to use in place of planned live performances which could now not take place. The Morrab Library Photo Archive was invaluable in helping us with a video we were asked to produce by the organisers of Yn Chruinnaght – The Celtic Gathering, a festival we’d been invited to represent Cornwall at in the Isle of Man. The song we chose – Row Boys Row – is all about Cornish maritime heritage, and the history of pilchard fishing here, so we wanted to marry the music with some images which would evoke that period. Thanks to the Archive’s 10,000+ photos covering many elements of vintage Cornish life – all available and searchable online – we were able to assemble a series of images to summon up that era, which perfectly complement the song. We’re very grateful to the Library for permission to use this resource which has helped disseminate this little piece of Cornish heritage to an audience of thousands, worldwide.

Backgrounder for Bryher’s Boys

Bryher’s Boys formed back in 2017 when the Tenor and Bass sections of several Cornish choirs were press ganged to form a new crew especially designed to navigate the choppy waters of Sea Shanty singing!

Their collective love of the established folk repertoire, both Nautical and Cornish, proved an immediate hit with West Cornwall audiences, clocking-up almost 200 performances to date in venues as diverse as private parties, weddings, crowded pubs, festivals, community events, large scale concerts – even aboard the Royal Fleet Auxilary ship Lyme Bay!

Although firmly rooted in the male vocal tradition, their trademark style of free harmony ensures that no two performances sound exactly the same.

Named after bandleader Trevor Brookes’ youngest daughter, Bryher, the Boys do not hail from the Scilly Isle of that name, but come from all over West Cornwall, from Newlyn to Truro.

The group are proud to have been selected to officially represent the Duchy of Cornwall at Europe’s largest music festival, Festival Interceltique Lorient, in 2019, taking their unique mix of Traditional Cornish songs, shanties and shaggy dog stories to a new audience of more than 800,000 attendees, singing to 9,000 people at a time!

Last year, they recorded and released their first CD, The Ballad of the Boy Jacq.

Hilda Quick & VE Day

 

The library is lucky to hold archives of work by the Cornish artist and illustrator Hilda Quick.

Quick was born in Penzance in 1895 and trained at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, later specialising in wood engravings. Locally, she created designs for the Minack Theatre programmes, working directly with Rowena Cade (founder of the Minack). She also illustrated numerous books including her own — Marsh and Shore, about bird-watching on the Cornish coast, which became a bestseller.

She lived in Penzance until the death of her parents in 1951, after which she moved to St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly, remaining there for the rest of her life and continuing to produce work until her death at the age of 83 in 1978.

During her long career Quick produced numerous studies of the local community in Penzance and Newlyn, including these rather wry and playful sketches. They were made during the second world war and give an insight into the everyday lives of people in Penzance during that time – from the desperate and dutiful queues at the local fishmongers and chaos at the food office in St John’s Hall, to Penzance’s exasperated ‘chief billing officer’ pulling at his hair.

VE day commemorates the beginning of peace in Europe, a peace that must have been felt in a thousand little ways across the country, from our own land’s end to the highlands. It celebrates the peace that started the long and complicated process of healing for many countries. Hilda Quick’s drawings capture a time that is past but VE day reminds us that the value of peace, and working together, is ever-present.

 

 

The Smugglers of Mousehole – Film Premiere

We’re delighted that The Smugglers of Mousehole film, which used the library as one of it’s locations, is having its first screening at the Solomon Browne Hall, Mousehole on Sunday 16th June. The screening will be raising funds for Solomon Browne Hall, Penlee Lifeboat and Mousehole School. To book tickets, click on this link: https://crbo.ticketsolve.com/shows/873604040

Filming in the Library’s Reading Room.