Last evening I stumbled across this little piece from Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine, volume 41, published in 1873. I don’t know if the story is a true account, but it made me rather sad for multiple reasons.
My First Literary Venture
by Rosella Rick
I HAD always wanted to do something to help my husband; he was poor, and his health was not good, and he had a family of four to provide for. I could churn and sell the batter for a good price, and I could raise chickens, and sell eggs; and the product of the garden was no small item, but I didn’t like slavish toil, I didn’t want a freckled face and sunburnt hands and a stout waist.
It was easy work to write stories, purely; anybody could do that; love stories were always read with a relish, and, judging from the abundance of them, they were marketable enough.
I consulted no one. I wanted to surprise my husband some day; I wanted lie should find himself famous as the husband of the distinguished Mrs.—-, the new star that had arisen in the literary horizon. My children were very troublesome, the baby was teething; I found that I could not write love-stories and hear them crying, and fighting, and falling and bumping their heads. I baked a jar full of sugar cakes, and made some molasses taffy, and drove a spike in the joists overhead and put up a swing on it, and did everything I could one day that I might commence my literary career on the following morning. I likewise sent to a neighbor’s to borrow her little poor house girl to tend the children and be company for them.
In the morning I went to my bedroom upstairs to begin my work. I had laid the plot of my story in the night, while my husband was snoring obliviously by my side.
My plot was beautiful. Gustavus Le Claire, a runner for a city firm, was to fall in love with a lovely girl, an orphan, Melissa Medina, the niece of the landlady at the village hotel, where Gustavus had stopped for a few days. His friends were to oppose the marriage, and use all their influence against the proposed union. She was to pine, and be sent away to her grandmother’s; letters were to be intercepted; he was to cut his throat with a razor, and be discovered in time to be restored to life. A tobacco firm were to employ him as a runner on a new route that would carry him away in an opposite direction. In time he was to forget her and marry another, and, at the close of a long life, fall into abject poverty, and be assisted by his former sweetheart. He was to recognize her by a mark on her wrist, and she was to recognize him by a lock of red hair that grew on the side of his head. He was to die in her sheltering arms, murmuring: “Thine—thine only!”
I knew if I could grow inspired while writing, that this plot would work a thrilling tale, and my humble name would become a household word in my native land, and my fertile pen would be a resource of pleasure and of profit.
I wrote two days, stopping to cook the three meals, rising early, churning after the family were abed, baking biscuit to save baking bread, spreading up the beds instead of making them, sweeping in a temporary manner, and cuffing the children instead of coaxing them. All this I did with my brows drawn in a thoughtful mood, and my pencil sticking above my ear.
The third day I wrote, Harry, my baby fell downstairs and struck his forehead on the rough stone wall, and cut a gash through to the skull. An Italian was in the kitchen with his little shoulder-stand full of gay nick-nacks, and Harry was hurrying down to see them. After he had cried himself to sleep, and I had recovered from my faint and my fright, I resumed the pen.
When he awoke he was unusually fretful, and I tried to keep him with me. I gave him my slippers, and my comb and brush, and a little silver bell, and everything that could possibly amuse him for even a minute at a time.
Just when my story was reaching its acme, the baby wearied of all things, and kicked and cried most piteously.
How could I come down from the delectable heights of fancy and tend a mortal child, when the children of my brain, my immortal darlings, clamored for my undivided attention? The thought was mortifying, aggravating—how could I soar with all these human ties tugging at my heart?
I looked all around me to devise a newer plaything. A small mirror seemed to recommend itself. I held it before the baby, and he laughed aloud, while the tears like dewdrops hung on his long lashes.
“See a baby!” I said, “see a baby!” I sat him down on the floor and placed the mirror before him, so he could bend forward and look into it. He shouted in his rare glee. I resumed my story, occasionally peeping over my shoulder and saying: “He sees a baby! sees a baby I”
After while I looked round, thankful I had found a plaything that pleased Harry, and I discovered him very deliberately sitting on it, peeping over first at one side then the other, to see how nearly it adapted itself to his ample proportions The glass was broken into a thousand pieces, and he sat there as delighted as a boy who has mounted a fractious colt for the first time. He crowed, he tried to tip up his heels into the air, and he threw back his head as though he was tossing a flowing mane. I really believe the little human baby, with a touch of the bully spirit that often comes with mature growth, thought he had that other fellow down, and that after some fashion or manner he was a little man victorious.
At last, after much tribulation, my tender lovestory was written, revised, copied, punctuated carefully, put into an envelope without rolling or folding and sent off. Because it was a first attempt, I affixed to it the modest price of fifteen dollars.
Elated by the success that I was sure would attend my first effort, I wrote another story, called “My Grandmother’s Prophecy.” The grandmother was a superstitious old lady, and, following the bent of her whims, she prophesied over every event that transpired. One of her granddaughters came suddenly upon a nest of eggs under the lilacs, and the old lady said that it was an infallible sign that she would receive an offer of marriage unexpectedly. The offer did come in a very droll, dry, business-like way from a renovated old widower in a blue silk cravat. I thought I made a splendid story of the incident.
Oh, I seemed to feel the cool chaplet of fame on my heated brow, and to hear the chink of the yellow twenty dollar gold pieces in my humble little black velvet wallet.
Life was very sweet to me in those summer mornings and noons and nights. I waited patiently until I thought it was time for replies to come, and for the newspapers to shout out the name of the new star, already in the zenith.
Hadn’t I for years felt the burning desire to write! Hadn’t I felt that I was one of the anointed I—one of the few set apart!
I don’t like to be laughed at, and yet I always enjoy a joke on myself as well as on others. I’ll put my hands over my face while I tell it.
A peddler came along with a fine assortment of Irish poplins. Now, I always had a weakness for lustrous poplin. I am tall and slender. I knew a dress of dark-green poplin would fall in such magnificent folds from my waist down to my feet, that I would be the admiration of all Lenox and vicinity.
I had felt a desire to help my poor husband. Fudge! Wouldn’t that be inverting the order of marriage?—wouldn’t that be making of myself the strong oak, and of him the clinging vine? I, a free woman, able to earn my own living by my pen, would none of this.
I bought the beautiful pattern, and promised to pay for it as soon as I heard from “my publishers.” I said this with a great deal of zest and satisfaction.
The dress was twenty dollars. I could pay for that easily, and have money left—and how nice that would be. Not another woman in Lenox could such things as that, they were all burdens to their husbands. They leaned on them.
Well, well, no Italian sunsets were finer than ours in Lenox; no sunrise in the tropics softer, or mellower, or more delightful.
In a few weeks came a bulky envelope, accompanied by a letter. My beautiful love-story of “Augustus the Runner, and Melissa Melsina the Orphan” came back to me, and the letter read:
“Madam : We shall not be able to use your story of ‘Augustus the True Hero.’ We return you the MSS., etc., etc.”
Why wouldn’t they use it? Perhaps an ill-disposed clerk had sent it back to me; or, maybe, they had organized rings, and favored no new contributors. I wrote back immediately, and asked why they refused it I wanted they should point out the errors, and if it was not worth fifteen dollars, perhaps they would pay me twelve for it; and, rather than miss a sale, and because it was my first attempt, I was willing to sell it for ten dollars. I didn’t mind making a little sacrifice. I could afford to be generous. I received no reply. I wrote again with a like result.
I hoped a better fate for the ‘Grandmother’s Prophecy;” but though I waited long and patiently, I never heard a word from it. I presume it was consigned to the waste-basket.
The days were not so beautiful then. My star of hope had gone down—the sunsets and sunrises were very common. I wondered wherein had ever lain the burnished glow and the tender shimmer on the hazy hill-tops, and the soft, caressing touch that seemed to come to my glad face in the twilight breeze that dallied on the billowy meadows, and shook the over ripe roses until their pale petals fell like fragrant flakes at my feet.
I took up the burden of life again; it was a little heavy at first; its tasks were often performed in tears, that fell freely when I thought of my great mistake. Though I shrank from facing the truth, I could call my error by no other name.
How I hated the fight of my green poplin dress! It brought up such painful memories; and then it did not harmonize with my shawl or hat or veil. What a mountain loomed up before me when I tried to pay for it myself.
I sold butter and eggs, chickens and berries and cucumbers and radishes, and took in washings and boarded the music-teacher, but I couldn’t pay for it all myself, and I couldn’t trade it off. It haunted me like the dead body haunted Eugene Aram.
At last, in a fit of despair. I cried right out one night, and owned up to the whole thing. I was very miserable; I hid my face in Joey’s bosom, and with sobs that shook me like an ague fit, I confessed the whole truth. It was very humiliating, but Joey said it only made me dearer to him than ever, and that I must never play the strong oak again, and keep secrets from him anymore. He said the public should never have the opportunity of criticizing his dear wife’s pretty stories, that they couldn’t appreciate them; a greedy gourmand of a public never should tear from the sanctity of home her precious name, and flaunt it in the papers.
He paid for the ugly green dress willingly, and the tender love-light in his blue eyes, as he did it, was worth more to me than all the huzzas and noisy plaudits of a hollow-hearted public.
I never recovered from the humiliation. My soul is sick yet, when I think of the bright dreams that for a few months dazzled my eyes, and bewildered and biased my better judgment.
Note: I couldn’t find much information on Rosella Rick. However, she did have stories published in other volumes of Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine.
4 Replies to “A Young Victorian Mother Writes a Love Story”
This story is one of the attacks against women novelists.
I believe you are quite correct!
Ugh, what a terribly sexist story! Wonder who wrote it …
It’s a nasty little piece.