Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.

April29th

Empire Annual for GirlsI was browsing Project Gutenberg, as you do, and came across a gem: The Empire Annual for Girls from 1911, a hundred years ago. Now, for those of you who don’t know, these publications were around for years, often associated with British comics for young people. They were chockful of articles of interest and wonder – at least, that was the aim. As such, they’re an interesting look into the past. I’ve copied the contents list below, for your edification.

THE CHRISTMAS CHILD — MRS G. DE HORNE VAIZEY
The story of a happy thought, a strange discovery,and a deed of love
ANNA — MRS MACQUOID
A girl’s adventure for a father’s sake
TO GIRLS OF THE EMPIRE — MRS CREIGHTON
Words of encouragement and stimulus to the daughters of the Nation
MY DANGEROUS MANIAC — LESLIE M. OYLER
The singular adventure of two young people
JIM RATTRAY, TROOPER — KELSO B. JOHNSON
A story of the North-West Mounted Police
MARY’S STEPPING ASIDE — EDITH C. KENYON
Self-sacrifice bringing in the end its own reward
A RACE FOR LIFE — LUCIE E. JACKSON
A frontier incident from the Far West
WHICH OF THE TWO? — AGNES GIBERNE
A question of duty or inclination
A CHRISTMAS WITH AUSTRALIAN BLACKS — J. S. PONDER
An unusual but interesting Christmas party described
MY MISTRESS ELIZABETH — ANNIE ARMITT
A story of self-sacrifice and treachery in Sedgemoor days
GIRL LIFE IN CANADA — JANEY CANUCK
Girl life described by a resident in Alberta
SUCH A TREASURE! — EILEEN O’CONNOR
How a New Zealand girl found her true calling
ROSETTE IN PERIL — M. LEFUSE
A girl’s strange adventures in the war of La Vendée
GOLF FOR GIRLS — AN OLD STAGER
Some practical advice to beginners and others
SUNNY MISS MARTIN — SOMERVILLE GIBNEY
A story of misunderstanding, patience, and reconciliation
WHILST WAITING FOR THE MOTOR — MADELINE OYLER
A warning to juvenile offenders
THE GRUMPY MAN — MRS HARTLEY PERKS
A child’s intervention and its results
DOGS WE HAVE KNOWN — LADY CATHERINE MILNES— GASKELL
True stories of dog life
DAFT BESS — KATE BURNLEY BENT
A tale of the Cornish Coast
A SPRINGTIME DUET — MARY LESLIE
A domestic chant for spring-cleaning days.
OUT OF DEADLY PERIL — K. BALFOUR MURPHY
A skating episode in Canada
THE PEARL-RIMMED LOCKET — M. B. MANWELL
The detection of a strange offender
REMBRANDT’S SISTER — HENRY WILLIAMS
A record of affection and self- sacrifice
HEPSIE’S XMAS VISIT — MAUD MADDICK
A child’s misdeed and its unexpected results
OUR AFRICAN DRIVER — J. H. SPETTIGUE
A glimpse of South African life
CLAUDIA’S PLACE — A. R. BUCKLAND
How Claudia changed her views
FAMOUS WOMEN PIONEERS — FRANK ELIAS
Some of the women who have helped to open up new lands
POOR JANE’S BROTHER — M. LING
The strange adventures of two little people
THE SUGAR-CREEK HIGHWAYMAN — ADELA E. ORPEN
An alarm and a discovery
DOROTHY’S DAY — M. E. LONGMORE
A day beginning in sorrow and ending in joy
A STRANGE MOOSE HUNT — H. WILLIAM DAWSON
A hunt that nearly ended in a tragedy
A GIRL’S PATIENCE — C. J. BLAKE
A difficult part well played
THE TASMANIAN SISTERS — E. B. MOORE
A story of loving service and changed lives
THE QUEEN OF CONNEMARA — FLORENCE MOON
An Irish girl’s awakening

What a line up! From the spendidly named Mrs G de Horne Vaizey (who Wikipedia tells me preferred this to her unmarried name of Jessie Bell, and who also wrote The Love Affairs of Pixie) to the equally splendidly named Lady Catherine Milnes-Gaskell, The Empire Annual has a writer for every occasion.

It contains stories of far off places – or places that would be far off to their UK readers – such as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It offers tips on vital subjects for girls: rearing dogs, playing golf  and hunting mooses.

And I love the way that the contents list shows that the tag line isn’t just a modern invention. How could you not read ‘Hepsie’s Christmas Visit’ after you’re tantalised with ‘A child’s misdeed and its unexpected results’? ‘Poor Jane’s Brother’ gets a boost with the teaser: ‘The strange adventures of two little people’ which makes it a must read. Sometimes, though, the editor must have had an off day, because the tag line ‘A tale of the Cornish Coast’ doesn’t do as much for me as the title: ‘Daft Bess’.

Thrill to ‘The Queen of Connemara’ (‘An Irish girl’s awakening’)! Gasp at ‘My Mistress Elizabeth’ (‘A story of self-sacrifice and treachery in Sedgemoor days’)! Be heartened by ‘To the Girls of the Empire’ (‘Words of encouragement and stimulus to the daughters of the Nation’)! Read them all and be happy that you’re part of the greatest empire the world has known!

It’s hard to resist making fun of The Empire Annual for Girls, so I didn’t. But then again, jump a hundred years to 2111 and I’m sure it will be easy to laugh at what we’re up to in 2011.

On reflection, there’s considerable charm in the contents of The Empire Annual for Girls. While the tone might be overtly didactic, to our ears, there is a sense of wonder present here, of a wide world with much to offer, of diversity and variety. It would be easy to see much of the contents as patronising, and I’m sure this is present, but we have stories of mystery and adventure, exotic locations and times, ethical and moral dilemmas and plain good fun.

Times change , but looking into the past can reassure us about our essential humanity and how much remains consistent.

A last thought. The readers of this book were young in the golden Edwardian era. It was a time of plenty for many, of modernity and civilisation. Just a few years away, however, was the horror of the Great War. The readers of The Empire Annual for Girls – and their brothers – would have experienced this nightmare. Some would not have come back from it.

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