Friday, July 12, 2024

The Scarlet Shawl published 150 years ago

1874 was a significant year for Richard Jefferies. On the 16th July, just over a week after his marriage to Jessie Baden, his first published novel, The Scarlet Shawl, appeared. This was published by Tinsley Bros., London. Tinsley were also the publishers of the early novels of Thomas Hardy and Anthony Trollope and several best-selling authors of the time. The Scarlet Shawl was the first of three novels by Jefferies published by Tinsley.

However Tinsley were only prepared to publish The Scarlet Shawl if Jefferies paid for the cost, £60. This was a significant amount, especially for someone who may not have had much money at the time. It is thought his Aunt Ellen may have covered some or all the cost. However perhaps Jefferies was not as poorly off as thought, as he had just married and the following spring he moved from Coate Farmhouse to live in Swindon. Also by then Jessie was pregnant.

The Richard Jefferies Society, through Petton Books, republished the novel, a scan from the 1874 publication. This edition summarises the book as follows:

Scarlet Shawl was his d├ębut, a light, amusing comedy of manners. The heroine Nora quarrels with her suitor Percival, a conceited young man whose head is turned by the flattery of a cocotte, while Nora becomes engaged to a man she does not truly love. There is humour in the portrayal of the lecherous old beau Gerard Wootton, who schemes to seduce Nora but fears rejection should she discover him sans wig and rouge.

The novel gathers strength once Jefferies throws off the awkward self-consciousness that mars the early chapters, and his personality comes to the fore. There are several passages of power and beauty that anticipate the mature writer, including a luxuriant chapter on the fascination of the colour scarlet; a rhapsodic evocation of the dawn over London Bridge; and an intensely dramatic account of Nora’s gradual subjection to the icily immaculate Sir Theodore.

In the introduction, Andrew Rossabi provides extensive details on the background to its publication, and its reception at the time and since. Many have dismissed these early novels, but Andrew discusses how the book is an important stage in Jefferies development and he finds images and passages in the novel which hint at the writer Jefferies was to become.

Copies of the book are available to order from the Society’s web site, .

Also, the Society will be discussing The Scarlet Shawl at its Zoom meeting on Monday 13th January 2025 starting at 7.30 pm. All are invited to join this meeting. You don’t have to be a member, and if you prefer you can just listen to what others have to say. More details will be made available nearer the time.

Friday, July 05, 2024

150th Wedding Anniversary

Richard Jefferies and Jessie Baden were married at the parish church of the Holy Cross, Chiseldon on Wednesday 8th July 1874. Richard’s brother and sister, Henry James and Sarah, were the witnesses, but it is not known if Jefferies’ parents were present, nor who else was at the ceremony.


Chiseldon Church, Wiltshire c1910. Kate Allen Tryon (1865–1952)

Weather records at the National Meteorological Archive in Exeter, Devon, show it was a dry, very warm and sunny day across Wiltshire. Records from Marlborough College, kept by the Reverend A. Preston, show a temperature of 77.4 Fahrenheit, 25.2 Celsius, at 3 pm, and a maximum temperature of 78.5F (25.8C) for the day. Only one tenth of the sky was covered by cloud at 3 pm.

The 8th July was near the start of a prolonged dry spell. No rain was reported at Marlborough College from 9 am on the 6th until the 19th/20th, and rainfall records from Draycott Foliatt, kept by Thomas Arkell, show the same period with no rain. It also remained very warm, if not hot, with a maximum temperature of 85.7F (29.8C) on the 9th and a peak at 86.6F (30.3C) on the 19th.

It is not known if the couple went on a honeymoon. However, in Jefferies’ last notebook he wrote on 24 May 1887:

The intense beauty & love of nature —every grain of sand. I can see the grains at Ventnor now '74 &    the fragments of pebbles joy in each. But not in this the answer to the soul. A Double feeling.

This reference to Ventnor indicates they may have gone to the Isle of Wight at some time and ’74 refers to 1874. Weather records for Belgrave House, Ventnor are available for 1871-1875 but 1874 is missing. Ventnor is on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. Records for Parkhurst, in the north of the island, show very similar temperatures to Marlborough over the same period and an even higher maximum temperature of 89.6F (32.0C) on the 12th. It was also mostly sunny during this time. It is reasonable to assume it was probably very similar in Ventnor.

In the same notebook the preceding entry is:

The light burning always in the eyes; the soul (mind) always burning within.

Andrew Rossabi[1] suggests this entry could be related to Jefferies’ latent tuberculosis, but maybe it is him recalling the heat and sunshine in Ventnor in 1874?

Whether they went to the Isle of Wight or not, the first part of their married life was dry, sunny and very warm.


[1] Andrew Rossabi, A Peculiar English Genius Or, A Wiltshire Taoist. A Biography of Richard Jefferies. Volume II The Years of Struggle, 1867-76 (Foulsham, Norfolk, 2020).