Helen Black's meeting with Rhoda Broughton gives us a first-hand glimpse of the author, elegant, cultured and rather direct in her manner. Black eulogises her "great gifts, her originality of style, her wonderful descriptions of scenery, her subtle humour." — Jacqueline Banerjee.
t is for this picturesque and attractive place [Richmond] Miss Rhoda Broughton has deserted her quiet little home at Oxford, where she had lived for twelve years. On the high ground overlooking the Terrace Gardens, she and her sister, Mrs. Newcome, have established themselves in the quiet and peace they both love, in a comfortable house, standing back from the road, which commands an extensive view of the river, winding serpent - like through a forest of trees. Ushered upstairs into the drawing-room, where the author receives you with much cordiality, the first thing which strikes you is the sweet rich voice in which her welcome is uttered. Standing facing the setting sun, with its golden light reflected on her, you observe that she is above the middle height, and graceful in figure; the hair, rolled back from the low broad strong-looking forehead, is becomingly tinged with grey over the right temple, harmonizing well with the darker shades on the neat, well-shaped head. The mouth and chin indicate firmness and resolution. In repose, the expression might almost be called sad, but as she speaks, the frankness in the grey eyes, set well apart, at once dispels the idea, and the pleasant musical laugh betrays the vein of fun and wit — entirely of an original kind — which runs through her books. She is dressed in some fabric of dark green, with velvet sleeves and bodice; the latter relieved at the upper part with a paler shade of embroidered vest. The windows open on to a broad trellised verandah, which runs the whole Miss Broughton bids you look at the exquisite view.... [38/39]
Rhoda Broughton was born at Segrwyd Hall, Denbighshire. Her father was a clergyman, and held the family living in Cheshire, where her childish days were passed, varied by visits to her grandfather, [40/41] Sir Henry Broughton, at Broughton Hall, Staffordshire. Her father was a student, and himself grounded her in Shakespeare and the English classics, and imparted also the rudiments of Latin and Greek. She was brought up strictly, and the hours of study were long, but made interesting by her scholarly instructor. Asking Miss Broughton if her father had been an author, she replies, "only of his sermons, and I do not believe any of my relations wrote a line in their lives." It is a surprise to hear that her great gifts, her originality of style, her wonderful descriptions of scenery, her subtle humour, are not hereditary. Keenly interested, you ask her how then the idea of writing occurred to her.
She says she remembers a certain wet Sunday afternoon when she was about twenty-two; she was distinctly bored by a stupid book which she was trying to read, when "the spirit moved her to write." It was on the leaves of an old copy-book lying at hand that she delivered her soul of the ideas which poured in on her brain. Day after day, night after night, she wrote swiftly and in secret, until at the end of six weeks she found a vast heap of manuscript accumulated, to which she gave the title of "Not Wisely, but Too Well." Miss Broughton kept it by her until January, 1865, when she crossed over to Ireland on a visit to her uncle-in-law, Mr. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, then editor of the Dublin University Magazine; she selected two chapters at random and read them aloud to him. He at once prognosticated the success of the book; accepted it as a serial, and later on, suggested to Mr. Bentley [41/42] that he should bring it out in three volume form. Here, however, a check occurred. The reader pronounced so unfavourably of its merits, that Mr. Bentley held off. But the inspiration, once set in motion, could not be stopped, and soon found vent in a new work, Cometh up as a Flower. This was well received. A couple of columns of favourable criticism in the Times, and various eulogistic notices in other papers, soon caused it to become such a marked success that Mr. Bentley reconsidered the matter. His deliberation happily ended in the purchase of Not Wisely, but Too Well from Tinsley, so that the two books were actually brought out in the same year. The home of Miss Broughton's ancestors, Broughton Hall, built in the reign of one of the old Tudors, is so well depicted in Cometh up as a Flower, that none who have read the book and seen the place can fail to observe the absolute truthfulness of the description.
A propos of this novel, Miss Broughton tells an amusing anecdote:— "It was claimed by other people," she says; "a lady told an acquaintance of mine that her son had written it, which diverted me much."
The fame of these books went far afield. Some years ago a graceful tribute was paid to the author. Captain Markham, of H.M. ship Alert, begged to be introduced, and told her that in a remote Arctic region they had by common consent christened an icebound mountain, "Mount Rhoda," in grateful acknowledgment of the pleasure which her books had given the officers of the ship on their perilous voyage. [42/43]
"Temple Bar" secured her next two novels, Red as a Rose is she and Goodbye, Sweetheart. About once in two years Miss Broughton delights the world with a new book. Nancy, Twilight Stories, Joan, Second Thoughts, Dr. Cupid, Belinda, followed at about these intervals, but her latest work, Alas! must take a high stand, if only for her faithful delineation of life in Florence, her intimate knowledge of all things artistic, her scenes laid in Algeria, which place she visited last year, and her vivid and graphic descriptions of those lovely countries, which are an education in themselves. And the humorous touches! How much everyone sympathises with the meek, but excellent "Amelia," whom no one thoroughly appreciates until after her death. Uneducated in art, she appeals pitifully in the following words to her lover, who finds out her worth too late.
"And now, where shall we go? that is the next thing — not to any gallery or church, I think, if you don't mind. I say such stupid things about art, and the more I try the stupider they are; let us go somewhere into the country. I can understand the country, I am not afraid of saying stupid things about it."
You tell her later of an observation made to you quite lately by her sister author, Miss Braddon, ever keenly appreciative of the gifts of another, on reading a striking description in Alas! of the sea after a storm, which runs thus:— "A sea even more wonderful than radiant; no servile copy of the sky and clouds to-day, but with astonishing colours of its own; a faint yet glorious green for a part of its [43/44] watery breadth; then what our poverty compels us to call blue; and then a great tablecloth of inky purple, which looks so solid, that the tiny white boats which are crossing it seem to be sailing on dry land." Miss Braddon remarked, "Rhoda Broughton is a genius and a prose poet." Your hostess is charmed with the kindly speech.
No solitary copy can be seen, in the well-filled book-cases, of the author's works. She says that she sells them out and out at once, and then has "done with them"; but, "Come," she adds, "we have talked long enough about my books; let me show you a few of my treasures," and she points out a small sketch by Hamilton Aide, two busts of Lord Wolseley and Mr. Carlyle, presented to her by Sir Edgar Boehm; presentation copies from Matthew Arnold, Lord Lytton, Henry James, Andrew Lang, etc., etc., and an ornamental plate rack, by which she sets great store, from Adelaide Kemble (Mrs. Sartoris); a very ancient engraving of Titian's Danae hangs over the mantelpiece opposite three lovely photographs of "Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy." The floor of this delightful room is covered with peacock-blue felt and a few rugs of Eastern manufacture; a small aviary of birds stands by the window, which is open, for your hostess is a "great believer in plenty of fresh air and a good fire." Ere taking leave, you ask if the two fine pugs basking on the rugs are especial pets. "Yes," says Miss Broughton, " but," mournfully, "they are a degenerate race; and not the dear dog heroes of my books. They are all dead and gone!"
Black, Helen C. Notable Women Authors of the Day: Biographical Sketches. Glasgow. D. Bryce & Son, 1893. 37-44. Internet Archive. Contributed by Trent University. Web. 2 June 2021.
Created 2 June 2021