Friday 14 September 2012

In Search of Beth Ellis

I was always the child who wanted to know what happens next.  Yes, but what does happily ever after mean?  How many children did the prince and princess have?  Did the wicked witch ever come back.  In other words, I will always read the sequel - even if it's a pale shadow of the original.

When I finished reading An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah (henceforth known as AEGFIB because typing it out every time is seriously eating into my working day) I was left wanting to know more about its author, Beth Ellis.  There is no sequel to AEGFIB but when the principal character of a book is a real person, it means that they've left tracks in the historical record too.

So I went to the internet, but the first dozen times I tried Google I just got links to the AEGFIB online.  I did find a few bloggers proclaiming their love for the book but all mentioned that there was very little information available about Beth Ellis.  Through the magic of the British Library catalogue I eventually got a few dates and then hit gold: an entry on a genealogy website.

Beth Ellis was born in 1874 in Wigan.  She was one of the first women to go to Oxford, where she studied English.  After travelling to, and writing about, Burma, she then turned her hand to writing novels.  Most that I've found seem to be in the Baroness Orczy / Georgette Heyer vein of historical romance.  At the age of 34 she married a barrister and then (and here's where I got a bit teary-eyed) in 1913 she died in childbirth.

All of this makes me want to know more, not less about her.  Through the wonders of online census returns I know that she and her husband had two live-in servants ... but I still don't know what she looked like.  If she ever travelled again and, if so, where did she go.  What she thought of Oxford in the 1890s.  How she met her husband.

But she chose not to chronicle any of those things and so this sequel is a short one.

Beth Ellis, 1874 - 1913, author of one of the funniest travel books ever written.

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