Manners Shaping Morals: Conduct literature at Newcastle University

Conduct literature is a little-known genre nowadays; it has been absorbed mostly into magazine culture and advice you get from your grandma. But in the 18th and 19th centuries it was a genre of literature that shaped, and was shaped by, popular culture. Conduct literature is texts that give advice on how to behave in polite society and how to run a successful household; in other words, on a person’s conduct. This advice ranged from the practical; how much credit it was acceptable to run up with household vendors; to the philosophical; how best to educate children to make them into functional citizens. The vast majority of these texts were aimed at women: in their capacity as mothers, as wives and as daughters. These manuals formed an influential industry in the late 18th and early 19th century as the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars raged and the British propaganda machine cultivated the idea of the French as immoral and dissolute compared to Britain’s steadfast morality. This deep-seated aspiration for ethical superiority is seen in the conduct literature of the age, conduct literature found in the 18th century collection at Newcastle University. As part of this collection the University holds books by Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft (among others), authors who, despite their varied political viewpoints, used their writing as a way of giving women more power.

Title page from Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Title page from Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (18th Century Coll, 18th C. Coll 396 WOL)

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), widely regarded to be one of the first works of feminist philosophy and the precursor to the organised feminist movement. A first edition of this is held in the 18th Century Collection in the Phillip Robinson Library, previously owned by Joseph Cowen, revolutionary Member of Parliament for Newcastle Upon Tyne. This manifesto for female education was a well-known, radical example of the conduct literature genre. Wollstonecraft famously wrote in her introduction to the volume: “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.” (6, emphasis original). This sentence is a decisive judgement on both women and the men who interact with them. Wollstonecraft invokes rationality to justify the language of her doctrine; a characteristic that was considered the defining trait of humanity in the 18th century. She also implies that women were treated as being in a ‘state of perpetual childhood’ by men in this era, something that can be seen in the conduct literature written by men in the 18th century. For instance, in Fordyce’s Sermons for Young Women he states, “The Almighty has thrown you upon the protection of our sex. To yours we are indebted on many accounts. He that abuses you dishonours his mother. Virtuous women are the sweeteners, the charm of human life.” (9). Not only does Fordyce imply women to be incapable of functioning without male protection in this statement, but he also designates them as ‘the charm of human life’ thus suggesting them not to be human at all. This is where the different political viewpoints of the female conduct literature writers held in Special Collections at Newcastle are united. Although they differ in how it should be expressed and used, each author acknowledges the female capacity for rationality.

Title page from More’s strictures
Title page from More’s strictures (18th Century Collection, 18th C. Coll 828.69 MOR)

Another deeply influential text that is held in the 18th Century Collection at Newcastle is conservative moralist Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799). This is one of many texts by Hannah More that is held by the university, but Strictures is her best well-known work. The text discusses both the practicalities and the moralities of raising children, especially young women. More grounds her philosophy in the importance of the family in raising future citizens and in shaping society. On the title page of the fourth edition copy held in the Newcastle University archives (shown above) she places a quote from Lord Halifax which states, “May you so raise your character that you may help to make the next age a better thing, and leave posterity in your debt, for the advantage it shall receive by your example.” This statement embodies More’s attitude to female morality and education; in Strictures she passes judgement on aristocratic women and their perceived indolence. More, like Wollstonecraft, values the emerging middle-class and their work ethic, manifesting in women through their cultivation of useful employment such as mending, rather than the frivolous, impractical embroidery typically undertaken by the aristocracy. When quoting Lord Halifax, More also invokes the concept of debt to a nation; she perceives women as being as much the cause of Britain’s intellectual superiority as men and as owing their full potential to their country.

The idea that citizens owe their nation morality stems from the conflict with France mentioned earlier; the prevailing opinion in Britain was that the French were immoral and prone to excess, and therefore one way in which Britain was superior to them was through their morality. This created an anxiety around female morality that both informed and was informed by the conduct literature genre, including those held by Newcastle University. Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft are two of the most well-known conduct literature authors from the 18th century and occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum. Nevertheless, they are united in their anxiety about female morality during this period and how any degradation of that would affect the nation at large. This collective anxiety eventually led to a societal idolisation of the middle class, whose ideology and ethics would come to set the standard for British society. Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More, therefore, form part of a genre that shaped British culture and therefore its history.

Written by bequest student Charlotte Davison, Postgraduate student from the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics.

‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’ by Val McDermid #ChristmasCountdown Door no. 2

‘It was the night before Christmas, and not surprisingly, Kelly Jane Davidson was wide awake. It wasn’t that she wanted to be. It wasn’t as if she believed in Santa and expected to catch him coming down the chimney onto the coal-effect gas fire in the living-room. After all, she was nearly eight now…’

Front cover of Stranded (Flambard Press, 823.914 MCD)

So goes the opening of the short story ‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’ by renowned crime writer, Val McDermid. The story can be found in her collection Stranded which was published by Flambard Press in 2005.

Flambard Press was a North East-based independent press which published a range of poetry and fiction, as well as some non-fiction and visual-art books. It was particularly focused on publishing new and neglected writers in the North of England, as well as promoting live literature.

The Christmas Pantomime – #ChristmasCountdown Door no. 9

Door No. 9

Page from Illustrated London News, Volume 92 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll ILL 030)

Page from Illustrated London News, Volume 92 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll ILL 030)

Page from Illustrated London News, Vol. 92, dated 7th January 1888. Illustrations shows various different pantomime costumes including characters Puss in Boots, The Queen, The Blondin Donkey and Cupid.

Have you been to any pantomines this Christmas season yet?

Illustrated London News is part of our 19th Century Collection and 20th Century Collection. You can find this volume and other Illustrated London News on our Library Catalogue here.

Agatha Christie and Archaeology – September 2018

Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling crime novelist; but did you know that she also worked in the field of archaeology alongside her second husband, the distinguished archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan? From the 21st Century Collection, this month’s treasure is Agatha Christie and Archaeology, edited by Charlotte Trümpler, which celebrates Christie’s relationship with archaeology, exploring what life was like working and travelling around archaeological digs in the Middle East in the 1930s to the 1950s, and detailing the extraordinary relationship between Christie’s books and the field of archaeology.

First published as part of a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2001-02 and translated from German, this book details Christie’s contribution to the excavations led by her husband at various sites in Syria and Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud which has since been destroyed. With reflections from those who worked as part of the excavation teams, the book describes everyday life for Christie and her husband at the digs (including anecdotes of Christie piecing together pottery shards and cleaning ivory fragments using hand lotion and face cream).

Christie photographed many of the finds, some of which are now held in the British Museum. These are explored in the book, as well as details and stills from two films she made of the excavation sites that have never been shown publically. The book also provides photographs of Agatha and Max, in addition to examples of photographs taken by Christie of late-1930s Syria and of Iraq between 1948 and 1958. Demonstrating Christie’s unique perspective on archaeological digs in these areas, Agatha Christie and Archaeology also explores the differences between her attitude to the Orient, and those of previous European travellers in the Middle East, including Gertrude Bell whose extensive archive is held in Special Collections.

Many of Christie’s best-loved and most well-known novels featuring Hercule Poirot, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937), take place in the Middle East and feature settings of archaeological sites; Agatha Christie and Archaeology uncovers some of the little-known connections between the fictional dramas and characters of the novels and their basis on real-life events and people, such as Christie’s own adventurous travels to excavation sites.

Why not visit Special Collections to take a look at some of the examples of Christie’s work held here? There are children’s versions of Death on the Nile and Crooked House in the Booktrust Collection, and the little-known Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories – a collection of religious stories and poems generally thought to be aimed at children that Christie published under her married name – is held in the Brian Alderson Collection.

Janet – March 2018

Stored in the Bloodaxe archive in the Robinson Library there is a note written in the margins of the manuscript of Ken Smith’s poetry collection, ‘The Poet Reclining’ from 1977, one of Bloodaxe Book’s first publications:

‘pity Janet, you’ve done it again!’

References to ‘Janet’ continue to appear frequently in the editorial marginalia, minutes and notes. As part of her practice-based PhD research, Kate Sweeney has decided to build a ‘Janet’ – from traces of administration ephemera found in the archive. An amalgamated, chimerical idea of a ‘Janet’ from paper. From the margins, notes and minutes, but mainly from the post-its – a part of the archive and Apart from the archive – much like Janet herself…

‘Treasure of the Month’

This month’s treasure is Janet. Janet seeps through on post-its pressed upon other people. A part and apart, her stickiness is temporary, her yellow glow fleets over faces. She is deeply disposable unless undetected – then, she slips off her sheet, off her box and into the archive…

Image: Post-it note attached to material in The Bloodaxe Archive, contained in BXB/4/5/1 and stored in Special Collections at The Robinson Library.

Chicken-rearing and the Revolution – August 2015

17 August 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s classic ‘fairy tale’ about animals in revolt and allegory of the Russian dictatorship, Animal Farm. Orwell – real name Eric Arthur Blair – wrote the book in 1943/44 at his small cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire. His friend and fellow author, Jack Common, ran the village shop in nearby Datchworth.

George Orwell BBC

George Orwell

Common was born in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1903. He moved to London in 1925 and later worked at The Adelphi magazine, where he met Orwell in the mid-1930s.The pair struck up an uneasy friendship – Common was North East working-class, whilst Orwell, was (in his own words) “lower-upper-middle class” and Eton-educated. Despite their differences, the two remained friends until Orwell’s death in 1950. Orwell became Common’s literary mentor, regarding Common’s collection of essays, The Freedom of the Streets (1938), as:

‘the authentic voice of the ordinary working man, the man who might infuse a new decency into the control of affairs if only he could get there . . .’

Jack Common died in 1968, and his papers were deposited at the University Library in 1974. They comprise photographs, diaries, notebooks, manuscript, and letters.


(JC/4/1/8) Jack Common

This 1962 letter (shown below) to Common (COM 3/3/38), from London bookseller Anthony Rota, is about the purchase of a selection of Orwell’s letters. Rota, obviously looking for insights into Orwell’s writing, isn’t impressed with some of the content:

‘Like you, I find Orwell’s absorption in the minutiae of chicken-rearing well worth reading about but, in terms of hard cash, it does not mean as much as any comment he makes on how and why he wrote his books.’

Rota offers Common a poultry £75 for the letters.

But perhaps the letter should maybe not be dismissed so lightly. Orwell – a keen angler and gardener – strove for self-sufficiency and reared his own livestock in his Wallington garden. His chickens and goats are the animals that provided inspiration for characters in Animal Farm.

Common replied, expressing his disappointment at the offer. Rota’s response of 8th August 1962 (COM 3/3/39) presses home his disinterest in Orwell’s Good Life interests:

‘From our point of view the trouble is that he writes too much about chickens and not enough about his work.’

The two eventually agree on £85 for the letter.

(COM 3/3/38), letter from Anthony Rota to Jack Common, 3rd August 1962

(COM 3/3/38), letter from Anthony Rota to Jack Common, 3rd August 1962

The Ship That Sailed To Mars – November 2014

Image of a silhouetted ship sailing across an orange blue background
Image from The Ship That Sailed To Mars (London: George G. Harrap, 1923) (20th Century Collection, 20th C. Coll 823.912 TIM)

To mark the 50th anniversary this month of NASA’s first successful mission to Mars, Special Collections brings you its very own Mars mission in the fantasy and vintage Science Fiction work, The Ship That Sailed To Mars.

The book is the work of William Mitcheson Timlin (1892 – 1943). Timlin was born in Ashington, Northumberland, the son of a colliery foreman. He attended Morpeth Grammar School where he showed talent for drawing, and received a scholarship to the School of Art at Armstrong College in Newcastle (later to form part of Newcastle University). In 1912, he moved to South Africa where he completed his training in Art and Architecture and remained for the rest of his life, forging a successful career for himself as an architect, illustrator and author.

The Ship That Sailed To Mars was published in England in 1923 in an edition of only two-thousand copies. Originally conceived by Timlin as a work to entertain his young son, it carries forty-eight striking watercolour plates, alternating with forty-eight pages of Timlin’s own handsome calligraphic text; when Timlin sent the book to the London-based publishers, George Harrap, they were sufficiently impressed that they decided to print the book just as it appeared, without any typesetting.

Page titled 'The Meteor' from 'The Ship that Sailed to Mars'
Page from The Ship that Sailed to Mars (20th Century Collection,
20th C. Coll 823.912 TIM

The book’s fantastical, whimsical and stylised illustrations display strong influences of fellow Twentieth Century illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and William Heath Robinson. The Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Book Illustrators describes it as a masterpiece and “the most original and beautiful children’s book of the 1920s”.

The story is that of an Old Man who dreams of sailing to Mars “by way of the Moon and the more friendly planets.” He designs and builds a ship with the help of elves and fairies, and journeys to “the tiny Orb that was the Wonder World of Mars”, encountering all manner of creatures and adventures along the way.

Front cover design for Beyond the border (1898) – November 2010

Front cover of Campbell, W.D. Beyond the border. With 167 illustrations by Helen Stratton (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1898)
(19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll. 823.89 CAM)

Yes, it was most decidedly Black Duncan the smith who was at the bottom of the whole affair. He was the author of the remark that set everybody gaping, and made such a tremendous fuss in the town. He it was who let fall the fatal joke, when his wife brought in the dish of broiled haddock that morning at breakfast; and though it is not the best taste to laugh at one’s own pleasantries, he, I must confess, did so. It was beyond measure funny, and not a bite or sup would he taste till he had had his laugh out.
Thus begins Walter Douglas Campbell’s Beyond the border (1898). It appears to be a children’s story, with a king and queen, a talking cat and a hag who lives in a tower with her daughter who has a “flat, yellow face, speckled like a trout”.

Helen Stratton (fl. 1892-1925) provided 167 black and white illustrations to accompany the text. A British illustrator who was particularly associated with children’s books and fairy tales, she was sometimes influenced by the Glasgow School of Art and art nouveau movement; at other times was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting.

The book itself has a green Victorian cloth binding, with a front cover design depicting a witch dropping frogs into a cauldron, and highly-stylised cats on the spine. It was presented to J. Patten MacDougall from Innis Chonain in 1899. Innis Chonain is the Scottish Island on which Douglas Walter Campbell, an amateur architect, had built a large home.