Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Myrtle Reed Society

Perhaps it is because I was never in the Girl Guides or the Brownies or any other club like that, but Societies have always appealed to me, particularly when I read about them in books when I was younger. Reading about the meetings of the Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct, or SSUC, in What Katy Did At School made me long for membership of a society of some kind. The mysteries of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Five Find Outers called for secret passwords and badges. But beyond my book club, I am not a member of any clubs or socities, unless matrimony counts!

This weekend, I discovered a marvellous book, The Spinster Book by Myrtle Reed. The copy I was looking at was from 1901, but it is available to read online, if you click on the title of this post. It makes me smile so much...a lot of her advice and observations are true today, so little has changed over the last century! One of her gems is 'men are as impervious to tears and pleading as a good mackintosh to mist, but at the touch of indifference, they melt like wax!' and my own favourite 'marriage appears to be somewhat like a grape. People swallow a great deal of indifferent good for the sake of the lurking bit of sweetness and never know until it is too late whether the venture was wise.' Not my own view, I hasten to add, but I love her way with words!

A little research revealed that she was an incredibly prolific writer, and had written another gem, The Myrtle Reed Cookbook, in which she tells us that breakfast is not dinner, and the table should accordingly, be laid differently! She warns us not to choose to 'loud' a breakfast service, and in another book offers 1000 ways to cook fish!

I immediately began to wonder who this wonderful woman was, how she came to be writing such a book in such a time (she mentions the ridiculousness of men, in 1901!) and how she managed to poke gentle fun at men without seeming bitter or cynical. Did she die a spinster, I wondered. Does she have any descendents? What was her life like?

Sadly, I found out. She had a very unsuccessful marriage, and took an overdose of sleeping powders and died at the young age of 36. What a sad waste, and to think that had she lived now, she could have left her husband, and been treated for her depression. She did not have the life I wish she had. She must have given so much joy through her books and novels, and yet had so little joy herself. When she was a child, she was chubby, and was teased so badly by the other children that she stayed inside and would not go out, preferring to read and write indoors instead.

Just before I made that sad discovery, a few of us at work were exclaiming about her lovely book and idly talking about forming The Myrtle Reed society. Perhaps we would wear little myrtle sprig brooches to identify ourselves. What would our purpose be? Why to discover copies of her books, to appreciate her works, and to quote her as often as possible!

We were not entirely serious, but I do love to think out little things like that, to let my imagination take flight. I read in the newspapers a while ago about Prunella Stack who was head of the Women's League of Health and Beauty in the 30's. They had a uniform of shorts and shirts, and I believe there was a little silver pin as well. I like the idea of being a member of that kind of league! I like to spend quiet moments on the bus or waiting in lines thinking about what kind of vintage clubs and societies I could revive, what our symbol would be, what our meetings would be like!

1 comment:

Dinahsoar said...

That is sad, to die at such a young age. I know from experience that the hard times of youth-- with the passing of time-- can be looked back upon with sweet wonder if you hang in there and don't faint, and that the future can hold goodness you never thought possible or even imagined. If we embrace we will grow and benefit. If we kick against the pricks we'll only end up with sore feet.

The only club I recall having been a member of was Campfire Girls. We were living out west, in Montana, when I joined. We moved away and that was the end of that. I've been in the 'cancer' club but I'd rather have skipped that, though I will say I learned so much I'd have otherwise never learned. By the grace of God I am still here 20 years later.