N. Crane

Girl Writers:
Nathalia Crane,
Vivienne Dayrell,
& Daisy Ashford


I occasionally find books by young girls whose precosity in the writing department is a bit more debatable than their parents & publishers may have pretended, but I'm charmed by them even so. The incredibly bad novelette The Young Visiters, or Mr Salteena's Plan (1919) by Daisy Ashford is alleged to have been written when she was eight years old, though not published until years later. It came complete with an introduction by J. M. Barrie, was an instant bestseller, soonafter adapted as a play, & has remained almost perpetually in print. But its popularity hinges on it's being such a cute piece of juvenilia filled with "adult" allusions the meanings of which the child author didn't fully understood.

That best-known example of the child-written book is interesting not not so much as storytelling art but as a revelation of childish perspective. The publisher in preserving even the childish spellings verbatim was relying entirely on the cuteness of so young a child having attempted a subject so far beyond her grasp.

But there have been girl writers of actual precosity whose juvenilia strikes me as of real merit, perhaps genius of a sort, even if expected immaturities occur.

One such book is of considerable rarity, The Little Wings by Vivienne Dayrell (1921), consisting entirely of poems & tales of fairies & angels written before age 15. It includes a Chesterton introduction that lends the volume a considerable collectibility it might not otherwise have achieved.

Vivienne surprised her family when at the age of 15 she converted to Catholicism all on her own! Five years later she wrote a letter to the youthful Graham Greene chastising him for having written that Catholics "worship" the Virgin Mary. This instigated a correspondence consisting of hundreds of letters, exchanged at the rate of as many as three a day. For love of her, Greene too converted to Catholicism, & one year after they met, they were married, & did not separate until 1948.

So Vivienne Dayrell, aka Vivien Dayrell-Browning, has rather more of a history than merely having published a childhood collection of poems & prose.

There are two fantastic tales in the collection which, in their stark simplicity, might easily have been mistaken for intentionally naive prose-poems rather than works of a child, had the age of the author was not revealed. The poems are quite striking in a recurring morbidness that I donžt believe is really all that rare in children.
I leave this world behind
And steal into the labyrinths
And chambers of my mind.
Down long, dim corridors I pass,
Through arches and through rooms.
By temples and by lonely lakes,
Past gardens and past tombs.
Another such author is the American Nathalia Crane, who began publishing at about age nine & had her first collection of poems issued when she was eleven. After publication of Janitor's Boy & Other Poems (1924) she was to remain something of a rage for several years. Later books are better, but even this first has more charm than mere cuteness, though no doubt the public was responding primarily to there being something awfully cute about someone that young expressing such lusty feelings for the Janitor's Boy:
He'll carry me off, I know that he will,
For his hair is exceedingly red;
And the only thing that occurs to me
Is to dutifully shiver in bed.
But I was not rendered a Nathalia Crane fan due to the cute aspects, for she also had a sense of the macabre, & fairly obviously was a great admirer of the Poe's poems.

Much that it is in Venus Invisible and Other Poems (1928) is whimsically erotic, as in a poem that speculates about Edgar Poe's love life. And I especially like a long narrative poem about Zenobia (whom the young poet calls Princess Tadmor), which is sometimes preciously bad:
He found the harem filled with rocking maids
Surrendered to the orgies of the sob.
elsewhere more agreeable:
Great is the rose
Infected by the tomb.
She was dubbed "The Brooklyn Bard" by age 13 when she published The Singing Crow & Other Poems (1926). She had reached a height of creativity with two fantasy novels, The Sunken Garden (1926) & An Alien from Heaven (1929) that demand no forgiveness of youth.

Nathalia became part of the Louis Untermeyer poetry circle during her so-young heyday, & he contributed an introduction to her volume Swear by the Night & Other Poems (1936) published at age 22. But the public lost interest in her poetry when they could no longer see the author as a child & teenager. Not that Nathalia lacked for further achievement. She became professor at San Diego State College, & championed sundry leftist causes.


copyright Đ by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, all rights reserved


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