M. B. S. Strode-Jackson's Elizabethan Romance Tansy Taniard
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
with a portrait of the author
Myrtle Beatrice Strode Strode-Jackson (the double-Strode is not an error) was born in the 1890s in her family's 300-year-old Surrey home in England. Her paternal heritage included the first Knight of the Garter, & the Plantagenets. On her mother's side she was descended from those Huguenots who fled to Geneva at the time of Eddict of Nantes.
As a young woman she became a Christian Scientist, as did so many religiously intellectual women in the 1920s, with an almost feminist fervor for the idea of a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, founding such a faith. From her faith she wrote The Light of Ages: A Study of the Advance of Religious Ideas in the Course of Which Christian Science has Appeared (Boston: Zion Research Foundation, 1925), & soon thereafter Lives & Legends of Apostles & Evangelists (London: Religious Tract Society, 1928).
Her first novel, Kate Mitchell (London: Merry-Thought Press, 1914), was a portrait of an English country school mistress. But it was with her Elizabethan romance Tansy Taniard (New York: Scribner, 1945) issued in the UK as The Queen & Tansy Taniard (Oxford: Pen-in-Hand, 1949) that Strode-Jackson had her one commercial success. It was a heartfelt labor at which she spent seven years writing & researching, spending days on end deep in the stacks of the Bodleian Library in Oxford pooring over rare original manuscripts. She had prepared herself for this novel when still a scholar, being an honor student in Anglo-Saxon studies & learning fluent French. Some contemporary critics faulted it for the plethora of research-bits she inserts throughout an overly complicated plot, but the public liked it enough to make it a best seller.
Strode-Jackson had a vivid sense of place & space, of costume & the personal baring of her characters. These strengths were due no doubt to her previous interest in the theater, having written The Merry-Thought Plays: six plays for amateur dramatic clubs etc (London: Skeffington, 1908). Tansy's adventures were set in England & France in Queen Elizabeth's era. The manners of Elizabethans as to how they ate, dressed, danced, worked & sang are all creditably given.
Tansy Taniard was still in her teens when her father died leaving her the sole heir to Peascod Farm in Surrey. By a strange stroke of fate, her path crossed that of Queen Elizabeth who required a new wig, & Tansy, overwhelmed with devotion for her Queen, sacrificed her own gorgeous red locks for the wig's manufacture locks made famous in one of the most memorable of all portraits of Elizabeth. The Queen thereafter took a liking to Tansy & the story begins to follow their parallel & intertwining adventures.
Told in the first-person, Tansy's romance with a mysterious cadet of the French house of Lorraine is marked with humor & valor, reminiscent of the beauty, heroism, & comedy in the works of Jeffery Farnol. Hardly less fascinating is the convincing portrait of Elizabeth's love affair with the Duke of Anjou. Punctuated with swashbuckling action, Scribners advertised the story with this bold claim: had Tansy been a man, she would have been one the Three Musketeers, or the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Scribner in the United States really got behind the book, & it appears she came to American notice only after composing an ode commemorating the Washington Bicentenary, "May Flower Morning" being sung at the gala performance in the Albert Hall.
Myrtle was never able to build success upon success because she spent so much time in the researched details. Tansy's popular adventures were practically forgotten by the time Myrtle published another historical novel Cradle of Our Liberties (London: Macmillan, 1959). Having an American theme, set in the New World from 1651 to 1680, this should have done quite as well as had Tansy, yet it had no US edition & passed little-noticed even in England.
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