Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Mother Love: the story of a story by Julia Jones

Fun and Fiction 1912
Herbert Allingham wrote the serial story, Mother Love, for the Amalgamated Press comic-and-story paper Fun and Fiction in 1912. It was to be one of his biggest successes. The editor of Fun and Fiction, FC Cordwell, hailed this new work with what he described as a 'literary causerie; that is to say a discussion regarding the merits of the various authors whose works are now before the public.'

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WORKS OF A GREAT AUTHOR

'Works of a great author' is not a literary discussion at all. It's an editorial puff for Allingham's work which, as usual, praises the writer without naming him. In fact Cordwell does his best to convince his readers that un-named authors are the best sort. 'If you buy an expensive monthly magazine you see a brilliant array of names which are familiar to you and you read stories by men who have long ago laid the foundation stone of their success. Often you are disappointed in these stories and the reason is not far to see. It is not that your judgement is at fault, it is not that you are unable to appreciate really good fiction, it is merely the fact that many once-famous writers trade upon their names.'

It's unlikely that Cordwell's readers would have put his theories to the test by buying 'expensive monthly magazines'. Fun and Fiction was a weekly publication and cost a penny whereas most of Allingham's readers at this time preferred to pay only a halfpenny. Some of these readers can be glimpsed in a social survey, Boy Life and Labour by Arnold Freeman. Freeman was based in Birmingham's Woodbroke Settlement during 1912 – 1913 and had set himself to study the lives and tastes of 'uneducative' 16 year old boys. These were boys who had been identified by the labour exchange as having attempted four or more jobs since leaving school. They usually kept a few pennies out of their weekly wage and spent them lavishly on music halls, picture palaces and cheap literature.

Freeman was not entirely happy about their choices: 'The senses of the adolescent now open at their widest are opened not to Nature and Art but to cheap tawdry pantomime; his kindling imagination is not nourished with fine heroic literature but with the commonest rubbish in print.' Herbert Allingham's Mother Love was among the stories cited by Freeman as exemplifying this common rubbish.

MOTHER LOVE’: A PATHETIC STORY WHICH WILL TOUCH THE HEART OF EVERY READER
What will not a mother do for the sake of the child she loves? Mother love has prompted heroic actions which have made the world ring and also mothers have found themselves forced to do things that they would have shrunk from had it not been for the sake of their beloved little ones. This narrative tells in a most striking manner the story of a mother who was forced to offend against the law for the sake of her darlings.

Freeman offers detailed descriptions of several of the boys who would have been reading Allingham's work, either in Fun and Fiction or, more likely in the 1/2d Butterfly where his serial stories ran without a break from 1909 – 1917 and which Freeman mentions as a particular favourite with his 'uneducative' boys.

Boys like HH: 'The home of H.H. is broken up. His father had, for some years before the birth of this boy, been getting such broken employment and beggarly income that he left home when he knew this fresh burden was coming into his life and died soon after. The mother now lives with a married sister and helps support the household by charring and baby-minding.'

Or boys like CW: 'This lad was raised in a caravan under conditions hygienically truly awful. The parents are both densely ignorant, with little moral perception. The home had been moved from the caravan when I saw it – it moves every few weeks – but it was still just as loathsome. The room I saw looked more like a sea of filth and rags and rubbish than a place where human beings lived. The father was then on remand on a charge of ‘receiving’.'

Allingham's Mother Love is set among the gentry and uses names from his own family and friends. It opens with the anxiety of a helpless young widow, who has never worked in her life and has been left unprovided for by her feckless artist husband. Shall she sell the children's pony? “Oh no, dear mamma,” exclaims her eight-year old daughter, Margery, “You must not sell my pony! Whatever made you think of such a dreadful thing?” In fact the heroine is tempted into an insurance scam thus delivering both her children into the power of a viciously cruel guardian. At the heart of Mother Love is the heroine-mother's return, disguised behind blue-tinted glasses, to watch over her children as their governess.

Allingham has taken this idea from Ellen Wood's East Lynne, a bestseller of the 1860s and still hugely popular in many cheap and serialised editions. In 1907 Lady Florence Bell, observing Middleborough households where the family income was between 25s and £2 10/- per week, identified East Lynne as ‘the book whose name one most often hears from men and women both.’ An ‘admirable compound,’ as she describes it, ‘of the goody and the sentimental.’ Many of Allingham's readers were earning shillings rather than pounds and his take on the story during this period was always firmly economic. It is poverty that tempts his mother-figure to transgress, not romantic love.
First reprint of Mother Love 'This arresting story is different from anything you have ever read.'

Mother Love ran from 1912-1913. In 1914 it was reprinted in the John Leng / DC Thomson story-paper My Weekly under a new title Spare My Children! Meanwhile Allingham had written a new, very similar story, Don't Leave Us, Mummy, for My Weekly's companion paper The Happy Home. This story too was almost immediately re-titled and re-printed – in the Firefly, the paper that had formerly been Fun and Fiction but which had changed its name and dropped its price to 1/2d. Emotion around motherhood was intensified in the early years of World War 1 and Allingham's story benefited from this. Versions of Mother Love and Don't Leave Us Mummy ran continuously through the years of conflict and 1918 brought two new stories using similar themes - A Mother at Bay (Happy Home) and For the Love of her Bairns (The People's Journal)

Both these later stories were sufficiently popular to be re-printed two or three times but Allingham's postwar portrayals of motherhood soon included illegitimate (or unacknowledgeable) children, divorce and accidental bigamy as the separating factors in addition to poverty. During the 1920s competition from the cinema intensified and editor FC Cordwell attempted to retain his audience with new comics such as Film Fun. Don't Leave Us, Mummy was re-authored as well as re-titled for Cordwell's new paper – Allingham was no longer anonymous, he had become 'Sessue Hayakawa', a popular Japanese star of the silent screen. Evidently this ploy worked as several of Allingham's other pre-war successes were re-printed under the Hayakawa pseudonym. In 1925 Film Fun used a re-print of the original Mother Love – the 6th in 13 years.

Towards the end of the 1920s however, Allingham was struggling financially. He produced a new version of Mother Love for My Weekly in 1928, with minimal changes and then, with extreme reluctance sold the copyright in this new story for a 3d 'book' version in 1929. This was not a book in the usual sense but a series title for a newsagent's 'library'. Allingham hated selling copyrights but by now he had amassed so many variants on the original story his style was hardly cramped. In the depression years of the early 1930s Allingham's writing attained new popularity in domestic magazines such as the 2d Family Journal and the Home Companion, mass-market comfort publications selling millions of copies each week. Mother Love and its derivatives were once again re-printed and the anonymous author was working on a yet another new version when he died. 
Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory: the working life of Herbert Allingham 1867 - 1936 
 Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory by Julia Jones was published on 1.10.2012 and is available as a paperback or ebook. More information at www.golden-duck.co.uk. or please visit the new facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AllinghamFamilyFictions where we promise only chat and no hard sell. Free information for researchers is available at http://golden-duck.co.uk/family-fictions-phd-thesis

5 comments:

CallyPhillips said...

D'you know what? There's nothing wrong with melodrama. The world is large enough for everyone to have their own reading preferences. Is the 'adult erotic romance' being pumped at us today any BETTER in any way than a 19thc melodrama? There's a place for all kinds of fiction and Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory is an excellent work for explaining the how's, why's and wherefore's of a type of fiction we have all been 'eddicated' to steer clear of. And we've stopped asking the questions why? Thanks Julia for opening eyes and giving some serious consideration to a whole gamut of questions about fiction/literature which readers AND writers should be asking and finding their own answers to. We are not SHEEP. (And most of us not robots!) I'll see if I can prove that momently.

julia jones said...

Thanks Cally - you would have laughed to see what a struggle I had to get over my own university-educated prejudices when I first started reading these stories. It would have been better if I'd first met Allingham when I still had the innocent eyes of a primary six pupil from Tattybogle. On the other hand, the moment I started tothink about it I reaslied that I read a huge amount of entertaiment fiction which is doing just the same thing but in an idiom that suits a 21st century grandma.

julia jones said...

and by the way - I didn't make the point well enough in the blog - don't you find it immensely sad as well as touching to think of boy HH and boy CW wanting to read these gentry tales?

CallyPhillips said...

I'm a Scot. We are positively familiar with this. Our 'culture' is that of the British (not even English) bent because fundamentally the rural Scot (of anything less than landowning class) is not considered to have written anything of merit (unless you are Burns or Grassic Gibbon) and we are legendary at the 'cringe' and doffing our cap at the gentry who know better than we about such things - we can call them the 'cultural elite' but they come in some very peculiar guises in Scotland. It's like people visiting fancy houses and aspiring to live like that. I think the culture of a nation comes from the bottom of the pyramid as much as from the top. The people at the top don't agree of course and they 'eddicate' us out of it. Remember Joe Gargery I say! Wake up world - not everyone is middle class aspirational urban dwellers. And some of us wot arn't can even read!

julia jones said...

My theory is more benign in some respects. I don;t think the boys of Birmingham read HJA's gentry tales because they were cringers. Obviously it's escapist (like Downton Abbey!) but I think it was a form of emotional displacement, to read about parallel problems (eg fractured families)in another world. The one thing I'm pretty sure they didn't want to read about (as dear Frank Richards says) is the miserable truth of their own world/ You remeber the quote in response to Orwell -'I don't think it would be fair play to take his tuppence for telling him that' (or similar)Orwell was probably right but Frank richards knew his market