Monday, November 29, 2010

“The northern lights were flashing overhead, shooting long lines of roseate glory towards the zenith, as if some unseen angel’s hand were (sic!) stringing heaven’s own harp. But the full chord which flowed beneath its touch was light instead of music.”
This rather florid piece of writing is from a book called ‘Lost In The Wilds Of Canada’ the author being a lady by the name of Eleanor Stredder. It must have been in the bookshelf a good many years because there is a card inside the cover informing me it came from the Border Bookshop of Todmorden, Lancs. The reason why Chris bought it is as follows – when a lonely little homesick boy of eight at boarding school I read a book called ‘Lost On The Prairie’, it went straight to the heart and I have been looking for that book ever since with absolutely no luck. Chris wondered if I may have been mistaken and ‘Lost In The Wilds Of Canada’ was what I was looking for. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it last week. It is not the book I have been searching for and the writing throughout is as florid as the quote above, though I did actually enjoy it. So who was Eleanor Stredder, a lady I had never heard of (not unusual, there being a million or more writers unheard of) and I imagined her thus: an elderly spinster, possibly a teacher at a girls’ school because she knew nothing at all about boys of fifteen. Her two boys, one English, one French, are so unlike any boys of fifteen I’ve ever known they were simply figments of her imagination, as she thought boys should be. The dialogue she has given them is totally unbelievable. She was Canadian I decided because her knowledge of Canada at the end of the nineteenth century is quite remarkable, including customs and words of the Cree and Blackfoot dialects which I have to accept as being genuine. How did she acquire all this intimate knowledge if she wasn’t Canadian? She didn’t have the internet at her command to look up anything she wanted but I suppose she could have ploughed her way through a number of encyclopaedias. My curiosity aroused I looked up Eleanor Stredder on Google and discovered she was no more Canadian than I am Chinese.
Born on 16 February 1823, in Royston, England, Eleanor Stredder was the daughter of Edward Stredder, an upholsterer, and Mary Stredder (née Abbott).She had one brother William (1822-?), also an upholsterer; and four sisters: Mary, Ann (1827-1895), a schoolmistress, Sarah (1829-1910), an authoress, and Harriet (1837-?). British census records list Eleanor as an upholsterer in 1861, and as an authoress in 1871 and 1881. The same records have her living in Royston until, in 1891, she is listed as living in Hammersmith, London. In 1901 she is listed as living in Whitstable, Kent.
Eleanor was the author of a number of books for children (mainly boys!) and her imagination took her far and wide: ‘Jack And His Ostrich (Africa), Alive In The Jungle (India), The Hermit Princess, A Tale Of Adventure In Japan, Archie’s Find (Australia), Doing And Daring (New Zealand), and of course the Canadian adventure. Her works are still available it seems from specialist bookshops.
How many encyclopaedias could she have looked up I wonder.
Sister Sarah didn’t do things by half either. Of the two novels I’ve come across each is in three volumes!

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