Maud. But forget Tennyson

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The enterprising Maud was a Victorian spinster who kept an illustrated diary for a few years around the age of 30, and this is the edited highlights.  She was the youngest child of a long Victorian family, living at home as housekeeper for modestly prosperous ageing parents who were more like grandparents, chances of marriage passing her by, making the best of it with two longtime spinster friends.  Sounds sad?  But if Maud and her friends had male counterparts anywhere in the world, they were J, Harris and George in Three Men in a Boat, which, I find to my gratification, Jerome was writing at exactly the same time as Maud created her diary.

Maud climbs ladders, has snowball fights, moves heavy furniture, walks in thin shoes to a dance through the snow so as not to miss out, plays battledore and shuttlecock in the drawing room (with two shuttlecocks to make it more amusing), scrambles over stiles, through mud, and down cliffs, travels from Portsmouth to York each year on her own, dances until four in the morning, takes part in amateur theatricals, cheats at croquet, walks thirteen miles in a day.  She plays tennis, cricket, and badminton,  goes boating or ice skating in season, has an impromptu game of football which leads to trouble, and learns to ride a bicycle. She even has a running-away fund (long before Jessica Mitford had the idea).  She milks everything for maximum comedy effect.  And she paints it all, often with great expression.

Some of her activities sound juvenile for her age, but this is partly because her diary is kept for fun, and ignores the dull work of her daily housekeeping.  I also suspect that as a younger woman she would not have had the freedom which she could begin to claim as her thirties approached and her marriageability faded, so she rushed to gather her rosebuds.

The diary is a document about a ‘normal’ Victorian:  not an intellectual, not a woman with a vocation, not a radical, nor a neurotic introvert, nor a society queen. And you see society changing around her.

I’m not going to put in any spoilers about the end of her story.  Copies of Maud seem to be available through AbeBooks for a modest sum, and if you like Three Men in a Boat or enjoy diaries per se, it might be money well laid out.

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