Friday, June 21, 2013

Miss Cayley's cousin

The Type-Writer Girl, Grant Allen (writing as Olive Pratt Rayner)

Even before I finished Charlotte Yonge's The Clever Woman of the Family, I was browsing the Broadview Press site, hoping they had reprinted more of her novels.  I didn't find any of her books, but in the excitement of discovering this book, I didn't even mind.  I had no idea that Grant Allen wrote under pseudonyms!  This is one of two books that he wrote as "Olive Pratt Rayner."  The other is called Rosalba: The Story of Her Development.  Both of "Mrs. Pratt's" books are available through Google Books, though not Project Gutenberg for some reason.

Grant Allen's name caught my eye, as did the title, and then the description sold me:

    Juliet Appleton is an officer's daughter who is forced to make her own way in the world after her father's death.  Having been trained in typewriting and shorthand, she obtains employment at a law office, only to find that she cannot bear to work with her unpleasant colleagues and employer.
    Juliet possesses some of the characteristics of the infamous "New Woman": she has attended Girton College, she smokes cigarettes, and she travels the countryside on her bicycle.  After various adventures, Juliet finds a new opportunity as a type-writer girl for a publishing company . . .

Of course this reminded me immediately of Miss Cayley's Adventures, one of my favorite books of this year.  I couldn't resist ordering a copy, and I read it shortly after it arrived.  It does indeed have more than a few similiaries to Miss Cayley, which was published two years later.  I don't want to say too much about the plot, except that Juliet's adventures take place for the most part in England, in and around London.  Like Miss Cayley, she relies on luck as much as her own determination and skills.  She even makes a good friend named Elsie, helping her hone her typing skills and finding her work, though unlike Lois Cayley she can't invite her Elsie on a European jaunt.

I enjoyed this book, but despite the similarities, to me it didn't quite have the magic of Miss Cayley.  For one thing, it's half the length, just over 120 pages in the edition I read.  Even though it's shorter, it feels a bit padded, with descriptions of scenery (on those bicycle rides, for example), as well as musing on literature, even before Juliet goes to work for a publisher.  She frequently compares her adventures with The Odyessy and with the plays of Shakespeare.  The legend of St. Nicholas providing dowries to three poor girls also plays a big part in her adventures, as does Bizet's opera Carmen.   (I very much appreciated the footnotes in the Broadview edition, which explain the many literary quotations and allusions).  The language seems a bit flowery and high-flown.  I don't know if that's because Grant Allen was trying to disguise his normal style, or because he was trying to write in what he considered a woman's voice.  Either way, the narrative voice doesn't sound completely natural, to my mind.

In the end, though, I did enjoy this, and I've already downloaded Rosalba, which is apparently set in Italy.  Perhaps she will be an Italian "New Woman."  Now I'm curious to see what other pseudonyms Grant Allen used, and what he was writing under them.


  1. Perhaps you'll discover he has done a Miss Cayley for a variety of countries all under different names with interchangeable modern technical goods being flogged in each one! Bikes, typewriters, hmmm.... irons? vacuum cleaners? ;-)

  2. Oh vicki, what a brilliant idea! So Rosalba in Italy will have bicycles, and typewriters - and maybe a new-fangled espresso machine!


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!