Tag Archives: victorian era

The Songs of Sarah Snow

Plot

Sarah Snow acted as a servant for Amelia and Dora Larkin, singers in Victorian music halls. She was badly treated by the sisters and their mother, but she hoped by working the music halls she would  get information about her parents  who were performers before they died.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Songs of Sarah Snow – Tracy: #268 (17 November 1984) – #277 (19 January 1985)

Sister in Secret

Plot

In a desperate attempt to obtain a better life for her delicate younger brother, Johnny,  Betsy Smith, a Victorian waif, convinced Sir Charles and Lady Ashleigh that he was their long lost grandson. To reward her they gave her employment as a kitchen maid, but Mrs Barton the bullying housekeeper had taken a dislike to her.

Notes

  • Artist: Carlos Freixas

Appeared

  • Sister in Secret – Tracy: #226 (28 January 1984) – #235 (31 March 1984)

Polly of Pickpocket Row [1984]

  • Polly of Pickpocket Row – Judy PSL: #250 [1984]
  • Reprinted –  Bunty PSL: #432 [1997]

Plot

In the 19th century, Polly Pickles is left alone after her mother’s death, and gets no respite as the landlord immediately kicks her out of her home and takes all the furniture to pay for rent owed. She escapes the parish Beadle who wants to take her to the workhouse orphanage, but with no where to go she has to stay on the streets. Hungry, she offers to work for a baker for some food but he only shoves her away, dropping a loaf of bread in the process. In desperation she grabs the loaf but the baker chases her.Her first bit of luck is she runs into a lady who pies for the bread, claiming Polly was bringing it to her and then offers Polly a home. The lady Miss Darby, brings her to a nice home with lots of other children, she calls her home a school and tells her she has already made a good start in her lessons. Polly is shocked when she realises that Miss Darby means it is a school for thieves!

Miss Darby tells her they only steal from the rich and it is all for a good cause. She brings her out for her first lesson with two other girls Emily and Matilda. They are all dressed up, so no-one would mistake them for common urchin thieves. Miss Darby tells Polly it is important to look respectable, and the girls certainly use this when the steal from a woman and slip the purse to Miss Darby and are out of sight before the woman realises what has happened. Polly gets her first task when Harry steals a watch from a captain. Miss Darby realising he is a good man that rescued people from a shipwreck, gets Polly to return the watch. She does this by knocking some books and when he bends over to help pick them up she pretends he must have dropped his watch. With this being a success, it’s time for Polly to do the reverse and Miss Darby asks her who is deserving to be robbed. She chooses Mr Grice the sweatshop owner where her mother use to work dressmaking. She is nearly caught but Miss Darby’s intervention helps her escape, but then she runs into the Beadle. Luckily again her new family are looking out for her and Harry helps her escape. Polly hopes to share Mr Grice’s money with his worker’s but Miss Darby tells her it would raise too many suspicions and she has a better use for the money.

Seems someone has been keeping an eye on Miss Darby’s operation, Ned Griffin, a thief himself, he is not fooled by their “respectable” looks. He confronts Polly and Harry, they manage to give him the slip, but he is still hanging around the street where they live as he suspects their base is around there. As he is not familiar with Emily and Matilda, they approach him then frame him for stealing their jewelry, calling to police for help. He runs away and the police take chase, and though he was trying to blackmail them, the children are still upset when he fall in front of a train and is killed.

Miss Darby is still away but Harry takes Polly on a job. Polly is to distract Lord Lester while playing with hoop while Harry takes a case of money. The men figure out she is an accomplice and take her prisoner in hopes to exchange her for the money. Polly isn’t going to passively take this, there seems to be no escape from room, but she hides in chimney making them think she has escaped then runs out. Lester and his men are soon after her, but they are met by Miss Darby and the police! She claims Lester kidnapped her niece, she will let the matter drop if he gives donation to charity. Harry admires her nerve with her convincing everyone she is a respectable lady, though Darby counters that is exactly what she is. The next day she shows them where the money has gone to – building a home for unwanted children, they will no longer have to steal and she wants only happy days for all of them from now on.

Thoughts

It is nice to see this story has a happy ending and Miss Darby’s motives were sincere. Many of these kind of stories would have the protagonist tricked and used by the “kindly” benefactor. At the start Miss Darby does seem genuine, and her return of the captain’s watch seems like she has her own morality code, but the reader might still be cautious, perhaps she is just lulling Polly into false security, especially as some of her actions seem suspicious. Such as not wanting to share the money with workers and going away on secret trips. Luckily it is her charges she has in mind and the people she robbed aren’t ones that would earn our sympathy.

It’s easy to see how Polly is lured into this world, the welcoming Miss Darby, the nice clothes and food and warm house. Her career as thief is slowly built as she progresses from returning an item, to robbing from someone she knows is deserving of it, to stealing from a stranger. The set up of having them all look respectable certainly makes their activities easier. While there is not one villain in the story, there are several antagonists that Polly has to outwit, all at different social levels. Firstly the Beadle, who pops up twice to try and take Polly, he is in authority to do his job, but the orphanage would be worst than a jail sentence for Polly and even when she has a home, he still pursues her not believing her. Then Ned, a ruffian,  who is the most dangerous as he is on to their scheme. The children feel bad about his untimely end but Ned was dangerous and was suspect in a murder himself, so a bit of karma for him to fall in front of train. Lastly there are the people they rob, Mr Lester being the most proactive, actually kidnapping Polly as he wants a chance to get his money back and he believes the police would be of no help, and he is into some shady gambling herself. Polly while she does get help from others, she can be quite proactive, maybe learning more from Darby’s “school” she is quite crafty in how she gets away from Lester. It’s nice to see Polly’s new family look out for her and it is satisfying end that she has found a home and won’t have to continue stealing to earn her keep.

 

School of Shadows (1995)

School of Shadows cover

Bunty Picture Library: #393

Published: 1995

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

The pupils of Ratcliffe Park Boarding School are temporarily relocated to Ratcliffe Manor when their school needs repairs because of structural damage from flooding. There are whispers from a couple of pupils, Emma and Mags, that the manor is haunted. Sarah and Sally, the protagonists of the story, don’t take the rumours seriously. But they are disturbed when they see the portrait of the stern-looking Lavinia Wykes, whose family were the first owners of the manor, and marvel at what a contrast it is to Lavinia as a child in another portrait.

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Then the headmistress, Mrs Jonson, starts acting very strangely. Normally she is a kindly headmistress, but suddenly there are strange fluctuations in her behaviour. She starts turning into a Jekyll and Hyde character. At times she acts quite normally, but at other times she turns into a dragon, treating everyone in a manner that is not only extremely harsh but also Victorian in its thinking. She gives orders for the pupils to be served plain breakfasts consisting of dry bread and porridge. New rules are installed, and the girls are shocked and surprised at how severe they are: uniform to be worn at all times; no talking after lights out; no food in the dorms; no wandering around inside the house; and other rules listed that are not described. The caretaker doesn’t fare much better. When the school first arrives, Mrs Jonson tells him not to worry about cleaning the difficult-to-clean Victorian style windows. But then she does a very angry U turn, demanding they be cleaned “my good man!”

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Sally and Sarah put her behaviour down to the stress of the move, and Mrs Jonson is indeed taken ill. But when the deputy head, Miss Greg, takes over, she starts acting the same way. When Mrs Jonson returns, she seems to be herself again and even gives the girls pop posters for their dormitory. But soon the same thing starts again.

Things get weirder and weirder. When sent to the upstairs room for detention, Sally and Sarah rapidly discover there is something strange about it. It is inexplicably hot, and soon there are strange lights and voices crying “No! No! No!” in the room. In the school grounds they encounter a strange apparition and catch the words “…and I will not tolerate it!” in a voice they don’t recognise.

Sally and Sarah now think it is time to look up the history of the manor. They search newspapers in town, which yields information that the Wykes family built the manor as a private house. Thirty-five years later it was converted into a girls’ boarding school, with Miss Wykes as headmistress. Two years after that, a fire broke out in a dormitory, killing Miss Wykes and several pupils.

Now Sally and Sarah believe the manor really is haunted after all, and the ghost of Miss Wykes has possessed Mrs Jonson (and Miss Gregg during her brief stint as headmistress). When they tackle Mags for information on what she said about the manor, she says she was just embroidering rumours she had heard from her gran.

The abnormal change in Mrs Jonson gets worse and worse. She even starts looking like Miss Wykes, calls herself Miss Wykes, and redecorates her office in a Victorian style and switches to kerosene lamps because electric light hurts her eyes. She also gets flummoxed when she encounters computer technology, but then seems to recover herself and tackle it comfortably. She had given the girls posters to decorate the dorm with, but then tears them down when she turns into the dragon that seems to model itself on Miss Wykes.

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By now the headmistress’s behaviour has spread confusion and fear through the pupils. Because of it, they hate being at the manor and are desperate to go back to their own school. Sarah and Sally don’t want to start a panic by telling them what they think is happening, but they do take a third girl, Jane, into their confidence.

During another Wykes possession, Mrs Johnson scolds the girls for reading by candlelight in the dorm again – when there are no candles at all. At this, Jane, Sally and Sarah suspect that candles in the dorm started the fire.

They discover that records from the Wykes school are stored in the upstairs room – where the inexplicable heat, noises and lights are centred. That evening, they investigate the records, while the heat and noises start up again. They suspect this is because the original dormitory was located in the upstairs room, and where the fire started. A blueprint of the original school confirms their suspicions.

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They then come across a teacher’s journal, which lists the same set of rules that Mrs Jonson set up. The journal reveals that the fire was indeed started by pupils reading by candlelight in the dorm, which they often did because Miss Wykes frequently punished them by sending them to bed much too early. It goes on to say that the manor had been a sinister place since the fire and would have been better off burning right to the ground.

Then the girls discover that the day is an anniversary of the fire, which can only mean that something terrible is going to happen. Right on cue, the voices start up again and a notebook starts floating. They realise that another school on the premises must have been what sparked it all off. They head off to the headmistress’s office, hoping to convince her that they are in danger. As they do so, they feel they are being followed.

School of Shadows 6

They find no headmistress – but her office is on fire! They sound the fire alarm and the school evacuates. They hear another “No! No! No!” coming from the upstairs room, this time in Mrs Jonson’s voice. They find her in a very strange state, and she drops her lamp, which starts more fire that is not affected by fire extinguishers. The girls feel that these are not ordinary flames, and the fire brigade does not fare any better against them. This time the manor does burn to the ground, and the girls realise that the journal was right to say that it should – it is the only way to purge the ghosts. Mrs Jonson returns to normal and everyone is safe. The protagonists don’t dwell on wondering exactly what happened at the School of Shadows – they are just glad to see the end of it and return to their own school.

Thoughts

The harshness of old-style school discipline, particularly among principals who take it too far, or even let it turn into downright child abuse, has been a frequent one in girls’ comics. It often makes grim reading and a salutary lesson in not what to do in education. But when it is combined with the supernatural, as it is here, it makes for the most disturbing but compelling reading.

The haunting at the School of Shadows is all the more frightening and effective because the ghosts are kept obscure and it is never made clear just what the haunting is about. There are no supernatural beings actually appearing to frighten everyone, apart from the one in the grounds. No apparitions appear to speak to anyone, whether it is to make demands, threats, requests, or offer explanations and help. The ghost of Miss Wykes does not appear in person; you just get the impressions of both the ghost and the tyrannical headmistress it was in life, through its possession of Mrs Jonson. But this makes the haunting even scarier.

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The ghost in the grounds is the only apparition to actually appear in the story, but just what it is – it does not even look like Miss Wykes or the pupils who died in the fire – what it wants, or what it means by “And I will not tolerate it!” are not clear. It does not even bother to actually scare the girls; it just drifts by them as if they don’t exist. Its purpose in the story is difficult to understand and it does not square with who is supposed to be haunting the manor. One gets the impression that Bunty was gilding the lily a bit there.

However, there are few nice touches about the haunting of Miss Wykes. The first is the glimpse of her as a cute-looking child in one portrait that is such a contrast to the formidable, unsmiling headmistress she has become in the portrait that unnerves the girls. So often do these stern, hard teachers that we see in so many serials forget that they were once children themselves, just like the kids they rule with a fist of iron. And the reader also gets a reminder that a horrible headmistress was a child once – something you don’t see every day in girls’ comics.

There are also dashes of faint humour that the tyrannical ghost of Lavinia Wykes is getting a bit of 20th century culture shock while she possesses the body of Miss Jonson. One occurs in the computer room where she is completely thrown by all the computer technology, and we get the impression she had to retreat there and let Miss Jonson return. Another occurs in her office where she can’t bear modern electric lighting and insists on the old-fashioned lamps.

The girls don’t dwell on pondering exactly what went on at the manor, but we will take a moment to do so. First, there cannot be much doubt that the combination of the upcoming anniversary of the fire and the presence of another school on the premises was enough to stir up the ghosts. Plus, it must have been a miserable school with the harsh, intolerant Lavinia Wykes as headmistress (mind you, we have seen worse in girls’ comics).

It certainly looks like Lavinia Wykes was reliving her time as headmistress through her possession of Miss Jonson – but for what purpose? Was the past just replaying itself through the guest school because of the upcoming anniversary of the fire? Or did the ghost(s) have an ulterior motive? For example, did Lavinia Wykes want to relive her time as headmistress all over again? Or did she react badly to the sight of the modern, progressive school and its easy-going headmistress and set out to impose her ideas of discipline on the school? Clashes between strict old-fashioned schools and progressive modern schools have occurred before in girls’ comics, such as “The Girls of Liberty Lodge” in Tammy and “Dracula’s Daughter” in Jinty. If Lavinia Wykes had been alive, there would certainly have been feuds between her and Miss Jonson over the way a school should be run.

School of Shadows 7

Or were the ghosts out to exorcise themselves by recreating the past and then the fire? It is strange, the way the fire that destroys the manor does not seem to be an ordinary fire, and resists all attempts to extinguish it. But the ghosts don’t seem to be out to kill anyone with the fire, as there is no there is no attempt to stop them escaping with their lives.

There is no way to know for certain because there is not enough information given about the ghosts and their motives. Like the girls, we only know for certain that the ghost of Lavinia Wykes is no more by the end of the story, and are so glad.

 

 

 

Hope Street

  • B403_hope_streetHope Street – Bunty PSL: #403  (1995)
  • Artist: ?

Plot

In 1898, Dr Benjamin Osborne is dying and his family gather around him. They include his wife, his brother, his son and 2 daughters.  He is pleased with his son’s career as a ship’s doctor and  that he has lived to see his daughter Caroline qualify to become a doctor, but he worries he will not be able to guide Hannah his youngest daughter. She promises to keep up the family tradition and study medicine.

Caroline is in for a difficult time with her chosen profession, as after her father dies she does not get support from  her uncle or mother. Hubert does not hire her on at the family practice as he believes it is not suitable job for a woman, Her mother agrees with him, especially as she thinks her husband was sent to an early grave because of his career. Caroline doesn’t have any better luck outside her family either. She gets rejected by all the jobs she applies for. One of the maids, Dolly points out there is plenty of work at a poorer end of town, even if they can’t pay much. Caroline takes her advice and buys a warehouse on Hope Street to set up a clinic.

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After a slow start, Caroline and Hannah are soon kept busy with patients. They get a visit from Edgar, the doctor that Herbert has hired and he seems taken with Caroline. When Mrs. Osborne finds out about the clinic she and Caroline fight leading to Caroline moving out. Hannah and Caroline blame Edgar for their mother finding out, but it is actually a servant who accidentally let it slip. Hannah helps out secretly at the clinic but it is clear that Caroline, who is now living at the clinic, is overworked. When Edgar helps out with a factory owner problem, Caroline starts to soften up to him and accepts his help  at the clinic.

Hannah comes up with a plan to reconcile her mother and Caroline, by tricking them into meeting up. On the way to the meeting there is an explosion in the underground, Caroline rushes to help and included in the crash is Mrs. Osborne. Other than a sprained ankle, she is fine and is also very proud of Caroline’s achievements after this incident. Caroline is considered a heroine, and Mrs. Osborne supports the clinic. She is also delighted to see it named for Benjamin.

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Thoughts

For the historic context; the 1800s was a time when women began to study as doctors. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female doctor to qualify in  the UK, though she obtained her medical degree in Paris after getting refused in England, she then set up medical school for women and continued to campaign for women doctors,  in 1876 an act was passed that allowed women to enter the medical profession. So historically it is accurate that Caroline could become a doctor but as it was just 20 years after this act it is expected that there was still prejudice against women doctors.

Even though she is met with obstacles in pursuing her career, she seems to set up her own clinic with  ease. Presumably Caroline was left money by her father after his death but not only is able to buy the warehouse quite quickly, she also converts it into a clinic and maintains medical supplies. The poorer people pay with what they can, (sometimes they even pay with food) so she most have a good source of money backing her up. Though they do end up looking for contributions to help the clinic by end of the book.

The uncle seems like he could be villainous,  he has a bit of a sinister look about him in the first panel, but he’s actually not very antagonistic. Other than refusing Caroline a place in the family practice he hardly appears in the story.  As a contrast the young Edgar, is more open minded about women doctors, he is shown as very compassionate and is admiring of Caroline. After so much rejection and discrimination, Caroline is very slow to trust him.

Caroline is a commendable strong character. She is hard working, caring and stands up for what she believes in. Of course these characteristics can lead to her flaws; as being stubborn and slow to accept help and admit weakness. So she is a well rounded character. She is not the main character though as the story is told mostly from the point of view of the younger sister Hannah. She gets to strike the balance of both worlds. She helps at the clinic, she has the ambition to follow this career path and she clearly admires Caroline. At the same time she sees her struggle, she is more willing to encourage Edgar to help. She can see her mother’s reasoning of it being hard work and also sees that Caroline and her mother are both similar in their stubbornness.

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It’s an interesting story, good characters, while a main plot is a woman struggling to find acceptance in a male dominated profession, it is also focused on the family drama along with it. There are some dramatic moments, like the train crash, and the confrontation at the factory to keep it more exciting. The art is good throughout, I particularly like the detail that went into the crash scene.

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