Monday, November 14, 2005

Daisy Ashford: The Young Visiters

On Friday last, Mrs GOB and I attended a theatrical adaptation of Daisy Ashford's novel The Young Visiters. And no, that isn't a typo. Visiters is the way Daisy spelt it.

Daisy Ashford was born in 1881. She began dictating stories to her parents before she could write, and when she was nine she wrote a short novel called The Young Visiters. Her punctuation wasn't much better than her spelling, but she had a wonderful imagination.

In 1917, at the age of 36, Daisy found her early manuscript in a drawer, and lent it to a friend who was recuperating from flu. Various other people read it, including Frank Swinnerton, who was a novelist and reader for Chatto and Windus.

Because of Swinnerton's enthusiasm, the book was published exactly as the young Daisy had written it. J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, agreed to write a preface, and the book became a huge success. It is still in print today, both in the UK and the USA, but you can in fact read it online.

The chief characters in the story are Mr Salteena ('an elderly man of 42'), Ethel Monticue (a young girl of 17), and Bernard Clark, a rival of Mr Salteena whom Ethel turns out to prefer.

Most modern readers -- and certainly the audience at the theatrical version of the book which I saw on Friday -- have found the book highly amusing. The humour lies, of course, in the fact that Daisy writes about adult love affairs and marriage without ever quite understanding how such affairs are conducted. At the end, Ethel and Bernard return home from a six-week honeymoon 'with a son and hair a nice fat baby called Ignatius Bernard.'

And so on. Not everyone's taste, perhaps, but a little gem of its kind.

Should you reside in the UK, watch out for the touring production of this novel/play, as mounted by Paddock Productions.

At the age of 13, Daisy wrote another novel, The Hangman's Daughter. And then she retired.