Edith Dart; A Devon Writer's Journey to Publication

Edith Dart’s Writing

Crediton Church Christmas Tree Festival 2022.

'She heard one voice between her chants, from
matins to compline.
It sang not canticle nor psalm.
It drowned the Mass divine.
"Can there be sin in Christendom, Mother of God,
as mine?"
From 'A Sin' in Earth with its Bars & Other Poems,
by Edith Dart

Contexts; Fiction and Poetry

    Edith Dart published short stories, novels and poetry. Her work also appeared in a wide variety of contemporary journals and anthologies. There’s also a scattering of reviews about her work published in various contemporary papers and journals. Remembered especially for her novel Sareel which was apparently made into a film (but unfortunately as yet I’ve not found any reference to it) according to her friend Mary Patricia Willcocks Edith apparently gained national recognition for several of her books and for her poetry.

As yet I’ve only had the opportunity to read one or two of Edith’s short stories printed in journals accessed via archives. I’ve also read the novel Sareel her last published and apparently most popular novel, as it’s available via google play books; but it’s proved very difficult to get hold of any of the other novels, which are in the out of print, rare books category; although one or two local/national archives hold copies of some of them, the novels are not necessarily easy to access, unless you are close to said archive or/and have the funds to order copies of sample pages. Currently I’m not in a position to do either. I’ve been so lucky to have some generous offers of help out there - freely given – which has enabled me to read the archival documents explained below. Devon Record Office does hold at least one copy of several of Dart’s books, but I’m not sure it’ll be me that gets to read them.

 I have also browsed through a few of Dart’s poems published in contemporary journals and her poetry collection Earth with its Bars and Other Poems (pub 1914, which, like Sareel is available via Google PlayBooks). Given the era during which it was written and published, this collection would be read now within the aesthetic style of traditional late Edwardian poetry. Not even slightly taking up the more experimental modes of the early modernist or impressionist poets such as H.D. (whose first collection, Sea Garden would be published while the poet was staying in Devon, in 1916, just two years after Dart’s), Dart’s poems are conventional in tone, subject and form, often imbued with the mores of Christianity (which had obviously formed the roots of Edith’s early years). However, I think some of Edith Dart’s poems in Earth with its Bars and elsewhere are more complex than this. Such poems as  ‘The One White Deed’ and ‘Not Yet’ (published 1920 in The English Review - see below) are reminiscent of other of the author’s near contemporaries such as Charlotte Mew (1869-1928); Mary Coleridge (1861-1907) and Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894), all of whose work is deceptively subtle and all of whom had Devon connections. 

    One characteristic the poems of Coleridge, Mew and Rossetti often share is the hint of a hidden narrative. Enigmatic poems  such as ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ (Mew); ‘The Fiery Dawn’ (Coleridge); and ‘Winter: My Secret’ (Rossetti) are echoed in ‘Not Yet’ and ‘The One White Deed’, both of which are suggestive of a half-told story, perhaps a secret love relationship. The latter poem’s narrative persona is, perhaps surprisingly, male; but in such it is a poem that resembles several of Charlotte Mew’s including ‘The Farmer’s Bride’, which also features a male persona:

Opening of 'The One White Deed'

There’s so much potential for future research in studying links and correspondences between these poets, both their lives and their work, but it’s beyond the scope of what I’m trying to cover here.

    Several contemporary reviews tell us that Dart's poetry collection Earth with its Bars was well received by the poetry establishment:

‘Earth and Her Bars,… is the work of a Crediton lady, Miss Edith Dart, and deserves more recognition locally than it has received, for it has met with the general approval of critics. “The Literary World”, for instance says that the poetess, “apart from the technical mastery of rhythm, possesses that essential gift of touching to ecstasy the heart’s inmost chords which call poetry”. (Western Times, 16 March 1915)

Before, regrettably, leaving further comments about her poetry I must just comment on Edith Dart’s dedication in Earth and its Bars, whose wording is itself somewhat mysterious. The book is dedicated to E.M. D., who is addressed as a friend.  I don't know the identity of EMD, perhaps her readers were not supposed to. Curiosity however always gets the better of a keen researcher and though it's only a hunch as yet, when I went on an online family history recce a possibility suggested itself. There was a local Crediton family called Borne who according to the relevant census lived in the High Street, quite near to Edith Dart's home before she moved to The Orchard. One daughter was named Edith Mary Borne. Her birth date was in 1898 so she was a lot younger than Edith the author, but I wonder if her namesake may be the mystery friend of the poetry collection. (Interestingly a document of Crediton Board of Guardians (1895) mentions a Miss Dart alongside  Miss Borne as applicants for a local post; the Miss Borne mentioned here can not be Edith born in 1898, but perhaps the two 'Bornes' are related?)

Dedication to E.M.D. frontispiece Edith Dart's collection of poetry
 Earth with it Bars and Other Poems

    I must emphasise, my firsthand reading of Edith Dart – especially of her fiction is of necessity limited. But I did so enjoy the novel Sareel! Ok, it’s ‘olde-worlde’ and to us contemporary readers archaic in style and theme; yet the story still engages. The tale of a young orphan, Sarah Hill, brought up in a local workhouse who becomes servant to a farmer and his wife in the depths of Dartmoor - whose characterful landscape becomes a backdrop to the gently dramatic love-interest story that emerges. Like many of the novels written by Dart’s friend Mary Patricia Willcocks (which were published over several decades, from about 1905), Sareel’s heart is immersed in the moors of Devon, and its surrounding hinterlands; these two authors conjure for us the wild remoteness of Dartmoor, as it once was:

wide open moor broke upon her in great, undulating, unfettered spaces, wave upon wave of soft misty browns, merging by infinite gradations into dull purples and quivering violets, until it reached the sky-line…’(Sareel). 

    There is so little fiction set within Devon’s landscapes written by local women writers during the decades of the early C20, so for any reader who loves this part of the Westcountry, along with Willcocks’ fiction, and one other local woman writer of romance fiction (more below), Sareel is well-nigh a stand alone novel. As such, it’s a book that we ‘Devonians’ should treasure. It’s not easy to make a judgement as to comparisons between Dart and Willcocks’ work, mostly because there’s little opportunity to actually read the former’s novels, whereas thanks to the diligent research of Bob Mann, Willcocks is gradually beginning to spark renewed interest amongst literary aficionados. Given this proviso it may be unfair to suggest that Dart’s novels do not quite come up to the subtle and complex layerings of psychological character portrayal evident in the fiction of her friend. I think from my limited reading so far I’m more inclined to compare Edith Dart’s writing with her near neighbour and contemporary novelist Margaret Pedler, publication dates of whose books roughly correspond with the years during which Dart’s novels appeared. I’ve no idea if the two women knew one another but they were both born in the same decade, the 1870’s and their homes were only say seven or eight miles apart, Dart’s in Crediton and Pedler’s near Zeal Monachorum, so surely they must have at least known of one another’s work. Pedler became a household name after the success of several of her many ‘romance’ novels, in particular The Hermit of Far End, which was apparently published in 1920, the same year as Dart's  Sareel. Mills & Boon published several, if not most of both Pedler's and Dart's novels.

    Dart’s and Pedler’s work led me to think more about these women novelists whose books published by Mills and Boon are now definitively labelled as default roman fiction. I want to clarify something that’s been bothering me for a while when thinking about several Devon associated female fiction writers of this early C20 generation. I wonder if, too often, we look back and, noting that a novel first published at the time was under the label 'popular romance', make an automatic presumptive prejudiced judgement about the text’s quality, ie its ‘not so good as more ‘literary’ or ‘highbrow’ novels. 

    Whilst researching Edith Dart I happened upon the intriguingly titled blog Furrowed Middlebrow, which helped put my own concerns into words. Scott, The writer of the blog documents and publishes ‘British women writers who published at least one volume of fiction during the years 1910-1960’. I’d not come upon the secondary text it mentions but the blog is evidently indebted to an academic study text called The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920’s – 1950’s by Nicola Humble. What defines a ‘highbrow’, what we’d now term a ‘literary’ novel? How does the reader distinguish between it and another book which has been designated as ‘middlebrow’, or ‘popular’, ie judged as less worthy? ….. 

    I’d not realised that when Mills & Boon began to publish during the first decade of the C20 rather than specialising in the romance genre for which they became famous, they were general publishers, although the first book they put out (perhaps ironically) was a romance:

Mills & Boon wasn't all about lust and amour at first - when the company initially launched, it was a general fiction publisher, turning out books about everything from travel to craft. The first book it ever published was prophetically a romance book - Arrows From The Dark, by Sophie Cole. Critics gave it a glowing report and by 1914, 1,394 women had bought a copy. The writer went on to pen another 65 thrilling titles for the publisher during her fruitful career. (Mills & Boon History)

     So, just because a novel published during these early years of the C20 was through Mills & Boon, as at least a few of Dart’s were (and most of Margaret Pedler’s), it doesn’t necessarily follow that it was the kind of narrative defined by our C21 literary understanding of 'romance novel'. Such is suggested in several contemporary reviews of Edith Dart’s novels, of which more below. Ultimately it's impossible to categorise or definitively assess a novel’s 'true' quality, for to begin with, readers change with the times and as the Furrowed Middlebrow blog suggests, a novel that might at one period be understood as brilliantly literary or highbrow, read say a generation later by readers with different preferences and mindsets, might well (as with pop music?) failing to pass the latest literary fashion, be delegated to the canon’s ‘slush-pile’ (ie from thenceforth be labelled as ‘popular’ or ‘middlebrow’).

    With these musings in mind I’m now going to try and trace a little of Edith Dart’s writing journey - with the proviso that, as I noted above, it's not easy to locate her primary texts and there’s not much easily located extra material about her out in archives. But luckily I did find a couple of fascinating files in archives which do reveal a little about Edith Dart's own literary journey.

The Literary Journey

     I imagine that towards the end of her life, self-defining with the status of ‘novelist’, Edith must have felt she’d achieved her literary ambition. But reading between the lines of a handful of archival documents I’ve stumbled on which feature her I think this Crediton author’s literary journey toward that goal was a long one and that, like so many other women writers before and since, she had quite a struggle to achieve her literary goals. 

    When she presented the bouquet to his wife, at  the time of General Buller’s homecoming (see Remembering Edith Dart) Edith must already have been writing seriously, sending out and getting poems and short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. A spell of online browsing will turn up several archival references to her work appearing in a number of contemporary magazines and anthologies. However in 1900,  as far as I know she did not have a full poetry collection or novel published, nor apparently did she for several more years, probably not until after moving into her last home, The Orchard (See Remembering Edith Dart). An intriguing series of letters Edith sent to one of the UK’s then leading literary agents unfolds the story of a rather tortuous trail, a writer plying her trade, reaching out to at least one agent for advice and help to get her novels and poetry collections out there and published. I’m  grateful for the kind assistance given me by staff at Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections & University Archives Northwestern University – especially to Jason Nargis – for his (and their) generosity in helping me locate this file of precious archival documents and granting me permanent to quote from the file; the letters provide the researcher with  unique information helping to tracing an author’s difficult route to success. 

    The letters were written and sent intermittently by Edith between March 1906 and 1912. They were penned during the period when, following her father William’s death, the Dart family moved from 128 High Street in  Crediton to The Orchard just north of the main street; there is a break in the letter sequence which may be explained by the Darts’ move up to their new home. The letters were sent to James B Pinker, who was a leading literary agent for many of the leading British and American writers of his age. A giant and pioneer in the field, Pinker is considered to be one of the first literary agents, at least as the modern literary world understands the role. 

Letter from Edith Dart March 1906 to James B Pinker
Reproduced Courtesy Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections
and University Archives, Northwestern University Libraries

    Edith’s letter of March 7th 1906 indicates that this is not the beginning of their correspondence. Indeed, her words suggest she has been assiduous in seeking the help of the agent for several years. She notes there had already been ‘an agreement’ between the two of them and is apparently seeking a formal end to their contract:

‘Although our agreement was virtually at an end  some time ago, I believe that it has never been formally put and it would perhaps be as well that that were done: perhaps you would just send me a line to that effect sometime. I was very sorry to be such a disappointing client, my only plea is that I suffered too!’ (From Edith Dart letter to James B Pinker 7th May 1906)

   Evidently in 1906 - when she was 34 - Edith Dart was not feeling at all fulfilled or happy with her writerly achievements. Reading between the lines, although she tries to make light of it, she’s not entirely satisfied with the help she’s (not) had from Pinker. It’s not only the fact that her novel/s haven’t yet been taken up by a publisher that bothers her; Edith  tells the agent she ‘has to peg on to the ‘bits’ that help bring me pennies’. Although she’s desperate to finish the ‘long tale’ that has ‘been so long on the stocks’, she implies it is the more tedious everyday graft of writing formulaic pieces for publishing in paid magazines and journals that she must persist working on.

    Edith writes to Pinker again two months later, 23rd May 1906. She’s apparently sending him the ‘final’ chapters of a novel, for feedback and advice: ‘I hope that you will think well of them, and that somebody else will too!’The novel is titled Miriam and is, one assumes, the ‘long tale’ she mentioned in her previous letter. She also adds a postscript asking Pinker to ‘show Gillespie this collection of verse for Mclure’s’; ‘some of it’ she adds, ‘has been published before, mostly in the Pall Mall Gazette’. (‘Mclures’ I assume must have been a misspelling for McClures; McClures Magazine was an illustrated monthly journal at the turn of the C20. Sometimes the magazine published a serialised novel. I haven’t had a chance yet to explore further about McClure’s  links with Edith Dart but there are various online sites featuring the publication, so more research may turn up something). The letter of May 6th suggests that this time Pinker had responded to the earlier communication and made editorial suggestions for her revision of said manuscript. (Unfortunately we only have Edith’s side of the written interchange between them). 

Letter from Edith Dart to James B Pinker May 1906
Reproduced Courtesy Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections
and University Archives, Northwestern University Libraries

Presumably this time Edith’s perseverance (subtle reprimand of the agent) got her somewhere, for eventually Miriam was to be her first published novel, making its appearance in 1908, two years after this letter was sent to the agent. Perhaps this time round Pinker did after all come up trumps, putting the effort into helping the Devon novelist on her way to ‘proper’ publication. However, whatever the means, the eventual satisfactory route to publication of Miriam, that first novel, two years later was not handed to Edith on a plate. 

    In August 1906 she was anxiously chasing her agent again:

‘I suppose there is no news, or no good news from Constable, or you would have let me know? … I am most anxious to hear, but don’t want to hurry them into sending bit back, if they are inclined to like it.’

In this letter we find more about Edith’s current writing projects and, putting two and two together (with actual dates of novel publication at hand), can work out the probable title of the latest ‘long tale’ she says she’s ‘lately’ working on whilst waiting for feedback about the earlier novel. This must be the novel Rebecca Drew, which came out in 1910, two years after publication of Miriam. 

Covers of novels Miriam and Rebecca Drew by Edith Dart

    But in 1906 all that was still to happen. Three months after the August letter Edith wrote to Pinker again. Rather than typed, as were the earlier ones this letter was handwritten, with what appears a hasty scrawl.

Edith Dart letter to Pinker 19th Nov 1906

    She’s still convinced that there is no market for her type of novel and is markedly discouraged that Miriam has not been taken up by anyone. Confirming she’s ‘in the middle of another novel of the same type’… Edith adds, ‘it really seems as if there is no market for my kind of work … not popular enough’, and also, reflecting on the current political context, she wonders whether ‘this Boer War is making publishers slower than usual’ (perhaps meaning the South African Wars, as the Boer War ended 1902?).  

    The agonising wait continued; there were more set-backs yet to come.

    Early the following year, January 4th  1907, there’s still ‘nothing of Miriam’ and Edith is evidently trying to resign herself to the unsatisfactory situation: ‘there will be nothing to hear, Alas’; but she is still persevering, posting her now just  finished manuscript of the novel which I believe must be Rebecca Drew; she says she’ll ‘be glad to know what he [Pinkney] thinks of it’ and that he will think it ‘ought to be longer but it wouldn’t be despite my best efforts’. There’s a note of desperation in this letter: ‘I do hope the tide is going to turn soon, or I shall have to take up some other work’. (It is hard to know whether she is being serious apropos her financial situation. Although it was a couple of years after he’d died, given  the success of Dart and Frances, the family firm (See Remembering Edith Dart) one would assume that her father’s widowed wife and unmarried daughters would have been left with a surfeit of funds. But perhaps not; or was Edith deliberately pleading poverty? 

    This letter concludes with another query regarding a contemporary illustrated magazine called The Treasury.

Cover of an issue of The Treasury

Edith says that Deane, the editor, has already published some of her verses and she wonders if he/they’ll ‘care for this’. I’m not sure if she’s referring to the latest fiction manuscript she’s enclosing with her letter to Pinker, or if she’s also (as before) sending Pinker more poems. Again, she ends with a little throwaway comment, her work is not ‘goody’ enough for that magazine; this comment, like her others, is revealing about Dart’s real annoyance /frustration. I get the impression that Edith does not want her work to be considered as romantic slush (indeed she’s derisory about such writing), but that she feels she has to conform in order to achieve publication. 

    The last letter in the first batch of letters to the agent was written in June 15th 1907. Edith’s patience with Pinker has seemingly run out. She’s effectively terminating her agreement with him. Having had good news from a  publisher, who only deals with authors  ‘firsthand’ - they have given her a ‘promise to consider my novel’ – and advice from a friend (perhaps M.P. Willcocks), that she should accept that offer, she adds ‘As I have no promise otherwise, I feel I should be wise to act on that advice’. 

Letter from Edith Dart to James Pinkey June 15th 1907

I’m not sure which of her novels she’s referring to in the letter as by now Pinker must be dealing with two of her manuscripts; she names them both, Miriam and A Stranger in the Midst (which I believe to be a first title for the novel that became the writer’s second published one, Rebecca Drew). We find why Dart had decided to approach Pinker again following the initial letter (when she’d suggested an end to their contract); he’d apparently responded that he would ‘be willing to meet me in a reasonable spirit’. However, this time she’s had enough and tells the agent that she’s ‘emboldened to ask you to let the cancelling date from the present time’. Sadly perhaps, rather than challenging the man about what appears to be lack of action on his behalf, she ends with another self put-down; ‘I’m sorry that I have been so unsatisfactory a client to you for so many years’. It becomes clear from this letter that Edith Dart’s first dealings with Pinker were in 1901, that is when Edith was living in the High Street and her father was still alive.

    Now there is a long break in the correspondence.  It’s March 5th 1912, five years later, when (according to this sequence) she next writes to him. Everything has changed for her; she now has several published novels. It's a short handwritten scrawl again (as are the final letters in the batch), this time on headed paper noting her address as ‘The Orchard’, she’s apologising and sending her agent ‘something’ that she thought in her ‘carelessness’ she’d already done; (but because of the difficult handwriting, I’m not sure what!) I’m assuming it’s another agreement. This second group of Dart’s letters  is penned in very untidy handwriting so I’m having to hazard a lot of guesses; (anyone out there who comes upon this and can decipher please let me know).

Letter March 5th 1912 from Edith Dart to James Pinker

    From now on my comments are trying to get the gist of Dart’s communications with Pinker. From these one-sided letters it’s unclear whether their initial contract did end in 1907, or whether, chastened by the writer's criticism of him, Pinker got his act together and pulled some strings for her, thus after all finding a publisher for the novels. I think possibly the latter, but am not sure. 

    There has been a long break in their exchange, but knowing, with hindsight, that by the time of the letter of March 1912 Edith Dart has at least two novels in print – and probably a third recently published (ie Miriam, Rebecca Drew and Likeness), the success of having achieved publication of a trio of novels must have boosted her confidence as successful author. Engaged in writing her ‘latest’ novel which will be ready, she says, in May, she is evidently returning to Pinker to gain some advice about her next course of action. Near the end of the letter we  find the title of her latest manuscript is The Tale of Tamsin (I don’t know if this manuscript was ever published or/and if so, what its final title was). 

    Edith’s concerns now centre around what kind of narrative mode she’d be best to focus on; her letter reads as if her main impetus is the commercial value of her work rather than its intrinsic artistic value. She is torn between confirming to the requirements of Mills and Boon, whose style she deliberately conformed to in those earlier novels, and who I  believe published her first novels; or,  perhaps, she wonders, trying another ‘form ‘. (Of course, in connection with my comments about Mills and Boon above, the implication here is that for authors this publisher already had associations with the now established stylistic features of the romance mode). 

    She also mentions a couple of other possible publishers who could be approached, including Constable: ‘Do you think Constable would be likely to look favourably on my work if we decide to give up Mills and Boon’? (The ‘we’ is perhaps telling?) This reads as if having achieved a degree of success with Miriam, Rebecca Drew and Likeness, her first trio of published novels, Edith is in fear of losing the support of the publisher who has taken her on; she’s afraid to take the risk of approaching someone else, in case. Her attitude toward Pinker has apparently changed; she’s now respectfully trusting of him and reaching out for his advice.

    A week or so later Edith writes to the agent again, sending the first few chapters of Tamsin  along with a short accompanying note. And then we have the final letter in the series to the Pinker. Of course there may be or may have been others; perhaps if so one day they’ll come to light. As yet I’ve not been able to make out the writing in full, but in this final rather brief note written in November 1912, the tone returns almost full circle to where the letters began, in 1906.  Edith’s chasing Pinker for a response again: this time she’s waiting to hear from Chatto and Windus: ‘ I shall be glad when I hear some news particularly if is is acceptable.’ …

Letter 24th November 1912 from Edith Dart to James Pinker
Courtesy Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives,
Northwestern University Libraries

    Was ‘Tamsin’ ever published, either with that, or another title? I don’t know. 

    Perhaps it did, as The Loom of Life (published 1916) … ?

  And What They Said …

… I don’t know the fate of Dart’s novel Tamsin, but in manuscript form, it features in the other Edith Dart file I stumbled upon in the archives. This document, along with a selection of reviews from  papers and magazines of the time, makes it possible to comment, albeit tentatively, on how Edith Dart’s writings were received by her contemporaries.

    The file about Tamsin was located at the University of Reading Special Collections. It’s a Reader’s Report written by Bernard Miall, in June 1916, four years after Dart’s last letter to her agent Pinker Miall was a well-known translator and publisher’s reader for Allen & Unwin. According to one source he was living in Devon in 1925, so it’s possible he knew Edith. I haven’t yet managed to get permission to quote from this document, or reproduce any of it, so my remarks here will be limited to a summary. Calling it a ‘psychological study’ Miall felt Tamsin was serious and well-intentioned – yet ultimately its plot twisting failed to convince and, he noted, required a rewrite. Miall’s reading of the narrative concluded that its heroine's crisis lacked convincing explanation. This reader’s report gives us a synopsis of the book, which seemingly has echoes of Sareel  (presumably written after Tamsin), Dart’s most successful novel (and the only one I’ve been able to get hold of). Set in Devon, both of these novels’ narratives swirl around the fate of an orphan; the story in both novels takes place on a farm - a farmer is an important character; also, in both novels, Dartmoor is at the heart of the setting. 

     Miall’s critique of the manuscript titled Tamsin comes across as somewhat condescending in tone (he assesses the author’s work as ‘improving ‘ and - offering to read the manuscript again if it’s revised - forecasts that Dart  might in future write a ‘creditable novel’. Perhaps Edith was unlucky with her reader. As it’s unlikely the manuscript will come to light (unless published under another name), we shall probably never know. 

    However I’ve found from a newspaper article that Dart’s most acclaimed novel Sareel was published by Phillip Allan & Co.,  so perhaps it was through Miall's eventual support that her final success was obtained. 

    Sareel’s success was perhaps guaranteed by one its earliest reviews, published 3rd June 1920, in Brixham Western Guardian. I'd love to know the fate of the mystery novel Tamsin ...

    Edith Dart's life and writing must surely become focus of future research for those who, like me, are fascinated with all the gaps in our knowledge about women who wrote Devon in the depths of our county's past...

Postscript; A Few Contemporary Reviews

A New Devonshire Story

Sareel  is the title of the new novel by Edith Dart, just published by Messrs. Phillip Allan & Co.. It is in many senses a fascinating problem story, with a vein of intensely human interest running through it from end to end, which cannot fail to grip the reader, who recognise Dartmoor, in the delightfully drawn word pictures amid which Sara Hill’s romantic introduction to life took place, and where eventually she found, in an unconventional rescuer, an ideal life partner. A workhouse reared girl, with a keen love of beauty in her soul, planted amid glorious scenery, day by day subjected to tyranny, invective, and reproach by a virago of a mistress, and ignorant in the ways of the world, finds a champion in distress in a London, visitor, young and impressionable, on whom her primal simplicity casts an irresistible spell, until she becomes a Cinderella to him as the fairy Prince. And here commences, lives tango.   

The interception of letters, Sareel’s disappointment, her marriage to the unconventional, Robert Nugent, the writer, who lives alone, in primitive, simplicity, the discovery of the perfidy of her late mistress, her decision to go to her old lover, only to find herself a source of embarrassment to him, and that her young romance had been shattered, her “return out of the darkness and chill of the valley of death and humiliation into the light, an open air, under gods heaven” to the realisation of true love, won at last “out of the tangle and perplexity of the strange mysterious web of fate” have been drawn to life in what may be termed an out-of- the- ordinary type of novel, which cannot fail to please those who are looking for something really worth reading. (See in Brixham Western Guardian, 1920, in British Newspaper Archive)    

Here’s what they said … a few other quotes from contemporary reviews 

Rebecca Drew

‘A Fine Novel’ …The Book has quality and treats a limited subject with a largeness of outlook and a lack of the catchpenny emotions that give it distinction. The whole thing is more suggestion than fact. But it is a large suggestion. It rouses. It interests. It touches the imagination (Daily News, see British Newspaper Archive)

Rebecca Drew is a tale of rural English life after the manner, but happily devoid of the offensive qualities of the Hardy school. A petty, gossiping English hamlet; a maiden with some unbeautiful idiosyncrasies, but with a perfect genius for loving, unselfish helpfulness; a stranger who alights on the little community from goodness knows where, and who proves himself a fully nine days’ wonder; an English Church parson of the right sort to whom every villager turns in his time of trouble; … Bessie Spade’s case is haloed round with a golden nimbus noble self-sacrifice- such in brief bald outline are the contents of a remarkably fine story by Edith Dart… the air is sweetly laden with the perfume of the fields and the scented clover … (Dundee Courier, 1910, see British Newspaper Archive)


A chance meeting in a picture gallery, in front of a portrait, makes two young women in different spheres of life – a typist and the daughter of a millionaire- acquainted with each other, and with the fact that they are so like that except by dress, no one can distinguish them apart … there are happenings and results. The idea is far from original. But it is followed out with some skill, and worked into a story that keeps the attention rivetted to the close, in a double wedding. (The Scotsman, 5th October 1912, in British Newspaper Archive)


Sareel by Edith Dart, is published by Philip Allan and Co, is a very charming Dartmoor story, in the early part of which the vernacular of the moor is freely and accurately used. It has the genuine tone of a first-class romance, and like the well-written story, it undoubtedly is, fixes and maintains the interest of the reader throughout. There is no attempt at anticipating the clever denouement of the love tangle. Its role is emotive, and the sequence of events is unbroken. The last chapters are touching and pathetic and Sareel emerges from her ordeal with the charming simplicity of a tumultuous life, purified, unchastened and unsullied. The farmers wife, narrow in vision, sordid. (The Devon and Exeter Gazette 18 May 1920, in British Newspaper Archive)

 See also Remembering Edith Dart, Crediton’s Edwardian Novelist and Poet


I’m  grateful for the kind assistance given me by staff at Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections & University Archives Northwestern University – especially to Jason Nargis and for his/their kind permission to quote from this file of letters.

I'm also grateful to Emma Farmer, Reading-Room Assistant at The Museum of English Rural Life and University of Reading Special Collections for her help in locating the Reader's Report by Bernard Miall on Tamsin by Edith Dart.

I'm also grateful to staff at Devon Record Office for help with my queries about Edith Dart.

And for help with research about Edith Dart's life I'm especially grateful to  Keith Parsons (Researcher Crediton Museum); William (Bill) Jerman (Crediton Church); John Heal (Crediton Museum) and David Nation (Crediton Area History and Museum Society).


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Remembering Edith Dart, Crediton’s Edwardian Novelist and Poet; 'As a novelist in “Miriam,” in “Likeness,” in “Rebecca Drew,” and especially in “Sareel,” Devon lives again':

H ... Her-Story at Hartland

Yelverton: Edith Holden, the Suffragists and the Victorian Occult