Books By Crommelin Authors
by Miff Crommelin
Though our family name is not a common one, there have been a few writers amongst us who have had their works published. Perhaps the most prolific is Irish/English novelist Maria Henrietta de la Cherois Crommelin (aka May Crommelin) who published about 50 romance/mystery novels from 1874 to 1924 as well as various articles in notable periodicals of her day.
Her cousin, the astronomer Andrew C. de la Cherois Crommelin (aka A.C.D. Crommelin), was similarly gifted having written numerous articles and popular books about astronomy. Their biographies appear on the Crommelin Family website, but it is interesting just to see a gallery of the covers and illustrations which embellish some of their books.
For several years Govert Deketh and I have been trying to acquire as many books and publications as possible by Crommelin authors with the plan to someday turn them over to the Crommelin Foundation archives for posterity. This is another way of keeping our history and heritage alive for the benefit of future generations.
Many of May Crommelin's books are now available as 'brand new' reprints, or books that are printed 'on demand' because her copyrights have expired. This puts May's works in the 'public domain' where anyone can print, publish, and benefit from her writing. Her novels are now considered 'antiques' - sources of information about manners, customs and society in a bygone age when life was a little more elegant and gentle than it is today.
Those familiar with the background of authors such as Beatrix Potter [The Tale of Peter Rabbit, etc.] or Lucy Maud Montgomery [Anne of Green Gables] know how the loneliness of a young child raised by governesses often causes her imagination to 'invent' playmates which re-emerge later in life as best-selling books - 'books born out of boredom', so to speak. I believe May Crommelin had a similar background where isolation, governesses, and a strict code of conduct regarding one's duty to look after ailing parents led to long periods of boredom where one's only escape was in the world of fantasy and writing.
May Crommelin's books take us back to the late Victorian era and turn-of-the-century when life moved at a slower pace. Technology was not so far advanced - electricity was in its infancy and used mainly for illumination; bicycles, horses, carriages, boats and trains were the standard means of transportation. This was a time when elegance and etiquette were still in fashion, and the importance of 'doing one's duty' for the sake of the family superseded one's own personal ambitions. This was a common theme in May Crommelin's writing.
May Crommelin also had a keen interest in the beauties of nature. Her novels usually open with a vivid description of the surrounding countryside with lavish detail given to the varieties of flowers, trees and wildlife, all of which set a delectable stage for the story that is about to unfold. In fact, one of her books, Poets in the Garden, is all about flowers with lovely color plates of each specimen and quotations from famous authors who mention these plants in their poems and prose. Truly, she had a great love for gardens and flowers.
She often wove a mystery into her romance novels with unexpected twists that would take the reader to the very end of the book before he/she could put it all together, but always with a happy ending. Sometimes her books turn into a 'Who dunnit?' in the style of Agatha Christie, and it wasn't 'breaking the rules' for her to introduce a mythical creature from South America and then have it play an important role in the unfolding of the tale!
Biographies about her also point out May Crommelin's keen interest in family history. Being an avid traveller and amateur historian she visited distant relations in Holland and wrote a book called My Book of Friends, Pen and Ink Portraits by Themselves. This unique book provides blank entries in which to record details about one's own family and friends as a kind of 'diary' for future reference. Each page carries a wise epigram by a famous author.
Kinsah, A Daughter of Tangier
As a world traveller, May Crommelin went as far as Chile, Peru, Morocco and Egypt to acquire impressions and material to include in a forthcoming novel. This was no mean feat for an elderly spinster when cross-country and intercontinental travel was long, arduous and uncomfortable by today's standards. Thus she was an enterprising lady who was able to pay for her ambitious overseas excursions through income generated by novels written as a result of her travels. An endorsement for her book, Kinsah, A Story of Harem Life, reads as follows: "The book owes its vivid rendering of Moorish character and customs to personal study on the spot, no less than to assistance from those of the author's friends localised and naturalised in Morocco."
May Crommelin's much used passport.
No doubt May Crommelin would be amused by the amount of interest there is now in her books but unfortunately she won't have benefited from this new readership. Many of her titles are available by internet vendors such as Abebooks.com while others are available as free downloads (See also).
Occasionally May would collaborate with another person to produce a novel. This happened in 1889 with Violet Vivian, M.F.H. where the technical aspects of equestrian life involved consultation with an expert. The same thing occurred in 1911 with the book Isle of the Dead, a book described as "Not a weird fantasy novel, but a novel of adventure, starting and ending in California. Main events take place on the Isle of the Dead, a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska inhabited by the Alaskan Semidi indians, with much detail concerning their rites and customs." In 1916 a lively children's book entitled Little Soldiers was in collaboration with Louis Wain who did the illustrations.
Many of the illustrations above are from books we have acquired thus far. These are from 'original' copies, not reprints. Dare we hope that someday the Crommelin Foundation will have a complete library of May Crommelin's books - a collection that began with the book Queenie by a bored young girl in 1874 and ended in 1924 with a book entitled Halfpenny House? Time will tell.