Paradigm, No. 5 (August, 1991)
School of Education,
University of Liverpool,
19-24 Abercromby Square,
L. T. Meade -- Elizabeth (Lillie) Thomasina Meade (1844-1914) -- was one of the most prolific and popular novelists of her day. Her first work was published in 1866 and her novels were reprinted and given as prizes until the 1930s. Her oeuvre includes novels for children and adults, detective stories, short stories in a variety of journals and articles in Ladies Pictorial and The Strand Magazine on contemporary artists and girls schools and colleges. She also edited the first six volumes of Atalanta. In the many interviews she gave she stressed that she always wrote from observation. In a letter to Miss Beale (16 April 1895) she wrote that her next school story would use her visit to Cheltenham Ladies College and the article she wrote about it in The Strand Magazine, where she also published articles on St. Leonards School and Great Harrowden Hall.
In her articles on colleges for the "glossy" Ladies Pictorial she begins with the statement that "This is the Golden Age for the English girl. She has good cause to bless the latter half of the Victorian era, for it has come to her laden with rich gifts", and affirms that college life is one overflowing with intellectual stimulus and the healthiest physical culture. "The Girton girl has every reason to be proud both of her name and of her opportunities."
During Meades editorship of Atalanta it was a substantial volume which included articles on employment opportunities for girls. But it is as a writer of school stories that she is now best remembered: many of the types of characters she wrote of have become clichés of the genre as have some of the incidents, e.g., the incoming tide leaving girls marooned on the cliff. The heroine is often sent to school on the death ot a parent, sometimes against the wishes of the father: older relatives as in The Fairy Godmother may be in favour of girls receiving the best education available. In her novels it is expected that the most able girls will progress to Newnham or Girton where the keen student is shown enjoying her studies, particularly the classics, as well as the social life.
The physical conditions she depicts are perhaps more agreeable than was the reality -- as in her journalism possibly to encourage parents. Generally school and college life is depicted in a positive manner and her heroines appreciate it. The serious but not over-solemn student is commended: but she who, like Priscilla in A Sweet Girl Graduate, would become "Not learned, but wise, not to build up a reputation, but to gain character" is even more highly praised. Meade was writing" for a variety of audiences: "know for whom you are writing" she urged aspiring writers in Atalanta: it was a job to be done daily. Her continuing popularity reveals that she did indeed find her audience.