Through July and August we ran a series of three creative writing workshops led by creative writing practitioner Michelle Crowther, as part of the Heritage Lottery funded Victorian Blogging project. Six pamphlets were chosen to provide inspiration for participants to write their own poems or short stories and some of the participants have kindly allowed us to share their work. This is the last of three blog posts about the workshops, to coincide with our library display. You can read the first post here and the second here.
Annie Besant, The Legalisation of Female Slavery in England
Prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Acts were the theme of our next pamphlet, The Legislation of Female Slavery in England, written by Annie Besant in 1876. Inspired by the struggles that Annie faced as a wife and mother, Lesley Strachan wrote a poem about Annie’s decision to leave her husband and son behind in 1873 as a result of her loss of faith in God and the church. A photograph of a view from the top of a staircase from Jane Stoke’s Evoke Cards provided the visual stimulus for the poem. One can imagine Annie justifying her decision as she takes each step down the stairs.
As his wife, I have a role, a duty to fulfil.
As God, with no provocation, threatened my child.
As her mother, my trust and faith has died.
As an ecclesiast, he ordered me to put my own beliefs aside.
As a fanatic, I cannot be a hypocrite.
As a husband, he hurled it as an insult.
I caught it at the door and wear it with pride.
– Excommunication of a Fanatic, Lesley Strachan
‘An emancipated slave’, The Curse of My Early Life
The Curse of my Early Life by an emancipated slave, published in 1876, is a passionately-written first person account of the effects of being subjected to orthodox Christian beliefs from a young age. One of the participants, Ying, drew on her own religious upbringing as a Roman Catholic in the Philippines and wrote down ten words that represented faith creating a sentence for each word, which she crafted into a poem. Ying felt that it was hard to separate family, tradition and values from religion in the Philippines as church-going was so ingrained in early life.
Guy Alfred Aldred, Richard Carlile, Agitator; His Life and Times
Our final pamphlet was Guy Alfred Aldred’s biography of Richard Carlile, agitator; his life and times. Carlile was a freethinker, publisher and writer and an advocate of Thomas Paine. He was an important figure in the history of freedom of the press and was imprisoned for his beliefs. His colourful political as well as personal life was an interesting subject for our writers.