Cecily Sidgwick - The Novelist within the Lamorna Art Colony
The acquisition of a scrapbook of ephemera put together by the Lamorna-based novelist, Cecily Sidgwick, has inspired me to research her life and her work, with fascinating results. As very little information about her is generally available and as some of the most interesting of her books are hard to find, I thought it might be of interest to place on this website the results of my research. I am greatly indebted to April Marjoram of Exmouth for her assistance on genealogical matters, and to Maryella Pigott, for allowing me to use the archival material that she inherited from her aunt, Ella Naper, the Sidgwicks' greatest friend.
To read chapters from the biography, please click on the relevant image below. Apologies for the lack of source references but all my footnotes were lost in the uploading process. Contact me if you want a reference.
For anyone in the slightest bit interested in Cornish art, the chapter on her book In Other Days is the one not to overlook, for it contains an evocative account of the Lamorna and Newlyn art colonies in the days before World War I - i.e. in the time of Alfred Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight etc. - the time covered by the book/film Summer in February.
In the meantime, if anyone has further information about her and her family, particularly the family of her sister, Adele Maas, it would be good to hear from you.
If you would actually like to read one or more of her novels, here are my recommendations:-
In Other Days (1915)
This book is almost impossible to find but it contains by far the best evocation of life in the Lamorna Art Colony in the days of Alfred Munnings, Laura and Harold Knight etc.
This book describes the Sidgwicks' early experiences in Lamorna, when they were living at 'Vellensagia'. Alfred and Cecily feature as Thomas and Mary Clarendon and it contains some fascinating insights into their personalities, their marriage and their lifestyle.
Sack and Sugar (1926)
Storms and Teacups (1932)
These both feature Alfred and Cecily as Thomas and Mary Clarendon, this time during their days at 'Trewoofe Orchard', the home that they built for themselves in 1912. Storms and Teacups in particular gives a lot of detail about the house and garden and the difficult access to it through a ford. There is a good chance that Mary Clarendon's sister, Suzanne Colmar, who is also featured in both novels, is, in fact, based on Cecily's own sister, Adele Maas.
The Black Knight (1920) (with Crosbie Garstin)
Here, Cecily is outshone by Crosbie Garstin, who is responsible for the first half of the book, which is based on his adventures in Canada and which is a superbly told adventure story. Cecily's part moves from Sennen to Paris and back and, whilst not greatly inferior to her other work, is put in the shade by Garstin.
Six of Them (1929)
This is set in Penzance and describes the romantic entanglements of a family with six daughters. Blunt Yorkshirewoman, Aunt Bethia, is one of Cecily's best characters.
The Severins (1909)
This is set partly in Carbis Bay and Lelant and, therefore, will have been written when the Sidgwicks stayed in one of Edith Ellis' cottages at Carbis Bay. The Spectator rated it her best novel to date, but there are some plotlines that are not particularly believable.
Celia's Way (1901)
This describes the experiences of an English governess, albeit an heiress in disguise, in Germany. As The Purple Jar (1919) also features an English governess, it is possible that Cecily might herself have worked as one. This is a good and early example of her highlighting the antagonistic attitude of some Germans to the English.
The Kinsman (1907)
This is a farce that was highly regarded - a file kept by Cecily has 73 favourable reviews in it - and it was made into a silent film in 1919. Not my cup of tea, but clearly one of her greatest successes.
Introduction - "A brilliant and valued personality"
Chapter 1 - Family Background
Chapter 2 - A Philosophical Marriage
Chapter 3 - Her Literary Work - An Overview
Chapter 4 - Carbis Bay Days - Testing 'the Simple Life'
Chapter 5 - 'Vellensagia' Days - None-Go-By
Chapter 6 - The Children's Book of Gardening (1909)
Chapter 7 - Initial circle of friends and family
Chapter 8 - The formation of the Lamorna Art Colony
Chapter 9 - 'Trewoofe Orchard' Days
Chapter 10 - Literary output during the pre-War years in Cornwall
Chapter 11 - 'The Happy Valley' - In Other Days (1915)
Chapter 12 - The War Years
Chapter 13 - The Black Knight (with Crosbie Garstin)
Chapter 14 - The Leader comic newsletter
Chapter 15 - Literary output of the post-War years
Chapter 16 - Circle of friends and family in the 1920s
Chapter 17 - Cecily's Final Years
Chapter 18 - Alfred's Final Years