July 10th, 2019

"The Occupations of a Retired Life" (1868) by Isabella Fyvie Mayo

I am happy to announce:
Celebration Edition #424:
"The Occupations of a Retired Life"
By Isabella Fyvie Mayo, 1843-1914,
pseud. "Edward Garrett".
New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1868.
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/mayo/occupations/occupations.html

and
Celebration Edition #425:
"The Secret Drawer"
By Isabella Fyvie Mayo, 1843-1914,
pseud. "Edward Garrett".
London, New York: Sunday School Union, T. Nelson and Sons, 1872.
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/mayo/drawer/drawer.html

Isabella Fyvie Mayo was a Scottish poet, novelist, suffragist, and reformer. Much of her work was published under the masculine pseudonym of Edward Garrett. Her father died when she was eight, leaving the family in debt. At age sixteen, Isabella Fyvie began doing secretarial work and business writing to help pay off the debt. At age 24, she was approached by the "Sunday Magazine" to do a series of articles on "the sick, the lonely, and the outcaste." She began writing what became her first published novel, "Occupations of a Retired Life". It appeared in the "Sunday Magazine" before being printed in book form in 1868.

"Occupations of a Retired Life" follows an older gentleman, recently retired from "the city", and his sister as they move to the countryside to live. There they become involved with the local parish and its members, contributing both good advice and good works to the support of their fellows. The main character of the story, "Edward Garrett", has had a successful career in the city and is financially well off. He has a deep ethic of service and is compassionate. His sister, Ruth Garrett, has also spent her life working, learning the non-traditional job of a transcriber, clerk, and business writer from her father, and continuing his business after his death. Feisty Ruth has achieved common sense and independence, but not wealth. Throughout the book, the siblings argue about how each of them can most effectively contribute to their new community, and the author makes it clear that both can make important contributions. It is a tribute to the author's skill that one is not always sure which of her characters she would agree with, in any given argument! The story involves elements of both romance and mystery and is well-crafted and enjoyable.

In contrast, "The Secret Drawer" (1872) is lighter, intended more for a young adult audience. It features young women who are trying to make their own way in England, and is set against a background of Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi and the Second Italian War of Independence.

At age 27, in 1870, Isabella Fyvie married John Ryall Mayo, a London lawyer who died in 1877, leaving her a widow with one son. She completed and published nine novels as "Edward Garrett" before appearing under her own name at age 39.