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Three Free Spirited Victorian Women

Short stories are at the heart of why Phyllis loves to write. Her father left her a legacy of the art of storytelling.

My Choice to Represent Beth.

Viccorian Woman

Viccorian Woman

Beth Malloy

Elsbeth (Beth) Rebecca Malloy was born out of time and out of place. She was a Victorian poetess who had to hide her true identity, for it was uncomely for a woman to join the ranks of male writers. However, society began to accept women writers when Elizabeth Barret Browning, Emily Bronte, and Emily Dickinson became popular. With their works well-loved, Beth was able to feel comfortable using her own name on all her works. This was not well accepted by her mother, though.

Since she was about three years old, Beth began learning from her very proper and strict mother how women must act and always obey their husbands. "That means in the bed chamber, too," Regina the mother would whisper harshly. Beth would say, "I do not want boys in my chamber. I do not like boys! Aunt Charlotte's boys are mean and rude." Regina would scold Beth for not listening and understanding how women must think and act.

Feeling shunned, Beth would return to the nursery and find comfort with her Nanny Merry. Meredith always had a smile and hugs for Beth, the only one who called her Merry, and she loved the nickname. Merry would brush Beth's hair as the petite little girl sat on a cushioned stool, watching Merry in the mirror. It always calmed Beth down, especially when Merry gave her the box of hair ribbons for Beth to go through and choose two. Beth would choose two different colors, which was not "proper", as her mother would say, but Merry used the chosen ribbons to gather the thick long ringlets on each side to frame the lovely little face.

Meredith had a mind of her own and loved to allow Beth to make her own decisions, for she believed girls and women should be free spirits and not bound by strict societal rules. Yet she also taught Beth the importance of respect and kindness to others. Meredith encouraged Beth to develop her creative skills in writing, especially poetry.

My Choice to Represent Meredith

Victorian Woman

Victorian Woman

A Mind of her own

As Beth grew, she became just the opposite of her mother. Beth was more independent and had a mind of her own, which in the Victorian era was unheard of for a woman. In public and around the family, Beth always showed exquisite decorum and respect. Yet, if she could get away with it, she preferred to spend time alone in her room in a soft flowing gown, writing poetry.

Beth began reading very early and immersed herself in books, which helped her learn words. Meredith bought books that instilled the beauty of creativity in Beth, who had a deep love of poetry. She wrote poems whenever she could get away from the strict social rituals of her mother. Her father was so different. He was a kind and loving man, often praising Beth on her reading and writing. Of course, he refrained from doing this openly. He would just whisper such compliments to his darling girl when Regina was not around.

As Beth realized more and more how her mother dominated the family instead of nurturing her husband and child, she promised herself she would never marry unless she found a man like her father, who was kind and appreciated the creative side of women. She seriously doubted that her father mistreated his wife in any way.

Anna Nollan, Beth's Ladies Maid

Anna Nolan was born in poverty. Her mother, Darcy, was confined in a Magdalene laundry, an institution for fallen women. When Anna was three years old, Darcy escaped from the laundry, taking Anna with her, and returned to life on the streets. Darcy died from pneumonia a year later. If not for a kindly lady who took Anna in, the child would have been doomed to a life like her mother had.

The lady, Ellen Nolan, who gave Anna a home was a house servant in a hotel. She lived in a small cottage behind the hotel. Ellen told her employers Anna was her brother's daughter and the brother died a year after his wife died. She took her neice in to give her a good home and was determined to raise her well. Ellen trained Anna well on the duties of a house servant. When Anna was twelve she was hired on as a chamber maid at the hotel and quickly advanced due to her polite and respectful manner.

The well dressed women guests at the hotel so impressed Anna that she started giving a lot more attention to her own appearance. It was important to her to maintain an impeccable impression in dress, manner and etiquette and found it came so natural to her. When she was eighteen Anna was noticed by Beth Malloy, who was a guest with her parents on vacation. Beth consulted her parents, saying she was very taken by Anna. When Beth had turned sixteen, her motther promised she could have her own ladies maid. Beth's mother inviewed Anna and was also impressed, so Anna was offered the position and accepted. The two young ladies got along well and a deep respect for each other began a life long, endearing relationship.

My Choice to Represent Anna

Victorian Woman

Victorian Woman

Love and Romance

Beth met her future husband, Edward Barnsworth, at a picnic. She was impressed with Edward when he offered to read poetry to the group. Edgar's voice was deep, yet smooth and soothing. He was a commanding presence in any gathering. Beth was impressed and fell in love with him. Edgar was very pleased with the attention Beth gave him. After a few weeks of knowing each other, Edgar paid a visit to her parents and asked for her hand in marriage.

Their courtship was so romantic, yet so proper Beth often became bored with the customary behavior. She would much prefer to go running barefoot in a meadow of wildflowers, which Edgar thought was childish and teased Beth out of her romantic fantasies. Beth would pout, yet she admired Edgar for his manly ways, which made her feel cared for and protected. Even though she had a mind of her own it felt good to let Edgar make decisions and plans, so she could focus on her creativity in poetry. Beth thought it was romantic to have a man who loved her and could take care of important matters.

Beth's wedding ceremony was everything a Victorian bride should have. Beth had worn a beautiful white wedding gown. Regina insisted on this, since Queen Victoria wore a white lace gown when she married Albert in 1840. The Malloys spared no expense on their daughter's wedding. Regina Malloy wanted society to know how proper and wealthy the family was. Regina would allow nothing to get in the way of what she felt was her rightful claim to high society.

The Picnic by George Goodwin Kilburne 1900

The Picnic by George Goodwin Kilburne 1900

Beth's Marriage

Unfortunately, Beth's marriage was not at all what she had expected and dreamed of since she was a girl. After their first night together, which was not pleasant for Beth, they sat quietly at breakfast, then Beth had gone to her maid Anna's room and changed into a morning gown. She was sore and felt sick over the way Edgar had ravaged her.

Gone were her hopes for a romantic and loving marriage. When Beth returned to their room she found that Edgar was not only able to take care of important matters, but laid down strict rules of his household which Beth was to adhere to at all times. This did not set well with Beth, who had been happy to get away from her mother and have some freedom. Edgar had these rules written up by his attorney and presented them to Beth for her signature of agreement.

She was horrified at the rules Edgar demanded in a nuptial agreement he presented to her. Confused, she read it and refused to sign such an agreement. Edgar expected her to not do any gardening, which she loved, and to not visit with her women friends or have any visitors unless he was present and approved of the people. She was to remain in the house at all times, never go anywhere without him, be presentable at all times in the clothes he selected for her every morning for each part of the day and not make any plans herself. The list went on and on. The worst rule was she was to give up her poetry or any writing at all. She was to spend her time working on needlework and crochet to enhance their home.

Beth threw the document at Edgar and refused to sign, saying in a shaky and loud voice, "I will not be made a prisoner in my own home!" This not only shocked Edgar, it angered him to the point of rage. He told her all they had in their marriage was his alone and she would do as he demanded. When she again refused, his face took on a frightening countenance as veins puffed up and he turned red with anger. He was standing by her chair. When he raised his hand to hit her, Beth stood up and glared at him in defiance. He hesitated for a few seconds then hit her in the face hard enough it knocked her down. Shaking, he stared at her then turned, put on his coat and hat, grabbed his walking stick and left. Beth jumped when the door slammed behind Edgar.

Alone and Frightened

Beth did not know what to do. She was afraid he would come back and beat her again. She sat in a chair at the table and waited, many thoughts running through her mind. For hours she sat there, nodding and fighting sleep. An ugly and painful bruise had formed on her cheek bone and around her eye. Anna kept applying a cold compress. Finally, Beth wrapped herself in a robe and curled up in an overstuffed chair by the fireplace.

Beth awoke feeling stiff and sore from sleeping in the chair. It was ten o'clock in the morning and she was hungry again. Edgar had not returned. Anna came in to check on the bruise. It looked bad, but the swelling had gone down which relieved the pain somewhat. Beth asked Anna to have some crumpets and tea sent up. She waited for Edgar, but by lunch time he still had not returned. She got out her journal and began writing poems. Writing always relaxed her and took her to a peaceful place away from worries. Before she realized it, dinner time had come and still no Edgar.

She waited two days and decided that was long enough. She had Anna pack her trunk and call a coach. To take me where? Am I to go to Edgar's home? She decided to go talk with her parents. Her father was not at home and her mother had no sympathy at all for her daughter and suggested Beth must have been disrespectful to receive such treatment, therefore deserved what she got. Beth was furious and stomped out.

Her only option now was to go to Edgar's home and hope for the best. She arrived at what was now their home, even though Edgar had said it was his only. There was no sign of Edgar at home and the butler told her, "Mr. Barnsworth has not been here since the wedding day. I am Norman Johnson at your service, Madam. Shall I have the cook prepare supper at the usual time, Madam?" Beth told him yes.

She was in a quandary, not knowing what to do. She missed Edgar, yet she was now afraid of his temper, at the same time she was concerned about him. When she was pacing back and forth in the front parlour there was a loud knock on the door. It was Norman. "A police detective is at the door, Madam. Shall I escort him in?"

Bad News

Beth was in shock! The report from the detective was that Edgar was dead. Apparently, when he left Beth he had gone to a prostitute woman he often visited. Edgar had brutally beat the woman and she had shot and killed him. She was now in custody for inquiry. Beth was to decide where to send Edgar's body that was at the coroner's clinic. Beth did not know and asked the detective to please wait in the library while she contacted Edgar's lawyer. Norman showed the detective to the library and returned to Beth.

Beth quickly wrote a note to the lawyer and gave it to Norman. "Please send a carriage to the lawyer immediately and deliver this note to him." Then she wrote a note to her father explaining what had happened and asked him to come see her as soon as he could. She needed his advice She addressed the note to his business office and gave it to Norman to have it posted. Beth knew she was running on high stress bordering on hysteria and gave in to her emotions, not knowing what was to become of her. She collapsed on the settee and sobbed. Norman called Anna down to attend to Beth.


In the span of one week, Beth was a blushing bride, a frightened wife, then a widow. Beth's father was with her when she met Edgar's lawyer and at all subsequent meetings to make sure his daughter's best interests were of highest priority.

The lawyer handled the funeral and the matters of estate. Beth was quite surprised to learn the lawyer was a kindly and helpful man. She had expected someone as rude and frightening as Edgar had been. Instead. Mr. Gunther was much like her father.

When the estate was settled weeks later, it was decreed that because she was the only survivor and wife of the departed Edgar Barnsworth, she was now in full custody of the estate. Everything Edgar had owned was now hers. He had not left a will, which was a surprise. Mr. Gunther explained that Edgar was so sure of himself he never thought he would die before old age, so he kept putting off the will.

Mr. Gunther had several conversations with Beth and her father, advising and helping her to understand everything. In one conversation, he decided to inform Beth about his opinion of Edgar.

"Mr. Barnsworth was not a kind man," he said. "And frankly, Madam. Barnsworth, I am glad you are free from an unpleasant future with him. Please, forgive me for saying so, but I feared you would become like a slave to your late husband. I hesitated to draw up the nuptial agreement for him, but he was very adamant and threatened to discredit me. I was quite surprised, yet pleased, when you stood up to him and refused to sign such a binding contract. You have my admiration, Madam. He treated his servants like slaves, yet he paid them very well to keep them in service. He also threatened them as he did me. Might I suggest, Madam, you assure them their service is appreciated and they will be retained under your kind auspices? They are highly qualified and run the household very well."

Beth was grateful for Mr. Gunther's advice and information. Her father consulted with his own lawyer and found that Gunther was a highly respected and honest attorney. He advised Beth to retain the services of Mr. Gunther.

After that conversatioon with Mr. Gunther, Beth asked Norman to assemble the entire staff for a meeting in the ballroom. This greatly concerned all of the staff, yet they set up the necessary chairs for all to attend. A chair was put at a small desk where Beth had her household journal. When Beth informed them she intended to retain their services, there was a noticeable appearance of a relaxed atmosphere. "I understand that Mr. Barnsworth was quite harsh with all of you. I assure you I will not be of the same countenance. I leave it up to Mr. Johnson to continue to oversee an efficient and pleasant household."

Beth informed the staff she is a poetess and intended to make that a career. "I would now like to meet each of you if you would please come up and be seated so we can get acquainted. Mr. Johnson will call you up one at a time." Norman had two house stewards carry over and unfold a screen to place in front of Beth's desk for privacy with the interviews. Beth was amazed with Norman. All he had to do was eloquently motion to employees and things were done. The staff members were all very courteous and pleasant. Beth was very pleased and the interviews went well.

Norman remained after all the staff had returned to their duties. "Shall I have the room put back in order, Madam?" Beth looked up at the man who ran her household with remarkable ability and skill. He was highly organized. He was tall, slender, maybe in his early thirties and impeccable in dress and manners. She suddenly realized how just how much she would come to depend on him and how quickly he had helped her become accustomed to her new role. "That would be nice, Norman, thank you." Norman nodded his head in a manner Beth was used to by now. He would close his eyes, turn his head slightly to the left and down. "Of, course, Madam." His chin would lift on the word 'of' then down on the word 'course'. She found it most respectful and rather quaint, quite charming in fact. An unexpected, yet pleasant, thought popped into her mind. Johnson and Anna, would be the perfect couple.

Beth's Domain

Beth asked Norman to have all of Edgar's personal belongings and wardrobe packed up and sent to a charity shop. Edgar's rooms were to be completely renovated into a more cheerful and pleasant environment that Beth could use for her personal library and writing room.

She requested that fresh bouquets of roses and other flowers from the beautiful gardens on the property be distributed around the rooms daily. Edgar was of the past and no longer a part of her life. She refused to dress in mourning, for she did not mourn Edgar or their time together. Out of respect for her mother's training in etiquette and other guests at the funeral she did wear full mourning dress, then sent the clothes back to the mourning shop. She was a poetess and would focus on her career and the future.

Beth was on her own for the first time in her life. She was a wealthy widow, owned an estate, an elaborate mansion, lavish gardens with ponds, and a huge staff. She had plans to embark on a writing career. Beth was nineteen years old. She was astonished that she was able to be so capable and commanding of an entire household and the large staff. It suddenly alarmed her if she was becoming like her mother who ran a very disciplined household. No, I have compassion, something mother never had for anybody or anything.

Thinking of her mother, Beth recalled the little dog which was a present from her father on her seventh birthday. It was a little Pomerian and followed Beth every where. She named him Poppy, because he was the same orange and sable color as one of the poppies in the garden. Beth would hold Poppy when she sat down. Regina hated the little dog and scolded Beth for holding it. Then she would have a maid take Poppy back to Beth's room. Poppy was not allowed any where else in the house. Poppy was happy only when Beth was with him. When Poppy died seven years later, Beth was inconsolable for months.

Remembering Poppy saddened Beth. She blamed her mother for Poppy's death, because Regina had no compassion for the sweet little dog. She asked Anna to have a carriage sent up to take her to the Pet Shoppe. This would be the first outing for Beth since her marriage ended and she was excited. Anna offered to go along on the trip.

"That is very kind of you, Anna, but you don't have to. This could be a day off for you when I am out," Beth felt good that Anna always showed concern and caring. "Yes, Madam. Yet, I feel it my place to remind you a lady should not go out alone," Anna shyly said. "Oh! You are right, Anna. I am just so excited to find another Poppy I did not think of etiquette."

"If I may suggest, Madam, maybe a companion for you would be a good idea. Do you know anyone who might fill that position?"

Beth had a sudden flashback to Nanny Merry, sitting in the rocker in the nursery with Poppy on her lap. "I do, Anna! I just thought about her. My childhood Nurse, Nanny Merry, would be perfect," Beth tapped her chin with her fan. "She is only ten years older than me. We will stop by where she lives and see if Nanny ... Meredith ... is there."

Nanny Merry

When Beth was 14, her mother Regina discharged Meredith Campbell. She felt Beth no longer needed a nurse. She gave a very good recommendation letter to Meredith, who applied for a nursing position at a hospital. Meredith was accepted and moved into a small house near the hospital where six other single nurses lived.

When Beth and Anna called upon her, Meredith was thrilled to sit and visit with them. Beth offered the position of Lady's Companion and Meredith readily accepted. She would have to give notice of resigning to the hospital administration and the required one week before she could leave. Beth scheduled a day and time to pick Meredith up and move her to the estate. It was a very happy day for the two old friends. Meredith and Anna liked each other immediately and a new friendship began between them. "Merry, do you remember Poppy?" This brought back so many memories for them both and they delighted in reminiscing.

The three women then continued on to the Pet Shoppe. They were astonished to find the shop owner had two little Pomeranians, both male. They were twins and looked very much like Poppy. Beth purchased them, along with the necessary foods, toys and beds the puppies would need. She named them Poppy and Poppy, which everyone thought was funny. Beth explained that she would have just one name for them to get used to.

There was a lot of laughter as they took Meredith back to her home. Beth wanted to take Meredith to the estate to show her the mansion and pick out rooms for Meredith. Meredith really wanted to, but had to work the night shift and needed time to get ready. The friends were so happy and chattered all the way, taking turns holding and snuggling with the puppies.

One week later, Beth and Anna picked up Meredith. It was a happy homecoming for Meredith and a very blessed day for Beth. Much later that night, Beth sat at her desk in the writing room and wrote several poems. She was so happy to have Merry back in her life and that Anna had come to be more of a friend than a servant. Anna never once complained that Beth and Meredith considered her a friend. She confided in Beth that writing was her passion and loved to write short stories. She was also working on a book on how to become the perfect ladies maid.

Bethe was thrilled to learn Anna was also creative. It was especially exciting since Mereidith had shown Beth a portfolio of her drawings and water colors, which were beautiful. Beth was so impressed with the talent of her friends that she had two more desks set up in the writing room, so Meredith and Anna would have their own place to work.

On the spur of the moment she rang Norman, who appeared in the parlour promptly as was his custom. She asked him to please accompany Anna to the artist's supply shop for any writing materials she may need. "If you can do this tomorrow morning and any time in the future when Anna needs anything, I will greatly appreciate it. And Norman, make sure all charges are applied to my personal account." She was surprised to see Norman so willing to do this. Did I detect a slight smile and something more personal about his acceptance of this new chore? How pleasant! Maybe my secret wish for Johnson and Anna will come true. Beth lingered on these pleasant thoughts.

Victorian Poetess

Beth titled her third journal, Poetry by E. R. Malloy. She had saved every poem she ever wrote, from the time she was three years old and credited Nany Merry for insisting on this. She now realized just how important this would be for her career.

Meredith helped to read over all of Beht's works and bind them into three volumes, as the puppies either sat on their laps or chased each other around the room. One of the house stewards, Ethan, volunteered to take the puppies outside several times a day. He would bring up a large basket with a blanket in it. The puppies would run to Ethan who would gently pick them up, cuddle them and place them in the basket, then off they would go for their outings.

Now the search for a publisher was Beth's priority. She painstakenly copied her best poems into a manuscript and sent it along with an introduction letter to the print shop to have several copies made.

Beth wrote to Mr. Gunther, her attorney, and asked for a list of reputable publishers. He sent her a list of twelve publishers. After sending out the manuscript copies the waiting time was excruciating for Beth. It was a little over six weeks before she started receiving replies back.


Several of the publishers responded, but were either not taking new writers or were looking for novels. A few showed interest, but there was only one that captured Beth's interest.

The Quinn Publishers expressed enthusiasm, was not too far away, and listed in the top ten most reputable publishers. Robert J. Quinn wanted to meet and see if they could reach a mutually acceptable proposal. He gave an option of three different dates and times for an appointment. Beth wrote back and chose the earliest one. She, Meredith, and Anna could hardly contain their excitement. The three women had become close friends. Any place Beth had to go, her two friends went with her, not just because society still thought it improper for women to travel alone, but they enjoyed each other's company.

The three ladies arrived at the publishing office on time and tried to contain their excitement. Robert Quinn escorted all three into his office and showed Meredith and Anna to a setee area and asked Beth to sit across from him at his desk. Robert read through one of the journals Beth brought with her. He was thrilled with her style and deeply moving romantic poems. He picked up another journal Beth had titled 'Inspirational' and was going to just skim through it, but the first poem captured him and he was amazed at the beauty of her work and emotive phrasing. He could see she definitely was a very skilled wordsmith. He had no doubt about the decision to publish her works and made a generous offer, which Beth accepted with what she hoped was a professional manner, but was bubbling with girlish joy inside.

"Mr. Quinn, I am very pleased with your offer and do graciously accept the terms. I never expected such a good start on my career. Thank you."

"You are most welcome, Miss Malloy. And please, call me Robert. We will be working closely together for, I hope, years to come. Your poetry has a lyrical sweetness to it and many will think it a bit feminine for a man, for society is still not used to women writing anything. Yet there was a definite quality of strength about it, so it will be well accepted. In time it will be known your true identity, and by then you will be well on your way as a popular and beloved poet."

Beth blushed then composed herself. "If you don't mind, Mr. ... Robert, I would like to introduce you to my friends in a minute. I would like for Meredith to be the illustrator of my poems. And Anna is a writer of short stories and is working on a book. I want to do what I can to help them get started on their own careers. Is this acceptable to you?"

"Most acceptable! I am delighted you brought them with you," Robert was thrilled.

Successful Careers for Three Free Spirited Victorian Women

Society believed the only rightful place for a woman was in the house, with its monotony of daily duties. With Robert's help and expert publishing promotions, Beth had become his best poet and the financial success received boosted his company to the top three on the list of reputable and succesful publishers. With Meredith's beautiful illustrations, she was asked to illustrate books for other authors. Anna was also very successful and her books sold in the top ten most popular lists of short stories each month.

Robert was a frequent guest at Beth's home. He and Beth had developed a close relationship and he co-hosted all her famous soirees and dinner parties for poets and other authors. After working with Beth for three years, he greatly admired her and realized he had fallen in love with her. He knew about her first marriage and was very patient, giving her the time she needed to know she could thoroughly trust him.

Since Anna had no family, Robert offered to be the one to escort her to the altar at her marriage to Norman Johnson. The guest list was enormous, with poets, authors, illustrators, and the household staff. It was a huge event of society and well covered in newspapers since the wedding was sensational news. When Robert and Beth were interviewed about the wedding, Robert said, "Hopefully there will be another blessed wedding in the near future," he took Beth's hand and entwined her arm with his. A subtle acceptance and agreement was made when Beth looked up at Robert as a sweet smile adorned her face.

Wedding Roses

Wedding Roses

Note From Author

This is a story of three free spirited Victorian women who rose above the very strict restraints of their era and became who they truly wanted to be. This is a special story for me to have written, for I love to see people strive to reach their full potential in life. I believe that is why we are here on Earth - to be all we can be and to help others achieve their true path in life. I know this story is not unique to my characters and that there were many women in the Victorian era who broke out of harsh societal restrictions to embrace their own creativity.

My sources for the Victorian era are:

Women in the Victorian era

Queen Victoria

THE CANTERBURY POETS, edited by William Sharp, 1854

Magdalene Laundries in Ireland

© 2018 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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