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First pages

Introduction

My nine year old granddaughter asked the best question, “Why is it called, “Imagining Violet”, Grandma?” as we were dis­cussing her reactions to the first 25 pages she had read. I like Wysiwig titles, I told her. Violet was a real person, my grand­mother in fact. I know a little about her life, and I have imagined the rest. Armed with careful research, I might have added.

Violet Alice Trant Courtenaye was born in Foxford, County Mayo, Ireland on January 7, 1875. Her parents were Anglo-Irish. Her mother, Alice Marian Gawley, was a daughter of Dr. Eccles Gawley, of Foxford, Co. Mayo. Dr. Gawley had a successful medi­cal practice and also held leases on three large parcels of land amounting to about 160 acres. Alice Gawley had several sisters, including Violet's Irish Aunts, Matilda and Kate.

Violet's father, Philip Allan Trant Courtenaye, was likely connected to the aristocratic Courtenaye family but his branch was by no means landed gentry. Philip's father, Albert, was in banking, at first in Banbridge, near Belfast, and later in the town of Clogheen. Philip joined the Customs Service in 1871 at the age of 26, and an early posting took him to Ballina, where he married Alice Gawley on 10th July, 1872.

Their first two daughters were born in Ireland. Agnes Eccles Clara Trant Courtenaye arrived in 1873, and was known as Birdie. Violet was born two years later.

Customs Officers were moved around regularly, and in 1876 Philip was posted to Chester, England where Violet's brother Reg was born in 1877. In 1879 the family moved to Gorleston, near Yarmouth, where Jack was born in 1880. In 1886 Philip was promoted to the Customs Office in Leith where the family was living in 1891. And that is when my story begins.

The letters that follow are not intended as the “complete correspondence” but have been “selected” by the “editor”.

 

Hotel Schirmer,

Königs Platz, Cassel, Germany

 

Thursday, 25th May, 1891

 

Dear Birdie,

At last, dear sister, we have arrived in Cassel. After four long, long days of travel, Mama insists that I rest. But I am so impatient to see the town that I cannot sit still. I am not allowed to venture out alone but must wait until Mama is ready. But oh, I am ever so restless!

And, I am all aflutter to meet my violin teacher and begin lessons. I must not waste a minute if I am going to take the entrance examination at the Conservatory in the autumn. I know you think I am proud and a little foolish to dream of performing on a concert stage, but being accepted into the Conservatory is very important to me.

When she returns to Edinburgh, Mama will have much to tell you about our journey. But I shall write about it as well as I intend my letters to serve as an account of my exciting new life. Please keep them for me, will you, dear Birdie?

I need not write about coming down from Edinburgh to London. I am glad, though, that we took the morning train, as the rest of the journey was indeed rather arduous.

The first interesting part was the paddle steamer passage. We went aboard at Queenborough at ten o'clock at night. I was disappointed that we were to sail overnight, because by the time we embarked it was too late, in Mama's opinion, to explore the vessel as I should have liked to do. The Flushing Line runs two crossings a day, but Mama chose the overnight passage so that we should not have to spend the next night on the train. I liked the Prinses Marie. She is much larger than the packets we have taken on our visits to Ireland and I believe she is the largest paddle steamer in their fleet.

We shared a cabin with two large,good-natured Dutchwomen but we could not communicate very well. They smiled a great deal, but they almost filled up the small space, if it is not unkind to say so. Oh well, it was only for the one night and I am determined to treat everything as part of the adventure.

We were both fearful of sea sickness, and felt ourselves lucky to have a quiet crossing. Indeed both Mama and I slept well enough, despite the narrow bunks and the discomfort of sharing a cabin with strangers.

To wake up in the morning and find oneself in Holland, in Europe – now that was thrilling! In Flushing, or Vlissingen perhaps I should say, now that I am in Europe, the Customs Officers were very nice and polite. Please tell Papa for me.

Mama and I appreciated the air cushions which Aunt Kate gave us as a going-away present. Although they are not quite the latest thing – a passenger in our compartment had one of the new Melon cushions – we found that ours are rather more convenient. When emptied, ours roll up and fit neatly into a pocket.

My new travelling costume served me well. I know I had complained to you about it being so terribly plain, but it was very suitable for four days of travel. And my new petticoat – the one of striped Oxford shirting – was much more sensible than a white one. I was glad I had brought along my tam, so that I could remove my straw hat and rest my head against the back of the seat. What a good thing I listened to Miss Mackenzie's advice. Do you remember her? The very tall girl who was ahead of me at Mr. Waddell’s Music School? She has been at the Conservatorium in Leipsic for a year now.

There is a good deal to learn about travelling. I was curious about the bright coloured circles some passengers had painted on the ends of their trunks. I could not imagine why they were there, but later I could see that it was good deal easier for those people to recognize their belongings. I shall certainly do that when next I travel by train.

I shall stop here, Birdie, as finally Mama is ready to go out and I most certainly do not wish to keep her waiting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, 26th May

 

Dear Birdie,

Mama said we must go to meet Frau Brimmer, where I am to lodge, before we did any sight-seeing, so we have paid a call and I believe Mama is satisfied that I shall be well looked after. But I cannot yet meet Herr Kaletsch, the violin teacher, until he returns from a short trip. I should not be so impatient but passing the entrance exam means everything to me. If I fail, this is all for naught!

But before we get caught up with the sights of the town, I want to tell you more about the journey. Our second-class compartment from Vlissingen was comfortable, and as we had taken care to find a ladies' compartment labelled, “Für Nicht Raucher”, we were not bothered by people smoking. Happily I had the window seat facing forward and was in charge of opening and closing the window, which I also liked.

In Antwerp we had an hour's delay and as we were hungry we decided to visit the refreshment room. This was not, dear Birdie, a pleasant experience. It was very crowded and there was a long queue and honestly these people do not seem to have the habit of queuing, so there was a good deal of pushing and shoving. We had a struggle to find a place to sit and by the time we had been served, it was nearly time to leave, so we ate in great haste with no possibility of taking a sweet or coffee. Someone told us to avoid the pastries “as we would the plague” – I do not know why – and the puddings looked unappetizing in any case. I have quickly learned, dear sister, that travel is full of mystery. One is forever wondering the why of things but one cannot get an answer. Another time perhaps we should order a refreshment basket and enjoy our food at our leisure. That is what I shall do when I come home at Christmas.

Indeed one of our fellow passengers had such a basket and when she was finished eating she did the oddest thing. She took a silver toothpick from her large handbag and proceeded to use it, in public. I did not know where to look.

There was another very long stop at the German border and once again we were obliged to fetch out all our luggage. Mama had taken care to watch which van our cases went into and she cleverly found a porter straightaway to see our trunks and boxes through Customs, so that was all right.

I was worried about the tea. Miss Mackenzie had warned that one cannot get good tea in Germany and said she always carries tea with her when she leaves home, so Mama had packed several ounces in her valise. I had not asked Miss Mackenzie how much was allowed and I was fearful that it might be confiscated, or worse. Mama was not at all flustered and said confidently that we had nothing to declare, and we were sent on our way. I still do not know just how much tea is permitted.

Here is another odd thing. You know, Birdie, how we sit in complete silence amongst strangers in a railway carriage at home? Well, on this train, people coming and going from our carriage would nod or bow to each other, to complete strangers, when they entered or left the carriage. And they spoke to each other, although it seemed obvious that they did not know each other. Mama was rather perturbed by this but I am beginning to think that it is a more natural way of behaviour, especially when one is cooped up with others for hours in a compartment.

But my goodness, Birdie, how rude the guards were! At home we are used to railway guards being helpful and respectful but at the border, one guard practically bawled at us as we came hurrying along the platform after we were finished with the Customs officials. Of course we could not run!

It was late in the day when we reached Düsselfdorf where we were to spend Tuesday night. We went directly to an hotel and fell asleep straightaway. Our beds were lovely with soft feather comforters, but the breakfast was very strange. This was my first German breakfast and it consisted of cheese and cold meat and cold hard-cooked eggs and rolls and butter, but alas, no toast. I have decided that this is a part of my wonderful adventure, but I do not think Mama enjoyed her breakfast.

Düsselfdorf, from the little I saw of it, was a busy but scarcely a pretty place. We were happy to catch the morning express train to Cassel and leave Düsseldorf behind. The Germans are proud of their splendid railway system but the next part of the journey seemed very long. We were nearly nine hours on the train! “Express” has a different meaning here. This “express” train did not stop at every single small station, only at the larger ones. At first we passed through town after town with endless factories and foundries. Mama napped a good deal of the time but I was sure that if I fell asleep I should miss something interesting, but I did find myself nodding off from time to time. The district is evidently dedicated to manufacturing so it is not very picturesque and I do not suppose I missed much. The spires of the numerous churches were all that relieved the view. Towards the end of our journey, we crossed over one valley by means of a long viaduct. We were alarmingly high up; a fellow passenger explained that the viaduct is more than one hundred feet high. Do you see why at times it is a good thing to speak to strangers? Had that gentleman remained silent, I should not have known about the viaduct. After that we were in hills and forest and soon came down to Cassel.

We shall stop at the Hotel Schirmer for another two nights. Except for that one night in Düsselfdorf, I have never stayed in a proper hotel before and I am enjoying this ever so much. This is a very long letter I know, but at present I have the leisure to write and plenty to write about. There are these new picture postcards here and I am sending one to Jack and Reg.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, 5th June, 1891

 

Dear Mama,

I hope you were not too tired after your journey home and that you found everyone well when you reached Pilrigg Street.

I was grateful that you were here with me for a few days and that we could enjoy some of the sights together before I begin my lessons. I have found out about the statue we saw in the Friedrichs Platz, by the way, the one of Prince Friedrich that we were wondering about. Frau Brimmer explained that it was erected to honour the Prince who sent many thousands of his subjects to aid the English in the war to suppress the American rebellion more than a hundred years ago. He was paid the vast sum of twenty-two million thalers for sending his soldiers!

Mama, I am so thankful to you and Papa for this opportunity to study music in Germany. I know I shall be content at Frau Brimmer's although it is a good thing that she knows a little English or I should be in difficulties. I already miss you, but soon I shall be so occupied with lessons and practice that I shall not have time to be lonely. That is my hope. I know that at sixteen I am young to be away by myself, but I am glad that you and Papa agreed with Mr. Waddell that I would benefit from more study.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hedwigstrasse, No. 7, Cassel

 

5th June, 1891

 

Dear Aunt Matilda,

We arrived in Cassel safely and I have settled into lodgings at the address above. Thank you again for your thoughtful and useful gift. We were, both Mama and I, very grateful to have Hints to Lady Travellers on several occasions during our journey here. It is nice to have the very latest advice. Attitudes are changing rather too quickly, Mama says. What was proper behaviour just ten years ago is now regarded as old-fashioned thinking by some, but perhaps not by my dear mother. I for one, am glad to be living in these modern times.

Still I feel sure that Mrs. Campbell Davidson’s advice played a part in persuading Mama and Papa that it will be perfectly safe for me to travel home at Christmas time, even by myself. This passage in particular is comforting: “I am quite sure that no man, however audacious, will venture to treat with undue familiarity or rudeness a woman, however young, who distinctly shows him by her dignity of manner and conduct that any such liberty will be an insult.” I pointed this out to Mama and I believe it was reassuring. Mrs. C-D goes on to say that the greater independence of women, which permits even young girls to travel about entirely alone, unattended even by a maid, rarely has inconvenient consequences. So you see, there is nothing to worry about.

You asked why I came to Cassel for the summer. It might seem a curious thing to do, I agree, but the explanation is simple. One of my fellow pupils at the Waddell School of Music did the very same thing last summer and found the experience most satisfactory. Herr Kaletsch, with whom I am to have lessons, is one of the few violin masters who teaches English students through the summer months. He and my piano teacher Fräul. Hohmann were acquainted years ago at the Leipsic Conservatorium. That same pupil took lodging with the Brimmer family and found the house entirely agreeable. And so I follow in her footsteps.

Mama was able to stop a few days with me here, to rest before the journey home, and to look at the town a little. Cassel has its old town, by the River Fulda, with narrow picturesque streets. The newer part of the city has been built higher up and is airy and agreeable. There we found the Friedrichs Platz, which is the largest square of any German town. The Elector's Palace is there too, but it is not very interesting. There are buildings on three sides of the square, but from the fourth side one has a lovely view of the valley and beyond to a distant mountain. From that side of the square one passes into the large public gardens. We enjoyed the spring flowers there and the flowering shrubs.

The next day we visited the principal attraction of Cassel, the Wilhelmshöhe which was the summer palace of the former Elector. Some call it the German Versailles. Mama and I chose to go up by the amusing steam tramway which conveniently left from the Königsplatz by our hotel. A respectable-looking young man approached us there and offered his services as a guide. His English was excellent, and Mama accepted the offer, and we agreed later it had been a good idea to do so. Otherwise I do not suppose we would have had any notion of what we were seeing.

The palace is very large and elaborate as the public buildings are here, but it is the gardens that give so much pleasure. Behind the palace, they extend for some great distance up to the very top of a high hill. Our guide took care that we were in the vicinity of the Great Fountain at the right time, three o'clock, to see the waterworks play. It is a tremendous thing, Aunt Matilda, to see a jet of water rise hundreds of feet in the air. There is also a tremendous waterfall descending from a reservoir higher up the hill. In addition, there is another cascade which I shall visit another time as it requires one to climb a long long flight of stone steps which was more than Mama was willing to attempt. I should not have been able to explain any of this without that nice young man who showed us around. If you like, I could send you a picture postcard. I hope you and Uncle are keeping well.

Hedwig Strasse, 7, Cassel

 

Sunday, 2nd July, 1891

 

Dear Mama und Papa,

Sunday is a good day to write my letters.

For the most part, I am settling in here. Frau Brimmer is rather strict and keeps a well-regulated household.

We must not be a minute late for Frühstuck – I mean, breakfast – which is just coffee with warm milk and a roll with a little marmalade or butter. Not like that curious big breakfast we had in Düsseldorf.

I have been able to practise my few words of German with the family and I have had my first meeting with Herr Gerhard, the tutor you arranged for. I know you liked Herr Gerhard, Mama, but I am not sure that I do. He seems a little old-fashioned and determined that I shall learn a great deal of grammar. And I have a feeling that he does not much like English people. Before I know it, he will have me conjugating irregular verbs, whilst I simply want to learn enough of the language that I can speak with people in the shops and so forth.

My violin lessons have begun with Herr Kaletsch and I feel sure he will do me a world of good. For the moment, he has taken me back to the basics, scales and exercises. Also I am trying to adjust my bow hold, trying not to grip it so hard. I played my recital piece for him and I thought it went well although I stumbled badly during the faster section at the end. For the time being I am to go twice a week on Monday and Thursday for an hour and I am to practise no more than three hours a day. In the morning, I begin with an hour and a half practice and then go to my daily German lesson. I like to explore the town a little on the way to or from Herr Gerhard's, but I must be back at Hedwigstrasse precisely at one o'clock for Mittagessen. The German people are very punctual, and I am forever looking at my new pocket watch. Woe betide me if I forget to wind it!

Dinner is a very long meal, much longer than we are used to. We are at table for well over an hour. I do not think Papa would enjoy that, do you? We usually begin with bread soup, followed some days by a course of veal with sauerkraut and potatoes. Another day we had beef with red currants and spinach. There is always black bread and sometimes also rolls. I should like to know how you make bread black but I dare not ask. Some days Frau B. serves stewed apricots and yesterday there was a delicious cherry cake with whipped cream. So you see the food is very different from our usual fare. There are two more meals in the day: tea may be taken at 5:00 and a cold supper is served at eight.

My German lessons proceed, but I am shy to speak much German yet. I try a little with Frau B., and she is patient and helpful, but with the servant girl it is impossible. I cannot understand anything she says, so aside from “Danke Schön”, we make do with smiles and sign language. This might sound ridiculous, but I see a group of children playing in a park, I think how clever they are to speak German so well. I cannot manage it at all.

I look forward to your letters and often feel I am very far away. Margaret and Annie have both written and their news has made me a little homesick. The weather continues mild, although the nights are chilly. My new spring mantle keeps me warm enough though.

Ihre liebende Tochter – that means “Your loving daughter”,

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hedwig Strasse, 7, Cassel

 

Sunday 9th July, 1891

 

Dear Mama and Papa,

You will be glad to know that I went to church this morning with the Brimmers to St. Martin's. I did not understand much of the service but it is a lovely old Gothic church which has been well-looked after over its many years. I am told there is an English service somewhere in the city so I shall try to find out more and perhaps I shall attend that instead if it is not too far to walk.

This afternoon I visited the Picture Gallery. I was surprised to learn it is open Sunday afternoon here. Frau Brimmer says it contains the fourth largest art collection in Germany, which is reason enough to be in Cassel. There is a great deal to see and I shall enjoy regular visits. To begin with, there are twenty-eight works by Rembrandt alone which is a very large number of pictures by the Dutch master. There are also seventeen Van Dyck portraits and many more.

I push along with my German lessons but the grammar is indeed difficult. It is not always easy to remember what you were going to say when you have to save the verb for the end. When I am discouraged, I tell myself that at the Conservatory, the classes in music history and theory will be in German and I shall have to be able to follow. Then I shall be grateful I am sure, that I had this summer to learn the language.

I practise for one hour in the morning and for two more in the afternoon. I continue with the scales and other exercises and I am reviewing the Bach Gavotte that I began to play last year. It is a good thing I am a violinist and can practise in my room. It must be difficult to find lodgings where you are allowed to have a piano. I am not missing the piano by the way.

Kiss Birdie for me and the boys if they will bear it. They will be quite changed by the time I see them at Christmas. And a warm hug for dear Papa. I look forward to having a letter from him too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hedwig Strasse, 7, Cassel

 

Wednesday, 26th July, 1891

 

Dear Birdie,

I was glad to have your letter, dear sister, and know everyone is well.

I can scarcely believe it has already been one month that I have been studying with Herr Kaletch. He is old, probably over forty and he is a big gentleman, but he has such a jolly, friendly smile. I think of him as Herr Cabbage, although I would not say that to Mama. I did not mention this before, but at the end of my first lessons, he said I was doing well enough with my left hand, but he wanted to make some adjustments to my bow hold and then he asked if I minded if he moved my right hand into a better position. That made me a little uncomfortable and also the bow hold felt awkward at first, but I had to agree that it makes a better sound. But I am progressing I think, because last week he gave me a study book which will make a nice change from the scales and exercises. Herr Cabbage studied at the Conservatorium years ago and follows their traditions. He is optimistic that I shall pass the entrance examination in November but says it will take a good deal of hard work for me to be truly ready.

The only difficulty here is that I do not know anyone my age. Frau Brimmer understood that and suggested I attend the English Church service which is held in a school room, a curious place to attend church but it is a small congregation. Of course I was shy to go by myself, but the Pastor was very welcoming and it was so nice to hear English spoken. After the service, I lingered a little chatting with him and in short order a young woman joined us and the Pastor introduced us. Her name is Ellen Kramer and as we were walking in the same direction we had time for a little conversation. Frau Kramer is also English but met her German husband two years ago whilst they were both on a tour of the Greek ruins. She has been married less than a year and is at least three years older than I am. I hope I may see her again.

 I hope your holiday at the seaside brings fair weather with plenty of sunshine and perhaps an interesting young man?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hedwig Strasse, 7,

 

Sunday 27th August, 1891

 

Dear Mama and Papa,

I was happy to hear you had a pleasant holiday at North Berwick and that it was not too crowded despite being so close to Edinburgh. As you say, with more and more people beginning to have an annual holiday, the seaside resorts may be filling up rather more than you would wish.

My goodness but it is warm here during the day. The roads are very dusty and dry, but the water carts rumble by every morning, and damp them down. That works for a while, until the wind starts to blowing in the afternoon. It is best to walk out in the morning.

I continue to go twice a week to Herr Kaletch who has lately begun to nag me about my posture. Mr. Waddell would mention this in passing but for Herr K. it is very important that I stand in just a certain way. Correct posture he insists, is the basis of good playing. He has me walk around his room, violin clamped under my chin and just lightly supported by my thumb. At first I was sure I would drop it, but little by little I have learned to trust the chin rest. We do this for a couple of minutes at the start of every lesson and I am to practise this exercise in my room as well. I am now holding the bow as he wishes and he is pleased that my bowing is generally as straight as it is since he gave me a little exercise which is mainly intended for beginners. As he constantly reminds me, sometimes must take a step back in order to go forward. This is an up bow action where I am to follow through and “take off like a bird flying off the water.” He allows, though, that since I came to him I am making a better sound and playing with more ease and facility. Even so, whenever I begin to play, the first notes are often scratchy and out of tune. He says, “Take a deep breath” and I begin again.

One of the curious customs here is the bowing, not the violin sort of bowing. I keep getting it mixed up. You know how at home a woman bows first when she meets an acquaintance in the street. Well, here it is just the opposite, and the man bows first. I keep thinking this is a bit forward of them, and then I remember. At times I forget how it is supposed to be, and bow first. I passed Herr Kaletch in the street the other day and duly bowed to him and he gave me such a look and then I remembered I should have waited. Well, no matter really, I am sure I shall get used to it before long.

Fr. Kramer invited me to call and I have done so three times now. It is so nice to speak English without fear of misunderstanding. She speaks German fluently and has quite settled into her life as a German Hausfrau, but there is small group of English-speakers here who gather when they can. They are not all exactly English, of course, but then perhaps, neither am I. It is difficult to explain to people, that one was born in Ireland, but lives in Scotland, but that one really is English. At tea the other day there were are two American gentlemen who are learning the railway business here; there is a large factory here where they build locomotives. And I met a very nice young man from Australia as well. He asked me if I was attending the church services, so perhaps I might see him again on Sunday next.

I wait for the post every day and so enjoy receiving your news. If the boys would write too, that would be grand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hedwigstrasse, 7, Cassel

 

Sunday, 17th September, 1891

 

Dear Mama,

Soon I shall be packing up and making my way to Leipsic. As you say, this is rather sooner than we had planned, but it is now definite that Frau Brimmer's mother must come to her as soon as possible. She cannot return to her village until she is completely recovered from the attack of pneumonia she suffered. Therefore, I must give up my room as soon as I can. I am not fussed at all about making the journey by myself.

Still, as Mr. Waddell himself said, one of the principal reasons to go to Leipsic is to hear wonderful music every day, something that is impossible in Edinburgh and unlikely in Cassel. And to be honest, I had always hoped to be in Leipsic for the music season. I just hope Fräul. Hohmann's aunt will be able to take me in earlier than we had originally intended.

I will admit that it has been lonely here at times despite the acquaintances I have made at the English Church and I shall be glad to be in a larger city, and in the midst of student life even if I am not truly a part of it yet. You were right, of course, that it was better to start this adventure in a smaller place and to be taken into someone's home. I shall arrive in Leipsic with a modest ability in German and eager to get to work on preparing for my audition. I trust the arrangement with Fräul. Taylor is still firm and that I may start lessons with her as soon as I arrive? I must work steadily if I am to succeed at my examination.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Braustrasse 4, Leipsic

 

3rd Oktober, 1891

 

Dear Birdie,

This is my first letter to you from Leipsic. I have dreamed of this day for many, many months. Altogether, the journey from Cassel was prettier than I thought it would be. I had been fussing a little about making the journey alone, but I reminded myself of Mrs. Campbell-Davidson's advice and indeed, there was nothing to worry about. After all, it is 1891, and young ladies are beginning to travel without chaperones all the time. Mama would probably not approve but I did speak from time to time – in German!! – with the other women in our carriage and that was helpful as they were able to point out matters of interest along the way.

At first the railway line followed the river but after the town of Eisenach we climbed through hilly wooded country. From time to time I caught glimpses of the mountains in the distance. There was one delightful moment when I espied three fairy tale castles all at once on top of three different mountains. Next came the large town of Erfurt with its two citadels and then on to famous Weimar, and after that we came to the flat land around Leipsic. This part of Germany is all connected by its rivers; all the towns seem to be built on a river, which is a new idea for me as I am so accustomed to living near the sea.

Here in Leipsic, the pupils have returned for the Michaelmas term and the streets are busy with their comings and goings. Of course I wish I were one of them, and attending the Conservatory right now. You know I will have difficulty being patient, and already I feel rather left out of things. But then I think how presumptuous I am for I may not even be accepted; I may not pass the entrance examination. I begin lessons with Miss Taylor tomorrow and I hope with her help I will overcome my anxiety. One hears a surprising amount of English, by the way, as there are dozens of American and British pupils in this city.

Life at Fräulein Hohmann's pension is very different from the Brimmer household in Cassel where I was almost treated as part of the family. Here at Braustrasse the large flat is on the ground floor, so we do not have stairs to climb. There are five storeys in this building though and I am grateful I am not on the fourth floor. Every morning we must say whether or not we shall be home for Mittagessen. and generally we meet for supper in the evening around eight o’clock.

You wanted to know all about my room? Well, it is the farthest from the main sitting room and therefore is the quietest. It is very small and simply furnished, a sofa-bed, a small wash-stand, a nice table by the window and one straight chair and one more cozy chair. There is a high green tiled stove in the corner which has not been lit yet, but Fräul. H assured me the servant will look after that for me. These stoves are a wonder; they stay warm all day and night with very little fuel. On the floor are a few small rugs, but because the apartment is a Parterrewohnung – a ground floor flat – the floor is chilly.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Born and educated in Toronto, Mary E. Hughes came to writing fiction by a circuitous route. Early careers in theatre and television production were followed by several years in association management. She has written and self-published two works of non-fiction and more than eighty feature length articles. One book is a biography, FRANK WELSMAN, CANADIAN CONDUCTOR and the second is a personal memoir of life afloat; THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE FLOATHOUSE "ZASTROZZI".

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Epistolary fiction is rare these days, so that was one attraction. The intimacy of letters and the suspense that is inherent in the style is another as the reader can know no more than the letter writer. There is a voyeuristic delight in reading someone else's private letters.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Finding on the inside cover of a Bible the words, "Went to Germany, 1891" . The Bible was my grandmother's and I knew she was 16 years old at that time. How intrepid, I thought. The urge to imagine her life was irresistible.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
The opportunity to do a vast amount of research. To study railway timetables from 1890, to dig around in old cook books, to investigate old concert programs, to check that one's language is appropriate to the period. And on the way, to learn a great deal about the time and place one writes about.

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