Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dora Owen

Dora Owen (b.  Anwick, Lincolnshire, Dec. 1865; d. Wakefield, 19 July 1938)

Rose Dora Ashington was the youngest child of the Reverend Henry Ashington (1803-1875) and Frances Denton Ashington, née Osborne (1826-1915).  She had five older sisters and three older brothers. Her father was an alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. Classical Tripos, 1826; M.A. 1829), and was ordained a deacon in London in 1831. He became a priest the following year, and served at various places in Lincolnshire, including as rector of Quarrington (1844), rector of Kirby-le-Thorp with Asgarsby (1845-1854), and rector of Brauncewell and vicar of Anwick (1854-1874). Henry Ashington published a few small books, including The English Clergyman: His Commission, Conduct, and Doctrine (1846), and Two Sermons (1848), with one sermon by Ashington and the other by C.E. Kennaway.

Little is known of Dora’s upbringing and education. In 1881 she was living with her widowed mother, and several unmarried siblings, in Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire.  In the summer of 1887, in Ormskirk, Lancashire, she married Edward Charles Everard Owen (1860-1949), a Balliol College, Oxford, graduate (B.A. Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores, 1883; M.A. 1886). He had been elected to a Fellowship at New College, Oxford, in 1884, and was a lecturer in classics for two years before being appointed to the teaching staff at Harrow, where he would remain for twenty-four years.  He was also ordained in 1884, and when he gave up teaching, he served as rector at Bucknell for two years, and subsequently at other places.  As “E.C.E. Owen” or “E.C. Everard Owen”, he published several books, including Latin Syntax for the Use of Upper Forms (1888), A Synopsis of the Chief Events of Ancient History (1898), and A Brief History of Greece and Rome (1913). He also translated Some Authentic Acts of the Early Martyrs (1927), and edited some volumes of poetry, including Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1897) by Lord Byron, Selections from the Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1899), The Odyssey of Homer (1901), and Selections from the Poems of H. W. Longfellow (1911).  Finally, he published one slim booklet of his own poetry, Three Hills and Other Poems (1916). He and Dora Owen had six sons and two daughters.  These Owens were apparently unrelated to the poet Wilfred Owen, as has sometimes mistakenly been reported.  

Dora Owen shared with her husband a great interest in poetry, and her only book was an anthology, The Book of Fairy Poetry (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920), to which she contributed one poem (it begins:  “Children, children, don’t forget / There are elves and fairies yet.”). It is a lavish volume (priced at 21 shillings on publication in October 1920), with sixteen colored plates by British artist Warwick Goble (1862-1943), pasted onto inserted heavy pasteboard pages, as well as fifteen further black-and-white drawings. Goble’s works are well-collected today, and he is perhaps best remembered for watercolor illustrations to gift books, particularly to Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales (1910). 

The Book of Fairy Poetry is divided into three main sections: Fairy Stories; Fairy Songs, Dances and Talk; and Fairyland and Fairy Lore; with the poems in each section presented in chronological order.  In addition to traditional ballads and stories in verse, there are selections from many classic authors of fairy literature, including Michael Drayton, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Sir Walter Scott, and John Keats, as well as work by more recent poets such as Christina Rossetti, Andrew Lang, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Fiona Macleod, Walter de la Mare, William Butler Yeats, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Tolkien’s poem “Goblin Feet”, the third poem from the end, earned a colored illustration by Warwick Goble, representing the line from Tolkien’s poem: “And the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming!” 

Dora Owen compiled the book over several years.  It was in January 1916, just one month after the first publication of “Goblin Feet” in Oxford  Poetry 1915,  that she wrote to ask for Tolkien’s permission to include it in her book.  Tolkien responded by offering her some additional poems, which she declined to use.  “Goblin Feet” was Tolkien’s first significant publication, and the reprint in The Book of Fairy Poetry one of his most lavish.  In later years Tolkien came to feel that “Goblin Feet” represented much of what he had come to dislike about modern conceptions of fairies, and complained that the poem was given an illustration “as bad as it deserved”.  Certainly one cannot fault Goble too much for the illustration, which is of a type consistent with the rest in the volume, and which includes specific details (with some absurdities added, particularly in the facial expressions of the gnomes) from Tolkien’s poem. 

1 comment:

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