Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cynthia Stockley - "The dark ages of shackled womanhood"

Cynthia Stockley (1862-1936) was a once popular writer to whom time and changing perceptions have been rather unkind.  She doesn't even rate a Wikipedia entry of her own.

She was prolific and it's interesting to see her name listed as a film writer on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and that several of her stories were made into films during the 1920s featuring silent super stars like Marion Davies, Norma Talmadge and Bebe Daniels

Cynthia's misfortune was to write largely about white people in Africa and a country destined to go the way of the dodo, being Southern Rhodesia, later to become Zimbabwe. 

Always a depressive character it seems even by the mid-1930s, she said she "felt out of touch with the modern world" just before she gassed herself at her little flat in Bayswater, London.

Jessica Amanda Salmonson details something of Cynthia's life and books on her Violet Books website via this link and discusses the reasons why Cynthia is ignored or forgotten today. 

The Rhodesian writer, Jeannie M. Boggie * chatted to Cynthia Stockley at her home in Gwelo (now Gweru, Zimbabwe)  for her book Experiences of Rhodesia's Women, first published in 1938 which was two years after Cynthia's death, although that fact isn't mentioned in the article. 

There are some tantalising snippets in it about Cynthia that are not covered in the limited biographical details elsewhere, such as how she began her literary career:
"It was while in Natal, after my first stay in Rhodesia, that I began to write. A newspaper proprietor gave me a position on one of his papers as a political reporter. I knew nothing of politics ... but I would go to Parliament each day and listen to the speeches; and then write columns of personal comments on the speakers. This was far from being expert political journalism perhaps, but it was, I may say, extremely popular, as personalities always are - especially to the persons not directly involved.

In those days, when I first began to write, journalism for women was all in the dark ages of shackled womanhood, and as a pioneeer woman journalist, I was looked upon by the women of Natal with suspicion, and with disapproval ..."
She goes on to say that after a year of this she gave it up and went to Europe to try her luck, but it was a hard struggle and it was two years before she found a publisher for her first book. She also says that in America her book was pirated and she never received a penny and ...
"I was indeed so poor that I had to stop writing and go on to the stage. I joined Benson's Shakespeare Company ... also toured in America ... But I prefer to forget that period of my life which was both difficult and unhappy ..."
Her first book (image from
Poppy was her first big success and Hollywood took notice. Cynthia also said that nearly all the events and situations in her books were "founded on fact" and many of the incidents were from her own experience of life in Africa, London, Paris and New York. 

Jeannie Boggie adds a comment that "such facts have been surrounded and embellished with fancies and day dreams, wonderful fancies from Cynthia Stockley's own rich, vivid imagination and her winged pen of inspiration; from her sympathetic insight into human nature ..."

Her two marriages are completely glossed over and also her daughter who was born in the Umtali laager during the Mashonaland Rebellion of 1896 and later became a Mrs Wymer. **
 (People may forget that the Scouts movement had its origin in such African wars. See this story of the Rebellion as written by Colonel Baden Powell)

These images are from The London Times archives. One wonders what Cynthia had to say in the Daily Express Lectures about "The Other Man" - is this a hint as to something she had experienced in her own background? Also another advertisement for one of her novels being serialised in Nash's magazine in 1922 which indicates her popularity at the time.

There is much about Cynthia Stockley's personal life and early years that are unknown, and perhaps some day her books will also be rediscovered.

Images of Cynthia and her books at the website

As to where to find Cynthia's books - the Nabu reprint POD editions (Amazon) of her books seem to be over-priced. Many of her works are available for free reading online via the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg, also as free Kindle downloads, and even her first editions are available from book dealers at modest sums. 

*  Jeannie Boggie wrote a number of books on Rhodesian women and was an eccentric and larger-than-life figure herself worthy of remembrance.  I can add nothing to this most comprehensive blog on Rhodesian Heritage

**   Dorothy May Joan Stockley, married in London at the age of 21 to British major, Hubert Julian de Crespigny Wymer, and presumably later they lived in South Africa.


Ashcroftian said...

Cynthia Stockley was living in Sheringham, at Rainbows End until 1826. She had a son, Pat (1905 - 1923) who ended his own life too and has a gravestone in Sheringham cemetery.

Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks for this information. How sad that her son also committed suicide. Do you know what surname he used?

Ashcroftian said...

First, sorry about the 1826, of course I meant 1926. My father knew her and liked her. (That is why I am called Cynthia). The monument in Sheringham cemetery just says/or said as it was broken when I photographed it:Praise for the soul of Pat 1905 - 1923 and for his mother Cynthia. When I was doing some investigation in 2000 and involved the Eastern Daily Press, information came in that she came to England in 1898 and worked for a time as a journalist and also as an actress in Benson's Shakespeare Company.

Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks for this, Cynthia. I also notice that the link to details of her life and reprints by Violet Books is defunct, I'll see if I can find out if anyone else has rediscovered her and do an update.

Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I have been able to rescue the link about Cynthia Stockley and this can be found at

Anne Young said...

Thank you for this post - most interesting. A trivial update for you. By 1939 Dorothy May Joan Stockley was divorced from Hubert Wymer and living in Sussex (1939 register). She died in 1974 in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. Regards Anne