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.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 ...
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 ..."
"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 www.SouthAfricaBooks.com)|
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 www.SouthAfricaBooks.com
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.