Stella Benson: the increasing sophistication of “Holiday Magazine” (1903-04)

Stream: Travel and Place
Date: Wednesday, 18 May 2022
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Stella Benson: the increasing sophistication of “Holiday Magazine” (1903-04) Jeffrey R. Bibbee, PhD Professor of History and Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences University of North Alabama Stella Benson (6 January 1892 – 7 December 1933), British author of the award-winning Tobit Transplanted (1931) and suffragette novel This Is the End (1917), gained marginal fame as a travel writer, fantasy, and post-impressionist novelist after the first World War. Benson’s fame as an author was limited and she has largely fallen into obscurity. Born into a landed gentry family, Benson’s frail health and sporadic education, coupled with her father’s rampant womanizing and alcoholism, created a chaotic, nomadic, and unhappy childhood. Despite her father’s insistence that her poetry was naïve and his recommendation that she wait to write when she was older, Benson was a prolific juvenile writer. Benson kept a diary, wrote poetry, short stories, and eventually novels throughout her childhood and adolescence. Benson ultimately published eighteen novels, collections of stories, and travel writings inspired by her early life and her travels in North America and Asia. Benson’s early literary exploration was fueled by a home filled with literary figures, including her aunt, Mary Cholmondeley, and Lucia and Mapp novelist, Edward Frederic Benson. This paper will primarily focus on Benson’s editing of four issues of her family’s “Holiday Magazine” (Summer 1903, Christmas 1903, Easter 1904, Summer 1904). Each contains a mixture of written works, mainly non-serialized short stories and poetry, produced by Benson and her family: Ralph Benson (father), Mary Cholmondeley (aunt), Edward F. Benson, and her brothers, George and Stephen. During the year of production and publication, the family magazines become increasingly complex and sophisticated in their printing. The first edition is completely handwritten with hand-drawn illustrations. The second edition is typed on a typewriter with hand-drawn cover and hand-drawn, but possibly mimeograph illustrations. Editions three and four are typeset with printed illustrations and section divisions. The magazines include writings of all ages from adults to children and has section editors. Unlike many family magazines, these were sold, though circulation is unknown, and, according to the publication, some profit was made. This paper will locate the work of Benson in the larger context of juvenilia studies with particular focus on the common theme of the family literary magazine. Benson’s editorial efforts can be naturally likened to others. One such comparison can be made between Benson and, her friend and contemporary, Virginia Woolf’s “Hyde Park Gate News”. Both collections were produced by siblings at roughly the same age and just a decade apart. Like Woolf’s newspaper, Benson’s effort is diverse in its content and occasionally draws on the works of family members. The influence of the family’s mature writers is evident in their contributions. Additionally, building on the work of Christine Alexander on the Bronte family’s magazines, we see a growing sophistication in the publication of the works and effort to imitate professional publications. The significant technical changes in the publication over a short period of time warrants further examination.


Jeffrey Bibbee (Presenter), University of North Alabama
Jeffrey R. Bibbee is a graduate of King’s College London (2008) with a PhD in British History and a Professor of History at the University of North Alabama. Recent publications and projects include the memorialization of 19th century chimney sweep George Brewster who’s death led to the criminalization of child labor in England in 1875 and O Ye Jigs and Juleps by Virginia Cary Hudson, with Lesley Peterson and Leigh Stanfield with the Juvenilia Press. Bibbee serves on the advisory board for the North American Conference on British Studies and board of directors for the International Society for Literary Juvenilia.