16 December 2020
By Jessica Gregory, Curatorial Support Officer for Modern Manuscripts, 1601 – 1950. The papers of Emilia Francis Dilke (Née Strong, formerly Pattison) can be found at Add MS 43903-43908. The correspondence of Emilia Francis Dilke and Gertrude Tuckwell are found at Add MS 49610-49612. The British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores the history of women’s rights activism and is open now.
Emila Francis (Née Strong), Lady Dilke by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1887.
(NPG 5288, © National Portrait Gallery, London)
For too long, the achievements of women of the past have been lost; many who have made significant contributions to various fields find themselves remembered only in relation to the men in their lives. Tracing their own histories through archival collections can be a difficult task: within their husband’s papers, their legacies are already framed by the names they inherit and the proximity to power which was granted by them. Retelling the achievements of women from the past often requires us to reconstruct and draw together their lives through their disparate archival legacies, so often mapped according to their inherited names.
One such case is that of Emilia Francis Strong. She would become an essayist, author, art historian and women’s rights activist, but despite her varied intellectual output, there is a surprising lack of primary material preserved. The British Library holds some of her papers within her second husband’s archive: The Charles Dilke Papers. There are also a few items of correspondence within the collections of other powerful men too, but she has — to adapt Woolf’s famous phrase — no Archive of her Own.
Strong’s marriage to Dilke and her social class ensured that her name was preserved in history, but her varied intellectual pursuits have been overshadowed by her husband’s sex-scandal, which even now would have tabloid editors licking their lips. (And which, regrettably, I have to go into in order to contextualise her life).
Sir Charles Dilke and Emilia Dilke,1894, By W. & D. Downey, published by Cassel and Company, Ltd. (NPG x8701. © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Charles was a Liberal MP with a radical agenda, but the discovery of his extramarital relations with his brother’s mother-in-law, followed by his brother’s sister-in-law, Virginia Crawford, was just scratching the surface of his misdeeds. When Mr. Crawford’s divorce trial made the headlines, the judge found Virginia Crawford guilty of adultery, but — paradoxically — found Charles Dilke innocent of the same crime. On top of this, Dilke found himself pursued by an investigative journalist with a grudge, and was soon forced to enter a case in an effort to clear his name, which catastrophically backfired when his heavily mutilated liaison diaries were paraded in court. The torn and self-censored diaries seemed to prove Charles Dilke’s adultery and he became a figure of ridicule for his desperate attempts to cover up his indiscretions. Emilia had defended Charles at the trial, but the damage was done. His reputation crumbled and his love-life was the talk of the town for many years to come.
Engagement Book of Sir Charles Dilke, 1888,
Add MS 49402
Emilia’s legacy — like her life — is framed by this relationship. The situation would not be much improved by remembering her as ‘Emilia Pattison, wife of Mark Pattison’, either; her first marriage was so famously unhappy that she and her husband are said to be the real-life inspiration for the unhappy couple of Mr. Casaubon and Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s, Middlemarch.
A letter to Emilia Pattison from her friend, author George Eliot, 1870. Add MS 43907. British Library.
However, apart from her two marriages, Emilia sought to establish a name for herself through her own actions and writings. She studied at the South Kensington Art School in London. After her studies, she began contributing essays to the periodicals, such as The Saturday Review. She studied and wrote on Art and became arts editor of The Academy journal. Married to Mark Pattison at this point, she signed her articles E. F. S. Pattison, adding the ‘S’ to signify her maiden name: Strong — to reflect an element of her independence from her husband. Emilia published on the subject of French Art and gained a reputation as a respectable historian and critic in her own right.
She was also interested in social reform and particularly in improving working conditions for women. She was a prominent figure in the Women’s Trade Union League, founded in 1874 and became its president in 1886. She wrote on the subject of women’s rights at work. In the book Women’s Work, she explores the idea that women are a feature of the modern workplace and that their low wages are damaging not just to women, but to men — who were having their wages undercut — too. She outlines her argument for a raise of women’s wages to be in line with those of men as follows:
It is only too clear that economic independence of women is very, very far from being accomplished…Even though a woman’s work may be as good and as rapid as a man’s, we have seen that her scale of payment is frequently inferior to his…it would seem, therefore, clearly to be in the interest of workman to promote legislation and such methods of organisation as will afford to women the same vantageground [sic] as men
Emilia examined many aspects of women’s work in her essays and opinion pieces, outlining issues of inequality and advocating for health reforms in various sectors — even speaking at the Trade Unions’ Congress. She advocated for women’s trade unionism and would continue to publish on this subject — as well as Fine Art — for the rest of her life. Emilia was also friends with Richard and Emmeline Pankhurst and supported their campaigns for women’s suffrage.
Header for an Article published in the North American Review, 1891.
Even more than this, Emelia also wrote fiction, publishing two volumes of short stories, called, The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (1886) and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (1891). The preface to The Shrine of Love seems to reaffirm the importance of working for reform through life:
Nothing has troubled me more than the weight of retribution which often falls on those who revolt against any point of prevailing order.
Fly-page image from The Shrine of Death and Other Stories, 1886.
Hers are strange, allegorical tales, sometimes with a supernatural element, and a strong focus on morality and fate. They did not prove popular at the time, but these stories have recently been consolidated and republished for a new audience.
Considering this complex and varied legacy, it is a reductive to think of Emilia Dilke as simply the wife of MP Charles Dilke. Her many writing talents should have ensured her a more pronounced legacy than the one she currently holds. Compared to other women of the era, Emilia Dilke was privileged enough to be published and this has preserved many of her thoughts for the long-term. There is no doubt her work on women’s rights was an influence on other women, including her niece Gertrude Tuckwell, who advocated for women’s rights and women’s suffrage, becoming one of the first female magistrates in the UK. However, the lack of available archival material reflects a system of collecting that was very much centered on prominent men.
Gertrude Tuckwell, Emilia Dilke’s niece, women’s rights advocate and suffragist. Wikicommons.
The centuries of male dominance in society are reflected in the contents of historic archive collections. The exclusion of women from professional careers means that essential institutional records are primarily authored by men on the actions of men. Therefore, women of the past with intellectual careers and contributions to various fields, often find themselves excluded from many historical records. Without admittance into the professional sphere their work has often been side-lined as that of personal ‘interests’ or ‘hobbies’, and therefore, historically not deemed worthy of formal preservation. This may help explain the disparity between Charles Dilke’s archival collections and Emilia’s.
As well as this, the ability to trace individuals is also more complex for some than it is for others. Barring titles, ranks and self-administered change, the majority of male names will remain the same throughout life, whereas women’s names often change through marriage. Archivists make efforts to discover women’s maiden names so that they can link individuals’ relative outputs together and to help establish a full biography of a person, but sometimes these names are never found. Emilia went by many names during her life, she had her married names, but also preferred to call herself Francis over Emilia at times. As well as this, she would sometimes include her maiden name in signatures and sometimes prefer to author articles with differing initials. Given this abundance of known names, one might see how articles of her authorship may not be linked together.
A combination of structural bias and incidental loss has inhibited the collection of women’s archives for generations, but there is change in the air. Archival institutions now make efforts to correct imbalances in their archival collections. The efforts to brings the many untold lives of women back into history was a major feature of second-wave feminism. As well as this, the internet has provided a means of connecting and tying women’s narratives together, enabling the writing of fuller biographies and giving more credence to their achievements.
The legacy of Emilia Francis Dilke has certainly benefitted from these changes, and many of her works have even been digitised and so can be accessed by a wider range of scholars. Likewise, contemporary women have made efforts to recover Emilia Dilke’s legacy, with Professor Hilary Fraser writing her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, and Dr. Kali Israel writing a contemporary feminist biography of Emilia Dilke that explores her accomplishments on her own terms. But such work has had to be accomplished without a comprehensive archival legacy for Emilia’s life and work. Given all this, one can see how easily other women have been lost to history, especially without the privilege of access to publishing that Emilia enjoyed. So many legacies have been reduced to a few scraps of paper and given our current advances in the field of archives, it is essential that we make an effort today to ensure that female archival legacies are fuller, broader, and most importantly, present in the future.
- Women’s Work…With a Preface by Lady Dilke, by A. A. Brooke. (London: Methuen & Co, 1894)
- The Shrine of Death, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1886)
- The Shrine of Love, and other stories. L.P., By Emilia Francis Strong Dilke. (London: Routledge and sons, 1891)
- Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture. By Kali Israel. (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1999).
02 November 2020
by D-M Withers, Research Fellow at the University of Sussex and collaborator on the Business of Women's Words Project, which explores the dramatic story of the feminist publishing revolution that unfolded during the UK Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights -- which includes material from the Callil Archive and elsewhere, is now open at the British Library.
"I remember, when I was still writing the PhD, going to Carmen’s home in Chelsea, the little jewel of a flat with these two magnificent white cats kind of, stalking around, you know, scrutinising us. I remember it being painted deep lime green […] like a jewel, but that could be a misremembering." 
Virago author Barbara Taylor’s memory of visiting Carmen Callil’s flat in the late 70s is one of many references to Callil’s cats that litter the feminist publisher’s history. In her recently published memoir A Bite of the Apple, Lennie Goodings – clearly not a cat person – offers another account of visiting Callil’s home for a Virago meeting. Upon entering the ‘jewel’ like flat, John or William – one of two grey half Siameses given to Carmen as kittens by Germaine Greer and named after two ‘lovely men’ she had worked with in her early publishing career – boldly jumped on Goodings’s shoulder, and proceeded to curl around her neck. ‘I protested weakly’, writes Goodings, ‘until it was removed by Carmen, who declared that not liking cats “showed a defect in your personality.” 
Many photographic portraits of Callil and her feline companion exist from the 70s and 80s, and were often used as illustration for newspaper and magazine features. I encountered these sources while working on the Leverhulme Trust-funded project The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing, a partnership between the British Library, the University of Sussex and the University of Cambridge. Callil was profiled alongside several other ‘go it alone’ entrepreneurs, including a freelance management consultant, wine exporters and a restauranteur, in a feature for one of the final issues of glossy lifestyle magazine Nova that ran between 1965-75. Callil explained that the entrepreneurial route was attractive because she ‘had the wrong temperament to work for an employer, I think […] I just cannot tread the daily tightrope of compromise and gritting your teeth.’  In a full-page portrait of Callil and her fabulous white Persian Mary – named after Mary Wollstonecraft (who else?) – taken by John Ferrara, both figures pose seductively, shooting forth an arresting look that doubles up the feminine gaze for the viewer, a celebration of fur, feminism and self-possession.
Joan Bakewell’s 1980 article ‘The feminist publisher’, published in Illustrated London News, offers a different configuration . Here Callil is sat at home, crossed legged, adorned with knee-length boots that show she means business. Behind her is a desk strewn with books. In her arms is one of her grey half Siamese cats that, as soon as the shutter clicks, will likely struggle from her loving grasp, avoiding the burn of a cigarette held imperiously in the publisher’s right hand. The restless energy captured in the image seems appropriate for a domestic portrait in which the feminine interior, the private home, has been faced out, now transformed into a public space of work.
An article for the Telegraph Weekend Magazine from 1989 is more playful. We are introduced to two new additions to Callil’s household, sourced from a Sussex farm, the six-month old Augusta or ‘Gus’, named after friend Gus Skidelsky who bequeathed the kittens to Carmen, and Jessica or ‘Jess’, named after Carmen’s godchild, the daughter of the influential literary agent, Deborah Rogers. The article describes how the cats conquer ‘the 15-foot-high fence, entangled with greenery’ that frames Callil’s London garden ‘with ease. “I wish I could,” she smiles. “I locked myself out last week. I tried to scale the fence from a neighbour’s garden but fell off and bruised myself.”’  The accompanying photograph is warm, with a comedic touch: Callil, wearing a dashing multi-coloured, pin-striped blouse, holds a tortoiseshell with white paws barely outstripping its kittenhood in her palms; her face reveals an irrepressible smile, the cat looks askance from the camera, stuck out tongue, insubordinate, naughty.
These photographs evoke the fascination with feline imagery in the work of twentieth century female surrealists Maya Deren, Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington (Carrington’s Seventh Horse & Other Tales and The Hearing Trumpet were of course recovered by Virago as Modern Classics, in 1989 and 1991 respectively). In the portraits, cats become Callil’s familiars, their co-presence conducting the power of feminine independence, metamorphic mischief, sensuality and self-sufficiency. The surrealist imagery, in Callil’s case, is not of the subversive artist, but the businesswoman: the self-styled entrepreneur who chose comradeship with a host of feline friends, and to do business with other women.
In the Virago papers held by the British Library, we sometimes catch glimpses of Callil’s cats in her correspondence with publishing colleagues. Cat-lover Paul Berry, the literary executor of Winifred Holtby and Vera Brittain, wrote to Callil to express his delight upon reading about her cats in an article published in the Sunday Telegraph. Callil responded, with exuberance: ‘I can’t believe I never told you I had three cats: my best friends for the last twelve years; you must meet them one day, each a remarkable personality.’  Cats were also important to an author who kickstarted the Virago Modern Classics (VMC), Antonia White. White wrote two children’s books about her cats, Minka and Curdy (republished by Virago in 1992) and Living with Minka and Curdy. White was one of a number of living authors Virago published in the VMC that Callil befriended. Given their common interest in feline companionship, it seems likely that cats – and Catholicism – animated their conversations.
If, like me, you have a strange fascination with the who, what, where and why of other people’s grocery shopping, you’ll love the extensive collection of receipts and invoices held in Carmen Callil’s archives at the British Library. Among a host of other things (including the companies Virago used to print their books, where they sourced images for the VMC, membership receipts for the London Library, the Chinese restaurants they regularly frequented, the calculators they used in the office, among others) you’ll learn that in the late 70s, Callil bulk-bought her groceries from the wholesaler, Makro . Alongside food and various items for the Virago office – circled or marked with an asterix to ensure specific items were included in the company’s accounts – are entries for tins of cat food and litter! A busy woman, such as she was, very wisely did not get bogged down by the regular need to shop for life’s essentials. Bulk-buying was a far more efficient choice.
To close this feline circuit, I want to share one, further, Virago-themed cat story. As an undergraduate at the end of the twentieth century, I studied English Literature at Swansea University, where I had the good fortune to be taught by Professor Ann Heilmann. I was captivated by Ann’s teaching and the source material she presented to us, especially for her course on Victorian Women Writers, which included books by many authors she had first encountered – Mary Elizabeth Braddon and the ‘New Women’ Olive Schreiner, George Egerton, Sarah Grand – through Virago’s Modern Classics. Ann is also a cat lover (when I was studying at Swansea, she had a cat called Sweetie, named after the Jane Campion film). Fast forward twenty or so years: Ann now has two cats. Their names are Angelica and Diavolo – inspired by the gender bending ‘Heavenly Twins’ in Sarah Grand’s 1893 novel (incidentally, Sarah Grand – whose The Beth Book was a VMC, and the biography Darling Madame: Sarah Grand and Devoted Friend by Gillian Kersley was published by Virago in 1983 – also chose to be photographed with her cats).
Angelica and Diavolo at work and play
If it wasn’t for Virago, Ann’s cats would not be named after characters in The Heavenly Twins because her contact with Grand came through Virago’s reprint publishing. Without Ann’s academic study of niche Victorian women writers, in turn, I never would have studied them as an undergraduate, an experience which indelibly shaped my relationship to feminism. Ultimately, this is a story about how feminist knowledge is transmitted across generations, visible in the delicate details, of who we can name our favourite companions after. Callil after Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann the fictional characters popularised by a writer Virago plucked from obscurity and republished. Cats, as home-working companions, intrude upon Virago’s history in many different ways; their feline influence extends in a web of associations and references that give meaning to feminist life.
In recent years, Callil’s public companions are more likely be dogs rather than cats (proof, if ever it was needed, that one needn’t be forced to choose in life between such things). Indeed, you can hear current companion Effie barking enthusiastically in this episode of Backlisted, where Callil discusses The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor, one of her favourite novels. Discernible, too, is Callil barking back with fervour: ‘Shut. Up. Effie!’ Given my own penchant for cats, though, I will close this short article with Callil’s thoughts on these remarkable creatures. ‘I like them simply because they are not human. And I really love the shapes they make. My old cat was like a walking painting.’ 
Thank you to Ann Heilmann for feedback on this article and for the photograph of Angelica and Diavolo. Thanks also to Eleanor Dickens of the British Library for supporting my research into the Callil archives during this project. Finally, my thanks to Carmen Callil for article feedback and permission to quote from her letter to Paul Berry.
 Barbara Taylor interview by Margaretta Jolly (2011) Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project, British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue reference, C1420/38/05, p. 141 © The British Library the University of Sussex.
 Lennie Goodings, A Bite of the Apple: A Life With Books, Writers and Virago, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 42.
 ‘Fresh start: make the break and go it alone, Carol Dix talks to four people who did’, Nova, August 1975, 57-59, 59. Add MS 89178/1/166.
 ‘The feminist publisher,’ by Joan Bakewell, Illustrated London News May 1980, 67-69. Add MS 89178/1/166.
 Sally Richardson, ‘Animal Passions’, Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 1 October 1989. Add MS 89178/1/166.
 Carmen Callil to Paul Berry, 28 Oct 1981, Add MS 88904/1-194
 Add MS 89178/1/124-165, Virago receipts, 1974-81
 Richardson, ‘Animal Passions’.