Sunday, December 16, 2012

Edward Thomas and Three Women, Edna, Eleanor and Helen.

Eleanor Farjeon

'Morning has broken Like the first morning...'

Eleanor's best known work is the hymn 'Morning Has Broken' but I wonder how many people are aware that she was its author. It was written in 1931, is entitled 'Morning Song for the first day of Spring' and is sung to an old Scottish tune.
 I can never remember not knowing it and I have in fact known of Eleanor since the age of eleven: at my school, Stafford Girls High School (also C-A Duffy's as I say at every opportunity) we had elocution lessons with a flamboyant speech and drama teacher, Eleanora Fenn. Mrs Fenn knew Eleanor and dropped her name all the time. We had to learn a poem a week; often they were Eleanor's and very enjoyable and memorable they were.

Eleanor's Story
Eleanor Farjeon was born in London on 13 February 1881. Her family was literary, father a popular novelist, two brothers became writers and another a composer. "Nellie", was a small timid child, who had poor eyesight and suffered from ill-health throughout her childhood. She was shy and not a pretty child as she wore thick glasses - as a result she was sensitive and empathic towards children, qualities which show in her writing for them.
She was educated at home, spending much of her time in the attic, surrounded by books. Her father encouraged her writing from the age of five. She describes her family and her childhood in the autobiographical, A Nursery in the Nineties (1935).
She lived much of her life among the literary and theatrical circles of London.
A holiday in France in 1907 was to inspire her to create a story of a troubadour, later refashioned as the wandering minstrel of her most famous book, Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard. Among her earliest publications is a volume of poems called Pan Worship, published in 1908, and Nursery Rhymes of London Town from 1916, one of the manuscripts she sent to Edward for comment.
  From A Conscious Englishman:
'When she’d met Edward almost two years before, she was overwhelmed by him. So beautiful - his face, and his voice. And his mind, she felt sure.

 ‘He was so kind to me,’ she’d said to her brother. ‘He asked to see some of my writing. Do you think he meant it?’

‘I’m sure Edward doesn’t say anything unless he means it.’

       So she wrote him a friendly note, rather a witty one, and he replied in the same vein. After that they wrote and met often. She knew that he was habitually melancholic – after all, their circle of friends thought of him as ‘The Patient’ by reputation before they knew him. They’d been quite cross at the way this mysterious ‘patient’ absorbed the time of their doctor friend, Godwin Baynes.

         She fell in love and she continued to love him when that first ‘in love’ phase passed. He knew, of course, but she sensed that she must never speak about her love for him. Bertie and a few close friends knew – and her mother, who was dismayed and disapproving.

On the first occasion that she went to visit the Thomases at Steep, Helen realised it at once. Seeing that Eleanor loved her husband, her response, her strategy perhaps, was to make sure that she became Eleanor’s loving friend too.'


During World War I, the family spent time in Flansham in Sussex where the landscape, villages and local traditions were to have a profound effect upon her later writing.  It was in Sussex that the Martin Pippin stories were eventually to be located and in the novel I have her visit Edward's printer near Flansham.


Eleanor aged 21


At only eighteen Eleanor wrote the libretto  Floretta, to music by her brother Harry. She also collaborated with her youngest brother, Bertie, Edward's friend, a  Shakespearian scholar and dramatic critic. Their later productions include Kings and Queens (1932), The Two Bouquets (1938), An Elephant in Arcady (1939), and The Glass Slipper (1944).
Eleanor had a wide range of friends with great literary talents including D. H. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare and of course Edward Thomas. After Thomas's death in April 1917 she remained close to his wife, Helen. She later published much of their correspondence, and gave her account of their relationship in Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years  in 1958. On holiday in Norfolk
                                                 with her brother Bertie, Clifford Bax and Edward.


After Edward

After World War I Eleanor earned a living as a poet, journalist and broadcaster.  Her topical work for the Labour-supporting paper The Herald, Reynolds News and New Leader was the perhaps the most accomplished of any socialist poet of the 1920s and 30s.( I'm proud to say that my parents took the Herald.)
 Eleanor never married, but had a thirty-year friendship with George Earle, an English teacher. After his death in 1949, she had a long friendship with the actor Denys Blakelock who wrote of it in the book, Eleanor, Portrait of a Farjeon (1966).
During the 1950s she won three major literary awards: the annual Carnegie Medal for British children's books;[ the inaugural, international Hans Christian Andersen Award for career contribution to children's literature; and the Regina Medal of the American Catholic Library Association. (An agnostic from childhood, in her later years she converted to Catholicism.)
She died in Hampstead, London on 5 June 1965 and  is buried in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead.
The Children's Book Circle, a society of publishers, present the Eleanor Farjeon Award annually in her memory.


Eleanor loved Christmas - her family Christmases had been lavish Dickensian - style events with entertainments by their writer father and the four children - Eleanor wrote a version of Snow White when she was seven for the family to perform. It had a very succint opening -

The Queen, embroidering, pricks her finger.
QUEEN: I wish I had a little dauter with her skin as white as snow her lips and cheaks as red  as blod and her hair and eyes as black as my en-broadeere frame.

QUEEN dies. Enter KING.

KING: She's dead. I must marry agayne.

1927 - Cyder Press facsimile

She was always very generous with her  presents to the Thomas family. Here is Edward's poignant 'thank you' note, of 27th December 1916:
My dear Eleanor, I am bloated with your presents. But that is not their fault. The apples were delicious and the poem is.  (Eleanor had sent another London Town poem).....It has been another entirely lovely day of melting snow and we have been out in it half the time in batches, I in each batch. If you had been here we should have been more Christmassy.  Goodbye. I hope we shall meet next Christmas time.
             Yours ever
                          Edward Thomas.

 The Poem: one of Eleanor's.   Contact Frank Egerton (, Phone 07967 246482)  Pre-publication copies available at £2.00 discount.

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