Sunday, July 27, 2014

Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth) (7 February 1846- May 5th, 1895)

 Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth) by Julia Margaret Cameron
albumen print, 1867, NPG

'Pity has no creed. We are bound to these sufferers by the tie of sisterhood and while life lasts we will help, soothe, and, if we can, love them.' Women are not all blind followers of men. They have power to think as well, and they will not weaken their power of helping and loving by fearlessly owning their ignorance when they should be convinced of it. Women should not reject religion merely because they desire to please men. Man and woman have equal rights but with different areas of influence. Women do not stand on the same ground as men with regard to work, though we are far from allowing that our work is lower or less important than theirs, but we ought and do claim the same equality of morals.'  Agnostic Women, Julia Duckworth Stephen: Stories for Children, Essays for Adults, pg. 243 and Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life by Gordon Lyndall, pg. 20

When Aunt Julia Cameron (1815-1879) took an albumen print of her ‘favorite niece', Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, the year was 1867 and Mrs. Duckworth was newly married less than a year. She was born Julia Jackson and her image would go down in the annals of history as one of the great beauties but little is known of this mysterious woman. An image captured in a moment by a family member would launch infinite mystery and curiosity.  
Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; formerly Mrs Duckworth); Mia Jackson
by The London Photographic Company
albumen print, circa 1867, NPG

She was born Julia Prinsep Jackson on 7 February 1846 at Calcutta, India. She was the daughter of Dr. John Jackson and Maria Theodosia Pattle, the youngest sister of Julia Margaret Cameron. The Prinsep name enters the frame when another aunt Sarah Pattle married Henry Thoby Prinsep (1792-1878). She became cousin to their son Valentine Cameron Prinsep. Julia and her mother known as ‘Mia’ stayed with Sarah and Thoby Prinsep beginning in 1848 until Dr. Jackson returned to England in 1855.  The matriarch of the family moved them into Brent Lodge, Hendon, while Julia was educated at home becoming her mother’s nurse and companion. The Jackson’s lived at Brent Lodge for ten years and the story goes that a young, twenty-one year old beauty, Julia Jackson paid a visit to her cousins at Little Holland House where she met a thirty-four year old barrister named Herbert Duckworth. She later admitted part of her attraction to him was his straightforwardness with her. He stood out among the other men who ‘attempted’ to court her; namely, sculptor Thomas Woolner and painter Holman-Hunt! 
Julia Duckworth with her husband Herbert Duckworth by Oscar Rejlander, 1867/70
albumen print, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College, Leslie Stephen's Photograph Album, plate 33a

 Mr. and Mrs. Duckworth were married for three years. They were devoted to each other, rarely apart, ‘the greatest happiness that can fall to the lot of a woman’ until in September 1870, while Herbert was attempting to pick a ripe fig from a tree branch, an undiagnosed internal abscess burst and he died. Julia Duckworth lay grieving for hours on her husband’s grave at Orchardleigh. She gave birth to their son, Gerald Duckworth six weeks later at the tender age of twenty-four. She went from being restrained and undemonstrative to no longer being, ‘inclined to optimism’ taking on a ‘melancholy view of life’. She would describe her loss in one simple word:  ‘shipwreck’.  She elaborated only saying, ‘The world was clothed in drab shrouded in a crape-veil’.

Nurse with Gerald Duckworth, c. 1871
Reproduction of plate 34i from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album
Original: albumen print. Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

The fact that Julia was a young mother would help sustain her and keep her going. She drew inner strength from her maternal instincts and the love of her baby. Herbert’s resulting loss would leave Julia with a life-long understanding and need to help those suffering any pain, illness, and loss of any kind. She adapted a stoicism that only those in her inner circle would observe and comment on. She rejected Christianity and began reading articles by a man named Leslie Stephen about agnosticism which brought her much comfort. Leslie was married to Minny Thackeray, the daughter of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray during this time. Julia developed a strong lifelong friendship with Minny’s sister Anny Thackeray. 
 Harriet Marian (“Minny”) Thackeray Stephen (1840-1875) and Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) are seen here standing outdoors, probably on their wedding trip to Switzerland in 1867. Reproduction of plate 35d from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album.
Original: albumen print,  Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

 According to Leslie's letters, it was Julia’s remote and reserved approach that he first noticed about her. She met his practical and emotional needs.  Caring for Leslie fulfilled her nursing vocation as well as a need for safety, companionship and appreciation that she craved and missed.  He later described a winter’s evening when he and Minny were sitting at home ‘in perfect happiness’. Julia looked in and found them ‘so happy together that she thought the presence of a desolate widow incongruous, and left us to return to her own solitary hearth’.  It should not be surprising that Julia was visiting The Stephen Family since she was a friend of The Thackeray’s going back to her days at Little Holland House. It was Julia who helped Anny keep her manuscripts in order and did copying work for her. Julia said of Anny, ‘she helped me into some sort of shelter and made things more real to me again’ when her husband Herbert Duckworth died. Sadly, it was that night after Julia’s visit that Minny went into severe convulsions and suffered what we today would call eclampsia. She died on November 28, 1875. Julia went to Brighton with Leslie and Anny shortly after Minny’s death. 

Leslie, Anny and Laura moved from 8 Southwell Gardens to 11 Hyde Park Gate South, in June 1876 when Leslie inherited it from Minny. Julia helped her new neighbors settle in. She had just moved from 90 Redcliffe Gardens into 13 Hyde Park Gate. It was during this period that Leslie Stephen would refer to Julia Duckworth as his ‘saving angel’. He was in danger of becoming depressed and a recluse. Julia saw the writing on the wall and recognized the signs of grief. She spent all of her free time making herself available to Leslie’s every need. Their children played together and one year later, on July 5, 1877, Leslie knew he was falling in love with Julia. He had papers drawn up naming Julia household accountant of sorts even giving her guardianship of his only daughter with Minny named Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870–1945) who was born three months premature and suffered from mental retardation according to Leslie's letters.  

Leslie and Julia Stephen in Grindelwald, Switzerland, 1889
by Gabriel Loppé (1825-1913)
Reproduction of plate 39e from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album
Original: albumen print (17.0 x 12.3 cm.)
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

On March 26, 1878 Leslie and Julia were married. Even though, Laura was looked after by governesses in a separate part of the house Julia had her committed to the Earlswood Asylum for the Imbecile and Weak-Minded. Laura’s family rarely visited her.  

Even with periods of difficulty in their marriage, Leslie’s letters reveal a harmonious domestic life surrounded by the joy and happiness his children brought him. It was during their marriage that Leslie became founding editor of Dictionary of National Biography (1885).  He was a very well known editor, critic, and biographer by this time. Together they had four children:  Vanessa Stephen (1879), Thoby Stephen (1880), Virginia (1882), and Adrian Stephen (1883).  Vanessa Stephen became Vanessa Bell an English painter, interior designer, member of The Bloomsbury Group. The most well-known of the siblings was Virginia Stephen who became Virginia Woolf. Thoby became known for starting The Bloomsbury Group and his brother Adrian became an author, psychoanalyst and member of The Bloomsbury Group. 
Julia Stephen at the Bear, Grindelwald, Switzerland, 1889
by Gabriel Loppé (1825-1913)
Reproduction of plate 39c from
Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album
Original: silver print 
 Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

During their marriage, The Stephen Family lived at 22 Hyde Park which had been Julia’s house before she shared it with Leslie. The children complained about the cold, calling it ‘a regular mausoleum’. It was set in a narrow, gloomy cul-de-sac, across the street from Kensignton Gardens. It was a five-story house with two extra levels and a rear extension that was added in the autumn of 1879. According to their daughter Virginia, ‘her mother sketched the plans of the house to save on architect’s fees’. The top of the house was where Leslie’s large study, library, night and day nurseries for their four children could be found. Vanessa remembers coal fires warmed the nurseries making the house, ‘very snug, if stuffy’ with ‘a very unhealthy atmosphere’. Windows were never opened. On the first floor three bedrooms were reserved for the Duckworth children as well as the marital bedroom and another nursery. The servants used the basement as their own space and the kitchen was looked after by the cook, Sophie Ferrell. On the ground floor you would find the dining room and large double room opening from, ‘a cheerful little room, almost entirely made of glass with a skylight, windows all along one side looking on to the back garden.’ A total of sixteen people lived here and all daily arrangements were supervised by Julia Stephen. 

When a lamp flares up in the nursery; Ellen, the housemaid, is called, then Annie, the parlor maid, then Adrian, ‘summoned his mater and Thoby’. Julia successfully deals with every situation showing examples of her energy and enthusiasm. She rises at 6 and ‘defied the burst pipes alone’. She is the kind of person who ‘sees gold under a covering of copper.’  Although, Julia is ‘an ardent lover of rats’ she wants a dog to rid her of the creatures that destroy her provisions; she adores birds and scatters crumbs to ‘entice the feathered favorites’. 

According to Hyde Park Gate News, ‘there are trips to glass blowing, a ventriloquist, the pantomime, Kensington Park, the Zoo, birthday parties, plays, musicals, Gondola rides, skating, and an ice carnival in Regents Park.’  

 Talland House, c.1882-1894
Reproduction of plate 37c from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album
Original: silver print (10.3 x 14.7 cm.)
Presented by Quentin and Anne Olivier Bell.
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

Some of the happiest times were spent in Cornwall, St. Ives, at Talland House a retreat from the city. This is where the family spent summers from 1882 to 1894, with visits from friends and relatives. In contrast to the Hyde Park townhouse, Talland House is full of light and warmth. Virginia looked back at her years here as, ‘days of pure enjoyment’. As children they ate cherries, cream, bread and jam, grapes, peaches, strawberry ices, cake and chocolates and remember the food most of all later in life. The garden was divided into separate sections by thick sweet-smelling escallonia. Virginia explained how every small room had its own function: the coffee garden, the cricket lawn, the Love Corner—covered in purple jackmanii, the Fountain, the kitchen garden, the strawberry beds, the pond, the Lookout place. 

They played endless games and activities: Up Jenkins, cricket, rounders, croquet, football, cat and mouse, hide and seek, Tom Tiddler’s ground, charades, etc.,  A neighbor at St. Ives, described Julia’s children as, ‘tall and fair, never mixing with other children, almost like Gods and Goddesses.’ 

Julia Stephen was always there to support her family and friends. She nursed the sick and dying, travelled round London by bus visiting hospitals and workhouses and she was never afraid to speak out ‘on behalf of workhouse inmates whose half-pint beer allocation had been removed by temperance campaigners’. Pall Mall Gazette, 4 October 1879. In 1883, she published her book, Notes from Sick Rooms, a discussion of good nursing practice, which demonstrated attention to detail and to language.

Although these stories date back to 1885,‘Julia Duckworth Stephens Stories for Children, Essays for Adults’ was published in 1987. These consisted of stories she told her very own children. They were stories that promoted the values of family life including kindness to animals. For instance, with titles such as, ‘Cat’s Meat’, ‘The Monkey on the Moor’, ‘The Black Cat or the Grey Parrot’ as well as many more. 

On May 5th, 1895, Julia Stephen died at the age of 49. Virginia Woolf’s memories of her mother would remain permanently tangible; keeping her memory alive always, ‘She wore a white dressing gown and next to her were great starry purple passion flowers, the buds part empty, part full. She wore three rings diamond, emerald, and opal with silver bracelets that twisted and jingled as she lay sleepless. Their sound meant that she would be coming to sooth her restless daughter telling her of rainbows and bells. She remembered how her mother held her very straight’. Julia’s final words to her thirteen year old daughter as she crept out of the door were, ‘Hold yourself straight, my little Goat’.  
Julia Stephen, 1894
 Reproduction of plate 38k from
Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album
Original: silver print (7.0 x 5.4 cm.)
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

 I couldn't resist adding this photograph of Julia's mother 
Maria Jackson (nee Pattle) (1818-1892)


Kevin Marsh said...

Hello Kimberly,

Very interesting read with great photographs.
Nice to learn something from Vanessa Bell's and Virginia Woolfs early lives, pre Bloomsbury.

Kimberly Eve said...

Hi Kevin,
Yes, I wanted to learn more about this enigmatic woman and hopefully shed some light on who she was as a human being beyond her facial image on an albumen print suspended in time! I just love the photographs.
Thank you so much for stopping by and taking time to read and comment on my article.

Anonymous said...

Kimberly, thanks for this. You've made the extremely difficult task of synthesising and synopsising a considerable amount of research - literary, biographical and photographic - look easy, and created a very readable brief account of Julia Jackson's fascinating life and loves. This is living history over here in the West Wight, as Vanessa's grandson, the painter and art historian Julian Bell, is a frequent visitor (he was at university with Dr Brian Hinton, current chair of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust).

Kimberly Eve said...

Hi Bob,
You are very welcome. Writing and researching Julia Jackson's life is quite challenging, as you probably know, because there is so little known about her. Thank goodness for her two books she wrote during her lifetime and glimpses provided through biographies here and there! I appreciate you reading my article and stopping by to comment. I continue to learn so much from your own work, so thank you for sharing all you do!


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