Tuesday 13 June 2023

Book News! Mistress Bridget and Other Tales

I am very pleased to announce that Mistress Bridget and Other Tales by E. Yolland, with an introductory essay by me, will be published on 15 July. It contains the novel Mistress Bridget and all seven of the author's extremely rare short stories. But in all likelihood, you've never heard of E. Yolland or the novel/stories, so I am going to tell you a little bit about this project to encourage you to rush off and buy the book.

First of all, who was E. Yolland? Well, until now nobody knew. When I began looking for information, there wasn't a single bit of it out there. There was no clue to the writer’s full name or sex, let alone anything more substantial. So, I started digging about—I went down the rabbit hole I'm always getting stuck in—and what I found out went into writing the fifteen page introduction to this new book. For obvious reasons, I'm not going to tell you a thing about E. Yolland here, but I can tell that this forgotten Victorian author has been fully identified.

So, what about the stories? Well, the novel Mistress Bridget was originally published in 1898 by F. V. White & Co.; it was the author's second book. It is set in seventeenth century England, a country divided in the aftermath of the English Civil War, where paranoia and superstition are rife throughout the land. In the village of Rithycombe in Somerset, Bridget Conyngham, the squire’s beautiful young daughter, is abandoned to the mercy of lawless soldiers and paranoid villagers. Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, is going about the country torturing anyone he doesn’t like the look of, and the villagers of Rithycombe, suspicious of Bridget’s healing abilities, are determined to save Hopkins the trouble of burning their witch. The supernatural element in the novel comes in the form of the ghosts of 'Madam' and a captain of the Parliamentary Army, who both haunt the manor where most of the action takes place.

E. Yolland's short stories appeared in two illustrated periodicals: Belgravia and Heart and Hand, the latter being a Church of England penny newspaper. The stories are: ‘The Miser’s Secret’, ‘Only a Smudge!’, ‘Impostors?’, ‘The Secret of the Dead’, ‘Autumn Clouds’, ‘On the Spur of the Moment’, and ‘In the Days of the Cagots’.  Of the seven tales, 'The Miser's Secret', ‘Only a Smudge!’ and 'The Secret of the Dead' have supernatural elements; the latter includes an apparition in an old church:

‘The kneeling lady rose swiftly from beside the coffer, and fell almost prostrate at my feet with thin hands raised in piteous prayer, and heavy tears trickling down the saddest face I ever saw. I rubbed my eyes to clear my vision, and with a start jumped up from what I suppose you will call a doze. I think otherwise, but that matters not.’

When I began my research, I had nothing to go on. I was determined but not terribly hopeful; after all, E. Yolland had been dead more than a hundred years, and even contemporary readers didn't know who the author was. As it is, I am extremely excited to have discovered so much, and I'm even more excited to be able to share my findings. 

Finally, here are the details of the book:

Published: Nezu Press, 15 July 2023.
ISBN-13: 978-1-7393921-2-3
Hardback with dust jacket, 314 pages.
Price: £25.00

Pre-order links will be posted here as they become available:

Top: The full dust jacket to the new Nezu Press book.
Bottom: The first edition of Mistress Bridget, 1898, and the 1896 volume of Hand and Heart (in which the short story ‘On the Spur of the Moment’ was published).