American novelist Mary Johnston published a best-selling novel titled “To Have and To Hold “in 1899 and 1900 in which a “waiting woman” named Patience Worth was mentioned several times, (See pages 24, 36 and 160). Although the character herself never appears in the novel, her persona and name are appropriated by the main female character Jocelyn Leigh when she marries the hero Ralph Percy in a mass pairing of men and maids for marriages of convenience so, under that guise, ‘Patience Worth’ is active ( and somewhat memorable) as part of the plot. On page 81 Lady Jocelyn cries
“You know what I did to escape them all, to escape that man. I fled from England in the dress of my waiting maid and under her name.” [Patience Worth] I came to Virginia in that guise. I let myself be put up, appraised, cried for sale, in that meadow yonder, as if I had been indeed the piece of merchandise I professed myself. The one man who approached me with respect I gulled and cheated. I let him, a stranger, give me his name. I shelter myself now behind his name. I have foisted on him my quarrel. I have—Oh despise me, if you will! You cannot despise me more than I despise myself!”
Whew! This is the stuff of late Victorian novels and silent movies. Even though the character Patience Worth does not appear in the novel, I think one is unlikely to overlook or not remember the name. There are some who discount the Patience Worth name in this novel as if it is mentioned inconsequently but in my opinion, whether or not the character herself appears, the name is memorable, if only subconsciously, (and that may be relevant to recall by Pearl Curran) each time the main character, Lady Jocelyn Leigh appears. Her unspoken disguise as Patience Worth is integral to the plot.
To Have and To Hold is written in modern English. It is NOT the default language of Pearl’s Patience Worth. There are no similarities, other than English, between the language used by Mary Johnston in her novel and the archaic language used by Patience Worth in her poems, novels and conversations. Mary Johnston doesn’t even provide a hint of the 17th century English language used by Patience Worth in some of her work. Even the language used by Patience Worth in Hope Trueblood, her Victorian novel is less modern in tone than the language used by Ms. Johnston as voiced by her early 17th century English characters. Actually it seems somewhat incongruent to dialogue those 17th century characters with modern English. Perhaps Mary Johnston just didn’t know better or more likely, she was writing a novel easily readable by 20th century women with an eye to sales. Mary Johnston’s novel sold well whereas Patience Worth’s novels written in archaic English or contrived English as in The Sorry Tale, can be difficult to read and as a result were not big sellers. (There are those today who say that the Patience Worth material is “not understandable” when what they really mean is that they do not understand it. It takes effort to do that.)
Pearl Curran was just 16 years old when the Johnston’s novel was first published and it was in distribution for seven years before Pearl Curran was married in 1907 and for 13 years before Pearl’s ‘Patience Worth’ appeared in 1913. Pearl Curran has not acknowledged that she ever read the book before the appearance of her Patience Worth. However, she has stated that “When a girl I read ‘Black Beauty’ and the Louisa Alcott books. I liked these. I was fourteen or fifteen when my father began to read to me. . . . [T]he first real novel I remember reading myself was ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ at about fifteen.”
Pearl Curran did not always have an accurate memory and one might wonder if she did not remember that her father might have read To Have and To Hold to her. It just seems a little bit coincidental that To Have and To Hold was first published and distributed about the time that Pearl Curran was taking an interest in books at 15 years old —according to Pearl (although her memory may not have been accurate here either). To Have and To Hold was the kind of book that might have appealed to young teenaged girls (or their fathers).
The book was made into a movie in 1916 and again in 1922.
The story was set in the early 1600s around Jamestown in the developing territory of Virginia in colonial America. The novel is full of action and is quite entertaining; perhaps of the sort teenaged girls might read— girls like Pearl Curran. (Pearl Curran does not acknowledge having ever read the book.) The story provided a lot of information about the daily life of the early English settlers around 1621 in what was to become the United States of America. It is a story set with a backdrop of colonial Virginia, battles with Indians, swashbuckling swaggerts, sword fighting murdering swains, lovers and high romance. The book I have contains eight somewhat detailed illustrations of pilgrim costume, primarily of men but also of a few women. After having read the book, one might come away with a strong sense of what it was like to be a 17th century colonist in America. (Patience Worth claimed to have lived during the last half of the 17th century.)
Here’s a little more of the writing from Mary Johnston’s Chapter XXXIX.
“It was like a May morning, so mild was the air, so gay the sunshine, when the mist had risen. Wild flowers were blooming, and here and there unfolding leaves made a delicate fretwork against the deep blue sky. The wind did not blow; everywhere were stillness soft and sweet, dewy freshness, careless peace,
Hour after hour I walked slowly through the woodland, pausing now and then to look from side to side. It was idle going, wandering in a desert with no guiding star. The place where I would be might lie to the east, to the west. In the wide enshrouding forest I might have passed it by. I believed not that I had done so. Surely, surely I should have known; surely the voice that lived only in my heart would have called to me to stay.
Beside a newly felled tree, in a glade starred with small white flowers, I came upon the bodies of a man and a boy, so hacked, so hewn, so robbed of all comeliness, that at the sight the heart stood still and the brain grew sick. Farther on was a clearing, and in its midst the charred and blackened walls of what had been a home. I crossed the freshly turned earth, and looked in at the cabin door with the stillness and the sunshine. A woman lay dead upon the floor, her outstretched hand clenched upon the foot of a cradle. I entered the room, and, looking within the cradle, found that the babe had not been spared. Taking up the little waxen body with the blood upon its innocent breast, I laid it within the mother’s arms, and went my way over the sunny doorstep and the earth that had been made ready for planting. A white butterfly —the first of the year—fluttered before me; then rose through a mist of green and passed from my sight.”
Could Mary Johnston’s novel have been the grain of sand around which Pearl’s Patience was formed? Well, anything is possible I guess. What do you think?