Sarson's Golden Text Stories

Author: Mary Gorbold
Date published: 22/05/2014
© Mary Gorbold

Sarson C. J. Ingham wrote the stories at the end of the nineteenth century for the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Union. The stories often concern young people on the point of making their way in the world.

The circumstances vary; young men might have to support the family after the death of the breadwinning father. There might be a dramatic change of fortune from a modest way of life to inherited wealth and status A young man may be on the point of travelling to a new country to make his living.

There he has to tackle clearing rough ground or face Arctic wastes. The young men featuring in the stories have their doubts and weaknesses but are seen to be on a learning path in the world outside. They are there to show courage, perseverance and responsibility.

Young women face different challenges needing different qualities. The orphan taken in by her aunt is expected to take on the burden of housework and childcare. The girl who stays at home to look after her mother is seen as noble. Both girls make huge sacrifices and tolerate considerable hardship. As single young woman of limited or no means they are vulnerable. Marriage and being a good mother to one's own baby is a valued aspiration.

Throughout the stories there is strong moral teaching based on Christian values. It is important to seek the truth and teach it to others. There is an emphasis on helping others and acquiring knowledge and learning rather than material possessions. For the young men it is important to strike out and overcome fear and adversity. In the young women endurance and self-sacrifice are esteemed. There is value in working out one’s own priorities rather than accepting parental aspirations.

The language is generally quite readable for older Sunday School age children although there are some rather long sentences It is the domestic and social context which is strange to-day. Such stories belong to another time. The social structure is very marked. Young men go out into the world, but the young women stay at home.

While the moral values are sound the setting and the telling belong to another age.
Review by Mary Gorbold

The White Cross And Dove Of Pearls
By Sarson C J Ingham

First published in 1889, this novel is inscribed to Thomas Cooper. The ‘authoress’ expresses her gratitude to her benefactor who has enabled her to reach a wider readership. Unlike Mary Ann Evans, writing under the name of George Eliot a little earlier, there is no attempt to disguise her gender. It seems to be a novel written by a woman for women.

The two central characters are the girl known as Myrza, a stolen child who travels with the gypsies and the young evangelical curate who adopts her unofficially on the death of the gypsy Zillah to whom Myrza was particularly attached. The curate Hugh Warnford trains and educates Myrza, not least in the scriptures. All is well until Myrza grows into a pretty, vivacious, independent-minded young girl. There is a hint of mystery about Myrza’s natural parents as she shows signs of refinement.

Many adventures befall Myrza. She is kidnapped by the gypsies but manages to escape and return to Hugh; she becomes ill; she forms attachments with Hugh’s young brother and his sister, an aspiring writer and the Rector’s daughter. Hugh eventually decides that they must part, he to China, Myrza to train as a teacher. Myrza, with members of Hugh’s family, sees him off at Woolwich. The boat is delayed which provides the opportunity for Myrza to meet her natural father and becomes Lady Theresa l’Estrange. As Lady Theresa she has conflicting religious views and objections to the constraints of her new social position. There is, of course, a happy ending.

One of the prevailing themes of the book is social position and social stereotypes. The gypsies are mistrusted; the rich and titled have the power to create jobs, get work published, become members of Parliament. Working people are more likely to steal. Religious interpretation of the high church and evangelical church conflicts. Hugh had trained Myrza in a strict observation of the Sabbath, Christian faith and interpretation. However among the prejudice there is an insight into educational theory and a respect for education and the role of teaching which is refreshingly modern.

The telling of the story and style of writing is rather laborious throughout the nearly 500 pages. Many events take place with little bearing on the main story. There are lengthy descriptions of feeling, landscapes often interspersed with quotations even of whole poems. Hugh’s earnest sermons are included in lengthy extracts. The message, often repeated, is to spread the gospel and convert Hugh’s sister Agnes and Myrza’s father to a belief in God.

Writing a little before the publication of this book were Charlotte Bronte, Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot. The plots, themes, language of their works are clearer and have stood the test of time, whereas this work rather loses its way.



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