Angela Brazil: an environmentalist before her time
“When I ‘count my blessings’ I give a place of honour to that ‘country cottage’ among the mountains in wild Wales.” —Angela Brazil, My Own School Days
Angela Brazil (30 November 1868 – 11 March 1947) was a genre-establishing writer of modern schoolgirl novels in the 1900’s. She produced her first novel in 1906 called The Adventures of Phillipa, and her final novel The School on the Loch in 1946. During her 40 years of writing, she published 52 novels and 70 plus short stories written specifically for young girls.
The First Novels
Considered by many as a Coventry-based writer, it might come as a surprise that Brazil’s first novels were written in Llanbedr-y-Cennin, Wales. In 1882, when Brazil was 14-years-old, her family bought a small cottage in Llanbedr-y-Cennin. In 1902 they moved to a nearby farmhouse called Ffynnon Bedr which they owned until 1927. Angela Brazil spent a total of 45 years visiting and writing in Wales.
In Her Memoir
In her memoir, My Own School Days, Brazil says, “The first lines which I ever had in print were a description of ‘our cottage’ that I wrote for Ellerslie School Magazine…”. She goes on to state that her experiences in Wales formed the experiences of the schoolgirls in her stories. What’s more, Angela and her sister Amy were part of the Llandudno and District Field Club from 1909-1928. At the peak of membership, the Field Club boasted 300 members. Thanks to the Field Club, a number of important ancient monuments were preserved for future generations such as Llandudno’s Neolithic cromlech and the Tyddyn Holland inscribed stone.
Two Nonfiction Pieces Uncovered
So far Llandudno Museum and Gallery has uncovered two nonfiction pieces Angela Brazil wrote for the Field Club, a lecture illustrated by Amy called “A Chat About Fungi” and “Ffynnon Bedr, near Llanbedr” a write-up of a Field Club trip to Ffynnon Bedr cottage. These two pieces shed new light on Brazil’s writing skills and choices. Brazil says, “I had grown up from babyhood as familiar with the names of certain wild flowers as with those of household articles, it was as easy and natural to talk of scabious speedwell, and campion as of pots and pans.” Brazil’s study of botany is evident in her Field Club writing. She makes frequent references to other botanical reference books, classifies her finds, and then contextualises the classification and the vocabulary for an unfamiliar reader. The lecture is undoubtedly a teaching text which suggests that Brazil’s choice to avoid didactic writing in her fiction was conscious. Gillian Freeman’s The Schoolgirl Ethic rightly credits Brazil with being “an environmentalist before her time” but skips quickly over Brazil’s time in Wales and is seemingly unaware that Brazil’s Coventry and Cornwall conservation work has roots in her experiences as a Llandudno and District Field Club committee member.
Brazil narrates her nonfiction like a documentary, mixing history, mythology, and natural description with practiced ease. Her nonfiction suggests that she was aware of her audience, word choice, and that she had control of her register. Defining Nature with a capital “N”, Brazil stated that Nature is at the heart of all her schoolgirl stories, but a closer look suggests nature is at the heart of all of her writing. By examining Brazil’s nonfiction work and her considerable conservation efforts alongside her young adult writing, we can begin to understand that Angela Brazil was not only a young adult writer but truly an environmentalist before her time.