BackStory: Five More Questions with Caroline Greene
Author of Eliza Brightwen Waits for Dawn
What inspired you to write ‘Eliza Brightwen Waits for Dawn’?
This monologue is based on the life of Eliza Brightwen, a naturalist who was very much a product of her age (1830-1906), while also being out of her time. She was pretty much an invalid until her 60s, suffering with various nervous complaints, but after the death of her husband, she found a new lease of life and became well known for for her nature writings, educational work and her philanthropy. For most of her married life she lived in a large house in Stanmore (Hertfordshire/Middlesex border) which is no longer there. In the introduction to her diaries, Edmund Gosse writes, ‘it might be unfortunately true that in a scientific sense she mainly ‘discovered’ what had been known for a century’. This struck me as perhaps the wrong way to look at her work, but Eliza herself suffered hugely from self-doubt, so this piece was a reflection on those aspects of her life.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
From a modern perspective it seems possible to say that a lot of Eliza’s ‘nervous’ struggles came about as a result of trying to conform to the expectations of the time. She tries very hard to be pious and constantly looks for consolation in religion. But she also reveals a sense of humour and shows a definite intolerance towards the demands of a stream of visitors. When her exasperation surfaces in her diaries, her phrases make me laugh – ‘defend me from twaddle and chatter’ – is a good one.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I read her diaries – The Life and Thoughts of a Naturalist – which chronicle her life up to 1895, as well as Wild Nature Won By Kindness, the book that described the animals that she had tamed and which made her name at the time. I also explored the woods around her old home in Stanmore, to see if there were still traces of her there. There’s a road named after her, and the woods and common have survived, just. It would be nice to think she watches over it.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
That old devil, self-doubt.
What do you like most about writing flash?
When it goes well, you can capture the particular energy that matches the layers of thought, like a spell.
Caroline Greene @cgreene100 is an English teacher and occasional features writer whose short fiction has appeared in Flash Magazine, Splonk, FlashBack Fiction and in anthologies published by Fish, Bath Flash Fiction, National Flash Fiction Day, Flash Fiction Festival, and as the title story in How to Hold an Umbrella, from Retreat West Books. She has written about Eliza Brightwen for the April issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.
Illustration by Theo. Carreras from ‘Inmates of my house and garden’ by Eliza Brightwen (London: T. F. Unwin,1895), courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (10.5962/bhl.title.18159).