Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy 125th birthday,
Ruth Manning-Sanders

On this date 125 years ago -- August 21, 1886 -- Ruth Vernon Manning was born to John Edmondson Manning and Emma Manning (nee Brock) in Swansea, Wales. Ruth, the youngest of the three Manning girls, grew up to marry artist George Sanders, become Ruth Manning-Sanders and create a rich literary legacy of more than 90 books (and hundreds of retold folk and fairy tales) during the 102 years of her life.1

Happy birthday, Ruth!

While no book has ever been written about Ruth Manning-Sanders, many have written independently about her contributions to children's literature and folklore, the outstanding quality of her work and her legacy.

So for her birthday today, here is some commentary and praise about Manning-Sanders that I have gathered, interspersed with some photos of the many Manning-Sanders volumes that I am proud and fortunate to have sitting on my bookshelves.

Judith Ridge: "a fantastically eccentric and effective way with language"

Judith Ridge has mentioned Manning-Sanders several times in her blog entries on Misrule, the home of Australian children's books online.

In the June 29, 2010, post "Old Favorites, New Audience," Ridge discusses reading Manning-Sanders stories to a group of contemporary young children:
I decided, though, to read them a story that has stayed with me — dare I say, haunted me! — for more than thirty years. She's perhaps not all that well known or remembered these days, but Ruth Manning-Sanders was one of the most popular authors among my friends. I remember whenever we'd go to the Auburn Library, we'd go straight to the M shelves to borrow (and re-borrow) one of her wonderful collections of folk tales.2 I loved A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales, A Book of Princes and Princesses — I love all of them, but I especially loved A Book of Ghosts and Goblins and in that book, I most especially loved the story "Golden Hair". ... So I read "Golden Hair" to the kids at Oxley Park and I can tell you — this ghost story has not lost a shred of its power to enthrall. And that actually doesn't surprise me. Manning-Sanders was an extraordinary writer, with a fantastically eccentric and effective way with language*.3 It was as much the power of her language as it was her stories that captured our imagination as children — and the children in that classroom at Oxley Park, far from Wales and the west country of England where she lived and worked her days.
Ridge also writes about Manning-Sanders in the blog entries "How Diana Wynne Jones changed my life (In Memoriam)" and "Lucy Mangan's Biblio-Attachments."

I strongly recommend that you check out her website and blog.

TimT: "She comes across as an affectionate aunt"

On the Will Type For Food blog, TimT wrote about Manning-Sanders in the March 29, 2009, post "Ruth Manning-Sanders, revisited." Here's an excerpt:
I'm currently reading Folk and Fairy Tales, as retold by Ruth Manning-Sanders. Right through infants, primary and high school I can remember reading books of fairy tales retold by her: she was a prolific reteller of other people's stories. Check out the selected bibliography of her works on Wikipedia - and it's just a selected bibliography! - including such curios as A Book of Magic Horses. I lost touch with Ruth there for a while, but I'm glad to have got this book of Folk and Fairy Tales from the Flinders Street bookstore. She comes across as an affectionate aunt - a little prim and proper, but never trying to educate her readers. Unlike other writers - say, Thurber or Kipling - she never looks for the 'moral of the story'. In the introduction she writes:

It is the prime requisite of the fairy tale that it should end happily. I remember as a small girl hurling the book I had been reading across the floor in a rage, because the heroine, instead of marrying the hero and living happily ever after, just went and died. A thing she had no right to do.
I also love this anonymous comment on TimT's blog entry, which gets to the root of how Manning-Sanders' legacy is spanning multiple generations: "I came across this blog when searching for old RMS books. I just remembered getting every single one from the library when I was a little girl and devouring them. Now I want my little daughter to discover them too and am looking for the old editions with illustrations as I remember them."

Marcus Crouch: "Every present-day story-teller must be in her debt"

In the February 1989 edition of Junior Bookshelf, Marcus Crouch wrote a tribute to Manning-Sanders in the wake of her death the previous October. Some excerpts:
Her personal preference seems to have been for the humorously bizarre, and she had a liking for dragons, ogres and other grotesques. She liked humble, unheroic heroes, simple people keeping their end up by means of cunning and persistence. ... Every present-day story-teller must be in her debt. Her work is peculiarly suited to the domestic, one-to-one story-telling session. It forges a link between speaker and hearer whose strength is best appreciated in the home rather than the hall and classroom. ... For many long-lived writers, death is followed by eclipse. I hope that publishers will [continue to re-release Manning-Sanders'] priceless treasury of folk-tales. We would all be the poorer for their loss.
I'll second that! It would be great if a modern publisher could reprint Manning-Sanders' anthologies (although only if they remain paired with the wonderful illustrations by Robin Jacques).

1. Information for this section comes from Manning-Sanders' Wikipedia biography, of which I have served as the primary author and culled from a wide range of sources.
2. The library is also where I discovered Manning-Sanders, as I detailed in this previous post.
3. Ridge has footnotes in her blogs, too. This particular one is related to Manning-Sanders:
"*I didn't think of that as a child reader, but I discovered it from the inside years later when I was working at The School Magazine and discovered, to my astonishment and delight, that we had unpublished Manning-Sanders stories on file — and I got to edit some of them! Not that you'd dare do much more than a light run-through for fear of disrupting her delicately, yet complexly constructed prose. Apparently the long-lived Manning-Sanders had a similarly long-living daughter, who sent her mother's unpublished stories to the School Magazine — and I'll leave it at that for Jonathan Shaw to fill out the story in the comments!"
Unfortunately, Mr. Shaw has NOT yet "filled out the story" in the comments of Ridge's blog entry.

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