My friend Cathy introduced me to two things that helped brighten 2020: Caron Cooper‘s delightful Fosse Farmhouse and the works of Mary Crawford Fraser. The first is a charming B&B near the quaint village of Castle Combe that serves as a shrine to the anime programme Kin-iro Mosaic and is the perfect place to have a cream tea on a summer’s day. The second is an author I had never heard of, but her writing allowed MrElaineous and I to travel even during the middle of lockdown.
Born in 1851 to Americans living in Rome, Mary Crawford was to live the type of life that one doesn’t usually associate with 19th-century women. Her childhood and adolescence were spent between Europe, the UK, and America, and marriage to British diplomat Hugh Fraser opened even more of the world to her. His postings took them across the globe: Peking, Santiago, Vienna, Tokyo.
It was this last that I found myself immersed in, through her collection of letters entitled A Diplomatist’s Wife in Japan: Letters from Home to Home. Although I’m not sure who she was writing to—friends or family in Italy are my best guess—it is clear the letters were designed to be read out loud. So, I read a few pages to MrElaineous every morning for over six months, allowing her writing to transport us in space and time.
We saw Meiji-era Japan through her eyes, a period of incredible political upheaval and cultural changes in a country that had only been open to the outside world for a few decades. It was a nation racing to catch up in governance, technology, and innovation, and through her contemporary accounts, it was possible to glimpse a history previously unknown to us. The assumptions and stereotypes we had about the past were swept away, and we marvelled at the parallels to the present.
She was likewise captivated by the sights of the country itself: the pounding surf and bubbling hot springs at Atami, the grottoes of Enoshima, the peaceful forests of Karuizawa, the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Interwoven among these descriptions of landscapes and ancient monuments, she relates stories from history and myth, and, due to her position in the highest echelons of society, she shines a light on the happenings of the Imperial court. A poem that opens the book highlights the similarities between the UK and Japan—“the Island Empires of the East and West”—and it is clear that Mary Fraser felt very much at home in Japan.
As for myself, I felt a kinship with her as a writer: after all, living in and reporting on a different culture is very much the purpose of the MissElaineous blog! Indeed, I found her letters to be the equivalent of 19th-century blog posts as she shared her life with those on the other side of the planet.
As someone who prefers writing to speaking, and reading to almost any other activity, I must admit I don’t understand the appeal of podcasts or YouTube videos. But … I love the idea of giving a voice and wider platform to a woman who is often simply credited as Mrs. Hugh Fraser.
However, having produced my own online course over the summer, I am now intimately acquainted with how long it can take to create decent quality audio. Rather than plunging ahead with designing a podcast or audiobook that no one is interested in, I wanted to check in with those who read the MissElaineous blog: is this something you would enjoy alongside my usual blogging activities?
Go ahead and have a listen to the first few pages: