Lois Burke

From St Andrews to Java: Ethel Forster Heddle, the Young Woman, and Transnationalism

Ethel Forster Heddle (1862-1942) was a novelist and periodical writer who was born and died in St Andrews, Fife. Yet the experiences she garnered from travelling throughout her life were reflected in her writings. Her novels were set in St Andrews and other Fife villages, the Highlands, London and two in Java, where she briefly lived. As a regular contributor to the Young Woman magazine (1892-1915), she addressed her girl readers with an international awareness.

In the Young Woman, young girl writers specifically appealed to Ethel’s Scottish authorial expertise in correspondence pages, writing to her under pseudonyms like ‘Scotia’, ‘Highland Glen’, or ‘Scotch lassie.’ Heddle outright dismissed girls’ attempts to fabricate a Scottish style in their writings. A response to a correspondent named Margaret is particularly telling. She writes: ‘Why not keep to the country which you know, and write of English provincial life? However well you know Scott and Barrie and Crockett, you cannot write a Scotch dialect from a study of their works’ (TYW, July 1901).

Heddle’s work was also significantly influenced by her time spent living on the Indonesian island Java. Heddle wrote a lengthy article published in the Young Woman which detailed her married life on Java. This was where she wrote her novel Three Girls in a Flat (1896), a novel based on the real-life experience of her friends sharing a flat in Chelsea, London. It was only on her return from Java that Heddle published Strangers in the Land (1904), based on her experiences of the island.

This presentation will examine Ethel Forster Heddle’s self-presentation as an expert on Scots, a London New Woman, and an expatriate in Indonesia. It will analyse these aspects of Heddle’s authorial personality in relation to her influence on young readers, and chiefly the correspondents of the Young Woman magazine.

Lois Burke, Tilburg University, the Netherlands