• Publication date: August 16, 2010

The Young Visiters The Young Visiters

In 1890 a nine-year-old girl named Daisy Ashford decided to write her own ...

In 1890 a nine-year-old girl named Daisy Ashford decided to write her own novel, which inadvertently made highly astute observations about Victorian-era class issues, specifically in England. Daisy wrote the piece over the course of ten days; it was perhaps read once by a sibling, and then forgotten. Years later in 1917, Daisy would accidentally unearth her creation again, this time allowing her friend, Margaret Mackenzie to read it – merely for laughs. Margaret fell in love with the work immediately, despite numerous typos and grammatical errors, and showed it to Frank Swinnerton, a publishing house reviewer convinced that The Young Visiters would become a best seller. He was right. The tale has remained in print for over a century with no cessation since. The focal character of the story is Alfred Salteena, a lonely 40-something bachelor who has, for the most part, given up on the idea of love or marriage. However during a journey by train Alfred encounters Ethel Monticue, a young woman who he immediately considers a soul mate. Ethel responds positively to the passenger’s small talk, and for a short period of time a wonderful chemistry seems to exist between the two. While Alfred is successful by most standards, he is still far from being an aristocrat. This proves problematic when Ethel begs the bachelor to take her to exciting places, and introduce her fascinating new people. Alfred struggles to meet his love’s demands, and visits an estranged, wealthy, and unfortunately (for Alfred) single friend: Lord Bernard Clark. Upon arrival Alfred, affectionately known as ‘Alf’ to Bernard, makes a series of embarrassing mistakes that expose his meager origins. Desperate to win Ethel’s love, he asks Bernard to help him transform into a perfect gentleman. Lord Bernard enlists of the assistance of the Earl of Clincham who, reminiscent of Pygmalion’s Higgins, strives to teach his student proper aristocratic etiquette. On the surface Bernard’s sponsorship of Alf appears completely altruistic, but his true intent is to gain extensive private time with Ethel, and hopefully woo her away from the ill-mannered commoner. Literary critiques and parodies of Victorian era behaviors are by no means new. What makes The Young Visiters unique are the observations of such a young author, whose naivety, innocence, and lack of experience results in subtle realizations that are uncommon in the adult mind, but no less brilliant and entertaining. Ashford’s prepubescent fiction contains a certain wisdom, so much so that J. M. Barrie, who wrote the book’s preface, was accused of ghostwriting the entire story.