Tribulations of a music teacher: an unpublished manuscript (1870s)

Tribulations of a music teacher: an unpublished manuscript (1870s)

Ainsley, Ellis (fl. 1871). Estelle; or, the music-teacher’s story. Manuscript,

ca. 1870. 41 leaves, evidently torn from a notebook, folded and written on both sides. Papers slightly curled.

     The manuscript for a novella, evidently unpublished, about a struggling single mother who teaches piano, and her pupil, a child who appears to suffer from a developmental disorder. The narrative commences thus:


Ah, the drudgery of teaching music for a living! Was there ever a greater trial of patience at least among the minor forms of trial? For three hours in one afternoon to constrain yourself to sit listening to the discordant notes drawn slowly out -- from what should be a source of harmony -- to watch hands and wrists and elbows should move gracefully, first into all manner of strange contortions and awkward attitudes -- and to reflect, as the climax of all these displeasures, upon the circumstance, that upon you devolves the task -- surely a hopeless one -- of bringing these discords into harmony, these ungraceful and awkward attitudes into grace and propriety, that you may not by turning away  your mind, if you can, divert your attention and rest your weary musical sensibilities, that you must needs watch and listen to every one of these mistakes and prolong, in most cases, the trial by an attempt at its cure. Such were my reflections as I, Ellen Stanley, who taught music as a principal means to maintain myself and my little girl, passed wearily along the streets of the large town in which I lived, far more tired with my occupation than with the wet dirty walk and the carriage of my music and my umbrella. ...


Without revealing too much of the plot, we will allow that this unhappy narrator finds professional fulfillment in teaching "poor Estelle," a nine-year-old "little wild unmanageable imbecile child" who could give Dickens's Little Nell a run for her money in a pathos competition. Afflicted with a series of "abberations" that cause her to be violent, antisocial, and uncommunicative, Estelle appears to suffer from something like Asperger Syndrome.

     It is a more interesting book than most works of improving literature, and can be read as a portrait of the narrator -- a single mother struggling in a pink collar profession -- or as a portrait of a child

     We have found nothing on the author save that she published two volumes before evaporating from view. The first of these, Dreams of victory and defeat, and other poems (London: S. W. Partridge & Co., 1871), includes verse inspired by the Franco-Prussian war. The second, Loves and lives: an unfinished story (London: Whittaker & Co., 1872) was written up by several reviewers, most notably one for the Lady's Own Paper, who praised "the young authoress" for producing "a very readable and interesting" book.


References

"New books," Lady's Own Paper, 3 August 1872, p. 10.

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