Bessie Marchant (Bessie Marchant Comfort, Mrs J. A. Comfort. Pen-name John Comfort) (1862-1941)
Place Born at Debden Court Farm, Petham, Canterbury on 12 December 1862.
‘The earlier hours of Sunday were always busy ones in the cottages on Bodsam Green, and indeed in surrounding hamlets as well. It was the favourite day for bread-baking, and the making of sufficient pies and puddings to last the week through, whilst any odd bits of washing, or house-cleaning were also got through with at the same time, in order to leave the women free for those out-door avocations of stone-picking, weeding, harvesting, turniping, and fruit-gathering, with which they endeavoured to eke out the scanty wages of their husbands. By dinner-time this activity was at an end; and dinner over, the children were turned out to play on the Green if the weather was favourable, and sometimes when it was not.’ Yuppie.
Bessie Marchant was a prolific author of adventure novels for children, particularly girls. Her novels, of which there are nearing one hundred and fifty, frequently had female protagonists and she was called ‘the girls’ Henty’ (referring to G.A Henty). Early works set in Kent include, among others, Yuppie (1898), which refers to 'Bodsham Green', 'Hastingleigh', ‘Wye’, 'Sellindge', and 'Brabourne'; and Yew Tree Farm (1904) which refers to life on a Kentish farm and hop-picking.
Marchant set a number of her earlier novels in the place of her childhood – Kent. Her father, a farmer and of the Baptist faith, helped to set up a mission chapel in Elmsted, between Canterbury and Ashford, but was forced to move to Petham after retaliation from the landowner of his rented farm. Religion is a key feature in her novels, particularly in Yuppie. The world of ‘Bodsam Green’, a fictional reworking of Bodsham Green (near Ashford), is changed when a family of ‘Methodies’ come to preach at the local church. After his father is converted Yuppie also wants to become ‘a Christian like father an’ the others’ praying to God to ‘make me one quick, please, cos there’s such a dreadful sight o’ things as I wants ter ask yer to give me afterwards!’ Marchant’s characters, from the novels set in Kent, feature this dialect heavily. They also have a limited knowledge of the outside world. Marchant herself actually never left England, except in her explorations of exotic and foreign locales during her research conducted in the Bodleian library, Oxford. Marchant describes ‘Yuppie’s World’, the world of her own childhood, as an ‘inconsiderable portion of the earth’, and attributes his ignorance of the bible, and of Christian principles in general, to this. There are lots of comedic instances when Yuppie tries to literally re-enact parts of the Bible. The ‘adventure’ that Yuppie goes on is therefore not a physical one, but is instead spiritual in nature.
Doughty, T. (2018). ‘The Empire Girl Goes to War: Bessie Marchant’s World War I Fiction.’ Women’s Writing 25(1). 95-108.
Major, A. (1986). ‘Bessie Marchant – The Victorian Pioneer Children’s Novelist.’ The Lady. 272-273.
Major, A. (1991) ‘Bessie Marchant: The Maid of Kent Whose Exciting Stories Thrilled Thousands of English Children.’ This England. 30-33.
Marchant, Bessie. Yew Tree Farm: A Story of a Separate Career. London, 1904.
Marchant, Bessie. Yuppie. London: Robert Culley, 1898.
‘Marchant, Bessie (1862–1941).’ Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopaedia. Encyclopedia.com.
Smith, M. (2009). Adventurous Girls of the British Empire: The Pre-War Novels of Bessie Marchant. The Lion and the Unicorn 33(1). 1-25.