Monday, April 22, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 16 - H for Lucy Violet Hodgkin Holdsworth

Violet's father Thomas Hodgkin
Lucy Violet Hodgkin came from a long line of Quaker ancestors. She was born in 1869 in Northumberland, the eldest of the six children of Thomas and Lucy Fox Hodgkin. Her father was a prominent Friend, co-founder of the Quaker bank of Hodgkin, Barnett, Pease and Spence, later amalgamated with Lloyds Bank, and an eminent historian. Lucy Violet was her father’s favourite and shared his love of literature. As she said later, 'He and I lived our real life in the book world.' By the age of ten she was reading his proofs and seemed much older than her brothers and sisters. Her sister Lily wrote, 'In one way Violet was like an only child, it was "Violet and the children" always.'

When she was eleven Violet had a bout of scarlet fever which left her with increasing deafness. Cures were sought but in vain and by 1895 she had no hearing at all. Although she had episodes of despair she learned to lip-read very well and spoke out clearly. Her whole manner was regal and this was accentuated by her commanding stature and by the large hats and long dresses that she always wore.

Violet with her parents in 1911
Violet was educated at home and remained there as a companion to her parents who were very protective of her. In 1894 her engagement to Malcolm Powell was broken off as a result of family pressure. They felt that someone who, although charming, was also mentally unstable was not the right husband for Violet, but she did not forget her first love. When, ten years later, he married someone else she noted in her diary, ‘Wednesday 11 May 1904, Malcolm’s wedding day and not mine.’

The Hodgkin family were wealthy and often travelled in Europe but in 1909 they undertook a longer voyage ‘under concern’ to Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand they stayed with John Holdsworth and his wife Margaret at their house 'Swarthmoor'. Violet was deeply affected by her experience there of silent worship in an ecumenical atmosphere at meetings held at the Church in Havelock North by a group which included Friends, Theosophists and the Anglican minister.
The Holdsworth home Swarthmoor

Like many birthright Friends Violet felt that she had become involved in Quakerism without making a conscious choice and in New Zealand she found a setting for the more mystical spiritual expression that she was reaching for. When she returned to England she pursued this side of her faith and was eventually recorded as a minister in 1915. Throughout the years her ministry was marked by a catholic spirit and by directness, simplicity and depth. In 1919 she gave the Swarthmore lecture on Silent Worship; the way of wonder.

George Lloyd Hodgkin in 1911
In 1913 the Hodgkin family moved from Northumberland to Cornwall but very soon after they had done so Thomas Hodgkin died. Violet felt his loss very keenly, as she also did that of her favourite brother George who died of dysentery while engaged in relief work in Armenia in 1918. She found consolation in her work as a writer and began to publish historical and religious subjects. Her retelling of Quaker stories for young people A Book of Quaker Saints was published in 1917 and many other books and articles followed.

Writing was one way in which Violet could communicate and counter her deafness. Another way was through art. She was an avid watercolour painter, making opportunities everywhere she went to settle down to sketching, complete with umbrella, easel and stool. She would sometimes give ‘sketch shows’, displaying her paintings and talking about them.

In 1922 New Zealand came back into Violet’s life in the shape of John Holdsworth who was on a visit to England. His wife had died in 1920 and the friendship between him and Violet soon developed to the point where they decided to marry. He was 72 and she was 55 when the wedding took place in Cornwall. The couple went back to New Zealand but Violet was not used to running a household without servants and had to learn even how to boil and egg. She was made welcome by John’s daughter Beatrice but felt uncomfortable taking the place of John’s first wife in her own home. Eventually, after several voyages back and forth, John and Violet settled in England for good in 1928.

Illustration from A Book of Quaker Saints by F. Cayley-Robinson

Violet enjoyed the companionship of her husband and of her growing family of nieces and nephews. After John died in 1935 her quiet life continued, welcoming guests to her beautiful home near Falmouth and maintaining contact with a wide circle of Friends through a correspondence which grew year by year. She also continued writing into her eighties, meaning to ‘retire’ and then finding another subject to absorb her. One of her nephews remembers how important ‘the book world’ was still for her. 'Her drawing room was always full of new books including review copies. She would introduce you to them like guests at a party, with an affectionate pat for the good ones and a noise of disgust for bad ones.'

Lucy Violet Hodgkin Holdsworth led the life of the mind that her father had introduced her to, but also found affection and happiness when she had ceased to look for it. Her deafness closed some doors to her but opened others and she always welcomed new experiences and people into her life. She died in Cornwall in 1954 at the age of 85.

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