Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Mysterious Tinsley Sisters

The two Tinsley brothers, Edward (1835-1866) and William (1831-1902) are well known as the founders of the publishing company of Tinsley Brothers, which they started in 1858. Despite having no previous experience in the industry, by the 1860s they had prospered, specializing in sensational popular novels, including the trinity of Wilkie Collins, Mrs Henry Wood and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Edward died suddenly in 1866 of a stroke and William continued alone, much less successfully. He faced bankruptcy three times, and on the third time in 1887, the publishing company came to an end. For the full tale of William Tinsley’s colourful career, read his entertaining and quite self-aware memoirs Random Recollections of an Old Publisher (in 2 volumes, London, 1900).
William Tinsley, Random Recollections of an Old Publisher (London, 1900)
In 1867, to advertise his authors, to showcase their work and to cash in on the lucrative periodicals market, William Tinsley set up Tinsley’s Magazine, with Edmund Yates as the editor (he previously edited Temple Bar). With William Tinsley’s less than astute financial management, within two years the magazine was in trouble. Edmund Yates left and William Tinsley took over the editorship in 1869. The slow downhill continued, illustrations were dropped as a cost saving exercise in 1874 and in 1878 the magazine folded. The following year Tinsley re-launched the magazine with Edmund Downey as its editor. They continued to have editorial disputes, but one good and profitable idea of Downey’s was the publication of Christmas numbers from 1880 to 1883, the year Downey left. In 1884, William Tinsley was bankrupt again. He again resurrected the magazine and managed it until it stopped publication in 1887. 

In this final period, when the writing was already on the wall, Tinsley published three Christmas numbers with stories by Lily Tinsley. They were illustrated by Minnie Tinsley. 

There is hardly any information available about Lily and Minnie, the Tinsley sisters. They were two of William Tinsley’s many daughters, and it is not known how much they contributed to the Tinsley Magazine and helped to run it. confidently states about Lily that “As a teenager, she assisted her father's business, including running Tinsley’s Magazine” And yet, in his memoirs William Tinsley mentions Lily only twice: in the list of authors he has published (Random Recollections, p50) and in a “Prefatory Note” to thank her for proof-reading the work:
Minnie is not mentioned at all. What little information is available about Lily (or Lilian or Laura, according to some sources) is not always reliable or verifiable: mentions Lily as William Tinsley’s sister; The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction also associates the name Laura with her, and gives Lilian Tinsley as an alternate name for her. The census for 1891 lists the household of William and Louisa Tinsley (both 60) as Alice (26), ‘Lilly’ (25), Ada (23) and Ethel (22). ‘Lilly’ is the only daughter with an occupation: “author.” In the 1881 census, the family also contains Louisa (20) and Minnie (18), two older girls who by 1891 were no longer in the family home. The census of 1901 lists only two names in the family: William, aged 70, a retired publisher and ‘Lilian,’ 34, author. Lily stayed with her father and never married. She died in 1921 at the age of fifty-six.

There is nothing further we can say about Minnie, the older sister, who illustrated Lily’s stories. A little bit more can be pieced together about Lily Tinsley’s writing career. The stories in the Tinsley’s Magazine Christmas numbers were At the Cross Roads (1884), Blackwater Towers (1885) and A London Secret (1886).

Her literary output is concentrated in these few years in the middle of the 1880s. Her novels Cousin Dick and The Wrecker’s Daughter were serialized in Tinsley’s Magazine in 1884. In 1885, when she was just 20 years old, Lily published four novels.  A Woman’s Revenge was serialized in England, running from January to April in 1885 – the weekly penny-magazine that also serialized Wilkie Collins, Charles Reader and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Tinsley Brothers published it in two volumes in 1885. Cousin Dick was published by Tinsley Brothers as a book that same year, as was as a short novel called The Little Witness. The Christmas story Blackwater Towers was also published as a single volume (96 pages) by the Tinsley Brothers in 1885.

The Lion Queen and In the Ring: A Novel were serialized in Tinsley’s Magazine and the latter published in three volumes by Tinsley Brothers in 1886. It was her novel The Darrel Girls: A Story of Today that was left unfinished when Tinsley’s Magazine stopped publication in 1887. In 1895, Lily Tinsley’s Dishonoured appeared as No 7 in Pearson’s Library.

Lily Tinsley also wrote plays. She co-wrote Devil's Luck: or, The Man She Loved (1885) with the actor and playwright George Conquest (1837-1901). There is also Cinders, a play of one act from 1899, which was never professionally produced (Kerry Powell. Women and Victorian Theatre, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p139). More works by Lily Tinsley may yet be found, but it appears that by the time her father died in 1902 Lily had stopped writing.

In the 1880s, while Lily Tinsley was writing A Woman’s Revenge and The Little Witness, Sigmund Freud was working in the Vienna General Hospital. In 1885, he became a lecturer in neuropathology at the University of Vienna, in October the same year he was in Paris watching Jean-Martin Charcot experimenting with hypnosis. The following year, in 1886 he went into private practice specializing in “nervous disorders.” 1880s was the decade when Freud was experimenting with ideas, in the 1890s they crystallized in his method psychoanalysis. The Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1899, in this book Freud first explores the significance of the unconscious and the impact of childhood experiences on the formation of the individual psyche. Miss Lily Tinsley had reached this point in her fiction in 1885. 

In both A Woman’s Revenge and The Little Witness, Tinsley reveals a curiously “Freudian” view of the human mind. The Little Witness includes a scene where the idea of a dream is used to handle a particularly painful psychological moment. A Woman’s Revenge explicitly presents the psychological make-up of its main characters as formed by their unconscious childhood experiences. They are trapped in their behaviour by these early experiences and have to learn to manage them in order to succeed in their endeavours. Lily Tinsley is particularly interesting as an author of Victorian popular fiction because of the deep interest her narratives display in the way experiences, especially childhood experiences, shape the psychology of her characters and thereby have a strong effect on their motivations and actions. Miss Lily Tinsley appears to have been Freudian before Freud.