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Fenton, Ellen, b. ca. 1813
Ellen Fenton diaries.
France ; England, 1854-1862.
Physical Description:
9 v. : ill. ; 33 cm
Rare Books and Manuscripts
MSS 28
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Copyright Information
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Archives & Manuscripts
The volumes are comprised of a combination of modern laid and wove papers. Bound in marble wrappers (1854-1856) or plain beige wrappers (1857-1862).
The collection is open without restriction.
Illustrated manuscript diaries of Ellen Fenton of Haven Green House, Ealing, which chronicle her summer family vacations to Boulogne-sur-Mer. The volumes consist of a combination of modern laid and wove papers (the 1854 -- 1856 volumes bound in marbled wrappers; 1857-1862 in plain beige wrappers). They are written in English, with portions in French, in sepia or black ink, recto and verso. The diaries are interspersed with approximately 173 pages of watercolor drawings. A small number of play bills, receipts, programs, clippings, letters and other ephemera are affixed to select pages.
Fenton's journal, a record of her time at Boulogne, was intended for the eyes of her friend, Mrs. Ibotson, her daughter Geraldine Ibotson, who accompanies the family in 1860, and her own children: "As this journal is written for my dear children to read, in mature years, I must not forget to tell them, how unfailingly I found a long quiet period, to pray for the blessing we can dare ask, upon our poor paltry lives, for the sake of our Saviour." (1860, pages 2-3). Fenton and her children typically arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer in August, and stayed for a fortnight to one month. Annual seaside holidays were typical amongst the Victorian middle classes, and the Fentons socialized with several other English families sojourning at Boulogne-sur-Mer, including members of the Emmett family. John Emmett resided at the Chateau du Preville, in the Vallée du Nacre, while Elizabeth Russel (née Emmett) vacationed in Boulogne with her daughters, 'Minnie,' 'Janie,' and 'Ada' in 1857. The annual family holiday allowed unprecedented freedom for Fenton and her children, whose independence might have been perceived as improper in an English environment. She laments on her departure from Boulogne in 1857: "My heart sinks ... as I make this passage back to England. I feel I must again tutor myself, for the sobrieties of life... but I have a prevailing sentiment of coming to a land of severe surveillance over cheerful feeling" (Volume 6, 217). Fenton prides herself and her children for being "unconventional," a quality she more than once expresses as lacking in her husband's character. Aided by her fluency in French, Fenton blends with all levels of French society; she makes daily trips to the market, weaves in and out of Catholic processions, attends Church services and local award ceremonies, and takes her children on excursions to dungeons, ruins, and monuments.
Fenton's accounts are most vivid in their account of dress and comportment, which she describes in painstaking detail, sparing no rank of Boulogne society. Actors, dancers, society women, Parisian dandies, military men, the clergy, market women, fish mongers, peasants, and fellow English travelers are characterized with minute scrutiny. Although she ventures outside the milieu of English company, her journals are also a valuable record of the venues of English sociability: the Hotel Folkstone, Hotel du Rhin, Hotel Meurice, Hotel du Nord, The Etablissement, The Tintilleries, and the Protestant church. With the debut of her eldest daughters, Fenton's descriptions of the Etablissement and Tintilleries Balls grows more attentive, as do her humorous lampooning of potential suitors -- both English and French. Despite her willingness to mock all levels of society, Fenton reserved her most caustic critiques for the clergy, and the views of her journal repeatedly express an intolerance of Catholic beliefs and activities, all the while exhibiting a prurient curiosity. As her father was likely the Rev. W.J. Emmett that published Scriptural Doctrines Called Calvinistic in 1835, it is possible that Ellen Fenton was a Calvinistic Methodist. She takes opportunities to preach to the local Boulogne population, denouncing Catholic ritual and extolling the virtues of Protestant belief. She is especially perturbed by groups of English Catholic converts, whom she labels "perverts." Despite this discriminatory lens, Fenton's journals nevertheless preserve lively accounts and illustrations of the religious processions, including the annual procession of the Virgin's statue on the first Monday in August, a tradition which began the year of their visit in 1854.
As her daughters come of age, Fenton becomes increasingly preoccupied with their courtship of potential suitors. She often acts as their proxy, especially in circumstances where language is a barrier (none of her children speak French) or if she takes particular liking to a young man (see "Julian" of 1857). According to Fenton, her eldest daughters were the belles of Boulogne. This claim may not be over-exaggerated, as Rafe Neville Leycester, a young man whose diaries chronicle the trials and tribulations of the London marriage market, seems to be smitten with "Dally Fenton"of Ealing. He also describes a party at which Clara is "one of the swells of the room" (Leycester 19). Fenton is less concerned with the affairs of her eldest boys, 'Dick' (Adolphous) and 'Vivian' (Francis), who are absent from Boulogne in later volumes. Leycester's journal provides a glimpse of Fenton's thoughts on her eldest son, Dick: "Mrs Fenton talked to me a long time about Dick & his affairs, saying that he was naturally of a most sweet & angelic disposition, but that his "father's persecution" had ruined him ... From what I have seen of Dick he does not appear a bad sort of fellow, but considering the position of his affairs lives most extravagantly, travelling always first class, running up bills at Hotels etc." (Leycester 17).
In addition to their minute description of courtship and custom, Fenton's journals also capture the changing social and physical geographies of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Fenton's journals begin as a new spirit of cooperation emerges between the French and British at the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853-1856). During the war, Boulogne-sur-Mer was a strategic military post because of its position on the northern coast of France. Fenton's 1854 journal is preoccupied with descriptions of the soldiers who assemble at all hours outside their rented house, and she makes note of 'ambulances' that carry wounded and dying soldiers to nursing stations. This volume provides an eyewitness account of the official visit of Prince Albert and Emperor Louis Napoleon III to Boulogne, who arrive to inspect the Baltic expeditionary corps before it embarks. While her subsequent journals are written during periods of peace, they sometimes register tension between the English and French vacationers at Boulogne, which is perhaps the result of strained diplomatic relations between the two nations (see Volume 8, 1860). Fenton also witnesses architectural developments such as the construction of the Notre Dame Basilica (built between 1827 and 1875, see Lottin, 307-309), and the addition of a bell to the cathedral.
In 1860 or 1861, the Fentons lost their child, Horace W.R. Fenton, whose memory is invoked in the 1862 journal. It is not certain whether Ellen Fenton returned to Boulogne after 1862, but there is a certain tone of finality in this last journal volume. Florence M.R. Fenton ("May") passed away in 1866 (England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index); her illness could account for Fenton's melancholic disposition in the final volume. By 1879, John Fenton had remarried, as indicated by John Allen Giles, friend of the Fentons: "Ellen and I spent the evening at the house of Mr and Mrs Fenton 55 Grande Rue. We had known him 20 years, and like his former wife, when they were living at Ealing, very much. She was a most clever and agreeable woman ..." (565). Based on Giles's account and the bankruptcy notice, Ellen Fenton either died or divorced John in the period between 1870 and 1878.
The nine volumes of diaries are in chronological order, followed by two loose diary fragments.
Subject Terms:
Albert, Prince Consort, consort of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, 1819-1861.
Balls (Parties) -- France.
Boulogne-sur-Mer (France) -- Description and travel.
Boulogne-sur-Mer (France) -- Views.
British -- France.
Clothing and dress -- France.
Crimean War, 1853-1856.
Fenton family.
Fenton, Anna H., b. ca. 1851.
Fenton, Clara Leycetter, b. ca. 1841.
Fenton, Ellen, b. ca. 1813 -- Diaries.
Fenton, Evelyn M., b. ca. 1846.
Fenton, Florence May Revell, 1849-1866.
Fenton, Francis M. P., b. ca. 1844.
Fenton, Frederick A. R., 1852-1879.
Fenton, Henry John Horstman, 1854-1929.
Fenton, Horace W. R., b. ca. 1849.
Fenton, John Adolphus, b. ca. 1842.
Fenton, John, b. ca. 1812.
France -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- France.
Ibotson, Geraldine.
Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, 1808-1873.
Women travelers -- Great Britain.
Travel sketches.
IIIF Manifest:

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