1891 — The Novelist: Gravestone, Inscription, and Notes
This stone was photographed in Whitby, England, in November, 2013.
The Transcribed Inscription
To the memory of Mary Linskill, Novelist, 1840-1891.
Worshipper at this church.
Notes about Research & Invention
While transcribing the inscriptions photographed on the interior walls of St. Mary’s Church at Whitby, I misspelled Ms Linskill’s name as Kinskill. Google never heard of a novelist named Mary Kinskill so I wrote the fiction while believing her novels were read by friends but never published. However, when I discovered the spelling error I checked the web again. According to Wikipedia, Mary Linskill stopped attending school at age 11 but was able to educate herself sufficiently to write several novels published with the pseudonym Stephen Yorke. A few were eventually published using her own name.
After pondering the significance of that information, I decided not to rewrite the fiction. It was written with the assumption that Ms Linskill must have taught herself to write novels, which was exactly what she did.
In the fiction the future novelist suffers from ‘consumption’ (tuberculosis), and writes to improve her quality of life. During the 19th century tuberculosis was one of the most common causes of death in western Europe, but it was not always fatal. In this fiction it limits her ability to be physically active as a teenager, but does not kill her.
A woman crippled by consumption would have been regarded as unmarriagable. Writing was one of the few ways women could financially support themselves during the 19th century. Being unmarried would also explain why this unusual gravestone names the novelist, with no mention of a husband or children.
Information found when I spelled her name correctly makes it seem unlikely that she was physically impaired. As a teenager she went to work at Newcastle, a large town up the coast from Whitby. She was eventually hired to teach at a grade school, and worked there until her novels began to be published.
The backdrop on the illustration is a photograph taken in the forest along the English side of the River Wye. The Wye forms part of the border between England and South Wales. Landscapes along the river are steep forested hillsides with some groves of very old trees. I spent a lot of time hiking along the river and through the forests while staying at St. Briavel’s Castle, a Norman structure in a village on the hilltop rumored to be a place visited by Tolkien that greatly influenced his vision of the land occupied by Hobbits. The Forest of Dean, where JK Rowling set some scenes in the Harry Potter novels, is located nearby.
The history of forests in this area being used as settings for popular works of fantasy fiction made it seem like the ideal place to set Ms Linskill’s imaginary fiction about a princess and a lion. But I created this story and the illustration with no information about her real books. According to Wikipedia they were all set in Yorkshire, on the other side of England, in the vicinity of Whitby. This story is meant to be fiction about fiction, not her biography, so I didn’t see a need to change it.
The characters were created by collaging antique photographic portraits with parts of illustrations found in several 19th century books.