The Guinea Stamp by Annie S Swan was first published in 1892 and is subtitled a Tale of Modern Glasgow. When I worked in libraries in the 1970s Annie S Swan was one of those authors beloved of elderly ladies of the strict Presbyterian variety but when I saw this one in a local library I thought I would give it a go for the Read Scotland 2015 challenge. I don’t think that I would bother reading any others though. Swan is fond of telling you what is going to happen further on in the book, which is fair enough I suppose as I find romances to be so predictable anyway.
This is a sentimental story involving a young woman called Gladys whose father has just died, leaving her parentless and with no family at all as far as she is concerned, but her father’s estranged brother turns up to do his duty by her. He takes her away from Lincolnshire where she had grown up and takes her to Glasgow where he has a business and where her father had grown up.
It’s a harsh life for Gladys, her uncle is an old skinflint and the living conditions are bleak but not half as dire as for some of the people she meets in the city.
It’s a bit of a fairy tale really, sentimental ‘kailyard’ fiction, but it was escapist reading for a huge amount of women and although the story is unrealistic I was quite impressed that one of the characters – Miss Peck states that: Sometimes I have felt quite wicked about the inequality of the punishment meted out to men and women in this world. Women are the burden-bearers and the scapegoats always. That must have gone down well with the legions of women readers that Swan had. According to Wiki Swan was a suffragist and she was writing about the hard life which ordinary women had but she was criticised by other writers for being too sentimental. I think that it must have been of some comfort to women to read that at least some people knew about their hard living conditions.
This book is probably of more interest for its glimpses into the social history of the times in Glasgow than anything else, even although it is a sanitised version, there’s no mention of outside toilets and the like.
Swan was apparently a founder member of the Scottish Nationalist Party and I was quite amazed to read that when she first got married she and her husband set up home in Star of Markinch in Fife which is a small village a stone’s throw from where I’m living now.