Everything is Possible to Will
Appendix I. Publishing and Reviews — "More prosaic than [...] any nineteenth century philosopher"82
Appendix I. Publishing and Reviews
"More prosaic than [...] any nineteenth century philosopher"82
Ellen Ellis sent her novel to England to be published, but it can only be speculated as to how she did so. Perhaps her friend and teacher, the Reverend Samuel Edger (who left Auckland for London in May 1882) volunteered to take the novel with him, or the Good Templar Society sponsored the publication of the novel. Perhaps she sent the manuscript to one of her many surviving siblings in Surrey - her favourite sister Emily, for instance, among whose papers the novel was rediscovered - and they enabled its publishing. Or possibily Ellis herself contacted Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, whom she considered the heroes of the age,83 and they invited her to send the manuscript over for publication. It is probable that Ellen Ellis used the £350 inheritance from her brother-in-law James Ellis to pay for the publishing of her novel, despite her husband’s attempts to “appropriate [the] legacy” (219).
Although first printed by the Freethought Publishing Company in 1882, the novel was not advertised in New Zealand until early 1883, and not in England and Scotland until late 1883. Accompanying the earliest advertisement in the New Zealand Herald on 22 March 1883, Ellis wrote a letter promoting her novel.84 She professed the novel had been presented to the Queen, as well as other high-profile figures such as Sir George Grey (twice New Zealand Governor, and Premier of New Zealand) William E. Gladstone (British Prime Minister), and Sir Francis Dillon Bell (New Zealand politician, and later Prime Minister).85 In her address to both the Queen and the Editor of the London Times, she signed her name as “The Author,” suggesting that she originally intended to publish the novel anonymously.86 Indeed, in the letter to the New Zealand Herald she stated that it was much to her “deep regret” that “the author’s name has been given to the world,” before hurrying on to assure the reader that the novel was published at the “express desire of the late Mr O. S. Ellis.”87 Her husband having passed away only nine days previous to the advertisement, it is clear that Ellen Ellis felt on the defence as to not only to the timing of the publication, but also to the representation of her husband as a drunkard so soon after his obituaries lauded him as a “prominent teetotaller.”88 It is not difficult to envisage how William, deep in grief for his father, responded with violent anger, burning every copy of Everything is Possible to Will he and his cousin Percy Colebrook could get their hands on.89 Ellis’s own reaction to the burning of her novels which had taken almost a decade to write (its “labor had been prodigious” she wrote (70)), by the son she deemed her “joy and pride” can only be imagined (206). It is certain that Ellis published less often in the newspapers after 1883, and details of her life after the publication of her novel are scarce.
Yet the novel did receive some readers before its untimely end, and two reviews (one from New Zealand and one from Scotland) survive, despite scholarly opinion to the contrary.90 Published in the Auckland Star on the 10th April 1883, the New Zealand review was generally favourable, except for a critique on the title (suggesting ‘How Little is Possible to Will’ would have been more appropriate). The review also criticizes the heavy-handed portrayal of Wrax, which, according to the reviewer, left the late Oliver Ellis’s character cruelly exposed.91 The anonymous reviewer labels the “interesting and instructive” novel as “more prosaic than the fancy of any nineteenth-century philosopher,” with plenty of strong-minded opinions, but yet a surprising tone of “candour” which they judge as being rarely seen outside pure fiction.92 Despite the praise for the candour, the reviewer comments that the tone and subject of the novel contain a “rude shock” to a reader’s “understanding and sense of propriety.”93 Overall, the novel is recommended rather lacklusterly to the public for ‘local interest’ and the reviewer only remains to warn the reader that as long as they are willing to read a “study of human nature” rather than a “sensational story,” then they will not be disappointed in Everything is Possible to Will. 94 By the 30th June of 1883, the novel had gained notoriety in Auckland circles, enough for it to be commented on in the Auckland Star in a seemingly unconnected article on the state of Government: “Everybody knows (on the authority of Mrs Ellis) that ‘all things are possible to will’.”95
Characteristically of Ellis’s sensitive nature, she took offence to the one review of her novel, and, within a day, penned a response in defence of both herself and the novel. She stated that Oliver would have borne the “humiliation” of his representation with “Spartan heroism,” writing that she believed he would say he “deser[ved] it and much more.”96 She also laments the fact that her novel has suffered much in its style of publication, since “its publisher was in London and its author in Auckland.”97 She suggests that the novel, as it was published, was not as she wrote it, since “some of its most telling facts [were] [...] omitted,” because of the need for brevity, while also, much to Ellis’s imagined disgust due to her hatred of the word, “to suit the conventionalism of to-day.”98 It is interesting to consider how the novel may have differed in its original manuscript form, and whether Wrax’s final journey to permanent abstinence - seemingly so rushed in the surviving form of Everything is Possible to Will - may have originally been expanded upon and explained in the original.
The novel was advertised in London and Scotland between October and December 1883 in such newspapers as the London Times, the Edinburgh Evening News, the London Morning Post, the London Evening Standard, Leeds Mercury, and The Graphic , and was still being circulated in June 1884, when the Pall Mall Gazette noted they had received the novel for review.99 Only one international review of the novel has been traced, published in The Scotsman on the 26th October 1883. Unlike their New Zealand counterpart, the Scottish reviewer condemns the novel unforgivingly. The novel, they deem, masquerades “professedly [as] a work of fiction,” but is in reality a “series of lay sermons.”100 Although the lessons in the novel “are doubtless of great importance,” they judge Ellis has “not been successful in her method of treating them.”101 The reviewer is remorseless in their final summation of Everything is Possible to Will. “The literary quality of the book is of the poorest,” they conclude, “and the style is rambling and disjointed to the verge of incoherence.”102 If Ellis ever saw or heard of this review through relatives, she did not reply to it.
85 Ellen Ellis also sent the novel to the Reverend Samuel Edger (who passed away the previous October, never reading Ellen Ellis’s novel); John Bright; Sir Wilfrid Lawson, and the Editor of the London Times, each with a personally inscribed lithograph on the inside of the cover. To Queen Victoria she inscribed: “My loved and honoured Queen, Because you have suffered, and can sympathise with the suffering of the humblest of your subjects; because innocence, truth, and duty, are dear to you - I may dare to ask that you will be pleased to accept this book, and to read its simple record of a sad life bravely endured for honour’s sake - so bravely, indeed, as to plead the cause of suffering womanhood with such genuine heroism as ought never to fail of its high purpose - to redeem woman life from the thraldom of preventable misery.” ["Everything is Possible to Will.” New Zealand Herald 22 March 1883: 5.]
89 Percy Colebrook, son of Ellis’s brother Tom Colebrook, who emigrated alongside Ellis, recalled to Vera Colebrook in 1960: “[Aunt Ellen] wrote a book about women’s rights, and had it published. Her son, my cousin Willie, bought up every copy he could get hold of, and I helped him burn them.” [Colebrook, 9.]
99 "Recent Publications." Pall Mall Gazette. 26 June 1884: 2.Findmypast.com.
100 “New Novels.” The Scotsman. 26 October 1883: 3. Findmypast.com.