From a girl’s forgotten manuscript to a bestseller

Daisy Ashford was just nine year old. She knew what she was doing as she set about writing in 1890, a novel. At age 13, this British girl gave up writing fiction, and forgot about what she had written.

About 20 years later, Daisy visited her mother’s house. By then, her mother was no more. Daisy and her sisters discovered the manuscript in a drawer. It was titled, “The Young Visitors or Mr. Salteena’s Plan. The manuscript was in pencil in a little note book. They showed it to a friend, who passed it on to somebody in publishing.

The novel came out in 1919.  JM Barrie author of Peter Pan wrote preface to it. Many thought Barrie was the author. The book went on to become a major success.  It is a Victorian ‘society novel’. There is “an elderly man of forty-two” named Alfred Salteena and his friends, the young lovers Ethel Montecue and Bernard Clark. Salteena strives to become a gentleman.

The novel has a distinctive, and graceless narrative voice; its clever plotting, keen observation of Victorian manners earned praise, despite original spelling errors.  There was no stopping, the novel went into several editions.  It became very popular in the United States and in Ashford’s native United Kingdom. There came out eight printings in its first year.

The author, by then Mrs James Devlin, bought a farm with her earnings, commenting, “I like fresh air and royalty cheques”.  Some critics found   the novel’s humour more appealing. The New York Times termed it in two different articles from August 1919, “one of the most humorous books in literature,” The innocent and accidental strangeness of the story is certainly one of its pleasures, said The Paris Review.

As Barrie writes of Ashford in his introduction, “She read everything that came her way, including, as the context amply proves, the grown-up novels of the period.”