Miss Strudwick

August 26 2014

“Over against the ever more amazing inventions of Science we see a kind of childishness creeping over our thoughts, our modes of expression, our art, our music, our morals. We talk in words from a very limited vocabulary, we produce pictures and statues of a more than ungainly ‘neo-primitiveness’, we croon nigger songs while we push one another round a room in dances that need no brain, no zest, and no vitality for their successful performance. Many of our buildings have as their chief merits the fact that they can be rushed up quickly and finished within a few weeks. We tear over the Earth’s surface along roads of brick-box straightness, past rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness, in order to get somewhere, it does not much matter where, in record time. Finally, the novels we read, apparently with pleasure, for there are many of them, show men and women as ill-conducted children whose one concern is that which they share with the animal world.

“There is to me something grim and horrible in an essentially mature civilisation playing at savage immaturity when it knows better. We cannot go back to the beginning of things any more than a mature mind can change into that of a child.”

[Footnote: Miss E. Strudwick, the Headmistress of St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London, England, in a presidential address delivered on the 17th June, 1933, at Liverpool, at a Conference of the British Association of Head Mistresses. The text quoted here has been taken from the report in The Manchester Guardian of the 19th June, 1933.]

He must have kept the cutting. Quoting this was not, perhaps, Toynbee’s finest moment. He was consistently and passionately anti-racist and did not constantly complain about the modern world, but in 1954 his views on culture were still uncompromising. The N word could be introduced, in a quotation, in that context. No doubt those views were modified. His granddaughter Polly must have told him about pop music. Those were the conversations that happened in the ’60s. The older generation wasn’t entirely unaffected by the Zeitgeist.

“Roads of brick-box straightness [and] rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness” reminds one of dystopian cartoons of the time and of passages in novels such as Orwell’s Coming Up for Air.

As for neo-primitiveness, I wrote in an earlier post: “Englishmen of Toynbee’s generation and education probably thought, c 1935, of the sculptures of Jacob Epstein, with their ‘lines […] cunningly reduced to the clumsy stiffness of the pre-Romanesque Dark Ages’, before they thought of buildings in the clean, anti-archaising International Style when Modernism was mentioned.”

See John CareyThe Intellectuals and the Masses, Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Faber, 1992 and Richard Overy, The Morbid Age, Britain between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009 (subsequently renamed).

Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954) was the daughter of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Melhuish Strudwick. She read Classics at Bedford College, London and taught at City of London School for Girls from 1913. She was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1927 to ’48. She has a DNB entry and apparently had a sense of humour.

Ethel Strudwick

Image at spgs.org, artist not stated

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

5 Responses to “Miss Strudwick”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Timeline at spgs.org:

    “May 1935 – Miss Strudwick requests that the Governors authorise the purchase of the school’s first gramophone. She did so begrudgingly; she had concerns about its impact on family life and the education of children.”

  2. davidderrick Says:

    She was for a time the boss of Gustav Holst, who was director of music at St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1905 until his death in 1934.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Shirley Williams in her autobiography:

    “School discipline […] was strict. My private adventures were curtailed, my tendency to show off disapproved of. Routine and order reasserted themselves – above all, authority in the shape of the dreaded High Mistress, the redoubtable Miss Ethel Strudwick. Miss Strudwick was a statuesque lady, with a formidable bosom, given to wearing black or dark-crimson clothes in a heavy fabric. She listed mountain-climbing as one of her hobbies in reference books. I used to find this puzzling, because I could not imagine her ascending a rockface. But she was unquestionably a person of authority. She measured the success of her rebukes by whether a girl was reduced to tears. Tears were evidence of the girl’s shame and regret for her misbehaviour. I used to sit in her study, stubborn and defiant, refusing to cry. In consequence, our interviews lasted a long time.”


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