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[Gunn, Florence Mary Winckworth]. Manuscripts on paper, in English. "Many happy returns of the day." [London]: , 1924–28. 8vo (varying sizes; largest 27 cm, 10.5"). 5 vols. I: 23 (i.e., 24) pp.; illus. II: 57 (i.e., 58); illus. III:  pp.; illus. IV: 41,  pp.; illus. V:  pp.; illus. $975.00
Five birthday tribute volumes celebrating the life of a remarkable woman in handwritten verse and inked drawings. Florence Mary Winckworth Gunn (1857–1928, called "Foss" or "Fossie" as a young girl, later nicknamed "Eemy") was one of the first women to compete in singles matches at Wimbledon, and eventually became a world traveller as well as an ardent outdoorswoman, house renovator, and loving single parent. In these annual birthday commemorations starting in 1924, Gunn's father-in-law and daughters Mary Marjorie ("Marg") and Sarah Jane ("Sazz") tell Foss's story from her birth to her wedding day to her irrepressible gallivanting even as a 70-year-old — with each charming anecdote skillfully and thoughtfully illustrated by the artistic Sazz. The verse often takes a tone of light mockery, withteasing about Florence's father being henpecked, about "Foss" being first too short and then too tall as a girl, and then about her mother "caring little for her child" and letting her run wild in the open air when she came down with consumption; that tone continues in subsequent volumes, with Gunn's mother referred to as "the crazy beldam," Marg "a naughty trying child," etc. — and yet a clear vein of affection runs throughout, with the lovingly composed illustrations showing Foss Gunn as an elegant, stylish matriarch presiding over a deeply bonded if sometimes much put-upon family.
Florence herself was clearly an independent lady from her youth onwards ("most of all she didn't care / What people said or thought about her / I wonder that they did not clout her"), and many of the stories here reflect that indomitable spirit, with our heroine standing up for herself with teachers, doctors, merchants, etc. Before marrying naval surgeon Bassett Charles Edward Fitzgerald Gunn, she ice skated, played tennis well enough to participate in that groundbreaking debut at Wimbledon, and danced through to the end of every ball she attended; as a married woman she apparently spent at least some time singing "at the Guild Hall" — before finding an infant under a gooseberry bush, as this tale would have it! The story goes on to describe the arrival of a second baby, and the family's activities during Bassett's travels as a naval surgeon (public records note that he retired in 1903, and died in 1906 at only 46 years old), including sea voyages, Marge's first efforts on the violin, and Foss's continuing dedication to tennis (one of the drawings shows her effortlessly defeating a bearded opponent in a match in Australia). The widowed Foss took herself and the children to Germany in 1910, before returning to England, managing her family's well-being during World War I, surviving a variety of her own ailments, settling in a house on Abbey Road, and continuing to engage in such daredevilry as mountain climbing in Germany, party hopping in Paris, and driving a "smart grey car" at 50 miles per hour. Other things described in detail: our heroine's home renovation efforts, a series of beloved though not always well-behaved dogs, and the children's successful pursuits in music and art.
Marjorie subsequently became a concert violinist of some note. While Sarah does not turn up readily in recorded history, accounts of pianist Dame Myra Hess note that Hess sometimes worked with Marjorie Gunn and that Gunn's sister was Hess's secretary and travelling companion — yet while these are unquestionably related Gunns, as the Abbey Road house is mentioned, the sister was allegedly named Anita, and the present manuscripts are very clear in both text and illustrations that there were only two Gunn daughters! Perhaps Sarah grew up to prefer the name Anita? => At any rate, this was clearly an impressively talented family, and their exploits are a delight to read.
Paper wrappers of varying types, sewing loosening with some leaves separated, some edges chipped; vol. III with front wrapper lost, binding reinforced with cloth tape. => A unique depiction in wonderful, '20s verse and art of a bold, stylish lady and her life and times. (37273) Please RESHELVE This.
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