"Lassie's hair--that long, dark hair Alice used
to envy sometimes--was loose and tangled about her face, and the pillow lay on the floor, plucked away by one of the women
as the end drew near, as it might contain a game-feather, which makes it hard for the soul to get free if the dying head is
lying on it.
"Lassie! with her love of fresh air, and her
dainty niceness that Alice used to laugh at sometimes and think mere fidgets. Lassie! to die like this!"
"And so Lassie's sacrifice led to nothing but
failure? Yes, in the sight of man who can only judge by results but perhaps a clearer sight than ours will judge
Views of Victorian life and culture:
ideal of womanhood—
"In the nurse's dress it is not always easy to
estimate rank, but a discriminating observer, seeing these two girls sitting side by side would have guessed at a glance
that the tall, dark girl was a lady born and bred, there being an unmistakably thorough-bred look about her clean-cut,
refined face and the pose of her well set head... So you would have judged at first glance—and perhaps for
a good many further glances—and you would have judged wrongly."
In this book (one of E.W.'s later works) the
Victorian ideal of womanhood may be giving way to the idea/ideal of the New Woman. Lassie escapes from Midgely as a
nursery maid to the vicar's daughter and discovers a love for tending the ill which leads to her training and career at St.
"She took to the work with the greatest
enthusiasm, and loved it so much that she could not fail to do it well; and she was so strong in body, and bright and
intelligent in mind that nothing seemed hard or disagreeable to her."
Lassie's thoughts about her mother:
"But the touch of the patchwork brought her mind
back suddenly and filled her eyes with tears, so suggestive was it of the mother and the old, homely ways; the constant little
unconsidered acts of kindness and unselfishness; the small daily sacrifices of self done without the slightest feelings of
heroism, hardly consciously, and without any elegance or idea of effect; and of the never-ending patience..."
Dr. Milton's visit to Midgely:
"Lassie's hair was rough and disordered
and her face stained and flushed with her passionate tears. The room behind looked squalid and untidy... It was
so different from the Nurse Wingate Dr. Milton remembered... always exquisitely neat and trim, with an indescribable
niceness and daintiness about her in all her ways and movements, which made it scarcely credible that she
did not come from gentle parentage... What matter if her parentage were not exalted—if her parents were farmers,
or even respectable trades-people? It did not signify; Lassie in herself was a lady beyond dispute...
the soft-voiced, mild-eyed nurse who was his ideal of gentleness and refinement..."
"I think Lassie read in his eyes the end of her
little romance... If he had come a half hour later, and she had washed up the dinner things, and was sitting,
as she often did on Sunday afternoons, under the cherry-tree, as daintily neat and tidy as she ever had been at the hospital;
if he had come in then and sat down by her, it would all have been different, as she had thought and dreamed and pictured
it hundreds of times when work had been distasteful, or the present difficult, and she had wanted something to help
"The glimpse of the cottage room... would
have been nice and pleasant and cheerful even if it were simple and homely. There would have been a glass of roses on
the dresser; she always put some fresh ones there on Sunday afternoons, and never without a thought how he had once said
she arranged flowers so tastefully... The hearth would have been swept up and the kettle on, and by-and-by she
would have... made some tea for him in those pretty cups... and brought it out under the cherry tree..."
Medicine—is an important aspect of this story from the illness of the child which leads nursery maid Lassie into the training
and practice of nursing at St. Barnabas hospital to the importance of the Army nurses to the success of the Boer War.
"Field nurses are among the Queen's soldiers" and receive red cross medals. Details of how to keep homes and pig sties
clean are presented as Lassie tries to improve the public health and hygiene of Midgely. [Perhaps the author is
trying to do the same.] A typhoid epidemic and a short description of how Nurse Nugent helped the people of Midgely wrap
up the story.
Religion—the service at Westminster Abbey is described, as is the sermon. All of Lassie's decisions (from volunteering
for the Boer War to resigning her nursing position to care for her father in Midgely) are informed by her religious
"It is the same now, but in this hurrying, restless
life of ours we are apt to miss the call. We must pray that to us the ephphatha may be spoken, and our dull ears,
deafened by the noises of the world, may be opened; and that, having heard what things we ought to do, we may have grace
and power faithfully to fulfil the same, and whatsoever He saith unto us, do it."
"It would have just broken her heart to have
given up her dearly-loved work—all that made life bright and interesting—to take up a very doubtful and unpleasant
duty in a mean little gossiping place among narrow interests and limited minds. She tried to occupy her mind with
plans for her father's comfort... endeavoring all the time to turn a deaf ear to a text that kept recurring again and
again with vexatious appropriateness: 'If a man shall say to his father or his mother, It is Corban... Making
the word of God of none effect through your tradition... "
"Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth...
Sometimes the word comes by the voice of the
preacher in the great Abbey, and sometimes by the Mother's voice on a dying-bed..."
Death & funeral practices—The death watch and funeral preparations for Lassie & her mother are described.
"She had not cried at all at the funeral, as
critical eyes had noticed she had not even kept her handkerchief to her face as is the usual etiquette at
country funerals; and the neighbors commented on such a want of proper feeling..."
"Outside the house was the sweet country silence,
so noticeable to an ear accustomed to the great, awful roar of the London streets, a silence accentuated by the tap of a rose-branch
against the window, or a little sigh of wind in the chimney; and in the next room reigned the mysterious, solemn silence of
death, that seems more than the mere absence of sound, but something tangible and positive like the Egyptian darkness
that could be felt."
Communication: postal service & letter writing are discussed. The story is structured around letters. First, the letter is written to Lassie by her father with a note from the Midgely post mistress to
call Lassie home to her mother's death bed. Later Lassie prepares to write:
"She had brought out her little writing-case
to write to St. Barnabas to say that she should return to her duties without fail on Saturday, and as she opened it and took
out the pen..." [The pen has been given to her by a friend—this is a second hint of a developing love story—and
is dropped and trampled underfoot by the bearer of the coffin.] "And
so that letter of Lassie's announcing her return to the matron was never written... instead she wrote to resign her post
at St. Barnabas and to withdraw her name from the list of volunteers for nursing abroad."
"a far cry from quiet little Midgely, to great Babylon and the stately Abbey where so many of the earth's greatest and
But in this book London is not
presented as a Babylon but as a place of opportunity. London is the location of St. Barnabas Hospital (Barnabas = Encourager).
Lassie is happy, successful, respected in London. Nor is London the scope
of the world. This book has an awareness of Empire. The Boer War figures heavily in the plot.
Village life—the residents of Midgely are described in detail along with pub life at the Jolly Farmer and at the bridge which separates
Midgely from the world. There is a note about the hay harvest being mechanized, "no longer, alas! the scythe"...
Victorian language of flowers—Chapter 7 describes "an ideal day for a bicycle ride away, away from London, with its noise and hurry
and exhausted air and stale miles, right away into the very heart of the country." Dr. Milton comes to Midgely as Lassie's
"Dr. Milton's bike ride from " London to
roses love, grace, beauty,
tall, white lilies stately
purity, youthful innocence
lime blossoms conjugal
pine hope in adversity
Lassie arranged roses in a glass every Sunday and
imagines Dr. Milton discovering her under a cherry tree. When the hoped-for visit occurs, the smell of the pig sty drowned the fragrance of roses and honeysuckle. At the sight of Lassie, fresh from the
fight with her father amidst the odor of the uncleaned pig sty, Dr. Milton changes toward Lassie—gone are love, grace,
beauty, friendship, and rustic beauty. He goes home by another way devoid of beauty and flowers.
Virginia creeper vines indicate
Alice Nugent's ties to Lassie as friend, coworker
violets loyalty, modesty, humility,
faithfulness Dr. Milton's gift to Alice, are buried with
Lassie over the objections of a neighbor who suggests
red dahlias instability
"yaller" marigolds health
"A touching story of faithful and
unrequited devotion to duty in humble life."
from publisher's (Little, Brown) advertisement at the back of Gay: a story.