Mary has a close connection with animals throughout her memoir. From nurturing kingfishers to having a pet horse, she demonstrates her ability to love animals. Mary says that on her “slow journey, I would peep into any bird’s nests I had discovered”. The impulse to care for wildlife is evident in such cases like this, and is a theme throughout her childhood.
“Shall not, perhaps, be far wrong assuming that a large proportion of the fair readers of this magazine cherish, or at some time cherished, a feathered pet.” This quotation from a Victorian magazine titled “How to select and manage singing birds” expresses the love that people of the time had for animals and especially birds. Mary fits comfortably into this group of people with her curiosity looking into birds nests, leading onto the three year love affair with a family of kingfishers. Mary knew the kingfishers’ routine, describing it in fine, minute detail. Although to most this may not be the most riveting subject to discuss, her passion to see the “young kingfishers at the mouth of the burrow being fed on a suitable diet” displays a passion to love and nurture.
Mary’s recollects that “one day my father had returned from a fishing excursion with a dead kingfisher”, vividly depicting the image, stating that the kingfisher was “dancing about on the end of his line”, due to it “swallowing the hook so deeply that he (her father) had to kill it”. It is the sad statement of truth by Mary which resonates deeply with her readers. the minute details of the kingfisher’s life are a clear sign of her affection. It does not make sense for her to simple state that the kingfisher is dead bluntly, suggesting a hidden sadness which isn’t visible on paper. Michael J Smith stated that Victorian women “Embraced a maternal feminist orthodoxy which celebrated notions of women’s moral purity, nurturing ability, and finer sensibilities”, and this is expressed within the nurturing and sadness upon the death of the kingfishers.
“Gradually Nap and I became great pals, and she would come galloping to me from nearly a mile away”
Mary displays further affection for animals throughout her memoir, such as when her father bought her a pony. She describes the pony in great detail again, just as she did with the kingfishers which shows her affection towards the animal and to nature in general. She “insisted on calling her Napoleon”. What is key regarding the relationship between Mary and Napoleon (affectionately known as ‘Nap’) was the accident which occurred between them when Mary first tried to ride her. Napoleon dragged her down to the floor and hurt Mary, only being saved from severe damage by her father calming the situation. The relationship however became strong and loving, after being warned from the doctor that she will “either kill herself or her pony” as she “rides her like the wind”. Nothing can stop their relationship, despite warnings and having an accident with her pony.
Mary had several other pets, including sheep, cows, dogs and two cats. She gave each of her animal’s a pet name, showing her affection towards the animals. The description of her pets, such as Jim Crow (the household pet) a “magnificent animal” shows her respect and her innate ability to nurture. Throughout the memoir, the respect for animals is clearly visible, it is one of the main themes throughout the memoir. The memories of her childhood being centred around the animals on the farm is a clear sign of the path in life she will take. Mary’s future is unknown, but it is a guarantee that this ability to love and nurture will leave her in a good position to love in her future.
Smith, M. (1987). Female reformers in Victorian Nova Scotia. 1st ed. Ottawa: National Library of Canada.
Bradbury, M. My End is My Beginning, Burnett Archive 2:871 1973
How to Select and Manage Singing Birds. [online] Available at: http://www.victorianvoices.net/ARTICLES/GOP/Pets/1881-Birds.pdf