Virginia Tech Special Collections may not be known for our literary collections, but we have our fair share of literary surprises among the stacks. And we constantly find new ones. We have a wonderful selection of British and American first editions on our shelves, including a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses and a signed Langston Hughes’ A New Song. Although I am an archivist at heart, my background is in literature and the long 19th century of British writing. One day, perusing manuscript collections from the days before VT had a Special Collections department, I found a letter written by Victoria Cross. Her name may not sound familiar, but the letter says something about an author who was considered racy and bold in her own time.
July 20, 1909
Dear Mr. Morris
I am sending you an autograph copy of Life’s Shop window and I should be so glad if you will read it through carefully from beginning to end and form your own opinion on it. People who are jealous of me always howl at my writings the reproach that they are immoral From my own point of view I have never written a single immoral line in my life. I am immensely proud of my books and would read them aloud to a jury of Bishops with the greatest of pleasure any time.
It is most important for you to feel the same confidence as I do in them and to know personally the contents of one at least so that you can combat the rediculous [sic] statements made about me. I know how extremely busy you are but if you will make time to read it carefully, I know when you are in the U. S. and can speak with authority on my work, you will feel the time spend in reading it was not wasted.
With so many thanks for all the trouble you have taken for me already
Victoria Cross was one of several pseudonyms of Annie Sophie Cory (1868-1952), a British writer in the late 19th and early 20th century. She also wrote as Victoria Crosse, Vivian Cory, and V. C. Griffin. Cory was born in India and educated in England. She never married, and traveled extensively– two things that put her outside the normal expectations of her gender and place in society. Both are aspects of her life that influence her writing, likely leading to declarations of her “immorality” mentioned in the letter. And yet she, and a score of other late Victorian “New Women” writers helped to shape the next generation of women authors.
Despite the claims of their scandalous, exotic, or “immortal” nature, Cory’s works were well-read and popular in many circles. After all, how many readers are tempted by the novel that they are told isn’t appropriate reading? Life’s Shop-Window, the book she mentions in her letter, was first published in 1907. You can read it online through the Internet Archive. In 1914, it was even made into a movie! If you’re seeking a slightly shorter introduction to “Victoria Cross,” I recommend her first published short story, “Theodora: A Fragment” which appeared in The Yellow Book in 1895. Contemporary morals may be different, but you’ll still be in for a treat.
And as for us, well, we get to keep a little piece of that progressive, confident, “New Woman” history in our Special Collections.