Friday, July 14, 2017

Christina Hollis: Miriam Daniell—No Angel In The House...

Miriam went from having friends like these...
Until I started researching women's lives in nineteenth century Bristol, I thought Victorian life was dull, and without any sort of excitement. Miriam Daniell shows there are exceptions to every rule.

Born Miriam Wheeler in 1860, she was the daughter of a grocer from Northampton. The family moved to Bristol to import tea. Miriam's father became treasurer of a Congregational chapel in the fashionable Bristol suburb.of Clifton. The Wheeler family was conventional, and religious. Their children were educated by a governess brought from Zurich, and Mr Wheeler's networking in chapel circles eventually led to Miriam marrying Edward Daniell, a solicitor.

 Both Miriam and her husband were keen artists. Her work was more highly praised than his when they both submitted paintings to the Bristol Academy Fine Arts Exhibition of 1884.  Miriam's talent brought her into contact with the Stacy family, who were important figures in the Bristol Art circles. Bristol was alight with political debate at the time, and the writing of American socialist Laurence Grönlund convinced Miriam she should join the fight to end class inequality, and work toward the social and cultural emancipation of women. 

In 1886 Miriam underwent an operation. The reason is unknown, but newspaper coverage of the Daniell’s eventual divorce in 1894 suggests salaciously that from the time of the procedure the Daniells stopped sleeping together, on medical advice.  In 1888 Miriam joined the Bristol Women’s Liberal Association. Around this time she  met Helena Hope, who lived not far away in the same fashionable area of Bristol. The two women were the perfect illustration of opposites attracting. The highly-strung, rebellious Miriam was complemented by the steady, warmhearted and level-headed Helena. While Helena took inspiration from the work of the famous thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin, Miriam wanted to absorb knowledge directly from the lives of ordinary working people. They both came to the conclusion it was the exploitation of labour that made working people losing heart. friends like this.
Helena and Miriam’s study of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden made them increasingly dissatisfied with Clifton life.  They  became vegetarians. That was an act of rebellion as shocking in their social circle at the time as living naked in the woods would be today.  

In 1888, the Bristol Sunday Society was formed as a focus for discussion on science and literature. The following year, Miriam was elected onto the committee—the only woman. On March 8th 1889,  a combination of melting snow and heavy rain  flooded the poverty-stricken low lying areas of Bristol. Victims were stranded in the upper storeys of buildings, reliant on the police to deliver bread and water by rowing boat.

Miriam swung into action, issuing an appeal for donations in the local newspaper. She turned her genteel home into a collection point. Miriam and Helena's  work with the flood victims exposed them to the desperate circumstances of the city’s poor and underprivileged. Through her work in politics, Miriam met Robert Nicol.  Robert was a one-time Edinburg medical student turned socialist who became secretary of the militant Gas Workers and General Labourers' Union.

In the autumn of 1889, Miriam, Helena, Robert and others formed a strike committee in response to an outbreak of industrial action in Bristol's factories. When Miriam's husband tried to stop her publishing stories of poor treatment of factory girls, she left him and her beautiful home. Together with Robert and Helena, Miriam went to live in a cottage in one of the poorest parts of Bristol. Not long after, Miriam discovered she was pregnant with Robert Nicol's baby. 

In August 1890, Miriam fled with Robert and Helena to Boston, USA. There, they “declared their free love union” had a daughter, Sunrise. That was shocking enough, but when Miriam’s husband petitioned for divorce it meant her reputation was ruined forever in the eyes of Victorian society. 

That's quite an impressive record for a time when women were supposed to be The Angel In The House!

Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written six historical novels, eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

You can catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.

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