Obituary: Constance Savery

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The Independent Culture
CONSTANCE SAVERY was a prolific author of children's books over a period of 60 years. The mixture of erudition, quiet humour and the occasional evangelical message she brought to her work seems dated now, but for many years she was popular in America as well as Britain.

Still writing shortly before her death at the age of 101, she was the last of a distinguished line of maiden lady authors, the most outstanding of whom were Rosemary Sutcliff and Cynthia Harnett, who wrote history and general stories for children which combined accuracy of detail with a lively sense of adventure.

The eldest of five daughters born to a clergyman father, Constance Winifred Savery wrote under the name of Constance, but was known as Winifred to the family. She was in the first cohort of women to be awarded their Oxford degrees (she read English) directly by the university in 1920. She later attended the 75th anniversary of this event as the last remaining member of a group which included both new graduates and older women previously denied the chance of taking their degree at Oxford itself.

After a couple of years not very happily schoolteaching, Savery returned to help run her father's parish in Middleton, Suffolk, on the death of her mother. This also allowed her time for a writing career that was to last for the rest of her life.

In 1929, she published her first and only adult novel, Forbidden Doors. There then followed a string of children's stories, some concentrating on history (Green Emeralds For the King, 1938), some more concerned with setting a pious example (in Danny and the Alabaster Box, 1937, the story ends with the eponymous hero deciding from then on to donate one-tenth of his pocket money to his local church). Her publishers included the Children Special Service Mission, the Church Book Room Press and the Children's Literature Crusade in addition to familiar names like Harrap, Longmans and Thomas Nelson. Her principal publishers eventually became Lutterworth, with whom she had a long and productive relationship.

The Second World War brought about a change of emphasis in Savery's fiction. Enemy Brothers (1943) describes the problems faced by a young English boy returning to Britain after being raised as a Nazi following his kidnapping when a baby. This book was particularly successful in America. Welcome, Santza (1956) continued the wartime theme with its heroine a Greek refugee orphan who longed to be an ordinary little girl dressed in red.

Savery got the idea after reading how one young war refugee was reported saying, "Nobody likes me, I only like myself. I am a nobody's nothing." A reviewer for The New York Times found the book "a sympathetic human story that has appeal for boys and girls who are sensitive to problems which sometimes face others of their own age".

Constance Savery's last book, in 1980, was a completion of Charlotte Bronte's unfinished novel, another Emma. Last year she signed a contract for the republication in America of her book The Rebel and the Redcoats, which was first published in 1961. She continued to write articles, including some pieces on her favourite children's writer, Charlotte M. Yonge. There were many other interests: a working knowledge of Latin and Greek, plus expertise in church architecture and history, archaeology, astronomy, geology, conchology and botany.

Like her other sisters, she never married. Deprived of potential husbands by the carnage of the First World War, all five girls went on to lead fulfilled lives, with four of them becoming writers. One sister, Christine, eventually joined her at the Quaker-run home where she died peacefully, still strong in the Church of England faith that had meant so much to her during a long life.

Constance Winifred Savery, children's writer: born Froxfield, Wiltshire 31 October 1897; died Stroud, Gloucestershire 2 March 1999.