The life of a religious person is always experimental. That of Elizabeth Eason, a teacher and librarian who died last month, aged 90, expressed itself in patience, forbearing and determined service. Many women of her generation led very quiet lives that complemented, in their acceptance, the more dramatic struggles of such figures of their day as Simone Weil. They were the warm front of feminism.
There is rarely public drama at any stage of modest lives – there is no recognised stage. Most of us live in an audience, not in front of one. For the teacher, though, there is always an extended family, and Elizabeth Eason will be remembered with more than usual private affection and gratitude by the many hundreds of students who were taught by her through an age range from four to sixty and over.
Born Ivy Duck in Scarborough in 1915, she took control of her own life, changing her name to Elizabeth. Following a degree in French at Liverpool University in 1937 she secured a grant for doctoral research at the University of Caen in 1938, a time spent partly in Paris at the Sorbonne. Forced to return to England she taught at two girls' public schools, where she hated the snobbery. When the headmistress of the second of these schools was appointed Principal of Southlands College, Wimbledon, she left with her to join the college staff. The man to whom she was engaged was killed on active service at sea in 1943.
After the Second World War Elizabeth met and married in 1947 Tom Eason, a lecturer at the neighbouring College of St Mark & St John, Chelsea. "Majohns" was run by the poet Michael Roberts, whose wife Janet Adam Smith became a lifelong friend, the godmother of the Easons' only child, Jane. (After Roberts's early death in 1948, aged 46 of leukaemia, Tom Eason was the co-editor of A Portrait of Michael Roberts, 1949.) Until 1954 Elizabeth taught at both colleges, but, following Tom's desire to explore alternative methods in education, they moved to the rather remote village of Friskney, on the edge of the Wash in Lincolnshire, and then in 1959 to Ormskirk, Lancashire, Tom to teach at Edge Hill College, Elizabeth to care for her ageing mother, and later to teach in the local secondary school.
In 1961 Elizabeth joined the Edge Hill College staff, where she set up a Teachers' Resource Centre which became a national model of its kind. Among the teaching aids developed there was a poetry index, again used nationally, which, when Elizabeth left in 1981, was rescued by Beverley Matthias for the National Book League.
An athlete in her youth, Elizabeth happily recognised herself as a granny librarianly figure, dumpy, round- faced, glasses, grey hair tied back in a bun, with a wonderful welcoming smile. But she did not regard benevolence as a universal group activity and fell out of love with Anglicanism when her local vicar one Sunday exhorted everyone to turn and kiss the person next to them in the congregation. She had robust views on the usefulness of public display.
After a long period confined to bed in a nursing home Elizabeth was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 2003, when she wrote in a poem for her devoted husband, "Like a low candle in a holy place / Such is the beauty of an aged face".
Most of Elizabeth Eason's collection of children's books and Victorian fiction was sold at auction some years ago. She had a special affection for the work of Victorian women novelists – Charlotte M. Yonge, Emma Warboise and Mrs Oliphant, all novelists of the modest heroine, blighted hopes, salvation and the hope of heaven.
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