Wilhelmina Stirling was the sister of Evelyn De Morgan and founder of the De Morgan Collection. She was a successful her author in her own time, but is largely forgotten today. We are indebted to our Patron, Jesse Hellman, for his work on Wilhelmina Stirling’s novels and particularly grateful for his recent gift of his own copy of Toy Gods by Stirling to the De Morgan Foundation, and for digitizing the book so we can share it more widely.

Jesse writes:

When in June, 2020 Sarah Hardy published my review of Wilhelmina Stirling’s 1904 scarce novel Toy-Gods it was quite difficult to find one to read, as very few libraries have it and it was not available digitized. Fortunately, thanks to the advent of modern digitizing services, that is no longer so. I sent my copy of Toy-Gods to Don O’Daniel at Blue Leaf  Book Scanning here in the United States and he prepared PDF, Word, and Kindle files of the entire book and its cover. Sarah has now downloaded all of the files and they are available on the De Morgan drive for anyone interested. Please let Sarah know if you are wish to obtain them.

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Toy-Gods is quite powerful and thought-provoking. The issue of women’s subjugation, not only by men but by they, themselves, is something that was quite important to Mrs. Stirling as it was to her sister Evelyn De Morgan and  (see Suffragist Artists in Partnership by Dr Lucy Ella Rose). In Toy-Gods the young heroine, Amelia, is sent abroad to finishing-school so that she might obtain the manners necessary for entering Society. She does so but finds them to be false. It is kindness that is Amelia’s truest asset.

You will notice that Stirling published the book under the pseudonym Percival Pickering, as it was still easier to be taken seriously as a male artist. She knew first had what the struggles were for women and it is no wonder she embraced this theme in her writing.

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Had Bernard Shaw read Toy-Gods, and had this added to the other influences that led to his creation of Eliza Doolittle? I explore this in my essay, Toy-Gods: A Scarce Novel Illuminates Eliza Doolittle’s Plea “I Only Want to Be Natural” which in 2021 was published in SHAW, the journal of the International Shaw Society.

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