March 1st was the birthday of Joan’s mother, Jessie MacDonald, a lively and fiercely intelligent character who had a lasting influence on Joan, since she taught her at home, in the small Sussex village where they lived until Joan went away to school at the age of 12.
Jessie was a post graduate at Radcliffe, the women’s college of Harvard, where she met and fell in love with the poet Conrad Aiken, Joan’s father, in 1911. They moved to England where Joan was born, but had separated by the time Joan was five. Jessie was a strict but inventive teacher, setting Joan exercises such as rewriting passages from the Bible in Shakespearian verse, and being also a great reader aloud, provided Joan with all sorts of literary models from a very early age.
Pages from Joan’s early notebooks show Jessie’s spelling corrections, and also Joan’s already rampant imagination – here’s one of her very first stories where Sir Denis meets Satan….more next week!