When my grandparents retired, they started taking classes for fun. One of these classes was in memoir writing, so when I was growing up we'd receive a letter every so often with a short memoir-essay enclosed. I read them at the time, but didn't consider them anything more than entertaining anecdotes. But now, with my historian's hat on, I see that they are really valuable insights into 20thcentury experience, and I thank my lucky stars that my grandparents made the effort to write those memories down.
A few years ago I found a binder full of copies of these short memoirs, which my grandmother had kept along with other family papers. I've now informally digitised it all, so that I can take these little snippets of family history with me wherever I go. One of my favourites was written by my grandfather, in which he remembered (among other things) how much he loved reading "penny dreadfuls" as a child, and how they instilled in him a love of history. My great-grandmother disapproved of such books and eventually threw them away. In doing so, my grandfather reasoned, she had gotten rid of what could have been quite a valuable collection.
I'd like to think that I inherited something of my grandfather's appreciation for pulp. I managed to incorporate a bit of discussion of archaeological pulp (via Margery Lawrence's contributions to Hutchinson's Mystery Stories magazine) in Archaeologists in Print. But I'm always on the lookout, so I was very pleased when I spotted at a recent pulp-focused bookfair in London Pauline Stewart's* Delia's Quest for the Golden Keys, "A Thrilling Desert Adventure Story" on a table. It is No 549 of "The Schoolgirls' Own Library", priced at 4d (it cost me £3). Its bright yellow paper cover features a girl dressed in ancient Egyptian garments with a tall headpiece standing on some sort of platform being pushed towards a temple (half submerged in water, so I'm assuming Philae) by a chap looking remarkably like a swimming 1930s filmstar. It's dated 6 August 1936.
Happily, "The Schoolgirls Own Library" is a series I've come across before, while I was writing Archaeologists in Print and looking for information on pulp serials. There are a number of websites out there for collectors and readers of such books, and Friardale is one of them. It's excellent, and has loads of resources available in pdf form. There is also a list of titles in "The Schoolgirls Own Library" (and affiliated publications), so you can get a sense of the adventures those schoolgirls get up to.
A proportion of them have vague connections to places that were for most British readers 'exotic'. So, alongside Delia and her Golden Keys, we have No 688, Hilda Richards'** "Babs & Co in Egypt" (how I wish that one were available!) which has on its bright yellow cover a gaggle of teenage schoolgirls pointing a flashlight at a rather shocked-looking mummy standing at the entrance to an ancient Egyptian tomb.
You can find a list of "Schoolgirls Own Library" titles here. I haven't yet gotten more than a few pages into Delia's Quest, but I'm intrigued to see whether any archaeologist characters crop up in it. Based on the cover, I'm hoping so. At the very least, it'll be an insight into how Egypt (and British tourists' relationship to Egypt) is portrayed in this kind of work. Maybe that portrayal will surprise me. But I'm not getting my hopes up too much.
* a pseudonym – the author was Reginald Kirkham. See Dennis Bird's list of SGOL authors.
** a pseudonym – the author was John Wheway as per Dennis Bird's list.