The actress Annie Schletter had a number of enthusiastic correspondents not all of whom were necessarily connected with the theatre. One of these was Dolf Wyllarde (1871 – 1950), whose real name was Dorothy Margarette Selby Lowndes . A prolific author of adventure and romance novels, she was popular in her day, but is largely forgotten now, though her books turn up regularly in secondhand bookshops and online at Abebooks. Wyllarde appears to have done well through her writing and at least one of her novels was filmed. By 1927 she was living in some splendour at the seventeenth century Oldmixon Manor, near Weston-Super-Mare. Why Lowndes chose her particular pseudonym will probably never be known. Perhaps she thought a masculine name might attract more readers. However, she could well have been interested in the ramifications of sexual identity. In The Lavender Lad (1922) a talented actress disguises herself as a ‘ragged urchin’ in order to work on a lavender farm.
We should remember that this was the period when female impersonators were a common sight on the English Music Hall stage. Interestingly, she doesn’t appear to have used her real female name when creating her ‘ romance’ stories. She even uses her pen name when writing to friends, as in this chatty epistle to Schletter, which is dated 12 December 1927. In it she describes domestic life at Oldmixon, which seems idyllic and very far from some of her swashbuckling fiction. She begins by announcing that she plans to send her friend a turkey through the post for Christmas —a practice, incidentally, performed by middle class country folk from at least the eighteenth century onwards—but warns her friend that this might be the last she receives from them.
‘…I am afraid we shall have none to send next year as we are thinking of giving them up. They are so difficult to rear, and my gardener’s wife has to get up at five o’clock in the spring to feed the chicks…We are very busy and very domestic ! I have an energetic little cook who positively likes using my grandmother’s recipes and I find myself involved in old-fashioned jams (crab apple is really delicious) and hams pickled with things that remind me of the White Knight’s pudding in “ Alice through the looking glass “. I am not sure that gunpowder and blotting-paper are not among the ingredients. We are all supposed to rub the ham in turn. I went and looked at it in its pickle, but the treacle and juniper berries, the old beer and the black pepper, were so awful that I fled !...’
Wyllarde features in a few reference works on popular Edwardian fiction, but little or anything is known about her personal life. She died in 1950, aged 79. Her former home, Oldmixon Manor, has survived, but is now divided into apartments. [R.H]