Oriel Malet fictionalizes the short life of a real 19th century child prodigy, Marjory Fleming. The 1946 book begins by listing the sources she drew from to create the picture, Mr. Macbean’s 1904 Pet Marjorie, Dr. Brown’s 1863 Pet Marjorie, etc., so we know that this real life child created quite a stir in her time. Next, the complete listing for Marjory Fleming from Leslie Stephen’s Dictionary of National Biography, 1889 volume. (Stephen, of course, was Virginia Woolf’s pops). Marjory’s life (1803-1811) was the shortest recorded in the National Biography.
Malet lays out a dreamy, tempestuous brief life of Marjory, filled with tantrums and poetry and wonder. Marjory shows her distinction early on, is rescued by an older, wealthier cousin and taken under her wing for a few years where she blossoms, but then her mother demands her return home. Once home, she’s miserable, catches measles, dies of water on the brain as she approached her ninth birthday. She left behind scads of precocious journals and poetry, from which her legend is nourished.