Folk-Lore/Volume 27/Obituary/Marian Emily Roalfe Cox

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search




Marian Roalfe Cox was a Londoner by birth and descent. Born in Mount Street, 30th August, 1860, her childhood and early life were passed in the old house which had been the home of her family for three generations in the once-pretty suburban village of Streatham. Then came ten years spent in Kensington, and, after the successive deaths of both parents, some years of a spinster's solitary flat in Westminster. An uneventful life, but rich in interests—musical, literary, and scientific.

Those whose memories of the Folk-Lore Society go back to the last decades of the nineteenth century will vividly remember the pale, fragile-looking girl who, closely chaperoned by her dignified Early Victorian mother, was a regular attendant at its meetings. It was in 1888 that Miss Cox joined the Society, and she at once expressed a wish to undertake definite work on its behalf. Folktales were then among the leading preoccupations of students. The question of independent origin versus transmission was eagerly debated, and it was supposed that analysis and comparison might disclose the birthplace and habitat of each story. People were busily making abstracts of the various published collections to this end. Miss Cox took part in the work, and presently—at the suggestion, we believe, of Sir Laurence (then Mr.) Gomme—undertook the task of collecting and classifying all attainable variants of Cinderella.

It was a work for which she was well fitted. She was an excellent linguist; she read the classics in the originals, spoke modern Greek fluently, and was acquainted with the principal European languages and their literature. Oriental and Continental scholars, as well as the leading English folklorists, readily lent their aid to her researches. The result was a handsome volume of 535 pages, containing 345 brief abstracts of variants of the story. They are gathered from over eighty different countries, ranging from Finland to Zululand and from Japan to Brazil and Chili, and are carefully arranged in three main groups: viz. the type of Cinderella proper, the Catskin type, and the Cap o' Rushes type, with the "indeterminate " variants appended separately.

It would be difficult to overpraise the care and nicety of the classification, the pertinent and business-like character of the notes, and withal, the modest self-effacement shown by the editor; while the short time—under four years—occupied by the compilation speaks volumes for her industry, handicapped as she always was by more or less delicate health. But the hope that the work would reveal the original habitat of the story was not realized. All that could be safely predicated of Cinderella, said Mr. Lang, who contributed an Introduction to the volume, was that it could not have arisen among a naked and shoeless people! But it is impossible to think that so much good work can have been thrown away. The question of spontaneous upgrowth versus concrete transmission has lately been revived in a wider field, and one may safely predict that when it comes to be settled the evidence to be gleaned from Cinderella will be found neither valueless nor unimportant.[1]

Miss Cox was for some time a member of the Folk-Lore Council, and was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in 1904. In 1895 she published (through Mr. Nutt) a study of the principle of Animism, under the title of An Introduction to Folk-Lore. It was luminously written, and attained to a second edition, but Cinderella remained and remains her magnum opus.

Her health and the care of her parents—to whom in their old age she was a devoted nurse, notwithstanding her own delicacy—caused her to be seldom seen among us of late years, but whenever she appeared she was greeted with a special air of respectful welcome, as one whom the Society delighted to honour.

  1. Abstracts of a few variants obtained after the volume was published will be found in Folk-Lore, vol. xviii. pp. 191-208 (1907).