M. E. Francis

Life
1859-1930 [var. 1855; pseud. of Mrs. Blundell, née Mary E. Sweetman]; b. Killiney Park, Co Dublin; 2nd of four dgs. of Michael James and Margaret Sweetman [dg. and heiress of Michael Powell, Fitzwilliam St.]; sister of Walter Sweetman and Elinor Mary, with whom she lived from 14 to 18; moved to Brussels with family, 1873; ed. Belgium, with summers in Switzerland; wrote ‘True Joy’, a child’s novel at 8; corresponded with Fr. Matthew Russell of Irish Monthly;
 
m. Francis Nicholas Blundell (d.1884), son of English Catholic gentry in Lancashire, after two years’ resistance from her mother, 1879, settled in Crosby, nr. Liverpool, a favorite setting for her novels; her first publication appeared in the Irish Monthly on her wedding day; suffered early death of her husband and remained a widow; contrib. Molly’s Fortune to Monthly Review (1889-90); issued Daughters of the Soil (1895), a sad tale of bigamy in Lancashire, serialised in The Times and issued by Chatto & Windus in the Times Novels Series [1895]; issued Frieze and Fustian (1896), being sketches and stories in Ireland and N. England;
 
issued In A North Country Village (1897), her best-known novel, set in Crosby; issued The Duenna of a Genius (1898), concerning Hungarian players in London; issued Miss Erin (1898), in which the heroine seeks the fame of an Irish Joan of Arc (“When you insult my country I feel as though you strike me”); others among her some fifty novels incl. A Girl’s Ideal (1905), in which an heiress turns down her fortune rather than marry Dermod MacMurrough but then falls in love with him when he high-mindedly does likewise, The Tender Passion (1910), and Dark Rosaleen (1915); an edited autobiography appeared in 1935. PI DIW IF DIL SUTH ATT DUB OCIL

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Works
  • The Little Rosary of the Sacred Heart, containing short meditations for every day of the month, esp. adapted for children (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1886);
  • Whither?: A Novel, 3 vols. (London: Griffith & Farran 1892), and Do. [new edn.] (London: Griffith & Farran 1893), viii, 378pp.;
  • In a North Country Village (London: Osgood & McIlwaine 1893), pp. 301pp.; and Do. [another edn.] (1896), ill. Frank Felloes, [8], 262, [3]pp., pl.;
  • The Story of Dan (London: Osgood & McIlwaine 1894), [6], 297, [1]pp;
  • Town Mice in the Country: A Story of Holiday Adventure (London: Blackie & Son 1894), 160pp.;
  • A Daughter of the Soil [Times Novels Series] (London: Osgood & McIlwaine 1896), [2], x, 392pp.;
  • Frieze and Fustian (London: Osgood & McIlwaine [1895]), and Do. [another edn.] (1896);
  • Among the Untroden Ways (London & Edinburgh: Blackwood & Son 1896), vi. 277pp.;
  • Maime o’ the Corner (NY & London: Harper & Bros. 1898), iv, 302pp. [var NY 1897];
  • Miss Erin (London: Methuen & Co. 1898; NY: Benizer 1898);
  • The Duenna of a Genius (London & Cambridge, Mass.: Harper & Bros. 1898), 279pp.; Do. (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz 1899), 295pp., and Do. (London: T. Nelson & Sons 1907) [var. 1908];
  • Yeoman Fleetwood (London: Longmans & Co. 1900);
  • Pastorals of Dorset (London: Longmans & Co. 1901);
  • Fiander’s Widow (London: Longmans & Co 1901), [8], 357, [1]pp.;
  • North, South, and Over the Sea [Country Life Ser.] (London: Geo. Newnes 1902), ill. H. M. Brock, [8], 347, [1]pp., 10 pls.;
  • The Manor Farm: A Novel (London: Longmans & Co. 1902), [8], 376pp.;
  • Christian Thal (London: Longmans & Co. 1903);
  • Lychgate Hall: A Romance (London: Longmans & Co. 1904), viii, 347pp.;
  • Dorset Dear (London: Longmans & Co. 1905);
  • Wild Wheat: A Dorset Romance (London & NY: Longmans, Green & Co. 1905), viii, 291pp.;
  • The Lord’s Ambassador, and Other Tales (London: CTS 1905);
  • Father Anselm and Other Stories (London: CTS 1905);
  • Simple Annals (London: Longmans & Co. 1906), ix, 311pp.;
  • Stepping Westward (London: Methuen & Co. 1907), [8], 297, [3]pp. [+40pp. ads.];
  • Children of Light and Other Stories (London: CTS 1907), 4pp.;
  • Margery o’ the Mill (London: Methuen & Co. 1907), 315pp.;
  • Hardy-on-the-Hill (London: Methuen & Co. 1908), 328pp.;
  • Madge Make-the-Best-of-It (St Nicholas Series 1908), 175pp.;
  • Galatea of the Wheatfield (London: Methuen and Co. 1909), [4], 320pp.;
  • Noblesse Oblige (London: John Long 1909), 304pp.;
  • The Wild Heart (London: Smith, Elder 1910), 326pp.;
  • The Tender Passion (London: John Long 1910), 319, [1]pp.;
  • Gentleman Roger (London & Edinburgh: Sands & Co. 1911), 282pp.;
  • Honesty (London: Hodder & Stoughton [1912]), 320pp.;
  • Our Alty (London: John Long 1912), 254, [2]pp., 2 pls., and Do. [other edns.] (1914; 1921);
  • The Story of Mary Dunne (London: John Murray 1913), [8], 312pp.;
  • Molly’s Fortune (London: Sands & Co. [1913]), xiv, 270pp.;
  • The Child’s Book of Prayers in Time of War (London: R. & T. Washbourne 1914);
  • Dark Rosaleen (London: Cassell & Co. 1915), [8], 391, [1]pp.;
  • Penton’s Captain (London: Chapman & Hall 1916), [4], 315, [1]pp.;
  • Little Pilgrims to Our Lady of Lourdes (London: Burns & Oates 1917);
  • A Maid o’ Dorset (London: Cassell & Co. 1917), [4], 315, [1]pp.;
  • The Things of a Child (London: W. Collins & Sons 1918), xiii, 322pp.;
  • Beck of Beckford (London: Allen & Unwin 1920), 350pp.;
  • Rosanna Dew (London: Odhams [1920]), 150pp.;
  • Renewal (London: Allen & Unwin 1921), 320pp.;
  • Mary Waters (London: Hutchinson [1921]), 287, [1]pp.;
  • The Runaway (London: Hutchinson & Co. [1923]), 288pp.;
  • Lady Jane and the Smallholders, with Margaret Elizabeth Clementina Mary Blundell (London: Hutchinson & Co., [1924]);
  • Young Davis Wife (London: Hutchinson & Co [1924]);
  • Cousin Christopher (London: T. Fisher Unwin [1925]), 271pp., and Do. [another edn.] (Dublin: Phoenix Publ. n.d.);
  • Golden Sally, with Agnes Mary Frances Blundell (London & Edinburgh: Sands & Co. 1925; St. Louis, Mo: B. Herder Book Co., 1925), 285pp.;
  • Young Dave’s Wife: A Novel (London: Hutchinson [1924]), 284pp.;
  • Napoleon of the Looms (London: Hutchinson & Co. [1925]), 254pp.;
  • Idylls of Old Hungary (London: Sheed & Ward 1926), 222pp.;
  • Tyrer’s Lass, with Agnes Blundell (London: Sands & Co. 1926), [6], 271, [3]pp.;
  • Mossoo; A Comedy of a Lancashire Village (London: Hutchinson & Co. [1927]), 288pp. [+16pp. of ads.];
  • The Evolution of Aenome (London: Hutchinson & Co. 1928);
  • Wood Sanctuary, with Margaret Elizabeth Clementina Mary Blundell (London: Allen & Unwin 1930);
  • Hannie and Father Pat (Dublin: CTSI 1935).

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Criticism
Margaret Blundell, M. E. Francis, An Irish Novelist’s Own Story (Dublin CTSI 1935); James H. Murphy, Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922 (Conn: Greenwood Press 1997), Part I: ‘Upper Middle-Class Fiction 1873-1890’, p.27, et passim. See also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 7.

See also See John Wilson Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford: OUP 2008).

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Commentary
W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), gives a short notice: Miss Blundell, viz.: ‘... Her novel Whither?, published over her pseudonym of M. E. Francis, made a stir of no transient kind a couple of years ago’ (p.117.)

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References
D. J. O’Donoghue, The Poets of Ireland: A Biographical Dictionary (Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co 1912);, frequent contrib. to Irish Monthly; Mrs. Blundell ‘is one of the best-known women novelists of the day.’

Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (1904), gives extract from Miss Erin, and one other.

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Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists The Story of Dan (1894); Frieze and Fustian, Irish and English peasantry compared (1896); Miss Erin, a peasant girl becomes a landowner, fully sympathetic to Irish grievances (1898); North, South and Over the Sea[s], same plan as Frieze [ .. &c.], work-house scenes (1902); Children of Light, stories, only through sorrow do they learn life’s lessons (1908), The Story of Mary Dunne, childhood idyllic in Glenmalure disrupted by murder, trial, and white slavery (1913); Dark Rosaleen, mixed marriage (1915). IF2 adds Molly’s Fortunes (London, n.d.), serialised in Irish Monthly for 1887, pleasant story of inheritance and intrigue involving French nobleman, Baron de Sauvigny, and the heroine, an orphan.

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Edwardian Fiction: An Oxford Companion (ed. David Trotter, OUP 1987; with Sarah Kemp & Charlotte Mitchell, 1997, 2002): ‘The Ireland of her youth, the Lancashire of her married life, and the Dorset of her retirement provided backgrounds for many of her volumes of fiction.’ (Quoted at Richard Beaton Bookseller, at Antiqbooks - online [as infra].

COPAC (Manchester) lists Wood Sanctuary by M. E. Francis [pseud.] and Margaret Blundell (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1930), 288pp. [inter alia. as supra.]

Belfast Public Library holds Dark Rosaleen, and Miss Erin (1898); Mainie o’ the Corner; In a North Country Village; The Story of Dan; A Daughter of the Soil; Frieze and Fustian; Among Untrodden Ways; Whither?

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Booksellers
Hyland Books (Cat. for 1995) lists Noblesse Oblige [society novel] (John Long 1909) [1st], 302pp., 10.

Richard Beaton (Lewis, E. Sussex), lists North, South, and Over the Sea [Country Life Library of Fiction] (London: George Newnes. 1902), ill. by H. M. Brock; orig. olive green cloth, lettered and decorated in black and red; inscription (1902) on front endpapers, good; 15 short stories (some previously published in The Cornhill, Longman's Magazine, &c.); sects. “North” set in Lancashire; “South” set in Dorset; and “Over the Sea”, set in Ireland [£20]. Hardy-on-the-Hill (London, Methuen & Co. 1908), 3rd edn.; fine-ribbed red cloth; a novel of country life. In a North Country Village [Short Stories by British Authors] (London, Osgood McIlvaine & Co. 1894) [1893], 2nd Edition; blue cloth, with small decorative device (red and gilt) in top corner of front board. Christian Thal, A Novel (London, Longmans, Green & Co. 1919); new imp.; hb., green cloth; signed by the author facing the title page: ‘To Philip Williamson, with best wishes from the Author Xmas 1919. Mary Blundell “M. E. Francis”’; a novel on a musical theme [£12]. (Accessed online; 31.08.2011.)

Beaton elsewhere notes that M. E. Francis serialised A Daughter of the Soil in the Times in 1895, afterwards issued by Chatto & Windus as part of the short-lived The Times Novels series [see under B. M. Croker, Infatuation - online].

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Notes
Dark Rosaleen (1915), Hector, the son of an Ulster [Donegal] Protestant minster, falls in love with a Catholic, Nora McTavish, whose relations kidnapped the child for Catholic baptism; Hector pursues, breaks into the chapel, shoots the priest, Fr. Pat; Hector is beaten to death by the angry crowd, but, in his dying moments, ‘recognises the sublimity of the faith in which Pat had laid down his life’; ‘a child of blood and tears; ‘was this the Ireland of the future, to mourn like Rachel over her slain?’ A leading character is the Catholic lady, Honor Burke, ‘[she] was a magnificent specimen of Irish womanhood - her figure in spite of its great height and ample proportions, was graceful, she crossed the room with the free tread of one accustomed in early youth to go barefoot; her face, irregular though it might be in features, had a warmth of colouring, a changefulness of expression, above all an intense vitality which rendered it beautiful.’

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