Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906)


Life
[née Eliza Lawson Cowan; Mrs. J. H. Riddell]; b. 30 Sept. 1832, b. Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim; dg. of James Cowan, high sheriff of Co. Down; moved to London after mother’s [var. father’s] death, 1855; found a publisher for Zuriel’s Grandchild (1856); m. in 1857 J. H. Riddell, an engineer who incurred heavy debts (d. 1880); wrote more than forty-five books; ed. St James’s Magazine; George Geith of Fen Court (1864), the story of a hard-working accountant, shows close knowledge of London commercial life; Irish material only in Maxwell Drewitt (1865; rep Garland 1979), set in Connemara;
 
also issued Berna Boyle (1884), set in Co. Down, and The Nun’s Curse (1888), a ghost-story set in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal; supernatural themes feature in her shorter pieces, e.g., the title story of The Banshee’s Warning (1894); other popular works incl. The Race for Wealth; Above Suspicion; Struggle for Fame (1883) is largely autobiographical; d. Ashford, Middlesex without clearing husband’s debts; numerous of her books remained in print until the 1940s, while a large reprint series appears to have been launched in 1930. DIW IF ODNB IN JMC SUTH OCIL

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Works
Maxwell Drewitt ([1865]; new edn. ill. London: Arnold 1869); Struggle for Fame (1883 &c.); The Nun’s Curse (London: Ward & Downey 1887; 1890); The Race for Wealth (London: Hutchinson 1895), new edn. 458pp.; The Rusty Sword, or Thereby Hangs a Tale (SPCK 1894), 192pp.; children’s novel; Berna Boyle (London: Macmillan 1900), 443pp.; The Banshee Warning, and Other Tales (London: MacQueen 1903), pbk.

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Criticism
Margaret Kelleher, ‘Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle for Fame: The Field of Women’s Literary Production’, in Colby Quarterly, 36, 2 (2000), pp.116-31; see also

See also J. F. Foster, ‘Irish Fiction 1890-1940’ in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Margaret Kelleher & Philip O'Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. II, and Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (OUP: Clarendon Press 2008).

See also Ranald Michie, Guilty Money: The City of London in Victorian and Edwardian Culture (Pickering & Chatto, 2009), and a review of same in Review in History website [online] - answered by the author [also online]; see also commentary by Patrick Maume, attached.

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Commentary
James Cahalan, The Irish Novel: A Critical History (Boston: Twayne Publishers 1988), classifies The Nun’s Curse (1888) as a ‘Big House’ novel, and identifies Maxwell Drewitt (1865) as an instance of the adaption of this form to tell a Fenian tale. Barry Sloan (Pioneers, 176) cites Ridell [err. sic], C. H., Maxwell Drewitt (Lon. 1865), rep. with intro. by Robert Lee Woolf (Garland 1979), and describes it as an election-campaign novel, comparable with Mary Laffan Hartley’s Hogan MP.

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See copy of DIASPORA List e-letter from Patrick Maume [attached]

Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 […]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. 1 [Chap. 11]: ‘During her lifetime, Antrim-born novelist Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906) was one of the most acclaimed writers in Britain of both sensation fiction and stories of the supernatural. Her longer ghost stories, such as “Fairy Water” and “The Haunted River”, appeared in the highly popular Christmas annuals published by Routledge and by F. Enos Arnold. Riddell, heralded as “Novelist of the City” because of her depictions of contemporary London business and trade, makes lively use of the strong materialist element underlying Gothic fiction: her heroes are usually lawyers’ clerks and other humble functionaries who secure fortune as a result of their enduring Otherworldly visitations. Irish settings are employed in a handful of her works, including her 1888 novel Nun’s Curse, its marriage plot between Irish landowner and peasant girl an especially pessimistic ‘allegory of union’, and also in some later stories, most notably “The Banshee’s Warning”, also entitled “Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning”, which has been frequently republished in anthologies of ghost fiction.’ (p.472.) [Cont.]

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Margaret Kelleher (‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 […]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, 2006, Vol. 1: ‘[T]he death of her father prompted the young Charlotte Cowan, later Riddell, to move to London in 1855 […] Charlotte Riddell’s autobiographical novel A Struggle for Fame, published by Bentley in 1883, is a valuable record of one young Irish author’s struggle to become published, with vividly drawn portraits of Newby, Tinsley, Bentley and others. It was published when Riddell was at the peak of her career but her fortunes turned soon afterwards, with the decline in popularity of the three-decker novel, and by the late 1890s she was living in severely reduced circumstances, supported by a donation from the Society of Authors and from the Royal Literary Fund.’ (p.473; bibl. note as supra.)

 

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Quotations
City life: ‘And what a existence it was! What a dull, monotonous road it would have seemed to most, unrelieved as it was by social intercourse, unlightened by domestic ties; with no friend to talk to, no wife to love, no child to caress, no parent to provide for. A lonesome, laborious life, which had little in it, even of change of employment; for, so soon as one man’s books were balanced, or scedule prepared, another merchant or bankrupt stood at the door, and behold, the same routine had to be gone through again. … he laboured through all the working days of the week, and up to twelve o’clock on Saturday nights; as I hope you, my reader, may nver have to labour for any cause whatsoever. [Geith is called Grant] to Lond he came to seek his fortune. In a feigned name he sought employment, and found it at last in the offices of Horne Brothers … for five weary years he stayed there, wandering through labyrinths of figures, and applying himself so close to learn his business thoroughly that, when at length he summoned up courage to start on his own accoutn he carred with him to Fen Court a very respectable number of clients. … First come first served, was the accountants rule [and something about self-important clients disturbed to be kept waiting on vulgar people. (Extract in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature, Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography cites her as Charlotte ‘known as’ Mrs. J. H. Riddell; author of thirty novels, including George Geith of Fen Court (1864); commerce a frequent theme; co-proprietor and editor of St. James’s Magazine from 1861.

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); gives extract from George Geith of Fen Court. Mrs [Charlotte] J. H. Riddell b. 30 Sept. 1832, Carrickfergus, Co. Down; dg. high sherrif James Cowan; m. J. H. Riddell, grandson of Luke Riddell, of Winston Green House, Staffordshire, 1857; wrote under pseud. up to publication of George Leith, and issued thereafter, The Ruling Passion; The Moors and the Fens; Too Much Alone; City and Suburb; The World and the Church; Maxwell Drewitt; Phemie Keller; The Race for Wealth; Far Above Rubies; Austin Friars; A Life’s Assize; The Earl’s Promise; Home, Sweet Home; Mortomley’s Estate; Above Suspicion; Her Mother’s Darling; The Mystery in Palace Gardens; Alaric Spencely; The Senior Partner; Daisies and Buttercups; A Struggle for Fame; Berna Boyle; Mitre Court; Miss Gascoigne; A Mad Tour; The Nun’s Nurse; The Head of the Firm; A Silent Tragedy; Did He Deserve It?; A Rich Man’s Daughter, and Football and Fate [no bibl.-dates].

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Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists first novel, 1858 [but cf. John Sutherland, Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction, 1988, infra], followed by nearly 40; remarkably clever and some very popular; deal[s] chiefly with social and domestic life among the Protestant upper and middle classes, London, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Scotland, &c; few deal with Ireland; intimate knowledge of legal proceedings; incl. George Geith of Fen Court (1864); City and Suburb (1861); A Life’s Assize (1870); Above Suspicion (1875); Too Much Alone; Susan Drummond; Race for Wealth; Head of the Firm; intimate knowlege of law and business world in London; d. 1906. IF lists only those titles dealing with Ireland, Maxwell Drewitt ([1865]; new ed. ill. Arnold 1869) [adventures in Connemara incl. old-fashioned election, 1854; trial for robbery on Drogheda-Dundalk Railway; landlord, peasant, and dispensary doctor, Dr. Sheen]; Struggle for Fame (1883 and eds.) [part autobiog.; young girl sailing from Belfast to London with her MS; experience with publishers, and love affairs]; Berna Boyle (1900), 443pp. [Co. Down love story, c.1860; suitors with disagreeable relatives; uninspiring and unsympathetic Ulster folk; her mother, a vulgar, pushful woman; The Nun’s Curse (London: Ward & Downey 1887; 1890) [nr. Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, c.1850; inherited curse; Terence Conway tries to be model landlord; has intrigue with peasant girl and forced by his fiancée to marry her; she pines and dies; her son kidnapped, and returns as parish priest; Terence remarries and prospers]; The Banshee Warning, and other tales (Macqueen 1903), pbk [6 stories; banshee goes to London to warn Irish scapegrace, a clever surgeon plunged in debt; strange personality; ‘A Vagrant Digestion’, journeyings of hypochondriacal Vicar of Rathdundrum’; ‘Mr Mabbot’s Fright’ [called pathetic], and ‘So Near, or the Pity of It’ [called comic], honesty and proper pride of the Irish; with Larne-Belfast scenic railway.

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Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984), bio-note calls her a sensational novelist using pseuds. R. V. M. Sparling, Rainey Hawthorne, Charlotte, and F. G. Trafford; b. Ireland, youngest dg. of High Sherriff; self-education, married after her mother’s death; first novel, Zuriels’ Grandchild (1856). Edited St. James Magazine [?] (ibid., p. 156).

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John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (Harlow: Longmans 1988), lists Mrs J[oseph] H[adley] [Charlotte Elizabeth Lawson], pseud. ‘F. G. Trafford’, née Cowan, 1832-1906; ‘novelist of the City’ [London]; b. Carrickfergus, née Cowan, dg. High Sherriff Co. Antrim; avoided Irish settings in later fiction, though her background is sketched in Berna Boyle (1882); reached London in 1855, supporting her sick mother by writing; her difficulties recalled in A Struggle for Fame (1883); city novels incl. City and Suburb (1861); Mitre Court (1885); The Head of the firm (1892), the last-named about the self-sacrifice of Thomas Desborne, working in the firm headed by his worthless nephew; sharp observation of London; moved to Tinsley, and produced novels under profitable contract, such as George Geith of Fen Court (1864), her eighth, the story of a clergyman who leaves a disasterous marriage to become a successful accountant in the city, building up an estate for his illegitimate son by the doomed Beryl Molozane [bigamy, forged death cert.; a returned wife; deaths, deaths, and deaths]; hugely popular and successfully dramatised [and characterised by high-handed narrative and gloomy tone]; ed. and part proprietor of St. james magazine, founded by Mrs. S. C. Hall in 1861; mid-career fiction incl. Life’s Assizes (1[8]71), a Scottish story, and Above Suspicion (1876), a sensation novel; wielded literary power and patronage; m. JH Riddell in 1857, and cleared his debts by writing when he died in 1880; moved to Bentley, and drew smaller and smaller royalties. Her fiction is categorised by Sutherland in three groupings as city, supernatural, and sad. Her ghost stories dealing generally with haunted houses, and esp. the influential Wierd Stories (1882), are highly regarded.

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Belfast Public Library holds Daisies and Buttercups (1884); Prince of Wales’s Garden Party (1884); Nun’s Curse (1888); George Geith (1894); Berna Boyle (1900); Princess Sunshine (1924); A Struggle for Fame (n.d.); Senior Paper (1904); Weird Stories (1946). A REPRINT Series of 1930 apparently includes Austin Friars (1930); Berna Boyle (1930); City and Suburb (1930); Earl’s Promise (1930); Maxwell Drewitt (1930); Mortomley’s Estate (1930); Susan Drummond (1885); Too Much Alone (1930); World in the Church (1930).

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