Mary de Morgan

Mary de Morgan (Mary Auguste De Morgan, 24 February 1850 – 18 May 1907) was an English writer.

She was born to a family of intellectuals: her father was the mathematician Augustus de Morgan, professor at University College London; her mother was an active campaigner for women’s education, supported the anti-slavery movement, and was a fervent anti-vivisectionist (she was also a famous spiritualist, and wrote a book on the subject – From Matter to Spirit: The Result of Ten Years’ Experience in Spirit Manifestation, published in 1862); Mary’s brother was the illustrator, ceramist, and novelist William de Morgan (who would later marry the painter Mary Evelyn Pickering, now known as Evelyn de Morgan).

William de Morgan and a woman who can probably be his sister, Mary de Morgan

Little is known about her formative years. Her mother kept a notebook, where she recorded Mary’s dreams of having played with her dead sister Alice (Mary would later dismiss her mother’s spiritualism). As a child, Mary was described as precocious and tactless. At thirteen, she is said to have told the painter Henry Holiday: “All artists are fools! Look at yourself and Mr. Solomon!

Her father died in 1871, and Mary then moved in with her brother William. Around that time, she began telling stories to the children of friends and family – among them, Rudyard Kipling. Mary was a close friend of artist and author William Morris, whom she nursed in 1896, when he was dying.

Mary never married, and made a living as a writer and typist. She was a member of the Women’s Franchise League, attended suffragist rallies, undertook voluntary social work in London slums, campaigned for the workers’ rights, and signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in 1889.  In the 1890s, she also worked at Jane and May Morris’s embroidery workshop, helping them during William Morris’ illness. About her reduced means, de Morgan is said to have told her sister-in law: “I am so thankful I have only a small income – it is so delightful planning things and deciding what one can afford. It would bore me to death to be rich!

Her first book, Six by Two: Stories of Old Schoolfellows, co-written with Edith Helen Dixon, was published in 1873. De Morgan went on to publish three fairy-tale collections; a number of short stories in various periodicals, such as The Ludgate Illustrated, and The Home-Maker; a two-volume novel titled A Choice of Chance, under the pen name William Dodson, in 1887; and a number of essays published in The Westminster Review, on worker’s rights, education, and immigration, among other topics. Mary also edited her mother’s memoirs, Threescore Years and Ten: Reminiscences of the Late Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (1895).

Around 1905, Mary moved to Egypt, where she run a progressive reform school for girls. She died of tuberculosis, in Cairo, on May 18th, 1907, at the age of 57.

Books

  • Six by Two: Stories of Old Schoolfellows, co-written with Edith Helen Dixon (1873, short stories)
    • Stories by de Morgan: The French Girl at Our School; A Ramble on the Rhine; Lilian and Lucy
    • Stories by Dixon: How Nelly Went to School; A Midnight Adventure; The Fault of the Roses
  • On a Pincushion and Other Fairy Tales (1877, fairy tales)
    • Stories (illustrated by William de Morgan): The Story of Vain Lamorna; The Seeds of Love; The Story of the Opal; Siegfried and Handa; The Hair Tree; The Toy Princess; Through The Fire
  • The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde and Other Stories (1880, fairy tales)
    • Stories (illustrated by Walter Crane): The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde; The Wanderings of Arasmon; The Heart of Princess Joan; The Pedlar’s Pack; The Bread of Discontent; The Three Clever Kings; The Wise Princess
  • A Choice of Chance, under the pen name William Dodson (1887, novel)
  • The Wind Fairies and Other Tales (1900, fairy tales)
    • Stories (illustrated by Olive Cockerell): The Windfairies; Vain Kesta; The Pool and the Tree; Nanina’s Sheep; The Gipsy’s Cup; The Story of a Cat; Dumb Othmar; The Rain Maiden; The Ploughman and the Gnome
  • The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde – The Complete Fairy Stories of Mary de Morgan (1963) 

About her

  • Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, by Marilyn Pemberton (2013)

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