May Sinclair (pen name of Mary Amelia St. Clair; August 24th, 1863 – November 14th, 1946) was an English writer.
When Sinclair was seven years old, her father went bankrupt and became increasingly dependent on alcohol. The family started to move a lot, and Sinclair was educated at home. In 1881, when she was 18, she briefly attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where she was encouraged to study philosophy. However, she soon had to leave school, after her father died, on November 19th, 1881.
The family continued to move around, but Sinclair managed to keep a routine of self-study, and started to write poetry. Her first collection, Nakiketas and Other Poems, was published in 1886, under the pen name Julian Sinclair.
Tragedy continued to strike home and, by the early 1890s, Sinclair had lost three of her brothers to a congenital heart defect. She moved to London with her mother, in 1896, and started to make a living by her pen, writing novels and translating books from German. Her first novel, Audrey Craven, was published in 1897. Sinclair would become famous in 1904, with the book The Divine Fire, but her mother would not live to see it: in 1900, Sinclair’s mother suffered a heart attack, and died in 1901.
After her rise to literary stardom, Sinclair became good friends with a number of prominent figures at the time, such as Henry James, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Thomas Hardy, HG Wells, and Rebecca West. Sinclair also had an intense friendship with Charlotte Mew (who fell in love with her, chased her into the bedroom, and was rejected).
Sinclair joined the Women’s Freedom League in 1908 and started writing for the suffragist periodical Votes for Women. She also became increasingly interested in psychoanalysis, worked at a London psychiatric clinic in 1913, and was one of the first novelists to apply Freud’s ideas to her books. Sinclair was also interested in psychical research, parapsychology, spiritualism, and telepathy, and even joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1914.
During the war, in 1914, she briefly joined an ambulance unit set up by Hector Munro to provide aid to wounded Belgian soldiers on the Western Front in Flanders. In 1915, she published her experiences in her book Journal of Impressions in Belgium.
Until the late 1920’s, Sinclair was a popular, critically acclaimed, and prolific author, philosopher, translator, and critic. She published more than twenty novels, thirty-nine short stories, two philosophical books, a number of poetry collections, and one biography of the Brontës, among other works.
Sinclair is also considered the first critic to have taken the term ‘stream of consciousness’ from contemporary psychology and applied it to a work of literature, in a review published in The Egoist, in April 1918, where she analysed the first volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s novel sequence Pilgrimage (1915-1967).
In the late 1920s, Sinclair started suffering from early signs of Parkinson’s disease, and began to withdraw from social life. In 1932, she moved to Buckinghamshire with her companion, Florence Bartrop.
Sinclair died in 1946, completely forgotten by the literary world and by most of her friends. She only started to be rediscovered in the early 1980’s, when Virago reissued three of her novels in its Modern Classics Series.
Novels and novellas
- Audrey Craven (1897)
- Mr and Mrs Nevill Tyson (1898. Also published as The Tysons)
- The Divine Fire (1904)
- Superseded (1906)
- The Helpmate (1907)
- The Judgement of Eve (first published in Everybody’s Magazine 17, September 1907. First book edition in 1908)
- The Immortal Moment (1908)
- Kitty Tailleur (1908)
- The Creators (1910)
- Miss Tarrant’s Temperament (1911)
- The Flaw in the Crystal (1912)
- The Combined Maze (1913)
- The Three Sisters (1914)
- Tasker Jevons: The Real Story (1916)
- The Belfry (1916)
- The Tree of Heaven (1917)
- Mary Olivier: A Life (1919)
- The Romantic (1920)
- Waddington of Wyck (1921)
- Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922)
- Anne Severn and the Fieldings (1922)
- A Cure of Souls (1924)
- Arnold Waterlow (1924)
- The Rector of Wyck (1925)
- Far End (1926)
- The Allinghams (1927)
- History of Anthony Waring (1927)
- Fame (1929)
- Villa Désirée (1932)
- Two Sides Of A Question (1901)
- The Return of the Prodigal (1914)
- The Judgement of Eve and Other Stories (1914)
- Uncanny Stories (1923)
- Tales Told by Simpson (1930)
- The Intercessor, and Other Stories (1931)
- Nakiketas and other poems (1886, under the pen name Julian Sinclair)
- Essays in Verse (1892)
- The Dark Night: A Novel in Unrhymed Verse (1924)
- The Three Brontes (1912)
- Feminism (1912, pamphlet for Women’s Suffrage League)
- A Journal of Impressions in Belgium (1915)
- A Defence of Idealism: Some Questions & Conclusions (1917)
- The New Idealism (1922)
- Miss May Sinclair: Novelist – A Biographical and Critical Introduction, by Theophilus Ernest Martin Boll (1973)
- A History of Women Philosophers – Vol 4: Contemporary Women Philosophers 1900-today, by Mary Ellen Waithe (1995)
- May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian, by Suzanne Raitt (2000)
- Gothic Modernisms, ed. Andrew Smith and Jeff Wallace (2001)
- Regenerating the Novel: Gender and Genre in Woolf, Forster, Sinclair and Lawrence, by James J. Miracky (2003)
- The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Women Writers, ed. Maren Tova Linett (2010)
- Modernist Short Fiction By Women: The Liminal in Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair and Virginia Woolf, by Claire Drewery (2011)
- May Sinclair: Moving Towards the Modern, ed. Andrew J. Kunka and Michele K. Troy (2011)
- May Sinclair: Rethinking Bodies and Minds, ed. Rebecca Bowler and Claire Drewery (2016)
- Literary Impressionism: Vision and Memory in Dorothy Richardson, Ford Madox Ford, H.D., and May Sinclair, by Rebecca Bowler (2016)