Mary Cholmondeley

Mary Cholmondeley (June 8th, 1859 – July 15th, 1925) was an English writer.

The third of eight children and the eldest daughter of a clergyman, Cholmondeley was educated at home by a governess and by her father. She spent most of her youth running the household and caring for her ailing mother, who started to suffer from depression and from a creeping paralysis soon after the birth of her last child.

Cholmondeley’s mother died in 1895, her father died in 1910, and she then moved in with her sister Victoria. They hosted regular social gatherings, and Henry James, Rhoda Broughton, and Mary and Jane Findlater were among their most frequent guests.

Cholmondeley suffered from chronic asthma and never married. Her niece Stella Benson, daughter of her sister Essex, also became a famous novelist.

From an early age, Cholmondeley delighted her siblings by telling stories. Cholmondeley wrote in her journal in 1877: “What a pleasure and interest it would be to me in life to write books. I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry (for at best that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty nor charms) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties” (quoted by Percy Lubbock in Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory, 1928)

By the time she was 18, she had completed a novel titled Her Evil Genius, which was never published and was probably burnt in 1896. From the early 1880’s, Cholmondeley had the support of Anne Thackeray Ritchie and Rhoda Broughton, and published her first novel, The Danvers Jewels, in 1887, anonymously. Diana Tempest (1893) was the first of Cholmondeley’s books to be published under her own name, and her major success came with the novel Red Pottage (1899), which sold more than 18,000 copies in England, within two months of its initial release. The novel was made into a silent film in 1918.

Cholmondeley died after a protracted illness, on July 15th, 1925, aged 66. She is now largely forgotten.

Books

  • The Danvers Jewels (1886, novel)
  • Sir Charles Danvers (1889, novel)
  • Let Loose (1890, short story)
  • Diana Tempest (1893, novel)
  • A Devotee: An Episode in the Life of a Butterfly (1897, novel)
  • Red Pottage (1899, novel)
  • Moth and Rust (1902, short story collection)
  • Prisoners (1906, novel)
  • The Lowest Rung (1908, short story collection)
  • After All (1913, novel)
  • Notwithstanding (1913, novel)
  • Under One Roof (1918, memoir)
  • The Romance of His Life (1921, short story collection)

Anthologies

About her

  • Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley, by Carolyn Oulton (2009)
  • Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered, ed. Carolyn Oulton and SueAnn Schatz (2009)
  • Kindred hands: letters on writing by British and American women authors, 1865-1935, ed. Jennifer Cognard-Black (2006)
  • The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English, ed. Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, and Elaine Showalter (1999)
  • “Women Authors and Their Selves: Autobiography in the Work of Charlotte Yonge, Rhoda Broughton, Mary Cholmondeley and Lucy Clifford”, by Marysa Demoor, Cahiers victoriens & édouardiens, 1994, v.39, p.51.
  • Mary Cholmondeley, 1859-1925: a bibliography, by Jane Crisp (1981)
  • Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory, by Percy Lubbock (1928)

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4 thoughts on “Mary Cholmondeley

  1. I loved Red Pottage and really should get around to reading Diana Tempest, which is available free on ibooks. It’s so sad that so many women writers are largely forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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