Ward, Mrs. Humphry
Ward was a popular and prolific novelist who is closely identified with the Victorian era in English life and literature. In her numerous novels she examined the social and moral issues that occupied Victorian readers, including women's role in society and the clash between science and evangelical theology. A dominant figure in late-Victorian public life who was known as much for her political activism and philanthropic activities as for her novels, Ward is chiefly remembered for providing a literary record of the intellectual life of England during a period when many long-held social values and public policies were being challenged.
Ward was the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, the influential headmaster of Rugby School, and the niece of the poet and essayist Matthew Arnold. Her father, also named Thomas Arnold, moved to New Zealand in 1847 and later accepted a position as a school inspector in Tasmania, where he married Julia Sorrell and where Ward was born in 1851. Ward's father resigned his post in 1856 after his religious conversion to Roman Catholicism and moved his family to England. Ward attended a series of boarding schools and joined her family in Oxford in 1865, when her father became a tutor there during a temporary return to Protestantism. In Oxford, Ward pursued independent studies, particularly in Spanish history, and later contributed sketches on that subject to a...
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Miss Bretherton (novel) 1884
Robert Elsmere (novel) 1888
The History of David Grieve (novel) 1892
Marcella (novel) 1894
The Story of Bessie Costrell (novel) 1895
Sir George Tressady (novel) 1896
Helbeck of Bannisdale (novel) 1898
Eleanor (novel) 1900
Lady Rose's Daughter (novel) 1903
The Marriage of William Ashe (novel) 1905
Fenwick's Career (novel) 1906
The Testing of Diana Mallory (novel) 1908
Daphne; or, Marriage d la Mode (novel) 1909
Canadian Born (novel) 1910
The Case of Richard Meynell (novel) 1911
The Coryston Family (novel) 1913
The Mating of Lydia (novel) 1913
Delia Blanchflower (novel) 1915
Eltham House (novel) 1915
England's Effort (nonfiction) 1916
A Great Success (novel) 1916
Lady Connie (novel) 1916
Missing (novel) 1917
Towards the Goal (nonfiction) 1917
The War and Elizabeth (novel) 1918
A Writer's Recollections...
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[Gladstone was a prominent English statesman and author who served four times as Prime Minister and wrote numerous learned essays on such diverse subjects as politics, theology, classical history, and literature. In his literary criticism, Gladstone often uses criteria based on his deep commitments to Christian religious and moral beliefs to judge the plausibility of characters or actions. In the following excerpt from his influential, favorable review of Robert Elsmere, Gladstone challenges theological issues presented in the novel.]
Human nature, when aggrieved, is apt and quick in devising compensations. The increasing seriousness and strain of our present life may have had the effect of bringing about the large preference, which I understand to be exhibited in local public libraries, for works of fiction. This is the first expedient of revenge. But it is only a link in a chain. The next step is, that the writers of what might be grave books, in esse or in posse, have endeavoured with some success to circumvent the multitude. Those who have systems or hypotheses to recommend in philosophy, conduct, or religion induct them into the costume of romance. Such was the second expedient of nature, the counterstroke of her revenge. When this was done in Télémaque, Rasselas, or Coelebs, it was not without literary effect. Even the last of these three appears to have been successful with its own...
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[In the following excerpt, originally published in The Guardian in 1888, Pater praises characterization in Robert Elsmere but questions the validity of Elsmere's theological conversion in the novel.]
Those who, in this bustling age, turn to fiction not merely for a little passing amusement, but for profit, for the higher sort of pleasure, will do well, we think (after a conscientious perusal on our own part) to bestow careful reading on Robert Elsmere. A chef d'oeuvre of that kind of quiet evolution of character through circumstance, introduced into English literature by Miss Austen, and carried to perfection in France by George Sand (who is more to the point, because, like Mrs. Ward, she was not afraid to challenge novel-readers to an interest in religious questions), it abounds in sympathy with people as we find them, in aspiration towards something better—towards a certain ideal—in a refreshing sense of second thoughts everywhere. The author clearly has developed a remarkable natural aptitude for literature by liberal reading and most patient care in composition—composition in that narrower sense which is concerned with the building of a good sentence; as also in that wider sense, which ensures, in a work like this, with so many joints, so many currents of interest, a final unity of impression on the part of the reader, and easy transition by him from one to the other. Well-used to works of...
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[The following excerpt assesses Ward's works from her early essays to the publication of The History of David Grieve.]
[Mrs. Ward's] popularity is a significant fact to the student of the English life of to-day. Not that any single page of hers is stamped with that seal of faithfulness and art that would make of it a historic document for time to come. But round all she has written there clings an aroma which distinctively belongs to the thought and ideals of a very large part of the national life. It lurks in her phrases, in her modes of thinking, and literary historians might well wish Mrs. Ward all the power with which her admirers credit her, that the durability of the material which secretes this flavour of our time might be ensured. Rightly understood, it reveals the mental condition of a far larger portion of the nation than the one in whose name the critics speak.
Her literary evolution has been far from simple. The connection between her earlier critical work and her recent fiction is hardly obvious at first sight. Her essays in Macmillan's Magazine, some ten years ago, were not cast in a popular form. They were not the food on which her later admirers have fed for the most part. All things considered, it is not so much to be regretted as to be wondered at that she ever left this field for fiction. From a purely literary point of view these essays are the best work she has ever done, if we...
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[In the following excerpt, originally published in The Academy in 1894, Johnson reviews Marcella.]
That Marcella is a good novel, and a very much better novel than Robert Eismere or David Grieve, would seem to be the unanimous verdict of its readers. It may be not amiss to consider the reasons of this clear superiority to its predecessors.
Mrs Humphry Ward, in a quaint preface to David Grieve, defended with great energy her choice of theme and treatment in that book, and in Robert Elsmere. Undoubtedly fiction in prose has been successfully written with so infinite a variety of aims and ideals, written so lightly and loosely, so sternly and strictly, so waywardly and airily, so straightforwardly and precisely, that it is impossible to say what is or is not a novel: what a novel may or may not contain. But one thing is certain. If a novel be fantastic, capricious, a curious combination of humour and philosophy, and wisdom and wit, constantly digressing and divagating, a thing of whims and fancies: why, if the writer be a writer of genius, he may discuss the differential calculus or Home Rule, death duties or the North Pole, at any point in his narrative. But if a writer sets out with certain strong convictions concerning matters in which the truth, whatever it be, is a question of spiritual life and death to the majority of civilised men—matters, too, intimately...
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[An English author whose works often concern the city of London, Adcock served as editor of the London Bookman from 1923 until his death in 1930. In the following excerpt, he presents an appreciative survey of Ward's career to 1903.]
To think over the successful problem or purposeful novels of the last fifteen years is to indulge in what is very much of a meditation among the tombs. Books of their week, of their season, of their year, selling in tens of thousands, read and discussed by everyone, extravagantly praised and extravagantly condemned, so long as they lived they were intensely and aggressively alive; but "whom the gods love die early," and they are, most of them, already little more than half-forgotten names. They ran through their popularity as swiftly and as splendidly as a spendthrift runs through his inheritance, and died bankrupt and neglected after a career that was as brief as it was astonishing.
For though no other type of fiction is qualified, by the very nature of it, to achieve such a dazzling and uproarious notoriety easily and instantly, none loses its hold on the public sooner or is, as a rule, more inherently mortal. "It is not difficult to obtain readers," as Dr. Johnson puts it, "when we discuss a question which everyone is desirous to understand, which is debated in every assembly and has divided the nation into parties.… To the quick circulation of such productions all the...
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[In the following excerpt, Phelps challenges Ward's high literary reputation.]
It is high time that somebody spoke out his mind about Mrs. Humphry Ward. Her prodigious vogue is one of the most extraordinary literary phenomena of our day. A roar of approval greets the publication of every new novel from her active pen, and it is almost pathetic to contemplate the reverent awe of her army of worshippers when they behold the solemn announcement that she is "collecting material" for another masterpiece. Even professional reviewers lose all sense of proportion when they discuss her books, and their so-called criticisms sound like publishers' advertisements. Sceptics are warned to remain silent, lest they become unpleasantly conspicuous. When Lady Rose's Daughter appeared, the critic of a great metropolitan daily remarked that whoever did not immediately recognise the work as a masterpiece thereby proclaimed himself as a person incapable of judgment, taste, and appreciation. This is a fair example of the attitude taken by thousands of her readers, and it is this attitude, rather than the value of her work, that we must, first of all, consider.
In the year 1905 an entirely respectable journal said of Mrs. Ward, "There is no more interesting and important figure in the literary world to-day." In comparing this superlative with the actual state of affairs, we find that we were asked to believe that Mrs....
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[Bennett was an Edwardian novelist who is credited with bringing techniques of European Naturalism to the English novel. He is best known as the author of The Old Wives' Tale (1908) and the Clayhanger trilogy (1910-1916), realistic novels depicting life in an English manufacturing town. In the following excerpt, originally published in New Age in 1908, he offers a negative appraisal of Ward's works, particularly criticizing the heroines of her novels.]
That a considerable social importance … attaches to the publication of a novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward may be judged from the fact that the Manchester Guardian specially reviewed the book on its leader page. This strange phenomenon deserves to be studied, because the Manchester Guardian's reviewing easily surpasses that of any other daily paper, except, possibly, the Times in its Literary Supplement. The Guardian relies on mere, sheer intellectual power, and as a rule it does not respect persons. Its theatrical critics, for example, take joy in speaking the exact truth—never whispered in London—concerning the mandarins of the stage. Now it is remarkable that the only strictly first-class morning daily in these isles should have printed the Guardian's review of Diana Mallory (signed "B. S."); for the article respected persons. I do not object to Mrs. Humphry Ward being reviewed with splendid prominence. I am quite...
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[In the following excerpt, Stewart examines Ward's theological novels.]
There are few of [Mrs Ward's] books from which the religious interest is wholly absent, and there are at least five in which it may be said to predominate. Robert Elsmere is the best known, but in any such general survey we must not omit The History of David Grieve, Helbeck of Bannisdale, Eleanor, and The Case of Richard Meynell. The first point which calls for notice is one that all of these novels exhibit alike, and that constitutes a notable merit in the authoress when compared with many others who have imported speculations about faith into a work of fiction. We all know with tolerable exactness what Mrs Ward herself believed, or at least some things that she emphatically disbelieved. But her first concern was neither to proclaim what she thought true nor to repudiate what she thought false. The Evangelical school, the Broad school, the Romanising school—all pass before us in order, and if the writer's sole or even her chief object had been to take sides among them she would have deserved all the artistic censure that some quarterlies have bestowed upon her work. Her first desire was to enter with what St Paul called "charity" into the attitude of all candid souls who have set out, in however blundering a fashion, upon the great quest, to give all the credit that seemed to be their due, and to wean the angry disputants of each...
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[In the following excerpt, Wagenknecht characterizes Ward's works as typifying conservative Victorian tastes in literature.]
Life is always much less systematic than histories of literature; and there are currents and counter-currents in every period. During the latter end of Victoria's reign in England some writers were already giving their allegiance to the ideals of the age that was to come, while others, not necessarily inferior to them, were still finding their creative inspiration in the old patterns.…
Mrs. Humphry Ward is the first [among the literary conservatives of the late Victorian era]. It is the fashion nowadays to see her in a light very similar to that in which Lytton Strachey placed her grandfather, Thomas Arnold. She is the perfect symbol of everything that was "stuffy" in Victorianism. She has been caricatured by H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett [in The Sea Lady and The Book of Carlotta respectively]; and even her friend, Henry James, who spent many hours trying to pump some of his wisdom into her, is said to have declared that the dear lady never understood a word he said.
The most remarkable thing about Mrs. Ward is that having first achieved such prestige as surely no other novelist with so little creative power had ever enjoyed before her, she should have been so quickly forgotten. She died as recently as March 24, 1920; though no doubt it would be...
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[Colby is an American educator and critic who has written several studies of Victorian literature. In the following excerpt, she examines the appeal of Ward's works to Victorian readers.]
It is a telling comment on Victorianism that one of its leading family dynasties was not Marlborough, Medici, Borgia, Fugger, or Rothschild, but Arnold. The founder of this line was not a warrior, a statesman, a banker, or a patron of the arts, but a clergyman and schoolmaster. Though some of his descendants practiced the arts of criticism, poetry, and fiction, not one of them deviated from the family mission of public service and education.…
The Arnolds were not a royal dynasty, but early and permanently associated with them was a cachet of noblesse oblige. In a bourgeois, secular society they represented an ideal—the cultivated mind and conscience, the aristocracy of learning, dedicated public service and ethical conduct, the religion not so much of the Book as of the book. What is curious to us today about their careers is their enormous popular success and influence in their own times. Every modern society has produced its share of educators, critics and social reformers, but in Victorian England they enjoyed a unique prestige. Measured in practical terms, their power was probably negligible. Rather than influencing social action, they registered or reflected certain significant trends in public opinion, most...
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[Peterson is an American educator and critic who has written extensively about the poet Robert Browning. In the following excerpt, Peterson offers a detailed, volume-by-volume analysis of Ward's Robert Elsmere.]
Archibald Tait once observed, 'The great evil is—that the liberals are deficient in religion and the religious are deficient in liberality.' This was the profound religious dilemma of the Victorian age to which Mrs Ward addressed herself in Robert Elsmere. How could a young man like Elsmere be both religious and liberal (i. e., intellectually enlightened)? The solution which she offered to her contemporaries was based upon the familiar Amoldian dialectic: the destruction of orthodoxy by modern rationalism must be followed by a new synthesis which would offer a reasonable religion for nineteenth-century men and women. The three stages of the dialectic are suggested in several ways. First, Robert himself undergoes a change as the story progresses. He begins as a conventional Christian, falls unsuspectingly into a morass of unbelief, and at last regains his footing by discovering what Matthew Arnold called the 'joy whose grounds are true'. Second, the Arnoldian dialectic is reflected in the characters who dominate each of the three volumes of the novel. The first volume belongs to Catherine, the representative of orthodoxy; the second belongs to Wendover, an embittered sceptic; and the third to Robert, the founder...
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[In the following excerpt, Culp considers the relationship between the artistic and the ideological in Robert Elsmere.]
Two recent studies of the Victorian religious upheaval have drawn considerable attention to Robert Elsmere—published in 1888 by Mary Augusta Ward, the niece of Matthew Arnold and granddaughter of Rugby's Thomas Arnold. Neither of them, however, fully treats the issue of closure and ideological crisis in the novel. In Gains and Losses: Novels of Faith and Doubt in Victorian England Robert Lee Wolff rightly recognizes that Mrs. Ward's book, with its emphasis on philanthropy as a cure for the unbelief caused by biblical criticism and skepticism toward Christian evidences, was, far more than frequently discussed texts like George Eliot's Middlemarch or Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, "the great classic novel of Victorian doubt." And in Victorian Heretic: Mrs. Humphry Ward's "Robert Elsmere," William S. Peterson has definitively established the chronology of the book as May, 1882, to May, 1886.
What remains to be analyzed is the problem of the relationship between the ideological tension and the lack of closure in the novel, for there is a very definite correlation between ideology and form which becomes more evident when we explore the way in which Mrs. Ward illustrates the relationship between biblical criticism, religion, and science, and the way in...
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[In the following excerpt, Sait discusses Ward's works of the First World War era.]
Undoubtedly the Great War was recognised as the Great Subject by commercially minded writers of fiction and non-fiction. However, few writers achieved any major work in the battlefield and much of the non-combatant literature which did appear has suffered from critical neglect. Neither of the two major critical studies of literature in the Great War, Bernard Bergonzi's Heroes' Twilight: A Study of the Literature of the Great War and Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory refers to Mrs. Humphry Ward. This neglect is justified to a certain extent in that both male writers are concerned only with male writers. However, their concern with the literature which emanated from the battlefields reaches some generalisations which reflect on Mrs. Ward's own work. Bergonzi asserts: 'The dominant movement in the literature of the Great War was … from a myth-dominated to a demythologized world.' The myth-dominated world to a certain extent depended on the classical university education of many of the middle class combatant writers. Although Mary Augusta Ward had not had a formal university education, as a member of the Arnold family and long term intellectual resident of Oxford, she was no mean classical scholar. Paul Fussell concludes that literature, in time, made the experience of the war coherent: 'Ex post facto, literary narrative...
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Jones, Enid Huws. Mrs. Humphry Ward. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973, 180 p.
Appreciative biography. According to Jones, "Ward's life is not so much a story of literary development, success and decline as the story of seventy years of history lived through by a privileged, talented, zestful woman who told nearly all she saw."
Trevelyan, Janet Penrose. The Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1923, 317 p.
Account of Ward's life by her daughter.
Bellringer, Alan W. "Mrs. Humphry Ward's Autobiographical Tactics: A Writer's Recollections." Prose Studies 8, No. 3 (December 1985): 40-50.
Examines Ward's autobiography, which Bellringer credits with keeping "her reputation afloat" during the decades that her works were seldom discussed.
Birch, Dinah. "The Great Mary." London Review of Books 12, No. 17 (13 September 1990): 13-14.
Review of John Sutherland's Mrs. Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-Eminent Edwardian. Commenting on Robert Elsmere, Birch states: "What makes it compelling is its sense of unremitting struggle—intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. Robert Elsmere presents a world in which every kind of progress, every moment of happiness, must be fought for and paid for."...
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