May Sinclair Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

May Amelia St. Clair Sinclair was an unusual British author in that her work found a wider, more enthusiastic audience in the United States than it did in her native England. Born in Cheshire in 1863, she was educated at home and at Ladies’ College, Cheltenham. As a girl she wrote poetry and philosophical criticism, some of which was published. Her first published short story appeared in 1895, and her first novel, Audrey Craven, in 1897. Real fame as a novelist waited for almost a decade, until the publication of The Divine Fire in 1904. A biography, The Three Brontës, published in 1912, was followed by another successful novel, The Three Sisters, which showed the influence of her Brontë studies.

During World War I Sinclair, who was then and throughout her life unmarried, served with an ambulance unit on the front in Belgium and worked with the Hoover Relief Commission. After the war she lived a quiet life that was unbroken except for several visits to the United States. Sinclair worked steadily, producing more than a dozen books, until physical problems (she was an invalid in her later life) made writing impossible. Outstanding among her later books are Mary Olivier and Anne Severn and the Fieldings. Uncanny Stories is a volume of short fiction reflecting her interest in the supernatural and spiritualism. Her lifelong interest in philosophy, especially idealism, resulted in the study The New Idealism. In the 1920’s she wrote several light satirical comedies of manners; Mr. Waddington of Wyck and A Cure of Souls belong to this genre. The Dark Night is a long narrative poem.

As early as the writing of Mary Olivier, Sinclair had begun using the subconscious in her fiction, very much in the manner of Dorothy Richardson, and she has been termed one of the pioneers in the stream-of-consciousness technique. As a young woman she was a suffragist, and throughout her life she maintained an interest in feminist movements.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kemp, Sandra. “‘But How Describe a World Seen Without a Self?’—Feminism, Fiction, and Modernism.” Critical Quarterly 32, no. 1 (Spring, 1990). Compares the ideas and techniques of Sinclair to those of Dorothy Richardson and Elizabeth Bowen.

Mumford, Laura Stempel. “May Sinclair’s The Tree of Heaven: The Vortex of Feminism, the Community of War.” In Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation, edited by Susan Merrill Squier et al. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. Feminist critic Mumford takes a new approach to Sinclair’s work.

Neff, Rebecca Kinnamon. “May Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories as Metaphysical Quest.” English Literature in Transition (1880-1920) 26, no. 3 (1983). Considers the author’s interest in the supernatural and spiritualism.

Raitt, Suzanne. May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Draws on previously undiscovered manuscripts to tell the story of Sinclair, whose emotional isolation bears witness to the price Victorian women had to pay for their intellectual freedom.

Stark, Susanne. “Overcoming Butlerian Obstacles: May Sinclair and the Problem of Biological Determinism.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 21, no. 3 (1992). Samuel Butler’s theories of determinism and their relationship to feminism is the subject.