Authors: Mary Augusta Ward

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long fiction:

Milly and Olly, 1881

Miss Bretherton, 1884

Robert Elsmere, 1888

The History of David Grieve, 1892

Marcella, 1894

The Story of Bessie Costrell, 1895

Sir George Thessady, 1896

Eleanor, 1900

Lady Rose’s Daughter, 1903

Fenwick’s Career, 1906

The Testing of Diana Mallory, 1908

Daphne: Or, Marriage à la Mode, 1909

Canadian Born, 1910 (pb. in U.S. as Lady Merton)

The Case of Richard Meynell, 1911

The Mating of Lydia, 1913

The Coryston Family, 1913

Delia Blanchflower, 1914


Unbelief and Sin, 1881

England’s Efforts: Letters to an American Friend, 1916


Amiel’s Journal: The Journal Intime of Henri Frederic Amiel, 1885


Mary Augusta Ward, née Mary Augusta Arnold and also known as Mrs. Humphry Ward, was a best-selling novelist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first of eight children born to Thomas Arnold and Julia Sorrell, she was the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, and niece of Matthew Arnold, the famous poet and critic. When the family returned to England from Tasmania in 1854, following her father’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, she was sent to Fox How, the Arnold family home in Westmoreland, to be raised by her grandmother and Aunt Francis Arnold, while her father served at the Catholic University in Dublin. During this period she attended the Rock Terrace School for Young Ladies and came under the influence of the Evangelical Vicar of Shiffnal.{$I[AN]9810001533}{$I[A]Ward, Mary Augusta}{$S[A]Ward, Mrs. Humphry;Ward, Mary Augusta}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Ward, Mary Augusta}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Ward, Mary Augusta}{$I[tim]1851;Ward, Mary Augusta}

Thomas Arnold returned to the Church of England in 1865 and was rewarded with a lectureship at Oxford University, where Mary joined him in 1867. She served as researcher in the Bodleian Library for her father as well as for Mark Pattison, the rector of Lincoln, who had her read Spanish church records from the fifth and sixth centuries. Her first publication, “A Westmoreland Story,” appeared in The Churchman’s Companion in July, 1870, and was followed by a pamphlet, A Morning in the Bodleian, in 1871. Edward Freeman asked her to write a volume on Spain for the historical series he was editing, a project she did not feel ready to take on. Much in demand in the social life of Oxford, she met Thomas Humphry Ward, to whom she was married on April 6, 1872. For the next several years she wrote articles for Macmillan’s Magazine, the Saturday Review, and the Oxford Spectator to supplement her husband’s meager salary as a tutor.

In 1874, the year her first child, Dorothy, was born, Ward served as secretary of the Committee for Lectures for Women at Oxford, work which led to the founding of the first women’s residence hall at Oxford. In 1879 she accepted the invitation of Henry Ware to write entries on early Spanish saints and ecclesiastics for the Dictionary of Christian Biography. In the following two years she contributed 209 articles. The year 1880 saw the publication of Ward’s Poets. In that same year Humphry Ward accepted a position on the Times, where he eventually became art critic. In the next year Mary published Unbelief and Sin, a response to John Wordsworth’s Bampton Lecture, which accused those who held unorthodox religious views of committing a heinous sin. The family settled in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, where Mary wrote articles for the Times and, from February, 1883, to June, 1885, produced a monthly article for Macmillan’s. She continued her editing of Ward’s Poets and published her translation of Amiel’s Journal: The Journal Intime of Henri Frederic Amiel.

Ward’s best-known novel, Robert Elsmere, was begun in 1884. She submitted the first few chapters to Macmillan, who rejected it, but found a publisher in Smith, Elder, and Company and received an advance of two hundred pounds. The hero of the novel, rejecting the tenets of traditional Christianity, founds his own new version of the faith, the New Brotherhood, and finds an enthusiastic following. The work appealed to the Victorian reading public, quickly became a best-seller, and was rapidly translated into most European languages. On the success of this novel, Ward was able to sell her next book, The History of David Grieve, a novel about a “new” Christianity, for seven thousand pounds. With their newfound prosperity, the Wards built a country house, Lower Grayswood, in Surrey, but they soon bought Stocks, near Tring, for a traditional house with a history was more to Mary’s taste for heritage.

The Story of Bessie Costrell, one of Ward’s most compact novels, is a powerful story of a peasant woman succumbing to the temptation to steal and eventually drowning herself. Sir George Thessady traces the development of a social conscience in an aristocratic member of Parliament. Ward had her own social conscience: In 1897 she established the Passmore Edwards Settlement in Bloomsbury, London (now called Mary Ward House) to serve the young people of the area by providing a comfortable setting for them to attend lectures on philosophical and cultural topics.

In 1908 Ward traveled to the United States and Canada. This trip resulted in two novels. She wrote Daphne: Or, Marriage à la Mode as an attack on American divorce laws, which she saw as a threat to the Anglican church, for to her the church was the foundation of all that was worthwhile in civilization. Canadian Born (published in the United States as Lady Merton) is a celebration of Canadian culture. President Theodore Roosevelt, who had received her at the White House, asked her to help make the United States aware of England’s effort in World War I. The result was England’s Efforts: Letters to an American Friend. During the conflict she became one of the first women war correspondents.

As the women’s suffrage movement came into full bloom, Ward registered her opposition, for she believed that women should work behind the scenes and that to demonstrate was unseemly. She portrayed the kind of activist woman she detested in The Coryston Family and Delia Blanchflower. Late in 1919 she fell ill. In early 1920, as her health declined, she received two outstanding honors, an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and appointment as one of the first seven women magistrates of England. She died on March 24.

Early critics saw Mary Augusta Ward as the successor of George Eliot. However, as the world became progressively liberal, she became more conservative. Although she was a skillful and talented novelist, her audience moved away from her and turned to other writers. She is, nevertheless, worth reading for her vivid characterizations and for her portrayal of the mood of an age.

BibliographyJones, Enid Huws. Mrs. Humphry Ward. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973. This book’s publication advanced the knowledge of the novelist because the author had access to materials not previously available.Peterson, William S. Victorian Heretic: Mrs. Humphry Ward’s “Robert Elsmere.” Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1976. Connects that novel with the novelist’s religious conflicts.Smith, Esther Marian Greenwell. Mrs. Humphry Ward. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A convenient handbook.Sutherland, John. Mrs. Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-eminent Edwardian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. A detailed biography that analyzes Ward’s private life within the context of her times.
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