The Golden Arrow, 1916
Gone to Earth, 1917
The House in Dormer Forest, 1920
Seven for a Secret, 1922
Precious Bane, 1924
Armour Wherein He Trusted, 1929
Fifty-one Poems, 1946
The Spring of Joy: A Little Book of Healing, 1917 (poems and essays)
Poems and “The Spring of Joy,” 1928
Collected Works, 1928–1929
The Essential Mary Webb, 1949
Mary Gladys Meredith Webb was the daughter of an English-Welsh schoolmaster portrayed as a charming, sympathetic man in his daughter’s first novel, The Golden Arrow. Webb was educated largely at home, although she spent two years at a private school in Southport, England. She began to write when she was a child, trying her hand at stories and poetry. In 1912 she married Henry Bertram Law Webb, also a schoolmaster. She suffered constant ill health and developed Graves’ disease. Webb’s five novels appeared from 1916 to 1924, with almost no recognition at the time of their publication from either readers or critics. Her only award was the Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize for 1924-1925, which she received for Precious Bane. An unfinished novel, Armour Wherein He Trusted, was published posthumously. When Webb died she was practically unknown, but in 1928 Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin praised her novels at a Royal Literary Fund dinner. After that recognition, her fame began to grow; her five novels were reprinted shortly thereafter, with introductions by Baldwin, G. K. Chesterton, and others.
Webb is evocative of many earlier writers, especially George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. Her novels tend to concentrate on inner meanings that sometimes cause her books to stray away from the reality of most contemporary fiction. Webb’s frequent didacticism, too, is contrary to the tastes of many modern readers. In The Golden Arrow are two pairs of lovers, one pair exemplary and the other foolish. The contrasts are always obvious, and the author frequently invades the narrative with intrusive commentary and moralizing. In The House in Dormer Forest there is a contrast again, this time between one family that is close to nature and another that is grasping and materialistic. Once more Webb is obvious in preferring the former to the latter and asking the reader to do the same. In this novel, as in her others, there are stock characters, such as the plain, despised woman of hidden sweetness who is saved from wasting a life by the timely arrival of a husband who is the epitome of masculinity and who has high, idealistic values. Other novels are Gone to Earth, Seven for a Secret, and Precious Bane, the latter being Webb’s best-known novel. Her unfinished novel, Armour Wherein He Trusted, took the author out of the setting she had habitually used–contemporary Shropshire–into medieval times, for the work was to be a historical romance set against the background of the First Crusade. Also published was The Spring of Joy, a volume of essays and poetry written during her adult years. This collection has a preface by Walter de la Mare, in which he points out that her poetry and prose both contain certain poetic elements and that her prose rhythms derive from such specific seventeenth century authors as Sir Thomas Browne, author of Religio Medici (c. 1635) and Urn Burial (1658). Her Gone to Earth was filmed in 1948, and a popular television drama series of Precious Bane was produced in 1989. Although the popularity of her novels waned as a result of Stella Gibbons’s spoof Cold Comfort Farm (1932), since then it has revived considerably.