Mary Russell Mitford, after Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1824
Mary Russell Mitford (16 December 1787 – 10 January 1855), was an English author and dramatist. She was born at Alresford, Hampshire. Her place in English literature is as the author of Our Village. This series of sketches of village scenes and vividly drawn characters was based upon life in Three Mile Cross, a hamlet in the parish of Shinfield, near Reading in Berkshire, where she lived.
Life and relationship with her father
She was the only daughter of Dr George Mitford, or Midford, who spent her mother's fortune in a few years. Then he spent the greater part of £20,000, which in 1797 Mary, then aged ten, drew as a prize in a lottery. The family lived in large properties in Reading and then Grazeley (in Sulhamstead Abbots parish), but, when the money was all gone, they lived on a small remnant of the doctor's lost fortune and the proceeds of his daughter's literary career. He is thought to have inspired Mary with the keen delight in incongruities, the lively sympathy, self-willed vigorous individuality, and the womanly tolerance which inspire so many of her sketches of character. She was devoted to him, refused all holiday invitations because he could not live without her, and worked incessantly for him except when she broke off to read him the sporting newspapers.
Later in life she moved from Three Mile Cross to Swallowfield, where she died on 10 January 1855 after being injured in a road accident. She is buried in the village.
Mitford was an especially prolific and successful writer in a range of genres, from poetry to drama as well as the prose for which she has been best known. Her writing has all the charm of unaffected spontaneous humour, combined with quick wit and literary skill. She met Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1836, and their acquaintance ripened into a warm friendship. The strain of poverty told on her work, for although her books sold at high prices, her income did not keep pace with her father's extravagances. In 1837, however, she received a civil list pension, and five years later her father died. A subscription was raised to pay his debts, and the surplus increased Mary's income. She eventually moved to a cottage in Swallowfield, where she remained for the rest of her life. She is buried in the churchyard there.
Her youthful ambition had been to be the greatest English poetess, and her first publications were poems in the manner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Walter Scott (Miscellaneous Verses, 1810, reviewed by Scott in the Quarterly; Christina, the Maid of the South Seas, a metrical tale based on the first news of discovery of the last surviving mutineer of the H. M. S. Bounty and a generation of British-Tahitian children on Pitcairn Island in 1811; and Blanche part of a projected series of 'Narrative poems on the Female Character,' 1813). Her play Julian was produced at Covent Garden, with William Charles Macready in the title role, in 1823; The Foscari was performed at Covent Garden, with Charles Kemble as the hero, in 1826; Rienzi, 1828, the best of her plays, had a run of thirty-four nights, and Mary's friend, Thomas Noon Talfourd, imagined that its vogue militated against the success of his own play Ion. Charles the First was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, but was played at the Surrey Theatre in 1834.
The prose, to which she was driven by domestic necessities, was the most successful and financially rewarding of her literary productions. The first series of Our Village sketches appeared in book form in 1824 (having first appeared in The Lady's Magazine five years previously), a second in 1826, a third in 1828, a fourth in 1830, a fifth in 1832. They were reprinted several times. Belford Regis, another series of literary sketches in which the neighbourhood and society of Reading were idealised, was published in 1835. Her description of village cricket in Our Village has been called "the first major prose on the game".
Her Recollections of a Literary Life (1852) is a series of causeries about her favourite books. Her talk was said by her friends, Elizabeth Browning and Hengist Horne, to have been even more amusing than her books, and five volumes of her Life and Letters, published in 1870 and 1872, show her to have been a delightful letter-writer. The many collections available of her letters provide especially useful commentary and criticism of her Romantic and Victorian literary contemporaries.
Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" or "[year] in literature":
- 1810: Miscellaneous Poems
- 1811: Christina, the Maid of the South Seas (poetry)
- 1812: Watlington Hill
- 1812: Blanch of Castile
- 1813: Narrative Poems on the Female Character
- 1823: Julian: A tragedy (play)
- 1824: Our Village, Volume 1 (Volume 2 1826; Volume 3, 1828; Volume 4, 1830; Volume 5, 1832)
- 1826: Foscari: A tragedy (play)
- 1827: Dramatic Scenes, Sonnets, and other Poems
- 1828: Rienzi: A tragedy (play)
- 1830: Editor, Stories of American Life, by American Writers, Volume 2
- 1831: Mary Queen of Scots
- 1832: American Stories for Children
- 1834: Charles the First: An historical tragedy (play)
- 1835: Sadak and Kalascado
- 1835: Belford Regis; or, Sketches of a Country Town (in three volumes)
- 1837: Country Stories
- 1852: Recollections of a Literary Life, or Books, Places and People (three volumes)
- 1854: Atherton, and Other Tales (three volumes)
- 1854: Dramatic Works
- ^ a b Barclay's World of Cricket – 2nd Edition, 1980, Collins Publishers, ISBN 0002163497, p582
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
- ^ Berkshire History: Biographies: Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1865) (Based on Old DNB entry).
- The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, related in a Selection from her Letters, 3 vols (1870 Bentley).
- Henry Fothergill Chorley (Ed.), Letters of Mary Russell Mitford (1872).
- A.G.K. L'Estrange (Ed.), The Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford as recorded in Letters from Her Literary Correspondents, 2 vols (1882 Hurst & Blackett).
- William J. Roberts, (The Life and Friendships of) Mary Russell Mitford: The Tragedy of a Blue Stocking (Andrew Melrose, London 1913). (Modern publishing: Kessinger 2007, ISBN 0548609381)
- M. Constance Hill, Mary Russell Mitford and Her Surroundings (Bodley Head, London 1920).
- Marjorie Austin, Mary Russell Mitford – Her Circle and Her Books (Noel Douglas, London 1930).
- James E. Agate, Mary Russell Mitford (1940).
- Vera G. Watson, Mary Russell Mitford (Evans Brothers, 1949).
- Caroline Mary Duncan-Jones, Miss Mitford and Mr. Harness. Records of a Friendship. (S.P.C.K./Talbot Press, London 1955).
- W.A. Coles, 'Mary Russell Mitford: the inauguration of a literary career', Journal of the John Rylands Library 40 (1957), 33–46.
- Pamela Horn (Ed.), Life in a Country Town: Reading and Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855) (Beacon Publications, Sutton Courtenay 1984).
- Catherine Addison, 'Gender and Genre in Mary Russell Mitford's Christina,' English Studies in Africa 41, Part 2 (1998), 1–21.
- Diego Saglia, 'Public and Private in Women's Romantic Poetry: Spaces, Gender, Genre in Mary Russell Mitford's Blanch,' Women's Writing 5.3 (1998), 405–19.
- Martin Garrett, 'Mary Russell Mitford', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
- Diego Saglia, 'Mediterranean Unrest: 1820s Verse Tragedies and Revolutions in the South,' Romanticism 11.1 (2005) 99–113.
- Alison Booth, 'Revisiting the Homes and Haunts of Mary Russell Mitford', Nineteenth Century Contexts, 30 Part 1 (2008), 39–65.
- Cecilia Pietropoli, 'The Story of the Foscaris, a Drama for Two Playwrights: Mary Mitford and Lord Byron,' in The Language of Performance in British Romanticism (Peter Lang, New York, 2008), 115–26.
- Elisa Beshero-Bondar, 'Romancing the Pacific Isles Before Byron: Music, Sex, and Death in Mitford's Christina,' ELH 76.2 (Summer 2009) 277–308.