Women Narrators, Scoring Landscapes, 1820-1940

'I always thought you wrote the best prose of any of my students, he wrote 
but I never expected anything like this'  

Entrance to Puslinch House where Charlotte Yonge stayed with her cousins.

The following are some of the women writers of fiction who lived and/or stayed in Devon:

Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) born and died in London but spent much of her life in Tavistock wrote many historical novels and several influential works of non-fiction, including The Borders of the Tamar and Tavy (1836).

Charlotte Yonge (1823-1901), who often stayed with her cousins at Puslinch in south Devon when she was a child; a prolific author; about 160 works in total, mostly novels several of which were inspired by and re-imagine the cousin characters of her childhood; they are chock-full with utopian childhood scenarios, plots and characters:

'We used to go every autumn, all but grandmamma, in the chariot with post-horses, sleeping either one or two nights on the road … At last we turned down Sheepstor hill and while dragging down the steepest part over the low wall came the square house, in sight if we came by day, or if late, the lights glancing in the windows' (Noted in Christabel Rose Coleridge, Charlotte Mary Yonge; her Life and Letters (Palala Press, 2016).

 Charlotte Chanter (1828-1882), from Ilfracombe, best known for her book about ferns also wrote fiction, including Over the Cliffs. 

Christabel Rose Coleridge, (1843-1921) granddaughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, lived in Torquay: she wrote numerous tales, stories and novels as well as the hagiographic life of her also prolific friend Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Lucas Malet (pseudonym of Mary St Leger, 1852-1931), daughter of Charles Kingsley, and married his curate; niece of Charlotte Chanter, began to write novels in Clovelly during the first years of an unhappy marriage. She left her husband and she moved away from Devon but is said to have often returned. Novels include The Wages of Sin. 

Mary Patricia Willcocks (1869-1952), from Cleeve, near Ivybridge, wrote books with an early feminist interest: much of her life was spent in Exeter; she wrote at least 24 books (novels non-fiction biography):

'On the landing Anne paused, bright-eyed and mis-chievous. Leaning over the rail, she contemplated the hall below. It was as silent as the ancestors on the walls. Only the clattering of plates came from behind the baize-covered door that led to the older part of the house ... "Dare I?" said Anne to her sister, putting her head on one side like a bird when he raises a song to the god of raspberries. The next moment there came a slithering noise of skirts followed by a thud; Anne had slid down the ban- isters. Demurely Sara followed, wondering why Anne retained the jolly ways of a child or a man. But she knew, for Anne had been out in the world where one does things. She had not stayed at home listening to the wind in the trees, to the noise made by the footsteps of the future' (M.P. Willcocks, Wings of Desire ).

Zack (pseudonym of Gwendoline Keats -1865-1919),  from Porthill, near Northam, author of at least 5 novels, the first published in 1898. Titles included On Trial (1899); The Roman Road (1903); Tales of Dunstable Weir (1901); and The White Cottage (1901).

Edith Dart (1871 - 1924), from Crediton, said to be a great friend of Mary Patricia Willcocks, who published 5 novels between 1908 and 1920, including Miriam (1908); Rebecca DrewLikeness (1911); and Sareel (1922).

Beatrice Whitby (d.1931), spent formative years in Ottery St Mary, although she later moved away from Devon; wrote at least 15 'mildly feminist' (New Woman?) novels. Titles include The Awakening of Mary Fenwick: A Novel. 1889; Part of the Property, 1890; One Reason Why (1891); A Matter of Skill: A Novel. 1891; The Lake of Lucerne, and Other Stories (1893); Mary Fenwick's Daughter 1893.

Beth Coombe Harris, born Shaldon in 1873 and died 1957 in Eastbourne Sussex. As yet Harris is a bit of mystery; Other than the link above I've not found much about her; she may have been a writer of (historical) children's fiction. My thanks to Myfanwy Cook for introducing me to this writer.

Margaret Pedler (1877-1948), lived near Zeal Monachorum/Bow at the beginning of the C20, was the author of many Romance novels, including The Hermit of Far End.

'The little wooden door, painted green and over-hung with ivy, was never bolted...The little green door innocent of lock and key, stood as a symbol of the close ties that bound the rector and his flock together...' (Pedler, The Splendid Folly)

E.M. Delafield
(1890-1943), spent most of her adult life near Kentisbeare, wrote many novels, as well as Diary of a Provincial Lady, the book which made her famous.

And last but not of course least, there is Agatha Christie!


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