Publicly a virulently anti-feminist, privately an utterly emancipated and beholden to no man, Eliza Lynn Linton was an autodidact, having, like Virginia Woolf, largely educated herself in her father's library (of which, owing to the death of her mother when Eliza Lynn was just five and her father's lack of interest in supervising her, she had free run). The daughter and youngest of the twelve children of the Reverend J. Lynn, vicar of Crosthwaite, Cumberland, and on her mother's side granddaughter of Dr. Samuel Goodenough, the Bishop of Carlisle, Eliza Lynn was born at Keswick on 10 February 1822, and at the age of 23 moved to London on her own with the intention of becoming a professional writer.

She began her career by researching a pair of historical romances in the Reading Room of the British Museum: Azeth the Egyptian (3 vols., 1846) and Amymone: A Romance in the Days of Pericles (1848). Since neither of these nor the more contemporary Realities, A Tale of Modern Life (1851) scored any great success either commercially or critically, Eliza Lynn abandoned novel-writing for a time, supporting herself in her first decade as a Londoner largely through free-lance and regular journalism, beginning with contributions to The Morning Chronicle, from which she received the (then) astounding salary of twenty guineas monthly by 1851. She also joined the staff of the Monthly Review in 1866. She was a prolific writer all her life, contributing some 225 pieces of fiction and non-fiction to The Saturday Review, All the Year Round, and Queens alone. Her early mentor, the aged poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), introduced her to the young Charles Dickens over one of the annual Landor birthday dinners at Bath; later, having inherited Gad's Hill Place in Rochester, Kent, from her father, she would sell it to Dickens, with W. H. Wills, the sub-editor of Household Words, serving as the intermediary in the real estate transaction. She became a member of Dickens's stable of writers, contributing regularly first to Household Words, and then to its successor, All the Year Round. Her first contribution to the latter occurred in May 1860 and her last August 1883. Whether for short stories or essays, Dickens pronounced her "Good for anything, and thoroughly reliable" (cited in Davis, 209). Indeed, such is her achievement as a writer for the periodicals of the period that Nancy Fix Anderson in The Victorian Encyclopedia has characterized her as "the first Englishwoman to receive a regular salary as a journalist" (454).

Independent, iconoclastic, and atheistic, she lived by herself, except during her brief marriage to the political radical and engraver William James Linton (1812-1898), a widower ten years her senior who, in partnership with John Orrin Smith, had provided illustrations for the Illustrated London News since its inception in 1842. The couple married in 1858, produced a book togetherand—the illustrated Lake Country (1864), and parted childless but on amicable terms in 1867, she to her former life of journalism in London, he to found the Appleton Press in New Haven, Connecticut. Towards the end of her marriage to Linton she produced a novel, Grasp Your Nettle (1864-5), which gained some measure of popularity and led to her success in that genre. As Eliza Lynn Linton from 1866 she published some twenty novels serially in such journals as Temple Bar, and produced a considerable opus of short fiction and journalistic articles, the most celebrated and controversial of which were those run in The Saturday Review from 1866 to 1877 under the title "The Girl of the Period," a virulent attack on "The New Woman," as the educated, professionally-aspiring feminist of the mid-Victorian period was known. Ironically, although these articles advocate womanliness in the conventional, middle-class sense, they could, as Spender and Todd argue, "be seen to depict some of the advantages of emancipation" (536).

The novels for which she is still remembered include The True History of Joshua Davidson (1872), Patricia Kemball (1874), and the male-voiced Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland (1885), the dates of which indicate her continuing popularity right up to her retirement to Queen Anne's Mansion, Malvern, in the early 1890s. In 2002, Broadview Press reprinted the representative novel The Rebel of the Family (first published in three volumes by Chatto and Windus in 1880). One of her most successful novels was The Atonement of Leam Dundas, which she first published serially in The Cornhill Magazine, volumes 31-33 (August 1875 through June 1876), and then as a triple-decker, the illustrator being one of the renowned New Men of the Sixties, Arthur Hopkins. So highly regarded was this novel in the latter part of the nineteenth century that in 1899 it placed number 53 in The Daily Telegraph's poll of the best one hundred novels of all time, beating out works by numerous authors now regarded as canonical. However, her obituary in The New York Times states that "Unquestionably the novels she wrote are in major part forgotten," even though many of her "articles . . . [have] been printed in the leading English reviews" (30 July 1898, BR 511).

Her style suggests something of George Eliot's as she often displays her wide-ranging knowledge and erudition in what is essentially a tale of romantic love fluently and picturesquely told. In The Atonement of Leam Dundas the heroine is reminiscent of the conflicted female protagonists of M. E. Braddon, Wilkie Collins, and Mrs. Henry Wood; something of a flirt and a headstrong " New Woman," she harbours a guilty secret (the murder of a French aristocrat). Like many of Charles Lever's young, smart women, she is as comfortable on horseback as in the drawing room, and plays off competing suitors (the handsome, young aristocrat and justice of the peace Edgar Harrowby and the sensitive young minister Alick Corfield) one against the other. Again, like the heroines of the Sensation Novels, she runs away from home and hides under an assumed named, and—surprisingly— dies unmarried at the end of the story.

Although fluent in a number of European languages, and a grammatically and idiomatically faultless writer of standard English, well into old age she apparently spoke with something of a Cumerland accentand—for example, in 1891 she is reported to have commented that Thomas Hardy, aged 51 at their time of meeting and at the peak of his career as a novelist, was "a nice bit manny" (cited in Ray, 81). An enemy of social change and increasingly reactionary as she aged, she was pronounced "vixenish" by The New York Times in 1898:

Her dislikes were many, not to persons, but toward modern society ways, thoughts, and manners. . . . . It is difficult to understand how a sweet-faced old lady with white locks, gold spectacles, and a placid manner wrote such sharp, incisive words.

Her obituary in The Times of London noted her "animosity towards . . . the 'New Woman'," but added that "it would perhaps be difficult to reduce Mrs. Lynn Linton's views on what was and what was not desirable for her own sex to a logical and connected form" (cited in DLB, Vol. 18).


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Last modified 6 February 2008