Bottome, Phyllis (1884–1963)

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Bottome, Phyllis (1884–1963)

British novelist and lecturer whose work concentrated on life in post-Imperial Austria and the psychological theories of Alfred Adler. Born in Rochester, Kent, England, on May 31, 1884; died in Hampstead, England, on August 22, 1963; daughter of William Macdonald Bottome (a cleric) and Margaret Leatham; married A.E. Forbes Dennis, in 1917.

Grew up in England and U.S.; traveled extensively and published first novel (1905); showed strong interest in psychology throughout writing career, publishing almost fifty novels and two collections of short stories.

Selected publications:

Raw Material (1905); Broken Music (1907); The Dark Tower (1909); The Crystal Heart (1911); Old Wine (1920); Belated Reckoning (1925); Windlestraws (1929); Wind in His Fists (1931); Devil's Due (1931); The Advances of Harriet (1933); Private Worlds (1934); Innocence and Experience (1935); Level Crossing (1936); The Mortal Storm (1937); Alfred Adler: A Biography (1939); The Heart of a Child (1940); Masks and Faces (1940); The Mansion House of Liberty (1941); London Pride (1941); (autobiography) Search for a Soul (1947); Under the Skin (1950); Man and Beast (1953); Against Whom? (1954); Eldorado Jane (1956); Walls of Glass (1958); (autobiography) The Goal (1963).

Phyllis Bottome was born of Anglo-American parentage in Rochester, Kent, England, on May 31, 1884. Her father was an American cleric from New York, and her mother was from a distinguished Yorkshire family. Beginning travel early, over the years Bottome visited, and lived for, extended periods in the U.S., Switzerland, Italy, France and Austria. Her first novel Raw Material received positive reviews upon its publication in 1905. Other novels soon followed, and by 1911, when The Common Chord appeared, Bottome had become deeply interested in the new psychological theories that were challenging virtually all of European culture's intellectual and moral foundations.

In 1917, she married Captain A.E. Forbes Dennis and, shortly after the end of World War I, accompanied him to Vienna where he had received a diplomatic assignment. Witness to the contrast of past glories and present suffering of post-1918 Vienna, she saw instances of extraordinary human tenacity, tenderness and folly by keeping her novelist's eyes open to the nuances of life. Bottome's literary stature increased significantly as a result of her years in Vienna, and her 1926 novel Old Wine, a colorful chronicle of Viennese aristocratic life, generally received high critical marks.

During her stay in Vienna, Bottome met and became a follower of Alfred Adler, one of the most impressive psychologists to have broken with the teachings of Sigmund Freud. Published in 1939, two years after Adler's death, Bottome's biographical study of him was written from the perspective of a fervent disciple; nevertheless, it remains of considerable value with insights into both Adler's character and his method of analysis.

Although her previous novels had attracted a relatively small but loyal band of readers, Bottome had to wait until 1934 to publish an acclaimed bestseller. In that year, Private Worlds appeared to superb reviews, a success she repeated in 1937 with The Mortal Storm, a passionately anti-Nazi book set in Vienna which made Bottome's name a household word in the English-speaking world. In the years immediately preceding World War II, she made three extensive lecture tours of the United States. Although she would never repeat the popular success of The Mortal Storm, she continued writing finely crafted books to the end of her life. During World War II, because of her personal hatred of Fascism as well as her firsthand experience with Adolf Hitler's homeland of Austria, she worked as a lecturer for the British Ministry of Information.

In 1947, Bottome's first volume of autobiography, Search for a Soul, sensitively analyzed the first 18 years of her life. In her 1950 work Under the Skin, she left the world of Europe behind to study human passions in the West Indies. The 1953 Man and Beast dealt with the complex relationships between animals and humans. Other works that appealed to loyal fans throughout the 1950s were Against Whom? (1954), Eldorado Jane (1956) and Walls ofGlass (1958). Bottome completed and published in 1962 a second autobiographical volume, entitled The Goal, before her death in Hampstead, England, on August 22, 1963.


Bottome, Phyllis. Alfred Adler. A Biography. NY: Putnam, 1939.

——. The Goal. London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

——. Search for a Soul (Fragment of an Autobiography). NY: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1948.

"Miss Phyllis Bottome, An Accomplished Novelist," in The Times [London]. August 23, 1963, p. 10.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia