Hunt, Violet (1866–1942)

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Hunt, Violet (1866–1942)

British novelist and biographer. Born Isobel Violet Hunt in 1866 in Durham, England; died on January 16, 1942, in London, England; daughter of Alfred William Hunt (pre-Raphaelite painter) and Margaret Raine Hunt (novelist, sometimes used pseudonym Averil Beaumont); educated at Notting Hill High School (oneof the first girls' high schools) and South Kensington Art School; married (not legally) Ford Madox Hueffer (later known as Ford Madox Ford), in 1911.

Wrote sexually frank novels, such as Unkissed, Unkind (1897) and The White Rose of Weary Leaf (1908, considered her best); wrote collections of short stories, such as Tales of the Uneasy (1911) and The Tiger Skin (1924); wrote a biography of Elizabeth Siddal entitled The Wife of Rossetti (1932).

Violet Hunt was born in Durham, England, in 1866, the daughter of painter Alfred William Hunt and novelist Margaret Raine Hunt . She grew up surrounded by pre-Raphaelite artists and writers, including Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Siddal , and the Rossettis, and attended Notting Hill High School with the daughters of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Christina Rossetti was the first person to whom Hunt showed her poetry. Alfred Hunt had wanted Violet to be a painter and encouraged her in that study from an early age. Although she attended South Kensington Art School and continued to paint until the age of 28, she followed her mother's path and instead became a writer. She also followed her mother's example of working for women's suffrage, organizing the Women Writers' Suffrage League and supporting Radclyffe Hall as she fought to keep The Well of Loneliness from being banned.

Although Hunt never legally married, she lived with Ford Madox Hueffer (another child of the pre-Raphaelite circle who would later be known as Ford Madox Ford) for nearly ten years. They met in 1908 when he was the founding editor of the English Review, a publication that had among its contributors Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, and W.B. Yeats. Hunt also contributed a short story to the publication. Hueffer was already married, and his wife would not grant him a divorce. However, many referred to Hunt as "Mrs. Hueffer," including a newspaper (because of the incident, Hueffer's wife sued the paper and won). As well, Hunt's entry in Who's Who noted "married 1911." The scandalous affair alienated many of Hunt's friends and family. By 1918, Hunt and Hueffer had parted ways. When Hunt wrote an autobiography in 1926 about her life with Hueffer entitled The Flurried Years (published in America as I Have This to Say), she reopened many of the wounds the affair had caused.

Hunt's writings reflected her personality, which has been called that of a "typical New Woman." She was intelligent, independent, and progressive, and her novels emphasized sexual relationships, neurotic heroines, and unblushing portrayals of prostitution, adultery, and promiscuity. Much of her work—including The Celebrity at Home (1904) and The Celebrity's Daughter (1913)—drew on autobiographical details, and provide an intimate glimpse into the literary society of which she was so much a part. During the height of her career, Hunt lived in London and knew numerous celebrities of the day. Besides the English Review, Hunt also wrote for Black and White and had a weekly column in the Pall Mall Gazette. She was also well-known as a host, and her friends included Wells, Ezra Pound, Rebecca West , Wyndham Lewis, Conrad, Henry James, W.H. Hudson, and D.H. and Frieda Lawrence . During her career, Hunt wrote 17 novels, and her work was admired by Lawrence, West, May Sinclair , and James (although James preferred her short stories). Unlike those of many of her friends, however, Hunt's books are not much read today. Her other principal works include: The Maiden's Progress (1894), A Hard Woman (1895), The Human Interest (1899), Affairs of the Heart (1900), Sooner or Later (1904), The Cat (1905), The Wife of Altamont (1910), The Doll (1911), The Desirable Alien (with Heuffer, 1913), Their Lives (1916), The Last Ditch (1918), Their Hearts (1921), and More Tales of the Uneasy (1925).

As Hunt grew older, she became less active in writing and society, instead opting to remain at home with her Persian cats. Suffering from an advanced case of syphilis and living in virtual solitude, Hunt died on January 16, 1942, at South Lodge, her London home.

suggested reading:

Belford, Barbara. Violet. NY: Simon and Schuster.

Hardwick, Joan. An Immodest Violet: The Life of Violet Hunt. London: Andre Deutsch, 1993.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan