Ingelow, Jean (1820–1897)

views updated

Ingelow, Jean (1820–1897)

English poet and novelist. Name variations: (pseudonym) Orris. Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, at the mouth of the Witham River, England, on March 17, 1820; died in Kensington, England, on July 20, 1897; eldest of 11 children of William Ingelow (a banker) and Jean (Kilgour) Ingelow; never married; no children.

Selected works:

A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings (1850); (novel) Allerton and Dreux (1851); Poems (first series, 1863); (juvenile) Studies for Stories (1864); (juvenile) Stories Told to a Child (1865); The Story of Doom and Other Poems (1867); (juvenile) Mopsa the Fairy (1869); (novel) Off the Skelligs (1872); (novel) Fated to be Free (1875); (novel) Sarah de Berenger (1879); Poems (second series, 1880); Poems (third series, 1885); John Jerome (1886).

Describing her early years as "happy, bright, joyous," Jean Ingelow was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, a town at the mouth of the Witham River, England, in 1820, the eldest in a family of 11 children. She grew up in Lincolnshire, Ipswich, and finally London. As an adult, she recalled many details of her childhood, particularly the view of the river from her nursery window, which was a constant source of wonder and inspired her early writings. Educated at home by governesses and tutors, a young Ingelow contributed verses and tales to magazines under the pseudonym of "Orris," but her first (anonymous) volume, A Rhyming Chronicle of Incidents and Feelings (1850), did not appear until she was 30. It attracted little attention, although poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, upon meeting her shortly after its publication, was said to have commented, "I declare, you do the trick better than I do."

Ingelow followed this book of verse with the novel Allerton and Dreux (1851), but it was the publication of her collected Poems (1863) that raised her to the rank of a popular writer. Notable of the poems in this collection are "Divided," her most acclaimed work, as well as "Song of Seven," "Supper at the Mill," and "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, 1571," a ballad based on an actual disaster. Many of the poems within the volume, which went through some 30 editions, were set to music and sung in drawing rooms in England and America. Following another popular issue, The Story of Doom and Other Poems (1867), Ingelow temporarily gave up verse and turned to novels and short stories, many of the latter intended for children. Her most famous children's book, Mopsa the Fairy (1869), is still widely read. Most popular among her novels were Off the Skelligs (1872) and Fated to be Free (1873), connected stories giving some account of her childhood. She returned to verse with a second series of Poems, published in 1880, and a third in 1885.

Ingelow never married. "If I had married, I should not have written books," she said. Instead, she lived with her brother in Kensington after her parents died. Though shy, she was a woman of candid and courteous manners, reminiscent of a Lady Bountiful from a country parish. She was fearful of being regarded as "literary" or affected and frequently maintained that she was not a great reader. Her large circle of literary friends included Christina Rossetti, Jane and Ann Taylor , as well as her early admirer, Tennyson.

Jean Ingelow's health began to fail in 1896, and she died in her Kensington home on July 20,1897. English critic George Saintsbury believed, not alone, that Ingelow's reputation could rest on but a single poem: "If we had nothing of Jean Ingelow's but the most remarkable poem entitled 'Divided,'" he wrote after her death, "it would be permissible to suppose the loss, in fact or in might-have-been, of a poetess of almost the highest rank."


Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author, Vol. 33. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford and NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

suggested reading:

Hickok, K. Representations of Women: 19th Century British Women's Poetry.

Peters, M. Jean Ingelow: Victorian Poetess.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts