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MacFall, Frances E. (1854–1943)

MacFall, Frances E. (1854–1943)

British novelist . Name variations: Frances Elizabeth MacFall, McFall, or M'Fall; Frances Bellenden-Clarke; Frances Elizabeth Clarke; (pseudonym) Sarah Grand. Born Frances Elizabeth Bellenden-Clarke in Donaghadee, County Down, Northern Ireland, in 1854; died in Bath, Calne, Wiltshire, on May 12, 1943; fourth of five children of Edward John Bellenden-Clarke (a lieutenant in the Royal Navy) and Margaret Bell (Sherwood) Bellenden-Clarke; attended boarding school in England; married David MacFall (an army surgeon), in 1870 (separated); children: one son.

Principal works:

Ideals (1888); A Domestic Experiment (1891); The Heavenly Twins (1893); The Beth Book (1898); Adnam's Orchard (1912); The Winged Victory (1916); Variety (1922).

Novelist Frances MacFall was born in Donaghadee, County Down, Northern Ireland, in 1854, the daughter of Edward Bellenden-Clarke, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and Margaret Sherwood Bellenden-Clarke . MacFall spent her formative years in Northern Ireland, then went to live with her mother's family in England after her father's death in 1861. Suffering an unhappy adolescence in two repressive boarding schools, she eloped at the age of 16 with an army surgeon 23 years her senior, who was also a widower with two children. For five years, the couple traveled to Hong Kong and the Far East and then returned to England. It was an unhappy union that produced one son, but eventually ended in separation. In 1888, MacFall completed her first novel Ideals, selecting a pseudonym, Sarah Grand, that reflected both her feminist pride and her liberated persona. With the profits from Ideals, MacFall permanently separated from her husband and took her son with her to London.

It was with her two feminist novels, The Heavenly Twins (1893) and The Beth Book (1898), that she established her reputation. The former, a rambling 700 pages, tells the life stories of three women, through which MacFall addresses a myriad of feminist issues, including the double standard and a woman's right to independence. The book was reprinted six times in the first year and went through 13 editions and several foreign translations before going out of print in 1923. The Beth Book (1898), a quasi-autobiographical novel, dealt with the frustration encountered by an intelligent woman seeking emancipation.

MacFall became extremely active in the suffrage campaign, joining the Women Writers' Suffrage League. After the death of her husband in 1898, she lived in Tunbridge Wells, where she became president of the local branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Her later works, including Adnam's Orchard (1912), The Winged Victory (1916), and Variety (1922), a collection of short stories, were said to be of little consequence. In 1920, she moved to Bath, where she was elected mayor for six separate terms. She died there at age 88. Her major work, The Heavenly Twins, reappeared in a 1993 edition, published by the University of Michigan Press.


Postlethwaite, Diana. "Victims of Victorianism," in The Women's Review of Books. Vol. X, no. 10–11. July 1993.

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

Uglow, Jennifer, ed and comp. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1989.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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