Molesworth, Mary Louisa (1839–1921)

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Molesworth, Mary Louisa (1839–1921)

English novelist and children's author. Name variations: Mrs. Molesworth; Louisa Molesworth or Louise Molesworth; (pseudonym) Ennis Graham. Born Mary Louisa Stewart on May 29, 1839 (some sources cite 1838), in Rotterdam, Holland; died on July 20, 1921, in London, England; daughter of Charles Augustus Stewart and Agnes Janet (Wilson) Stewart; educated privately, and also attended school in Switzerland; married Major Richard Molesworth (a career military man), in 1861 (separated 1879); children: Violet (1863–1869); Cicely (b. 1863); Juliet (b. 1865); Olive (b. 1867); Richard Walter Stewart (died young in 1869); Richard Bevil (b. 1870); Lionel Charles (b. 1873).

Married (1861); gave birth to the first of seven children (1863); first two children died (1869); published first romance novel (1870); wrote first book for children (1875); separated from husband (1879); published last title (1911).

Selected writings:

Lover and Husband (1870); She Was Young and He Was Old (1872); Cicely: A Story of Three Years (1874); Tell Me a Story (1875); Carrots: Just a Little Boy (1876); The Cuckoo Clock (1877); Hathercourt Rectory (1878); The Tapestry Room (1879); Miss Bouverie (1880); Hermy: The Story of a Little Girl (1881); Rosy (1882); Two Little Waifs (1883); Lettice (1884); Us: An Old-Fashioned Story (1885); A Charge Fulfilled (1886); Marrying and Giving in Marriage (1887); Little Miss Peggy: Only a Nursery Story (1887); The Third Miss St. Quentin (1888); Four Ghost Stories (1888); That Girl in Black, and Bronzie (1889); The Rectory Children (1889); The Green Casket, and Other Stories (1890); Family Troubles (1890); The Children of the Castle (1890); The Red Grange (1891); The Man with the Pan Pipes, and Other Stories (1892); Leona (1892); An Enchanted Garden: Fairy Stories (1892); Imogen, or Only Eighteen (1892); The Next-Door House (1893); Blanche (1894); Opposite Neighbours (1895); Uncanny Tales (1896); The Oriel Window (1896); Meg Langholme (1897); The Laurel Walk (1898); The Grim House (1899); The Three Witches (1900); The Blue Bay (1901); Peterkin (1902); The Ruby Ring (1904); Jasper (1906); Fairies—Of Sorts (1908); The Story of a Year (1910); Fairies Afield (1911).

Mary Louisa Molesworth was a popular and acclaimed author of children's literature, novels and short stories in Victorian England. Born Mary Louisa Stewart in Holland in 1838, she returned to England as a child with her family—who were actually Scottish in heritage—and she and her six siblings grew up primarily in the Manchester area, where her father was in the shipping business. When Molesworth was young, her maternal grandmother regaled the children with epic tales told from memory, or improvised as she went along. This induced a love of literature in Molesworth, and she grew into a voracious reader as a youth. Yet the strict religious tenets she lived under as a child made her wary of morality tales, then common fodder for children's books, and later she was inspired to create stories for children that did not attempt to strike the fear of God into them.

Like many women of her day, Molesworth was educated at home, and later spent some time at a school in Switzerland. (It has also been speculated that she may have received tutoring from William Gaskell, the husband of Elizabeth Gaskell , who also lived in Manchester.) Mary began to write when she was still a teen, and some of these stories were published in magazines. In 1861, she married Richard Molesworth, an army captain, with whom she would have four daughters and three sons. Her first daughter and first son both died in 1869, and her husband had a lingering head wound from the Crimean War that was later thought to be the root of his difficult temperament. It was not a solid marriage, and Molesworth may have attempted her first novel as a palliative for depression after the deaths of her two children. The plots of the first three novels she wrote—as well as those of many of her works for adult readers—concerned miserable marital unions. These were Lover and Husband (1870), She Was Young and He Was Old (1872), and Cicely: A Story of Three Years (1874). These and most of Molesworth's other works of fiction for adults were essentially romances, and are now considered worthy of little critical attention.

Molesworth took the name of a friend who had died, Ennis Graham, as her pen name, and used it until about 1874. In 1875, she began writing books for children, and had great success with the first, Tell Me a Story (1875). Like many of her other children's books, it was illustrated by Walter Crane. She continued to write at least one to three books each year for several decades, most of them for children; Princess Alexandra of Denmark , later the queen of England, reportedly read Molesworth's books to her children when they were young. Another juvenile tale that was extremely well received was Carrots: Just a Little Boy (1876), which sold thousands of copies with its unassuming plot about a little redhaired boy and his familiar childhood travails. Even the future king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, wrote to Molesworth and told her how much he liked the book and the impact it had upon him when he was mourning the loss of his grandfather, Victor Emmanuel II. Carrots and the best of Molesworth's other children's tales, including The Cuckoo Clock (1877), are considered much more durable in their charm than her adult books, and critics have noted that her success was perhaps attributable for the easy and entertaining way in which she presented and solved the dilemmas faced by middle-class children. Many of these titles were published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, though Molesworth enjoyed a long relationship with the Macmillan publishing house as well. The numerous ghost stories she wrote—some set in the gloom of a German forest, such as those in Four Ghost Stories (1888)—also earned her praise, and many continue to be reprinted in modern collections of Victorian ghost stories.

Mary Louisa Molesworth was separated from her husband in 1879 (he would die in 1900), and lived in France and Germany for a time before returning to England permanently. She continued to write fiction until well in her 70s, publishing her last book, Fairies Afield, in 1911. She died in July 1921.


Julian, Linda Anne. "Louise Molesworth," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 135: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1880–1914: The Realist Tradition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994, pp. 226–233.

Kunitz, Stanley J., ed. British Authors of the Nineteenth Century. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1936.

Mitchell, Sally, ed. Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia. NY: Garland, 1988.

suggested reading:

Green, Roger Lancelyn. Mrs. Molesworth. London: Bodley Head, 1961, NY: Walck, 1964.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

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Molesworth, Mary Louisa (1839–1921)

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