Parsons, Eliza (c. 1748–1811)

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Parsons, Eliza (c. 1748–1811)

British novelist and dramatist . Born Eliza Phelps around 1748; died in Leytonstone, Essex, England, on February 5, 1811; only daughter of a wine merchant; married a turpentine merchant who died in 1790; children: eight.

Selected works:

The History of Miss Meridith (1790); The Errors of Education (1791); Woman as She Should Be (1793); The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793); Lucy (1794); The Girl of the Mountains (1794); The Mysterious Warning (1794).

A popular writer of Gothic fiction, Eliza Parsons produced more than 19 works (one source cites 60 books, "all mediocre"), some of which were read by such notables as Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Montagu , the prince of Wales (future George IV) and his paramour Maria Anne Fitzherbert . Parsons also translated Molière's two-act farce The Intrigues of a Morning, which was produced at Covent Garden in 1792, and published six tales of Jean de La Fontaine under the title Love and Gratitude (1804).

Little is known about Parsons' early life. The daughter of a Plymouth wine merchant, she married a turpentine dealer by the name of Parsons at an early age and moved with him to London, where he relocated and expanded his business. After the enterprise burned to the ground in 1782, he secured an appointment with the Lord Chamberlain. It was not until her husband's death in 1790 that Parsons took up the pen to support her eight children. One of her popular novels, The Mysterious Warning (1796), is described by Joanne Shattock as "an adaptation of Hamlet, a moral fable about the destructive effects of the passions on man's hopes for salvation." Despite the novel's dark nature, Parsons wrote a dedication to the prince of Wales, noting: "I have never written a line tending to corrupt the heart, sully the imagination, or mislead the judgment of my young readers."

Although a widely read author, Parsons was barely able to make ends meet, and on at least one occasion narrowly escaped debtors' prison. She died in 1811, at which time only four of her eight children were still alive.


Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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