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Robertson, E. Arnot (1903–1961)

Robertson, E. Arnot (1903–1961)

British novelist and film critic . Name variations: Eileen Arnot Robertson; Eileen Arbuthnot Robertson; Mrs. Henry Ernest Turner. Born Eileen Arbuthnot Robertson in Holmwood, Surrey, England, in 1903; committed suicide in London, England, on September 21, 1961; daughter of G.A. Robertson (a doctor); educated at Sherbourne Girls' School, and in Switzerland and Paris; married Henry Turner (general secretary of the Empire Press Union), in 1927; children: one son.

Selected writings:

Cullum (1928); Three Came Unarmed (1928); Four Frightened People (1931); Ordinary Families (1933); Thames Portrait (1937); Summer's Lease (1940); The Signpost (1943); Devices and Desires (1954); Justice of the Heart (1958); Strangers on my Roof (posthumously released, 1964).

Born Eileen Arbuthnot Robertson in Surrey, England, in 1903, E. Arnot Robertson grew up under the shadow of disappointment, because she did not excel in the sports or music that were most valued by her family. To compensate, she started writing, choosing exotic locations as settings for her novels. She was a world traveler—beginning with her attendance at schools in Switzerland and Paris in addition to her unhappy education at Sherbourne Girls' School—but she chose to locate her stories in places unfamiliar to her, such as Singapore, Malaya, Greece, Zanzibar and Hong Kong. Her first novel, Cullum (1928), was the story of an affair between a girl and a womanizing writer. Three Came Unarmed, the story of three children raised in Borneo and transplanted in England, appeared the same year.

However, it was not until 1931 that Robertson gained wide recognition, with her novel Four Frightened People, which flipped the plot of Three Came Unarmed by focusing on four English characters in a jungle. Her 1933 bestseller, Ordinary Families, portrayed a middle-class household who shared her own reallife family's passion for sailing. It was adapted as a film by Cecil B. De Mille in 1934. Robertson's subsequent novels, Thames Portrait (1937), Summer's Lease (1940), The Signpost (1943), Devices and Desires (1954), Justice of the Heart (1958) and Strangers on my Roof (1964), were never as notable as her early writings.

Following World War II, Robertson began working as a film critic, and made the news with a libel suit against MGM after the movie studio banned her from screenings because of her hostile reviews. Although she won the first round of the lawsuit, the House of Lords overturned the ruling. In the spring of 1961, Robertson's husband of more than 30 years drowned in a boating accident; five months later, she committed suicide.


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

Brenda Kubiac , freelance writer, Chesterfield, Michigan

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