Sedgwick, Anne Douglas (1873–1935)

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Sedgwick, Anne Douglas (1873–1935)

American-born novelist. Name variations: Anne de Selincourt or Sélincourt; Anne De Sélincourt. Born on March 28, 1873, in Englewood, New Jersey; died in Hampstead, England, on July 19, 1935; oldest of three daughters of George Stanley Sedgwick (an attorney) and Mary (Douglas) Sedgwick; married Basil De Sélincourt (an essayist and biographer), on December 11, 1908.

Selected writings:

The Dull Miss Archinard (1898); The Confounding of Camelia (1899); The Rescue (1902); Paths of Judgment (1904); The Shadow of Life (1907); A Fountain Sealed (1907); Anabel Channice (1908); Franklin Winslow Kane (1910); Tante (1911); The Nest (1912); The Encounter (1914); (nonfiction) A Childhood in Brittany Eighty Years Ago (1919); Autumn Crocuses (American title Christmas Roses, 1920); The Third Window (1920); Adrienne Toner (1922); The Little French Girl (1924); The Old Countess (1927); Dark Hester (1929); Philippa

(1930); A Portrait in Letters (posthumous, edited by Basil De Sélincourt, 1936).

Born in 1873 and raised primarily in the affluent New York suburb of Irvington-on-Hudson, Anne Douglas Sedgwick was educated at home by a governess. Although she was only nine when her father, an attorney, took a position as a financial agent in England and moved the family to London, her early experiences in America made lasting impressions. She spent two years during her teens in Chillicothe, Ohio, living with her grandparents whom she would later recall for the "sobriety, sweetness, tradition" of their home as well as for their "Emersonian flavor, a love of books and nature."

In England, Sedgwick later recalled, she took to the London of "Gilbert and Sullivan operas, [Lillie ] Langtry , buns, hansom cabs, and fogs; walks with a governess in Rotten Row, and frequent visits to the National Gallery and the Old South Kensington Museum." With her education completed by age 18, she next went to Paris where her studies in painting lasted five years. A portrait she executed of her sister was shown in the Champs de Mars Salon, and she might have continued a career as an artist were it not for her father's efforts to get her first novel published. After finding the manuscript of The Dull Miss Archinard, a story his daughter had written for the enjoyment of her sisters, Sedgwick's father took the book to a publisher in London. It appeared in print in 1898 and proved to be a success.

Sedgwick then turned her attention to writing, eventually producing 20 books, the vast majority of which were fictional. Often regarded as being in the tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton in her work, Sedgwick frequently contrasted the traits of the Americans, the English, and the French.

In December 1908, she married the essayist and biographer Basil De Sélincourt. They set up home in Oxfordshire where Sedgwick continued her writing. Her ninth novel, Tante, was published in 1911. This work, through the character of an internationally renowned pianist, addressed one of Sedgwick's predominant themes, what James Arnquist has summarized as "the effect of egocentric persons on the lives of those drawn to them by their apparent genius or goodness."

During World War I, both Sedgwick and her husband worked on behalf of the war effort in France, providing assistance in orphanages and caring for civilian casualties in hospitals. Returning to their home in Oxfordshire after the war, she resumed her hobbies which included working in her gardens and bird watching. Her husband conducted the village choral society in which she sang, and Sedgwick saw publication of her 1924 novel The Little French Girl, which became a bestseller in the United States (Ethel Barrymore starred in the dramatized version). Novelist Esther Forbes recalled Sedgwick sitting "serene and upright by the tea-table like a Dresden goddess. The coil of prematurely white hair, the purple eyes, the pink and white smoothness of her moulded features, lent her a statuesque quality which was sweetly dispelled by her smile and by the gentle irony of her conversation."

Beginning in the late 1920s, Sedgwick suffered from a paralytic illness. She characterized the long physical decline that followed as "slow, like being devoured by an ant." While on a final visit to the United States (1931), she was present at her induction into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. After Sedgwick's death in Hampstead in 1935, her Portrait in Letters, edited by her husband, was published the following year.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Kunitz, Stanley J., ed. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.