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Sergeant, Adeline (1851–1904)

Sergeant, Adeline (1851–1904)

British novelist. Born Emily Frances Adeline Sergeant on July 4, 1851, in Derbyshire, England; died on December 4, 1904; attended a school in Weston-Super-Mare, Laleham School in Clapham, and Queen's College, London; never married; no children.

Selected writings:

Poems (1866); Dicky and His Friends (1879); Una's Crusade (1880); Jacobi's Wife (1882); Beyond Recall (1883); An Open Foe (1884); Seventy Times Seven (1888); Esther Denison (1889); The Story of a Penitent Soul (1892); The Idol Maker (1897); The Story of Phil Enderby (1898); This Body of Death (1901); Roads to Rome (1901).

While she is now little read or known, Adeline Sergeant achieved a fair measure of success in her lifetime with the more than 90 novels she wrote at a rapid clip (8 of them were produced in the same year). The daughter of a Methodist missionary father and a mother who wrote inspirational verse, Sergeant was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1851, and later attended Queen's College in London. She apparently spent much of her life searching for spiritual fulfillment, leaving the Methodist Church for the Anglican Church while not yet 20, and in her 30s professing agnosticism and joining the Fabian Society. In 1893, Sergeant returned to the Anglican Church, this time associating with the High Church faction, but six years later settled on Catholicism; this transition is detailed in her Roads to Rome (1901).

Sergeant began her writing career early, publishing Poems in 1866, while she was still in her teens. After leaving college she worked for ten years as a governess, while continuing to write and publishing several novels. In 1882, two years after she stopped working as a governess, Sergeant traveled to Egypt. There she wrote Jacobi's Wife (1882), which was awarded a prize by the People's Friend of Dundee, Scotland. She began contributing regularly to the journal, and lived in Dundee from 1885 to 1887. That year she moved to London, where she was involved in social work and reform movements while continuing to publish a steady stream of novels. Many of these centered on contemporary middle-class households, and her work is read today mostly for its sociological value. Sergeant left 14 unpublished works at the time of her death in 1904.


The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. British Authors of the Nineteenth Century. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1936.

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

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