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Sewell, Elizabeth Missing (1815–1906)

Sewell, Elizabeth Missing (1815–1906)

British novelist and children's writer. Born on February 19, 1815, in Newport, Isle of Wight; died on August 17, 1906, in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight; daughter of Thomas Sewell (a solicitor) and Jane (Edwards) Sewell; educated in Newport and Bath; never married; no children.

Selected writings:

Stories, Illustrative of the Lord's Prayer (1840); Amy Herbert (1844); Laneton Parsonage (1846–48); Margaret Percival (1847); The Experience of Life (1852); Katharine Ashton (1854); Ursula (1858); Thoughts for Holy Week (1857); A History of the Early Church (1861); Principles of Education (1865); Autobiography (1907).

Elizabeth Sewell was born in 1815 in Newport, Isle of Wight, one of 12 children of Jane Edwards Sewell and solicitor Thomas Sewell. Elizabeth, who attended a day school in Newport and went to boarding school in Bath, was strongly influenced by a brother, William Sewell (1804–1874), who was a leading figure in the Oxford Movement that emphasized the catholic (not Roman Catholic) heritage of the Church of England and objected to the undue influence of the state in church affairs. Another brother was the first premier of New Zealand; another the warden of New College.

Sewell's first book, Stories, Illustrative of the Lord's Prayer, was published in 1840. When her father died, she and her siblings contributed a portion of their earnings to help clear the family debt, and Sewell dedicated herself to the care of her younger brothers and sisters. Because of this, she never married, and many of her works express the theme of the duty and rewards in the life of a single woman. She wrote the three-part Laneton Parsonage (1846–48) to teach children about the use of the Catechism. When John Henry Newman, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, converted to Roman Catholicism, she wrote the anti-Catholic novel Margaret Percival (1847). Though her novels Amy Herbert (1844), written for young girls, and Katharine Ashton (1854) stress moral and religious duty, she wrote about her own childhood in her most popular book, The Experience of Life (1852). Sewell also wrote travel books, devotional works, and school textbooks.

In 1866, she established the St. Boniface School for girls at Ventnor. The school was based on her liberal views on women's education, which she discussed in Principles of Education (1865). Sewell died, age 91, in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, in 1906.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

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

suggested reading:

Sewell, Eleanor M., ed. The Autobiography of Elizabeth M. Sewell, 1907.

Deborah Conn , freelance writer, Falls Church, Virginia

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