Underhill, Evelyn (1875–1941)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Underhill, Evelyn (1875–1941)

English poet, novelist, and writer on mysticism. Name variations: (pseudonym) John Cordelier. Born in December 1875 in Wolverhampton, England; died on June 15, 1941; daughter of Sir Arthur Underhill (a barrister) and Alice Lucy (Ironmonger) Underhill; educated privately and at King's College for Women, London; married Hubert Stuart Moore (a barrister), in 1907.

Selected writings:

Grey World: A Novel (1904); The Lost Word (1907); Miracles of Our Lady St. Mary (1908); The Column of Dust (1909); Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness (1911); (under pseudonym John Cordelier) The Path of Eternal Wisdom (1911); (as John Cordelier) The Spiral Way (1912); Immanence: A Book of Verses (1912); The Mystic Way (1913); Practical Mysticism (1914); Ruysbroeck (1915); Theophanies: A Book of Verses (1916); Jacopone da Todi (1919); The Essentials of Mysticism (1920); The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-Day (1922); The Mystics of the Church (1925); Concerning the Inner Light (1926); Man and the Supernatural (1927); The House of the Soul (1929); The Golden Sequence (1932); Mixed Pasture: Twelve Essays and Addresses (1933); The School of Charity (1934); Worship (1936); The Spiritual Life: Four Broadcast Talks (1937); The Mystery of Sacrifice (1938); Abba (1940); Fruits of the Spirit (1942).

One of the leading writers on mysticism, Evelyn Underhill wrote numerous books on the subject, including two that are considered classics, Mysticism (1911) and Worship (1936). Although many members of her extended family were religious and her uncle was a priest, Underhill's immediate family members were not churchgoers. Her father, a barrister-at-law, preferred sailing on his yacht, and his only child became, like him, an excellent boat-racer. They often sailed with friends of the family, the Stuart Moores, and Underhill entered into what would prove to be a happy marriage with Hubert Stuart Moore in 1907. At about the same time, she experienced a religious conversion and began studying the lives of the mystics. She turned her upstairs study into a prayer room, where she wrote and prayed for at least an hour each day.

After 1900, Underhill published novels and light verse, but she came to prominence with Mysticism (1911), which has gone through a number of editions and is still in print. The book brought her to the attention of many prominent theologians and writers, including Baron von Hügel, who would be her mentor for the rest of his life. Upon his advice to balance intellect with action ("you badly want de-intellectualizing," he noted), she visited the poor and tried to assist them, which made her more aware of her own privileged position and grateful for the gifts in her life.

Underhill was well versed in the liturgical field. She lectured at Manchester College, Oxford, in 1921, and after 1924 became increasingly sought after to lecture and run retreats, an activity then fairly unusual for a woman in the Anglican Church. In addition to lecturing, she was a prolific writer, producing a book each year for 14 years. In 1927, Underhill became the first woman to be appointed an outside lecturer at Oxford University, when she was made a fellow of King's College. In the early 1940s, she began suffering from asthma and overwork. She died on June 15, 1941, and was buried at St. John's Parish Church in Hampstead.


Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. NY: Harper & Row, 1959, pp. 389–392.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer