A ‘Redundant’ Woman – How Mary De Morgan Defied the Expectations of the Victorian Society

Guest blog by Marilyn Pemberton

51nIl39mhUL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_In The Jewel Garden, Hannah, a fictional character, tells of her relationship with Mary De Morgan (1850-1907), a real-life Victorian writer.

De Morgan came from an illustrious family: her father was an eminent mathematician and her mother a renowned spiritualist and social reformer. Her brother William made beautiful tiles, which are still collectible today, and later in life wrote best-selling novels, while his wife Evelyn was a well-respected Pre-Raphaelite painter. As a result, Mary’s own achievements have been overshadowed by those of her family.

However, she was far more than a daughter of famous parents. She authored well-received fairy tales, wrote short stories and a novel, edited her mother’s memoirs, and penned articles on topics ranging from trade unionism and the education of Englishmen to Jewish immigration. She also ran a typewriting office, was the secretary of the People’s Concert Society, and ran mothers’ groups in the East End. In the final years of her life, she served as a directress of a girls’ reformatory in Helouan, Egypt.

Mary was also active in the spiritualist circles, not only because her mother was an ardent supporter and practitioner, but because Mary herself was considered to be a “seer.” The title of my novel refers to a notebook Mary’s mother kept in which she recorded the dreams of her six-year-old daughter. One of the jottings is entitled “Mary’s walk in the jewel garden,” and it tells of Mary playing with her sister Alice, who had died three years earlier.

De Morgan was a so-called a “redundant” woman, in that she was one of the million or so unmarried females – whether from choice or not I have not been able to ascertain – and had to work for a living. She moved not only in the celebrated Arts and Crafts circle, but also among the poor of the East End. She used a typewriter (cutting-edge technology at the time), travelled, was a member of the Women’s Franchise League, and addressed contemporary political and social issues through her writing.

The Jewel Garden shows, through Hannah’s eyes, the life Mary De Morgan lived in a time when women were starting to rebel against Victorian conventions and to demand independence.

M Pemberton Headshot -1Marilyn Pemberton wrote her PhD thesis on the utopian & dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales. After giving a paper at a conference she was approached by a publisher who suggested she gather together some lesser known fairy tales and as a result Enchanted Ideologies: A Collection of Rediscovered Nineteenth-Century English Moral Fairy Tales was published in 2010.

During her research Marilyn “discovered” Mary De Morgan, and it resulted in Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, published in 2012. This was followed by The Jewel Garden, which is now available on Amazon.

Marilyn is currently working on a new historical novel, set in 18th century Italy. You can learn more about her and her projects at https://marilynpemberton.wixsite.com/author.

2 thoughts on “A ‘Redundant’ Woman – How Mary De Morgan Defied the Expectations of the Victorian Society

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  1. It’s good to see stories about such interesting women who have been overlooked in fiction so far. I hope to see more books like that.


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