21 October 1866
Brighton, England, U.K.
|Died||21 November 1945
Lewes, England, U.K.
|Pen name||Alice Dudeney, Mrs. Henry Dudeney|
|Genres||Fiction, dramatic fiction, romantic fiction, social commentary|
|Spouse(s)||Henry Dudeney (1884–1930)|
Alice Louisa Dudeney (née Whiffin; 21 October 1866 – 21 November 1945) was a British author and short story writer. The wife of Henry Dudeney, a fellow author and inventor of mathematical puzzles and games, she used the pen-name Mrs. Henry Dudeney for much of her literary career. She herself became a popular writer in her lifetime, often compared to Thomas Hardy for her portrayals of Sussex regional life, and had over fifty volumes of fiction published between 1898 and 1937.
Called "one of the most powerful writers of fiction among modern English women" by Putnam's Magazine, she is noted for her novels A Man with a Maid (1897), Folly Corner (1899), Maternity of Harriott Wicken (1899), and Spindle and Plough (1901) and was a regular contributor to Harper's Magazine. In 1928, Arthur St. John Adcock wrote "no woman novelist today writes more objectively or with a stronger imaginative realism in the creation of character and the designing of a story".
Dudeney was best known for her dramatic and romance fiction, though her books often touched upon social issues affecting the English working and lower middle classes. She was often touted by her publishers as "the novelist of the Weald and the Marsh and the Down Countries". She is also considered an early Victorian feminist writer whose popular "marriage problem" novels, along with those of her contemporary, M.P. Willcocks, showed female characters who were often frustrated with problems in their own marriages.
In 1998, author Diana Crook edited and published Dudeney's personal diaries titled A Lewes Diary: 1916–1944 describing her life living in Lewes with Henry Dudeney prior to and during the interwar years. The book's success saw renewed interest in her work and resulted in the reprinting of several of her novels in 2008 and 2009.
Alice Dudeney was born to Frederick Whiffin, a master tailor, and his wife Susan Howe in Brighton on 21 October 1864. She was educated in Hurstpierpoint, a region of West Sussex which she would use as a setting for her later novels, and later introduced to 25-year old Henry Dudeney through a mutual friend. The two were married at St. Andrew Church, Holborn, London on 3 November 1884.
The newlyweds rented a house in Great James Street, Bedford Row, close to the printing houses. Dudeney, then an aspiring writer, wrote a few short stories intended for publication but much of her time was taken up as a housewife and expectant mother. Their first child, Phyllis Mary, was born in May 1887 but died after four months.
Distraught over the loss of their baby, Dudeney stopped writing for a time and took a job as assistant secretary to then head of the Cassells publishing firm, Sir Wemyss Reid. The literary atmosphere of Cassells eventually prompted her to return to writing and would eventually launch her career as a novelist. Within a short time, three of her short stories appeared in several Cassells journals and led to her writing full-length novels. Her connections with Cassells also allowed Henry another outlet for his work.
The couple's second child, Margery Janet, was born in 1890 and they decided to move away from London. They decided on a rented cottage near the Surrey-Sussex border, in a small hamlet north of Billingshurst, and found themselves preferring life in the English countryside. Within several years, they were able to purchase a three-acre plot of land on the outskirts of Horsell. With the help of Henry's brother-in-law Maurice Pocock, then living with his wife, Kate Dudeney, in nearby Chertsey, they planned the construction of a country estate named Littlewick Meadow in 1897. The house was so large that they hired several servants to help run it. Having a common interest in antique furniture, they also attended sales in the local area and furnished their home with a unique collection of Jacobean and later period antiques. Much of Dudeney's personal life was described as "very domestic". In a Who's Who interview, her hobbies were listed as "gardening and collecting old oak furniture". She was also involved in the restoration of dilapidated English historical homes.
That same year, Dudeney published her first novel A Man with a Maid. Much of her early work was dramatic fiction dealing with then controversial moral topics (e.g., illegitimate pregnancy) and domestic life among the working and lower middle classes. Folly Corner (1899) deals with a young woman who moves from London to live on an ancestral Sussex farm and becomes involved in a bigamous relationship. Maternity of Harriott Wicken (1899) is a murder story which ends with the death of a mother and her child from measles. Men of Marlowe's (1900) is a collection of bohemian short stories which take place in Gray's Inn, London. The Third Floor (1901) follows another young girl who, living alone in London, becomes a victim of sexual abuse.
As Dudeney's success as a writer grew, the money from her writing provided for much of the family's income. By the turn of the 20th century, her popularity had gained her and Henry entry to both literary and court circles. In 1912, her literary work was profiled by Frederic Taber Cooper in Some English Story Tellers: A Book of the Younger Novelists. She was also a regular guest of Sir Philip Sassoon and his sister Sybil at their home in Port Lympne. Her novel Head of the Family (1917) was dedicated to Philip at his request, and she often received presents from him, such as a tortoiseshell bag, a jade brooch, and a fur wrap. She later donated a series of letters sent to her by Philip to biographer Cecil Roth who used them in his book The Sassoon Dynasty. Marital troubles, including Alice's affair with the artist Paul Hardy, caused her to separate from Henry, resulting in the sale of Littlewick. They eventually reconciled following their daughter Margery Janet's marriage and emigration to Canada, and moved to Castle Precincts House, Lewes in 1916.
In 1920, she was given honorable mention with a number of other non-American authors who were excluded by American Society of Arts and Sciences from receiving the O. Henry Memorial Award. Her 1929 novel The Peep Show was adapted into a Broadway show by playwright Elsie Schauffler.
After Henry's death in 1930, Dudeney remained in Lewes and continued writing up until 1937. She died on 21 November 1945, after suffering a stroke and was buried alongside her husband in the Lewes town cemetery. Their grave is marked by a copy of an 18th-century Sussex sandstone obelisk, which Alice had copied after Henry's death to serve as their mutual tombstone.
Over 50 years following her death, Alice's personal diaries were edited by Diana Crook and published in 1998. The book, titled A Lewes Diary: 1916–1944, described her sometimes troubled married life with Henry Dudeney during their 30-years living in Lewes. Several anecdotes were used in later books of wartime diaries. The success of this book resulted in several of her stories being reprinted, including Spindle and Plough, Men of Marlowe's and Robin Brilliant in 2008 and The Maternity of Harriott Wicken, Rachel Lorian, The Story of Susan, Trespass, A Large Room, The Battle of the Weak, Or, Gossips Green and Folly Corner in 2009.
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