Annie S. Swan

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Annie S. Swan CBE
Swan in April 1905
Swan in April 1905
BornAnnie Shepherd Swan
(1859-07-08)8 July 1859
Mountskip, Gorebridge, Scotland
Died17 June 1943(1943-06-17) (aged 83)
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Pen nameAnnie S. Swan, Annie S. Smith, David Lyall, Mrs Burnett-Smith
OccupationWriter, novelist, journalist
GenreFiction, dramatic fiction, romantic fiction, non-fiction, advice, feminism, politics, religion, social commentary
Notable worksAldersyde (1884)
SpouseJames Burnett Smith (1883–1927)

Annie Shepherd Swan (8 July 1859 – 17 June 1943) was a Scottish journalist, novelist and story writer, who wrote mainly under her maiden name, but also as David Lyall and later Mrs Burnett Smith. As a popular writer of romantic fiction for women, she published over 200 novels, serials, short stories and other fiction between 1878 and her death in 1943.[1][2][3][4] She has been called "one of the most commercially successful popular novelists of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries".[5] Swan was politically active throughout her life: during the war effort of the First World War, as a suffragist, as a Liberal activist, and as a founder-member and vice-president of the Scottish National Party.

Early life[edit]

Swan was born on 8 June 1859 in Mountskip, Gorebridge, Scotland.[6] She was one of the seven children of Edward Swan (died 1893), a farmer and merchant, by his first wife, Euphemia Brown (died 1881). After her father's business failed, she attended school in Edinburgh, latterly at the Queen Street Ladies College. Her father belonged to an Evangelical Union congregation, but she turned in adulthood to the Church of Scotland. She persistently wrote fiction as a teenager.[7]


Her first publication was Wrongs Righted (1881), which appeared as a serial in The People's Friend. This periodical she long saw as the mainstay of her career, although she contributed to many others.[8]

The novel that made her reputation was Aldersyde (1883), a romance set in the Scottish Borders, which was favourably reviewed. Swan received an autographed letter of appreciation from Lord Tennyson, while the prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone wrote in a letter to The Scotsman that he thought it as "beautiful as a work of art" for its "truly living sketches of Scottish character".[9]

Later successes included The Gates of Eden (1887) and Maitland of Lauriston (1891). These owed a debt to the fiction of Margaret Oliphant, who was among her critics, accusing Swan's novels of presenting a stereotypical, unrealistic depiction of Scotland. In a review of Carlowrie (1884), Oliphant went so far as to say Swan "presented an entirely distorted view of Scottish life."[8] Because of her dominance over Women at Home, editor-in-chief W.R. Nicoll often called it Annie Swan's Magazine. She later became editor of the magazine from 1893 to 1917.[3] While writing for the British Weekly, she became acquainted with S. R. Crockett and J. M. Barrie, whose work like hers was given the unflattering epithet kailyard, an allusion to its parochialism and sentimentality.[7]

By 1898, Swan had published over 30 books,[2] primarily novels, many serially published. She also wrote poetry and stories, and books on advice, politics and religion. In 1901, The Juridical Review reported that Swan's books were the most favoured among female inmates in Irish prisons.[10] In 1906, she was profiled in Helen Black's Notable Women Authors of the Day. She is named as the favourite novelist of William Morel's sweetheart Lily in D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913).[11]

(L to R) Helen Crawfurd, Janet Barrowman, Margaret McPhun, Mrs A. A. Wilson, Frances McPhun, Nancy A. John and Annie Swan.

Swan used her maiden name for most of her career,[2][8] but occasionally the pseudonyms David Lyall and later Mrs Burnett Smith. She was also a respected public speaker involved in social and political causes such as the Temperance movement. She wrote books and novels on the suffragist movement in Britain, often under her David Lyall pen name, such as Margaret Holroyd: or, the Pioneers (1910).[12][13] The novel took the form of interconnecting stories that followed a young suffragette, Margaret Holroyd, and dealt with many real problems faced by suffragettes and suffragists, such as disapproval from family and friends, fear of public speaking, physical exhaustion and ethical dilemmas in a rebellious and sometimes militant atmosphere.[14]

Starting in 1924, Swan ran another penny weekly The Annie Swan Annual. She also wrote several popular novels during this time including The Last of the Laidlaws (1920), Closed Doors (1926) and The Pendulum (1926).[4] After her husband's death in 1927,[2] Swan returned to Scotland, settling in Gullane, East Lothian. In 1930, she received the CBE in recognition of her contribution to literature. She also remained involved in politics, becoming a founding member of the Scottish National Party[15] and serving as its Vice President.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Swan married the schoolteacher James Burnett Smith (1857–1927) in 1883. They lived initially at Star of Markinch, Fife, where she became close friends with the Scottish theologian Robert Flint and his sister.[17] They moved two years later to Morningside, Edinburgh, where Burnett Smith became a medical student, and in 1893 to London, where their two children, Effie (1893–1973) and Eddie (born 1896), were born.[7]

While in London they became close friends and neighbours with writer Beatrice Harraden, as well as with Joseph and Emma Parker at a later date in Hampstead.[18][19] After the family moved to Hertford in 1908, her son Eddie died in a shooting accident in September 1910.[7]

Swan's autobiography My Life appeared in 1934[3] and was reprinted six times within a year of publication.[5] Her final published work was an article for Homes and Gardens, "Testament of Age", in March 1943. She died of heart disease three months later at her home in Gullane on 17 June 1943.[7] A collection of her personal correspondence, The Letters of Annie S. Swan (1945), was edited by Mildred Robertson Nicoll and published two years later.

Public life[edit]

During the First World War, Swan resigned her editorial position and volunteered for the British war effort. During the First World War she went to France on a morale-boosting tour and also worked with Belgian refugees.[7] Swan visited the United States in January 1918 and again after the armistice at the end of the year. She met Herbert Hoover, then head of the U.S. Food Administration, and lectured on the necessity for conserving food on the American home front as well as informing the American public of Britain's wartime contributions.[20] Two successful plays, Getting Together by John Hay Beith and The Better 'Ole by Bruce Bairnsfather, were written for the occasion.[21] While in the United States, she also took the opportunity to write a book on the cultural differences between women in Britain and the United States entitled As Others See Her: An Englishwoman's Impressions of the American Woman in War Time (1919).

Swan was an active Liberal throughout her life, and became a well-known suffragist. Shortly after the passage of Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women the vote in Britain, she was the first female candidate when she stood unsuccessfully for the Maryhill division of Glasgow in the general election of 1922.[22] There were only 32 female candidates across Britain at that general election, only two of whom were returned.[23]

Annie Burnett Smith
General Election 1922: Glasgow Maryhill Electorate 34,622
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour John William Muir 13,058 47.3
Unionist Sir William Mitchell-Thomson 10,951 39.6
Liberal Annie Burnett Smith 3,617 13.1
Majority 2,107 7.7

Following her defeat, the Women's Freedom League claimed that Swan and other female candidates would have been elected under the system of proportional representation seen in other European countries such as Ireland, Netherlands and Germany.[24] She was also a founding member[15] and one-time vice president of the Scottish National Party.[16]

Later life[edit]

Her husband died in 1927, after which Swan and her daughter moved to Gullane, East Lothian. She was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1930 Birthday Honours for literary and public services.[25] She died at her home in Gullane on 17 June 1943, aged 80.[6]

Posthumous reputation[edit]

In the years since her death, there has been little study of her life or work by literary historians. However, articles such as Edmond Gardiner's "Annie S. Swan – Forerunner of Modern Popular Fiction" (1974) and Charlotte Reid's "A Cursory of Inspection to Annie S. Swan" (1990) pointed out her literary contributions. Several of her novels have been reprinted in the last decade.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons – via Wikisource.
  1. ^ Aitken, William Russell. Scottish Literature in English and Scots: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982, p. 170. ISBN 0-8103-1249-2
  2. ^ a b c d Sutherland, John. The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8047-1842-3, pp. 200–201.
  3. ^ a b c Varty, Anne, ed. Eve's Century: A Sourcebook of Writings on Women and Journalism, 1895–1918. London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 254. ISBN 0-415-19544-6
  4. ^ a b Anderson, Carol and Aileen Christianson. Scottish Women's Fiction, 1920s to 1960s: Journeys Into Being. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 2000, p. 165. ISBN 1-86232-082-9
  5. ^ a b Dickson, Beth (1997). "Annie S. Swan and O. Douglas: Legacies of the Kailyard". In Gifford, Douglas; Macmillan, Dorothy (eds.). A History of Scottish Women's Writing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 329–346.
  6. ^ a b "Obituary. Well-known Scots novelist. Mrs Burnett Smith". The Glasgow Herald. 18 June 1943. p. 6. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Dickson, Beth (September 2004). "Swan [married name Burnett Smith], Annie Shepherd [pseud. David Lyall] (1859-1943)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40374.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ a b c Lindsay, Maurice. History of Scottish Literature. London: Hale, 1977, p. 348. ISBN 0-7091-5642-1
  9. ^ Crawford, Robert. Scotland's Books: A History of Scottish Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 0-19-538623-X
  10. ^ Guthrie, Charles J. "Our Punishment Of Crime – An Admitted Failure". The Juridical Review: A Journal of Legal and Political Science. Vol. XIII. Edinburgh: William Green & Sons, 1901, p. 139.
  11. ^ "Swan, Annie S. – Oxford Reference". doi:10.1093/acref/9780198117605.001.0001/acref-9780198117605-e-1121. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  12. ^ Joannou, Maroula and June Purvis. The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998, p. 116. ISBN 0-7190-4860-5
  13. ^ Crawford, Elizabeth. The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928. London and New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 471. ISBN 0-415-23926-5
  14. ^ Miller, Jane Eldridge. Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism, and the Edwardian Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 139–140. ISBN 0-226-52677-1
  15. ^ a b Harvie, Christopher. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Twentieth-century Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998, p. 124. ISBN 0-7486-0999-7
  16. ^ a b Brand, Jack. The National Movement in Scotland. London, Henley and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, p. 236. ISBN 0-7100-8866-3
  17. ^ Macmillan, Donald. The Life of Robert Flint. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914, p. 466–467.
  18. ^ Henry, Dr. Robert T. The Golden Age of Preaching: Men Who Moved the Masses Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2005, p. 126. ISBN 0-595-36222-2
  19. ^ Waller, Philip J. Writers, Readers, and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain, 1870-1918. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 505. ISBN 0-19-820677-1
  20. ^ "When I am M.P.". The Vote. 30 June 1922.
  21. ^ Lyddon, William George. British War Missions to the United States, 1914–1918. Oxford University Press, 1938, p. 186.
  22. ^ "Glasgow's Poll. Labour wins ten seats. Prime Minister's return". The Glasgow Herald. 16 November 1922. p. 7. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Lady candidates. Two former Members returned". The Glasgow Herald. 17 November 1922. p. 9. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  24. ^ Law, Cheryl. Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement, 1918-1928. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000, p. 153. ISBN 1-86064-478-3
  25. ^ "Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood" (PDF). The Edinburgh Gazette. 6 June 1930. p. 651. Retrieved 28 May 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beetham, Margaret. A Magazine of Her Own?: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-04920-2
  • Browning, DC; Cousin, John W  (1969). Everyman's dictionary of literary biography. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.
  • Finkelstein, David and Alistair McCleery. The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland: Professionalism and Diversity, 1880-2000. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-7486-1829-5
  • Gardiner, Edmond F. "Annie S. Swan – Forerunner of Modern Popular Fiction". Library Review, 24.6 (1974)
  • Reid, Charlotte. "A Cursory of Inspection to Annie S. Swan". Cencrastus. (Winter 1990/91)

External links[edit]