Elizabeth Caroline Grey

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Elizabeth Caroline Grey (1798–1869), aka Mrs. Colonel Grey or Mrs. Grey, was a prolific English author[1] of over 30 romance novels, silver fork novels, Gothic novels, sensation fiction and Penny Dreadfuls, active between the 1820s and 1867. There is some controversy about the details of her life story, and if she actually authored any penny dreadfuls.[2]


Commenting on her literary reputation in 1859, American critic Samuel Austin Allibone said Grey "has fairly earned a title to be ranked as one of the most popular novelists of the day."[3] That reputation has not lasted, her life and body of work today are fairly obscure outside of a few specialised fields of study such as Victorian literature and vampire literature. Grey is probably most often remembered today as being the first woman to write and publish a vampire story; one of her earliest stories, The Skeleton Count, or The Vampire Mistress, it was first published in 1828 in the weekly paper The Casket.[4][5]

Elizabeth's maiden name was Duncan and she was the niece of "Miss Duncan", a famous actress of the late 18th century.[6] Elizabeth married "Colonel Grey",[1] a reporter for the Morning Chronicle, about whom very little else is known.[6] Elizabeth Grey worked at a London school for girls. In her spare time wrote silver fork novels,[6] such as Sybil Lennard (1846), about a Swiss orphan who rises to become a governess in England; it has been described by John Sutherland as resembling the fiction of the Brontë sisters.[6] She also wrote penny dreadfuls such as Murder Will Out (1860) and The Iron Mask (1847).[6] Grey's ability to write both "proper" fiction for polite society, and sensational Gothic and penny dreadfuls (some of which were initially published anonymously), earned her a broad audience in her day.

Literary hoax[edit]

There is suspicion that not all the books attributed to Mrs. Grey were written by her, indeed that her life story as traditionally told (such as in this article) may be a total fabrication.[2] Helen R. Smith, in "New Light on Sweeney Todd, Thomas Peckett Prest, James Malcolm Rymer and Elizabeth Caroline Grey," came to the conclusion that James Malcolm Rymer was the author of a string of Penny Dreadfuls confusingly attributed to Mrs. Grey.[2] The penny dreadfuls were published by Edward Lloyd, "It is hard to imagine that Elizabeth Caroline Grey, popular author of a large number of 3 volume silver fork novels, could have moonlighted as a penny-a-liner."[2]

Grey's name never appeared in any of these penny dreadfuls published by Lloyd, but she was attributed as the author by Andrew De Ternant in an article in Notes & Queries in 1922.[2] In fact, it's now known that Andrew De Ternant was a "notorious liar", as revealed in a recent investigation by Patrick Spedding in a paper "The Many Mrs Greys: Confusion and Lies about Elizabeth Caroline Grey, Catherine Maria Grey, Maria Georgina Grey and Others".[7] Indeed, Spedding says the traditional life story of Grey, which can be ultimately sourced back to Andrew De Ternant's version, and later replicated in respectable encyclopaedias such as John Sutherland's Companion to Victorian Fiction, is a total fabrication.[2]


Works by Elizabeth Caroline Grey.[8]

  • The Skeleton Count, or The Vampire Mistress, in 1828's The Casket. (penny dreadful).[9]
  • De Lisle: or, The Distrustful man. London: Bull, 1828.
  • The Trials of Life. London: E. Bull, 1829
  • Alice Seymour: A Tale. London: J. Hatchard and Son. 1831
  • The Duke. London: Bentley, 1839.
  • The Young Prima Donna. London: Bentley, 1840.
  • The Little Wife, and The Baronet's Daughters. London: Saunders and Otley, 1841.
  • The Belle of the Family: or, The Jointure: A Novel. London: Newby, 1843.
  • The Old Dower House: A Tale of Bygone Days. London: Newby, 1844.
  • The Bosom Friend: A Novel. London: Newby, 1845.
  • The Gambler's Wife. London: Newby, 1845.
  • Hyacinthe; or, The Contrast. London: Newby, 1845.
  • Sybil Lennard. London: Newby, 1846.
  • The Ordeal by Touch. 1846. (penny dreadful)[9]
  • The Daughters. London: Newby, 1847.
  • The Iron Mask. 1847. (penny dreadful)[9]
  • Aline: An Old Friend's Story. London: Newby, 1848.
  • The Rectory Guest. London: Newby, 1849.
  • Mabel Carrington: A Novel. London: Newby, 1849.
  • An Old Country House. London: Newby, 1850.
  • Mary Seaham. London: Colburn, 1852.
  • The Young Husband. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1854.
  • Sibyl's Little Daughter: A Sequel to The Gipsy's Daughter. London: Thomas Cautley Newby, 1854
  • Cousin Harry: A Novel. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1858.
  • Two Hearts Tale. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1858.
  • The Opera-Singers Wife. London, 1860.[10]
  • The Little Beauty: A Novel. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1860.
  • Murder Will Out. 1860. (penny dreadful)[9]
  • One of the Family. 1861.[10]
  • The Autobiography of Frank, the Happiest Dog that Ever Lived. London, 1861.[10]
  • Passages in the Life of a Fast Young Lady. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862.
  • Good Society: or, Contrasts of Character. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1863.
  • Love's Sacrifice. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1867.


  1. ^ a b Elizabeth Caroline Grey from At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Elizabeth Caroline Grey Hoax", John Adcock, Yesterday's Papers, 24 June 2010
  3. ^ Samuel Austin Allibone. A critical dictionary of English literature, and British and American authors, living and deceased, from the earliest accounts to the middle of the nineteenth century. Containing thirty thousand biographies and literary notices, with forty indexes of subjects. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co. [etc.], 1859–71.
  4. ^ Peter Haining. The Vampire Omnibus. Orion mass market paperback (17 July 1995). ISBN 978-1-85797-684-7
  5. ^ Female Vampires in Literature, last accessed May 2009. Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b c d e The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction, John Sutherland, 1989, ISBN 978-0-8047-1842-4
  7. ^ Patrick Spedding. "The Many Mrs Grey: Confusion and Lies about Elizabeth Caroline Grey, Catherine Maria Grey, Maria Georgina Grey and Others". The Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America.
  8. ^ All works listed here are available on Google Books or Internet Archive, unless otherwise noted where the title was found.
  9. ^ a b c d Vampire Legends, from Quite Interesting, last accessed May 2009.
  10. ^ a b c John Foster Kirk, Samuel Austin Allibone. A Supplement to Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature, Volume 1, Published by J. B. Lippincott company, 1891.

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