Grant Allen

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Grant Allen
Portrait of Grant Allen, by Elliott & Fry
Portrait of Grant Allen, by Elliott & Fry
BornCharles Grant Blairfindie Allen
(1848-02-24)24 February 1848
Wolfe Island near Kingston, Canada West
Died25 October 1899(1899-10-25) (aged 51)
Hindhead, Haslemere, England
Alma materOxford
Notable worksThe Woman Who Did
The Evolution of the Idea of God
The British Barbarians
Caroline Anne Bootheway
(m. 1868; died 1872)

Ellen Jerrard
(m. 1873)

Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen (February 24, 1848 – October 25, 1899) was a Canadian science writer and novelist, educated in England. He was a public promoter of evolution in the second half of the nineteenth century.[1]


Early life and education[edit]

Allen was born on Wolfe Island near Kingston, Canada West (known as Ontario after Confederation), the second son of Catharine Ann Grant and the Rev. Joseph Antisell Allen, a Protestant minister from Dublin, Ireland.[2] His mother was a daughter of the fifth Baron de Longueuil. Allen was educated at home until, at age 13, he and his parents moved to the United States, then to France, and finally to the United Kingdom.[3] He was educated at King Edward's School in Birmingham and at Merton College in Oxford, both in the United Kingdom.[4]

After graduation, Allen studied in France, taught at Brighton College in 1870–71, and in his mid-twenties became a professor at Queen's College, a black college in Jamaica.[5] Despite being the son of a minister, Allen became an atheist and a socialist.

Writing career[edit]

After leaving his professorship, in 1876 he returned to England, where he turned his talents to writing, gaining a reputation for his essays on science and for literary works. A 2007 book by Oliver Sacks cites with approval one of Allen's early articles, "Note-Deafness" (a description of what became known as amusia, published in 1878 in the learned journal Mind).[6]

Allen's first books dealt with scientific subjects, and include Physiological Æsthetics (1877) and Flowers and Their Pedigrees (1886) He was first influenced by associationist psychology as expounded by Alexander Bain and by Herbert Spencer, the latter who especially espoused the transition from associationist psychology to Darwinian functionalism. In Allen's many articles on flowers and on perception in insects, Darwinian arguments replaced the old Spencerian terms, leading to a radically new vision of plant life that influenced H.G. Wells and helped transform later botanical research.[7]

On a personal level, a long friendship that started when Allen met Spencer on his return from Jamaica grew uneasy over the years. Allen wrote a critical and revealing biographical article on Spencer that was published after Spencer's death.

After assisting Sir W. W. Hunter with his Gazetteer of India in the early 1880s, Allen turned his attention to fiction, and between 1884 and 1899 produced about 30 novels. In 1895, his scandalous book titled The Woman Who Did, promulgating certain startling views on marriage and kindred questions, became a bestseller. The book told the story of an independent woman who has a child out of wedlock.[8] Owing to his concern with these subjects, Allen was associated with Thomas Hardy, whose novel Jude the Obscure (1895) was published the same year as The Woman Who Did.

In his career, Allen wrote two novels under female pseudonyms. One of these, the short novel The Type-writer Girl, he wrote under the name Olive Pratt Rayner.

Another work, The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897), propounds a theory of religion on heterodox lines comparable to Herbert Spencer's "ghost theory".[9] Allen's theory became well known and brief references to it appear in a review by Marcel Mauss, Durkheim's nephew, in the articles of William James and in the works of Sigmund Freud. The young G. K. Chesterton wrote on what he considered the flawed premise of the idea, arguing that the idea of God preceded human mythologies, rather than developing from them. Chesterton said of Allen's book on the evolution of the idea of God: "it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book on the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen".[10]

Allen also became a pioneer in science fiction, with the novel The British Barbarians (1895) This book, published about the same time as H. G. Wells's The Time Machine (which appeared in January–May 1895, and which includes a mention of Allen[3][11]), also described time travel, although the plot is quite different. Allen's short story The Thames Valley Catastrophe (published December 1897 in The Strand Magazine) describes the destruction of London by a sudden and massive volcanic eruption.


Personal life[edit]

Allen married twice, first to Caroline Ann Bootheway (1846–1871) and secondly to Ellen Jerrard (b, 1853) with whom he had one son, Jerrard Grant Allen (1878–1946), a theatrical agent/manager who in 1913 married the actress and singer Violet Englefield. They had a son, Reginald "Reggie" Grant Allen (1910-1985).[citation needed]

Grant Allen's nephew, Grant Richards, was a writer and publisher who founded the Grant Richards publishing house. Allen encouraged his nephew's interest in books and publishing and helped him obtain his first positions in the book trade.[12] Richards was later to publish a number of books written by his uncle, including The Evolution of the Idea of God and those in the book series Grant Allen's Historical Guides.[13]

Allen's nieces by marriage, novelist Netta Syrett, and artists Mabel Syrett and Nellie Syrret all contributed work to The Yellow Book.[14][15]

In 1893 Allen left London for the hills around the Devil's Punch Bowl, enthusing on the advantages of the change of scene: "Up here on the free hills, the sharp air blows in upon us, limpid and clear from a thousand leagues of open ocean; down there in the stagnant town, it stagnates and ferments."[16]

Death and posthumous publication[edit]

Grant Allen died of liver cancer at his home on Hindhead, Haslemere, Surrey, England, on October 25, 1899.[17] He died before finishing Hilda Wade. The novel's final episode, which he dictated to his friend, doctor and neighbor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from his bed, appeared under the appropriate title, "The Episode of the Dead Man Who Spoke" in the Strand Magazine in 1900.


Many histories of detective fiction mention Allen as an innovator. The illustrious Colonel Clay is a precursor of other gentleman rogue characters; he notably bears a strong resemblance to Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin, introduced some years later, and both Miss Cayley's Adventures and Hilda Wade feature early female detectives.

The Scene of the Crime Festival, an annual festival celebrating Canadian mystery fiction, takes place annually on Wolfe Island, Ontario, near Kingston, Allen's birthplace and honors Allen.[18]

A metal arch commemorating Allen, was designed by Lucy Quinnell and installed at the entrance to Allen Court in Dorking, Surrey in 2013.[19]


What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys' schooling interfere with their education! [20]

Partial bibliography[edit]

The British Barbarians, 1895


  • (1877) Physiological Esthetics
  • (1879) The Colour-Sense: Its Origin and Development
  • (1881) Evolutionist at Large
  • (1881) Vignettes from Nature
  • (1882) The Colours of Flowers
  • (1883) Colin Clout's Calendar
  • (1883) Flowers and Their Pedigrees
  • (1884) Philistia. Allen's FIRST NOVEL
  • (1884) Strange Stories. Short Stories
  • (1885) Babylon. A novel in 3 volumes
  • (1885) Charles Darwin. (English Worthies)
  • (1886) For Mamie's Sake
  • (1886) In All Shades
  • (1887) The Beckoning Hand and Other Stories. Short Stories
  • (1888) This Mortal Coil: A Novel
  • (1888) Force and Energy
  • (1888) The Devil's Die
  • (1888) The White Man's Foot
  • (1889) Falling in Love
  • (1889) The Tents of Shem
  • (1890) Wednesday the Tenth
  • (1890) The Great Taboo
  • (1891) Dumaresq's Daughter
  • (1891) What's Bred in the Bone
  • (1892) Pallinghurst Barrow. Short Story.
  • (1892) The Duchess of Powysland
  • (1893) The Scallywag
  • (1893) Michael's Crag
  • (1894) The Lower Slopes
  • (1894) Post-Prandial Philosophy
  • (1895) The British Barbarians
  • (1895) At Market Value
  • (1895) The Story of the Plants
  • (1895) The Desire of the Eyes
  • (1895) The Woman Who Did
  • (1896) The Jaws of Death
  • (1896) A Bride from the Desert
  • (1896) Under Sealed Orders
  • (1896) Moorland Idylls
  • (1897) Kalee's Shrine
  • (1897) An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay
  • (1897) The Evolution of the Idea of God
  • (1897) Paris (Grant Allen's Historical Guides)
  • (1897) Florence (Grant Allen's Historical Guides)
  • (1897) Cities of Belgium (Grant Allen's Historical Guides)
  • (1897) The Type-writer Girl (as Olive Pratt Rayner)
  • (1897) Tom, Unlimited (as Martin Leach Warborough)
  • (1898) Flashlights on Nature: A popular account of the life histories of some familiar insects, birds, plants, etc. with 150 illustrations by Frederick Enock. London: Grant Richards. 1898. OCLC 153673491 (all editions).[21]
  • (1898) The Incidental Bishop
  • (1898) Venice. (Grant Allen's Historical Guides)
  • (1899) The European Tour
  • (1899) A Splendid Sin
  • (1899) Miss Cayley's Adventures. Detective novel
  • (1899) Twelve Tales: With a Headpiece, a Tailpiece, and an Intermezzo
  • (1900) Hilda Wade. Detective novel finished by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • (1900) Linnet
  • (1901) The Backslider
  • (1901) In Nature's Workshop
  • (1908) Evolution in Italian Art
  • (1909) The Hand of God
  • (1909) The Plants

Selected articles[edit]

Further reading[edit]



  1. ^ "Grant Allen Biography". The Literature Network. Archived from the original on October 3, 2019. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  2. ^ Rand, Theodore H. (1900). Treasury of Canadian Verse. New York: Dutton. p. 387.
  3. ^ a b John Robert Colombo, ed. (1979). "Grant Allen – The Child of the Phalanstery". Other Canadas An Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. McGraw-Hill Ryerson. p. 30. ISBN 0-07-082953-5.
  4. ^ Head, Dominic (2006). The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19. ISBN 0-521-83179-2.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Allen, Grant" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 691.
  6. ^ Sacks, Oliver (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Pan Macmillan (published 2011). ISBN 9780330471138. Archived from the original on June 23, 2016. Retrieved November 29, 2015. The first extended description of amusia in the medical literature was an 1878 paper by Grant Allen in the journal Mind [...] Allen's lengthy paper included a superb case of a young man whom he had "abundant opportunities of observing and experimenting upon" - the sort of detailed case study that established experimental neurology and psychology in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
  7. ^ Endersby, Jim (2016). "Deceived by orchids: sex, science, fiction and Darwin" (PDF). The British Journal for the History of Science. 49 (2): 205–229. doi:10.1017/S0007087416000352. PMID 27278105. S2CID 23027055. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 19, 2018. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  8. ^ Cameron, Brooke (2008). "Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did: Spencerian Individualism and Teaching New Women to Be Mothers". English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920. 51 (3): 281–301. doi:10.2487/elt.51.3(2008)0025. S2CID 144989371.
  9. ^ "Review of The Evolution of the Idea of God by Grant Allen". The Journal of Religion. January 1899. doi:10.1086/477043. Archived from the original on January 24, 2021. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  10. ^ Chesterton, G. K. (1926). The Everlasting Man. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 20.
  11. ^ Chapter V of the Heinemann text and Chapter VII of the Holt text
  12. ^ Grant Richards (1872–1948) Archived April 21, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  13. ^ Grant Allen's Historical Guides (Grant Richards) - Book Series List Archived April 20, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  14. ^ Nelson, Carolyn Christensen (November 7, 2000). A New Woman Reader: Fiction, Articles and Drama of the 1890s. Broadview Press. ISBN 978-1-55111-295-4. Archived from the original on January 24, 2021. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  15. ^ Stetz, Margaret D. (2019). "Netta Syrett (1865-1943) Y90s Biographies". Yellow Nineties 2.0. Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities.
  16. ^ Quoted in Richard Mabey, Dreams of the Good Life (Penguin 2015) pp. 47-48.
  17. ^ Van Arsdel, Rosemary T. (October 2005). "Allen, (Charles) Grant Blairfindie (1848–1899)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/373. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  18. ^ "'Scene of the Crime' Festival Honoring Grant Allen". Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved June 26, 2007.
  19. ^ Younger, Rebecca (July 2, 2013). "Dorking arch pays tribute to 19th Century writer". Get Surrey. Archived from the original on January 12, 2021. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  20. ^ Allen, Grant. "Post-Prandial Philosophy (1894)". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
  21. ^ In 1899 an edition was published by George Newnes Ltd (see e.g. OCLC 987667702; Allen 1899 at the Internet Archive) See also: review in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol. 3 (1899), issue 691 (January), p. 33/4. Many later editions were published.

External links[edit]