Hugh Lofting

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Hugh Lofting
Lofting as a young man
Lofting as a young man
BornHugh John Lofting
(1886-01-14)14 January 1886
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, UK
Died26 September 1947(1947-09-26) (aged 61)
Topanga, California, USA
Resting placeEvergreen Cemetery, Killingworth, Middlesex County, Connecticut, USA
OccupationNovelist, poet
GenreChildren's literature, fantasy
Notable worksDoctor Dolittle series
Notable awardsNewbery Medal
SpouseFlora Werner Small (1912–1927), Katherine Ganson Harrower (1929–1929), Josephine Fricker (1925–1947)

Hugh John Lofting (14 January 1886 – 26 September 1947) was an English American writer trained as a civil engineer, who created the classic children's literature character Doctor Dolittle.[1] The fictional physician to talking animals, based in an English village, first appeared in illustrated letters to his children which Lofting sent from British Army trenches in the First World War. Lofting settled in the United States soon after the war and before his first book was published.

Personal life[edit]

Lofting, born January 14, 1886, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, to Elizabeth Agnes (Gannon) and John Brien Lofting,[2] was of English and Irish ancestry.[3] His eldest brother, Hilary Lofting, later became a novelist in Australia, having emigrated there in 1915.

Lofting was educated at Mount St Mary's College in Spinkhill, Derbyshire. From 1905 to 1906, he studied civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[4][5]

Lofting travelled widely as a civil engineer before enlisting in the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army in the First World War. Not wishing to write to his children about the brutal war, he wrote imaginative letters, which later became the foundation of the successful Doctor Dolittle novels for children. Seriously wounded in the war, he emigrated with his family to Killingworth, Connecticut, in 1919.[6] He was married three times and had three children, one of whom, his son Christopher,[7] became the executor of his literary estate.

Lofting died September 26, 1947, at his home in Topanga, California[8] from cirrhosis of the liver.[2] He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Killingworth, Middlesex County, Connecticut.[9]

Doctor Dolittle[edit]

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting's character, Doctor John Dolittle, an English physician from "Puddleby-on-the-Marsh" in the West Country, who could speak to animals, first saw light in illustrated letters written to his children from the trenches, when actual news, he later said, was too horrible or too dull. The stories are set in early Victorian England in the 1820s–1840s – The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle gives a date of 1839.[10]

The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed (1920) began the series and won a posthumous Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. Its first sequel, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922) won a Newbery Medal. Eight novels completed by Lofting followed and two more books were edited after his death.

Other works for children[edit]

The Story of Mrs Tubbs (1923) and Tommy, Tilly, and Mrs. Tubbs (1936) are picture books aimed at a younger audience than the Doctor Dolittle books. They tell of the old woman and her pets, with whom she can speak, and the animals who help her out of trouble.

Porridge Poetry (1924) is the only non-Dolittle work by Lofting still in print. It is a lighthearted, colourfully illustrated book of poems for children. Noisy Nora (1929) is a cautionary tale about a girl who is a noisy eater. The book is printed as if hand-written, and the many illustrations often merge with the text.

The Twilight of Magic (1930) is aimed at older readers. It is set in an age when magic is dying and science beginning. This work is the only one of Lofting's books to be illustrated by another person: Lois Lenski.[10]

Victory for the Slain[edit]

Victory for the Slain (1942), Lofting's only work for adults, consists of a single long poem in seven parts about the futility of war, permeated by the refrain "In war the only victors are the slain". It appeared only in the United Kingdom.[10]

Published books[edit]

Lofting commented: "For years it was a constant source of shock to me to find my writings amongst 'juveniles'. It does not bother me any more now, but I still feel there should be a category of 'seniles' to offset the epithet".[10]


  1. ^ "Hugh Lofting". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  2. ^ a b Death certificate for Hugh John Lofting. Family Search ( Username and password required!
  3. ^ "Hugh Lofting (1886–1947)". The Free Library by Farlex ( Confirmed 9 January 2023.
  4. ^ "Register of Students" (PDF). Bulletin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 41 (1): 386. December 1905. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  5. ^ "150 Years in the Stacks – Year 60 – 1920: The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting". Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries. Archived from the original on 29 November 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  6. ^ Cindi Pietrzyk, Connecticut Off the Beaten Path, p. 157. Globe Pequot, 2013.
  7. ^ "Obituary of Christopher Clement Lofting". The Gannon Funeral Home, Inc. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  8. ^ "Hugh Lofting Noted Topanga Writer, Passes". Topanga Journal. 3 October 1947. "Requiem mass was recited Tuesday morning ...".
    "Topanga Journal and Malibu Monitor from Topanga, California on October 3, 1947 · 1". Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  9. ^ "Cemeteries". Hartford Courant. 16 July 1999.
    "Hartford Courant from Hartford, Connecticut on July 16, 1999 · Page 41". Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d G. D. Schmidt (1992), Hugh Lofting. New York: Twayne Publishing.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Newbery Medal winner
Succeeded by