Lucas Malet

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Lucas Malet was the pseudonym of Mary St Leger Kingsley (4 June 1852 — 1931), a Victorian novelist. Of her novels, The Wages of Sin (1891) and The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901) were especially popular.[1] Malet scholar Talia Schaffer notes that she was "widely regarded as one of the premier writers of fiction in the English-speaking world"[2] at the height of her career, but her reputation declined by the end of her life and today she is rarely read or studied. At the height of her popularity she was "compared favorably to Thomas Hardy, and Henry James, with sales rivaling Rudyard Kipling."[2] Malet's fin de siecle novels offer "detailed, sensitive investigations of the psychology of masochism, perverse desires, unconventional gender roles, and the body."[2]

Early years[edit]

She was born in Eversley, Hampshire, the daughter of Reverend Charles Kingsley (author of The Water Babies) and his wife Frances Eliza Grenfell. She was the third of the couple's four children. She was educated at home and studied art with Sir Edward Poynter.[3]


In 1876, she married William Harrison,[4] a colleague of her father's, Minor Canon of Westminster, and Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen. Malet gave up artistic aspirations after the marriage.[3] The marriage was childless and unhappy, and the couple soon separated. After the separation, Malet embarked on an independent writing career, forming her pen name by combining two little-known family names. Her first novel, Mrs. Lorimer, a Sketch in Black and White, was published in 1882.[5] Critical attention and praise came with Malet's second novel, Colonel Enderby's Wife, published in 1885, which fictionalized her brief failed marriage.

Malet lived for most of her life on the Continent with the singer Gabrielle Vallings.[6] Vallings, much younger than Malet, was the author's cousin, romantic companion and adopted daughter. The two traveled abroad frequently together, including spending significant time in France. Malet spent much of the end of her life in France where she was a part of "high literary circles."[3] She wrote frequently during this time, often out of economic necessity. Despite her tremendous critical and economic success during the height of her career, Malet died in penury at the home of a friend in Wales in 1931.[3]

Literary development[edit]

Although a dearth of recent critical attention to Malet has meant, among other things, that it has been difficult to catalog the entirety of her oeuvre,[2] we know that Malet wrote at least 17 novels, 2 books of short fiction, many short stores, literary essays, and poems.[3] She also finished at least one of her father's novels.[3] Talia Schaffer notes that her "literary ideologies were shaped by writers ranging from George Eliot to Zola."[2] Her father, niece and cousin were all writers as well, but today Malet remains the least studied of the Kingsley writers:[3] her "authorial persona emerges as a way to escape her biographical situation."[2] Malet's first novel was Mrs. Lorimer, a Sketch in Black and White, (1882) while her first critical success was Colonel Enderby's Wife (1885). The Wages of Sin, generally regarded as one of Malet's most important novels, was published in 1891: the novel is believed by some critics to have been a major influence on Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.[3] Henry James was both an admirer of Malet's writing and eventually a close personal friend.[3] Malet's The Gateless Barrier (1900) is a novel-length ghost story[7] – an example of how, where her early novels were genteel Victorian romances, by the 1890s Malet was using the ideas of the aesthetic movement to explore more transgressive themes, such as adultery and sadism.[8]

Her later novels, such as The Survivors (1923) are proto-modernist in their explorations of marginal consciousnesses.[8] E. F. Benson acknowledged his debt to her critical advice in his memoir Our Family Affairs.[9] Despite her importance, Malet died in poverty in 1931. Her last novel, The Private Life of Mr. Justice Syme, was completed after the author's death by her companion Gabrielle Vallings, and published in August 1932.[5] Biographer Patricia Lorimer Lundberg attributes Malet's swift decline in reputation to multiple factors including the author's confusing sexual and gender politics and an "evolving modernist style" that "met with sloppy reviews that endeavored to push her back into Victorianism."[10] Lundberg's book, An Inward Necessity: the Writer's Life of Lucas Malet, remains the only major biography of the author. Talia Schaffer notes that Lundberg's book re-constructs historical gaps in the author's life created both by critical neglect and Malet's own actions (she asked Vallings to burn her personal papers, for example.)[2] The biography uses Malet's life and work to show "how late Victorian conditions fostered an oeuvre as ambitious as Malet's and how the advent of modernism damaged her reputation."[2]

Selected works[edit]


She also completed her father's unfinished novel The Tutor's Story.

Short stories and novellas[edit]

  • The Score (1909)
  • Da Silva's Widow and Other Stories (1922)
  • "A Conversion" (Published in World Fiction 1922. It was later republished as "The Pool" in London Magazine 1930)
  • "The Lay Figure" (Published in The Graphic 1923)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ I. Ousby ed., The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1995) p. 594
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Schaffer, Talia (2010-05-21). "Lucas Malet Biography". English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920. 47 (3): 347–349. ISSN 1559-2715.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Literary Worlds > Lucas Malet". Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  4. ^ "Harrison, Mary St. Leger". Who's Who,. 59: 790. 1907.
  5. ^ a b "Lucas Malet Orlando Project". Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  6. ^ P. L. Lundberg, An Inward Necessity (2003)
  7. ^ "in Malet's The Gateless Barrier, set at the end of the nineteenth century, the ghost of an eighteenth-century woman lives in "the yellow drawing-room..."Talia Schaffer, The Forgotten Female aesthetes : literary culture in late-Victorian England. Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 2000. ISBN 0813919363 (p. 98)
  8. ^ a b T. Schaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes (2000) p. 199
  9. ^ P. L. Lundberg, An Inward Necessity (2003) p. 162
  10. ^ Lundberg, Patricia Lorimer (2003). An Inward Necessity: The Writer's Life of Lucas Malet. Peter Lang.

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