Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

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Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
The Irish writer, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
BornMargaret Hamilton
(1855-04-27)27 April 1855
Rosscarbery, County Cork, Ireland
Died24 January 1897(1897-01-24) (aged 41)
Bandon, County Cork, Ireland
Pen nameThe Duchess
EducationPortarlington College
Notable worksMolly Bawn
  • Edward Argles
  • Thomas Henry Hungerford
ChildrenTwo sons, four daughters

Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg Literature portal

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, née Hamilton, (27 April 1855 – 24 January 1897), was an Irish novelist whose light romantic fiction was popular throughout the English-speaking world in the late 19th century.


She was born in County Cork, Ireland on 27 April 1855. Her father was Canon Fitzjohn Stannus Hamilton, rector and vicar-choral at St. Faughnan's cathedral in Rosscarbery. As a child she enjoyed making up stories, and won prizes for her writing at school. She was educated at Portarlington College.

In 1872, she married Edward Argles, a Dublin solicitor, who died less than six years later. They had three daughters. To support the fatherless family, she wrote her first novel, Phyllis.[1] Soon after its favourable reception, she wrote Molly Bawn, which became her best-known book.

She married Thomas Henry Hungerford, of Cahirmore, in 1882, with whom she had two sons and one daughter. They lived at St. Brenda's, Bandon, County Cork. By contemporary accounts, she enjoyed country life and was an avid gardener. She rarely travelled far from home. She was one of the few women in Victorian times who was both a prolific author and mother of a sizeable family.

She died at Bandon of typhoid fever on 24 January 1897.


The writer as a girl (right), with her sister.

She approached her writing methodically, setting aside three hours every morning for it. The room where she did her writing had neatly organised manuscripts at her desk, surrounded by many reference works, novels, and other books.

Her books were first published anonymously, and later as by "Mrs. Hungerford". In the United States, her books were mostly published under the pen name "The Duchess". Some of her early books were published by William Tinsley, a major publisher at the time.

Often writing on commission, she wrote many novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. Her books continued selling as fast as she could write them.

Her plots follow the usual conventions of romantic novels of the day. They contain delicate love scenes that were never offensive to the ideals of Victorian morals. Her works are characterised as entertaining and charming, though usually not of great depth. She tends to have little in the way of character development, tending more towards flirtatious dialogue. She was adept at capturing the tone of her contemporary fashionable society, and sometimes used Irish settings.

Molly Bawn[edit]

Hungerford's best-known novel is Molly Bawn (1878) the story of a frivolous, petulant Irish girl, a flirt, who arouses her lover's jealousy and naively ignores social conventions. Mrs. Hungerford and this book are mentioned in chapter 18 of James Joyce's Ulysses:

"...Molly bawn she gave me by Mrs Hungerford on account of the name I don't like books with a Molly in them like that one he brought me about the one from Flanders..."

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"[edit]

Molly Bawn contains Hungerford's most famous idiom:

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".[2][3][4]



  1. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Hungerford, Margaret Hamilton Wolfe Argles" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  2. ^ Hungerford, MW (1878). Molly Bawn ISBN 1537606069
  3. ^ "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" The Phrase Finder. Retrieved: 9 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Margaret Hungerford Quotes and Quotations" Famous Quotes and Authors. Retrieved: 9 August 2013.

External links[edit]