Violet Fane

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Mary Montgomerie Currie (née Lamb)
Born 24 February 1843
Died 13 October 1905
Occupation Poet, Writer, Ambassadress

Henry Sydenham Singleton Esq. (m.-1893)

Sir Philip Currie (m.1894-1905)

Violet Fane is the literary pseudonym of Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie (née Lamb, 24 February 1843 – 13 October 1905). A poet, a writer, and later an ambassadress, who was active in the British literary scene from 1872 until her death in 1905, Fane was a literary celebrity associated with Aestheticism, Medievalism, whose verses were occasionally set to music by famous composers such as Paolo Tosti. As a well-known figure in London society, Fane's coterie included famous literary personas such as Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, A. W. Kinglake, Alfred Austin, James McNeil Whistler, Lillie Langtry, and Oscar Wilde, who praised the oracular bent of Fane’s opinions on 'the relation of art to nature' by saying that she ‘live[d] between Parnassus and Piccadilly’.[1]


Born as Mary Montgomerie Lamb prematurely on 24 February 1843 at Littlehampton, Sussex, Fane was the eldest daughter of Charles James Savile Montgomerie Lamb (1816–1856) and Anna Charlotte Gray (bap. 1824, d. 1880).[2] As the heir of the baronetcy of Burville, Berkshire, and Beauport, Charlie Lamb was descended from two aristocratic families.[3] Charlotte Gray, on the other hand, was the daughter of a draper and an alleged smuggler, and she was rumoured to have had gipsy forebears. Charlie and Charlotte eloped in secret, and got married first in Edinburgh, and then in London to validate the legitimacy of their marriage. When Fane was born a few years later, the couple sent their (then one-month-old) daughter to her paternal grandparents with a note that explained their secret marriage and asking for their forgiveness.[4] As a token of their good intentions, Charlie and Charlotte presented the baby to Sir Charles and Lady Mary as their granddaughter. From then on, Fane lived with her grandparents in their ancestral home, Beauport Park. Her parents went abroad for a year-long honeymoon, and returned to join Fane and her grandparents in Beauport as devotees of the oriental life.

Charlie, Charlotte and their orientalist acquaintances were the first ones to introduce Fane to the exotic customs of the East during her childhood. They encouraged her to wear Turkish dress and to go barefoot as both her parents did. They also dispensed with beds and summoned their daughter by clapping their hands.[5] Fane had four siblings: Clara (b.1844), Archibald (b.1845), Flora (b. 1849) and Charles Anthony (b. 1857), three of whom survived to adulthood. Clara, who died in 1855 for unknown reasons, would later become a key subject to which Fane often returned to in her poetry. These poems form a sequence which I refer to as the ‘Clara Poems’.

When Charlie Lamb died under suspicious circumstances in 1856, Lady Sophia Adelaide Theodosia Pelham, the wife of Archibald William Montgomerie, 14th Earl of Eglinton, took the young Fane under her care and introduced her to London society, where she rapidly became well-known as a great conversationalist and a woman of considerable wit. She fell in love with Clare Vyner, a handsome Yorkshire squire, in the early 1860s, but their attachment did not lead to marriage. In 1864, when Fane was twenty-one years old, she married Henry Sydenham Singleton, Esq. (1819-1893), then forty-five, and thus became Mrs Singleton despite her mother's objections. However, Vyner remained in her heart. This unrequited love inspired many of the poems Fane wrote in the 1860s, which were to be published in her first poetry collection, From Dawn to Noon in 1872. As an Anglo-Irish absentee landowner, Singleton was a part of the landed gentry. He is listed in the 1883 edition of John Bateman’s Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland as having 8,879 acres of land in Cavan, Louth, Meath and Hampshire, which generated a considerable income of £6,715 per annum.[6] He is described as a ‘strange misanthropic’ and a 'backseat husband', who seemingly did not, or could not, make Fane happy.

Sometime between 1869 and 1870, Fane met Philip Currie, then a young diplomat, whilst residing in Singleton's country estate, Hazely, which was not far from Currie's father's country estate, Minley.[7]

Literary Life[edit]

The biographical note that is situated at the beginning of her 1892 collection, Poems, mentions Fane’s early poetic calling, and declares:

It is interesting to note, in these days when hereditary influences cannot be disregarded, that “Violet Fane” descends, upon her father’s side, from the houses of Seton, Somerville, and Montgomerie, in Scotland, and from the old Provençal family of Montolieu in France, several of whose members were authors of distinction; and that […] she can claim kinship with the witty and eccentric John, Earl of Rochester, whose poetic talent was not always turned to the use of edifying.[8]

Despite her literary heritage, Fane’s first published work was not to fall within the field of poetry. A year before she was to marry Singleton, several etchings by her appeared in an illustrated edition of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1830 poem, Mariana, which seems to have been published privately in 1863.[9] The fact that Fane’s illustrations accompanied Mariana seems apt because the poem perfectly captures Fane’s own lovelorn state after her disappointment with Vyner, which might have encouraged Fane to identify with the tragic romantic heroine of the poem, who also suffers because of the absence of her lover.The first collection of poetry to appear under the pseudonym ‘Violet Fane’ is From Dawn to Noon.[10] The collection was published in 1872, when Fane had already started an extra-marital affair with the diplomat Philip Currie. Her family’s disapproval of her writing pushed Fane to assume a nom de plume when she started publishing poetry. Therefore, she took the name ‘Violet Fane’ from Benjamin Disraeli's novel, Vivian Grey (1826).In her article, ‘Are Remarkable People Remarkable Looking? An Extravaganza’, Fane states that Disraeli called her his ‘dear goddaughter’ when they met because she assumed Violet Fane as her nom de plume.[11] Although she admits to having read Vivian Grey many years ago, Fane also claims to have completely forgotten about Disraeli’s Violet Fane when choosing her pseudonym (‘Remarkable People’, pp. 627–628). She then contradicts herself, however, by explaining that the reason she chose the name ‘Violet Fane’ for her literary purposes was because the character ‘died in the arms of her lover’ and a death like that was ‘worth living for’ (‘Remarkable People’, p. 629). This seems to be in harmony with the dominant emotion of Dawn to Noon.


  1. ^ Paul Fortunato, Modern Aesthetics and Consumer Culture in the Writings of Oscar Wilde (London: New York: Routledge, 2013), p. 59.
  2. ^ Reading, University of Reading Archives, Papers of Mary Montgomerie Currie (Violet Fane), 'Lady Currie's Memoirs', MS2608/5/8/2.
  3. ^ The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for England, Scotland, Ireland, and Colonies for the Year 1833 (London: Suttaby & Co., 1833), p. 75. Charlie Lamb’s mother, Mary, Countess of Eglinton, was the daughter and heir of Archibald Montgomerie, eleventh earl of Eglinton, and the widow of Hugh, twelfth earl of Eglinton. His father, Sir Charles Montolieu Lamb, was the second baronet of Beauport, Sussex.
  4. ^ Reading, University of Reading Archives, Papers of Mary Montgomerie Currie (Violet Fane), 'Lady Currie's Memoirs', MS2608/5/8/2.
  5. ^ Helen Small, ‘Currie, Mary Montgomerie, Lady Currie (1843–1905)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007. Available at:(accessed 8 March 2017.
  6. ^ ohn Bateman, The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland: A List of All Owners of Three Thousand Acres and Upwards, Worth £3,000 a Year; Also, One Thousand Three Hundred Owners of Two Thousand Acres and Upwards, in England, Scotland, Ireland, & Wales, Their Acreage and Income from Land, Culled from THE MODERN DOMESDAY BOOK (London: Harrison, 1883), p. 409.
  7. ^ Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt Papers, BLUNT 1191-1977.
  8. ^ Violet Fane, Poems by Violet Fane, in Two Volumes (London: John C. Nimmo, 1892),
  9. ^ Alfred Tennyson, Mariana… with Etchings by Mary Montgomerie Lamb (Worthing: O Breds, 1863).
  10. ^ Violet Fane, From Dawn to Noon (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1872).
  11. ^ Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie (Violet Fane), ‘Are Remarkable People Remarkable Looking?’, The Nineteenth Century and After: A Monthly Review, 56 (1904), pp. 622-642, p. 627.

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