Bestselling novelist, co-founder of Somerville college, World War I reporter and anti-suffragette, Ward was a major figure of her time. Sutherland nevertheless argues that the constraints on her were great and her very achievements were a source of personal difficulty.
Mary Ward (1851-1920) had a furiously active public career, her literary and philanthropic activities transforming her from an eminent Victorian into a pre-eminent Edwardian. The granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, she found herself at the centre of an intellectual and cultural coterie comprising the Arnold, Huxley, and Trevelyan families. Her novel, Robert Elsmere (1888), the first of a series of bestsellers, earned her both unprecedented sums of money and the critical respect of writers such as Henry James. She helped found Somerville College, Oxford, the University's first institution for the higher education of women, and inaugurated a number of play centres for the children of London's working women, despite being a fierce opponent of women's suffrage. As the first female reporter to visit the trenches in 1916, she was instrumental in bringing America into the war. Yet for all her achievements, her private life was overshadowed - often tragically so - by misfortune. Her parents's marriage was seriously affected by her father's religious doubts; she eclipsed her husband, a Times journalist and art critic, while her indolent son frittered away her financial and emotional resources. John Sutherland's fascinating study of the private suffering of this predominantly public person also provides useful insights into the restrictions placed upon women in the late-Victorian-Edwardian era. This title also appears in the Oxford General Books catalogue for Autumn 1990.