Miss Bretherton, Miss Brown, and Miss Rooth

  • John Sutherland


according to the trumpeter Miles Davis, reflecting on his career shortly before his death, ‘it takes a long time before you can play like yourself’. All artists, it is safe to say, start by imitation. Most never break through the initial bondage to the style of others. Mary Ward (née Arnold, better known to posterity as Mrs Humphry Ward)—the niece of Matthew Arnold and the aunt of Aldous Huxley—knew, almost from her earliest conscious moment, that she was born to be a writer. From her earliest stages of childhood literacy she also apprehended that she was to be a writer of fiction.l But as with many writers, the urge to write was accompanied by an uncertainty of how she should write. Whom should she imitate in order to become, eventually, herself? The answer came when she and her husband (the thoroughly eclipsed Humphry) moved to London from Oxford in 1881. London was a larger world where they enjoyed a vastly expanded social life and cultural stimulus. More particularly, Ward’s discovery of what her bearings should be in fiction came with her introduction to Henry James. He became her master. Her eventual liberation into the kind of fiction with which she was to become the bestselling author of her day came with her subsequent (and commendably pragmatic) repudiation of the Jamesian model.


Capital Publisher Childhood Literacy February 1885 Opening Scene Eventual Liberation 
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  1. 1.
    An account of Mary Arnold’s juvenilia is given in William Peterson, Victorian Heretic (Leicester, 1972), pp. 48–55Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    and in J. Sutherland, Mrs Humphry Ward (Oxford, 1990), pp. 37–42.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life (New York, 1985).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    James’s literary earnings are analysed by Michael Anesko,Friction in the Marketplace (London, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    A comprehensive account of the sensation Anderson caused in London in 1884 is given in D. J. Gordon’s and John Stokes’s essay on The Tragic Muse in The Air of Reality, New Essays on Henry James, ed. John Goode (London, 1972 ).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    The Complete Notebooks of Henry James eds Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers (New York, 1987), p. 28. the ‘Rachel’ referred to is the famous French actress Elisabeth Félix.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Janet P. Trevelyan, The Life of Mrs Humphry Ward (London, 1923), p. 43.Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    Henry James: Letters ed. Leon Edel (Cambridge: Mass., 1980), iii, 58–60.Google Scholar
  9. 30.
    James’s relationship with Lee is examined by Carl J. Weber in ‘Henry James and his Tiger-Cat’, PMLA, LXVIII (Sept. 1953), 672–87;Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    and in Burdett Gardner, ‘An Apology for Henry James’s Tiger-Cat’, PMLA, LXVIII (Sept. 1953), 688–95.Google Scholar

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© John Sutherland 1995

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  • John Sutherland

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