Ethel Sidgwick


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A. C. Benson (1862—1925) poet and college head

Gilbert Cannan (1884—1955) translator and writer


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(1877–1970) was born in Rugby, educated at Oxford High School, and brought up in intellectual circles. Daughter of a classical scholar, she was first cousin to the Benson brothers and was the author of a biography of her aunt by marriage, Eleanor Sidgwick (1845–1936), principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, and wife of the philosopher Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900). Her brother Frank Sidgwick (d. 1939) founded the publishers Sidgwick & Jackson, and published his sister's novels. Mrs Alfred Sidgwick was married to a cousin of Ethel's father. Ethel Sidgwick wrote a dozen novels between 1910 and 1926, starting with Promise (1910), most of which were lightly critical stories of upper-class life in England, France, and Ireland, with a clear eye for national cultural traits. Promise is described in the preface thus: ‘The central figure of the book is a young musical genius, half English, half French, and the author's aim is to illustrate by means of incidents in his life the futility of all attempts to control artistic impulse. The five divisions of the story show how the Child of Promise is affected by the various persons with whom he is brought into contact.’ The Child of Promise is Antoine, the second son of James Edgell, an English railway engineer, and his wife Henriette, née Lemaure, the beautiful, spoilt daughter of a famous French violinist. The focus of the story is divided between Antoine and his less gifted but more sympathetic elder brother, Philip, and most of the action takes place in English schools and country houses. ‘We are left to hope that the life of this English Jean Christophe [hero of a sequence of novels by Romain Rolland (1866–1944), translated by Gilbert Cannan 1910–13] will continue through at least another volume,’ the Spectator declared, ‘filled with people as variegated and attractive as those to whom we are introduced here.’ Succession: A Comedy of the Generations (1913) duly followed, thus identifying the sequence as a family saga of the kind favoured by Rolland and Cannan, among others. The sequel transfers the action to Paris, where Antoine studies music and Philip medicine. Le Gentleman (1911) is an ‘idyll’ of the Latin quarter in Paris: art student Alexander Ferguson is torn between shallow, merciless (English) Meysie Lampeter and calm, practical, self-sacrificing (French) Gilberte. She also wrote plays for children, beginning with her (1909) adaptation of The Rose and the Ring by W. M. Thackeray (1811–1863).

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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