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Netta Syrett

(d. 1943)


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(d. 1943). Eldest daughter of ten in a well-off London family, she was educated at the North London Collegiate School for Girls, where she boarded in the house of the headmistress, Frances Buss (1827–1894), whom she found violent and neurotic, an experience described in her novel The Victorians (1915), and at the Training College for Women Teachers, Cambridge, described in her novel The God of Chance (1920). The novelist Grant Allen (1848–1899), a friend of her family, introduced her to literary circles and persuaded her that God did not exist. She taught at Swansea High School for a short time before moving to London to live with her four sisters and teach at the Polytechnic Institute for Girls, where she made friends with a fellow-teacher, Mabel Beardsley, sister of Aubrey (1874–98), through whom she met bohemians and contributed to the Yellow Book. While still teaching she began to write plays for children. She edited a periodical called The Dream Garden (1905–) and published some fifty volumes of fiction, including some children's fiction. Nobody's Fault (1896) appeared in the ‘Keynote’ Series. Her fiction is feminist, with a strong dash of sensation. Rosanne (1902) sets the tone: the heroine, daughter of a model with a hereditary tendency to undisciplined passion, ruins the happy marriage of an old childhood friend. Narrow lives and thwarted ambition form the subject of the stories collected in Women and Circumstance (1906). Olivia L. Carew (1910), set in New England and Italy, describes the troubled but eventually happy marriage between a New England woman ambitious for a brilliant career and a rather colourless Englishman. The Three Women (1912) are Phyllida and Katherine, business partners in a curio shop in Mayfair, and the ‘fast’ Rosamund, who carries off Phyllida's fiancé. The Jam Queen (1914) imagines economic rather than sexual independence for women. The heroine is a self-made millionaire from Houndsditch. ‘A great name and a great fortune are two distinct things, my child,’ she explains. ‘Jam endures.’ After this, though, the novel rather peters out. Syrett published an autobiography (1939). Her youngest brother Jerrard Syrett (d. 1926), who was mentally ill and lived as a remittance man in Italy, published A Household Saint (1911) and two later novels.

From The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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