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Sarah Grand (1854 – 1943)

Sarah Grand was a novelist, journalist and feminist orator and campaigner. She lectured and wrote on issues concerning the status of women, pioneered public enlightenment on venereal disease, advocated rational dress, lobbied for suffrage groups and, in her landmark essay for the North American Review in 1894, helped to coin the term “New Woman.”

Sarah Grand was born Frances Elizabeth Bellenden Clarke in 1854 to English parents in the small town of Donaghadee in County Down, Ireland. Her father, a naval coastguard, was married to a well-educated Yorkshire woman and together they had five children. After the death of their father in 1861, Frances and her siblings were taken by their mother to live near relatives in Bridlington, Yorkshire. While it is unlikely that Frances received any formal education in Ireland, when in England she attended two schools. In 1868 she was enrolled in the Royal Naval School in Twickenham, at which she formed and led a club in support of Judith Butler’s campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act. Later, Frances was enrolled in a finishing school in Holland Park, Kensington. Frances’ formal education came to an abrupt end when, in 1871 and at the age of sixteen, she married David Chambers McFall, a military surgeon who was twenty-three years her senior, a widower and father of two young sons.

For Frances, the incentive to marry lay not in any infatuation for the man who would become her husband. Instead, incentive was in the promise of self-improvement by way of education and travel offered by McFall’s military career. Between 1873 and 1878, the McFalls travelled the world; they were stationed with their newborn son, Archie, in Singapore, China, Japan, Ceylon, and the Straits Settlements, and visited Malta, Normandy and the Isle of Wight. During this time, Frances wrote and published her first novel, Two Dear Little Feet (1873), as well as her first short story, “Mama’s Music Lessons” (Aunt Judy’s Magazine, 1878), and wrote Ideala: A Study from Life and The Tenor and the Boy (both of which were initially rejected by publishers). 1 Reflecting upon her decision to marry in Lady’s Magazine thirty years later, Frances stated that “the great inducement [into marriage was] that I should be able to study thoroughly any subject I liked, learn languages so that I could speak them, and music so that I could play it, have command of good books and escape from routine (Grand, “Recollections” 42).

For Frances, however, the life of a military wife proved another routine from which to escape and she struggled to reconcile her new roles of wife and mother with a strong sense of individuality. She voiced this struggle in Ideala, in which her heroine decries marriage to be “a grievous waste of Me” (Grand Ideala 31) Two years later, Frances yielded to her desire for independence. With twenty-one years of marriage behind her, she left her husband and family and moved to London. As a marker of this significant change, Frances traded her married name for a pseudonym, Sarah Grand (which she occasionally prefixed with ‘Madame’). It was by this name that she was known to friends, publishers, and her readers.

Following her move to London, Grand joined the growing number of women participating in contemporary culture in magazines. In 1891-92 Temple Bar Magazine accepted three of her short stories and, in 1893, Woman at Home agreed to publish “Ah Man” in its first edition. 2 In the years that followed, Grand published a further ten short stories and over twenty articles in British and American magazines and periodicals, including Lady’s Realm, Lady’s World, Littell’s Living Age, and Cosmopolitan.

In 1893 and 1894, Grand welcomed two professional successes that together led to her being considered an authority on the “Woman Question.” In 1893, Heinemann published The Heavenly Twins, a novel in which Grand condemned the sexual double standard and its role in the spread of venereal disease. The novel proved a huge success; it was reprinted six times in its first year and was praised by Mark Twain and Thomas Hardy. The Heavenly Twins satisfied the public eagerness for a frank approach in literature to sexuality and gender. In reference to the success of The Heavenly Twins, W. T. Stead described it as “a bomb of dynamite, which [...] exploded with wonderful results” (Stead 67). The following year, Grand’s heated exchange with Ouida (Marie Louise de la Ramée) in the North American Review introduced the term “New Woman” into general usage. In the formative stages of its definition, Grand explained that the New Woman is “a little above [men],” but she “holds out a strong hand to the child-man, and insists, but with infinite tenderness and pity, upon helping him” (Grand, “New Aspect” 271-3).

Throughout her career Grand insisted that her fiction works were “studies from life.” 3 Further to Two Dear Little Feet, in which she recalls observing the dangers of foot-binding in China, a large body of Grand’s work was inspired by lived experience. Her experience of an earthquake while living in Hong Kong inspired her short story, “Ah Man” (Woman at Home, 1893) (Forward 43, n.3). More broadly, her self-professed studies from life include the novels Ideala: A Study from Life (1888) and The Beth Book: Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure, a Woman of Genius (1897), and the short story collection Our Manifold Nature: Stories from Life (1894). Although Frances’ experience of life in Ireland ended when she was seven years old, these early years had a significant influence on her work. Lingering impressions from childhood make their way into The Beth Book and, to borrow Tina O’Toole’s words, give the scenes set in Grand’s home town “some local colour” (O’Toole 20). Grand describes a butcher slaughtering a lamb outside his shop in Donaghadee (45) and men coming to market “in tail-coats and knee breeches, with shillalahs under their arms” (87). Recalling a conversation with Grand about the similarity of The Beth Book to her own life, Grand’s friend, Gladys Singers-Bigger, claims that Grand “had put nothing but what was historical in that book. [...] She wanted it to sound sincere” (O’Toole 159, n. 10).

Although she continued to write, Grand never again experienced the level of success and attention brought about by The Heavenly Twins. However, she remained politically and professionally active. She delivered lectures in England and America, usually promoting women’s suffrage and rational dress, became a member of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, was appointed Vice-President of the Tunbridge Wells Suffrage Society and an officer of the National Council of Women and, in 1908, she spoke before the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in London. Grand moved to Bath in 1920 and served as the city’s Mayoress from 1922-9. She died in Calne, Wiltshire, in 1943 at the age of 88. By the Times, Grand was remembered as having “widened the field of English fiction by freeing subject and treatment,” while The Heavenly Twins was regarded as “the chief woman’s rights novel of the period” (Magnum 223).

By Jennifer Nicol

Jennifer Nicol is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University. Her doctoral research is on the fantasies of isolation in female-authored, nineteenth century literature, with a particular interest in New Woman fiction and the work of Sarah Grand, George Egerton and Amy Levy.


1 Frances E. McFall, Two Dear Little Feet (London: Jarrold and Sons, 1873). Ideala: A Study from Life was privately printed by the author of her own expense in 1888; it was reprinted in 1893 by Heinemann. Although initially written as a separate short novel, The Tenor and the Boy was later integrated into Grand’s novel The Heavenly Twins, which was published by Heinemann in 1893.

2 Grand, “Kane, a Soldier Servant,” Temple Bar, July 1891; “Janey, a Humble Administrator,” Temple Bar, October 1891; “Boomellen,” Temple Bar, March 1892; “Ah Man,” Woman at Home, October 1893.

3 In her Preface to Our Manifold Nature, Grand explains that “these stories are simply what they profess to be—studies from life;” Our Manifold Nature (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1894): iii.

Works Cited

Forward, Stephanie (ed.), Sex, Social Purity and Sarah Grand: Selected Letters, vol. 2. London: Routledge, 2000.

Grand, Sarah, Ah Man’, Woman at Home, October 1893.

—“Boomellen,” Temple Bar, March 1892.

The Heavenly Twins. London: Heinemann, 1893.

Ideala: A Study from Life. London: Heinemann, 1893.

Ideala: A Study from Life. Kansas City: Valancourt, 2008.

—“Janey, a Humble Administrator,” Temple Bar, October 1891.

—“Kane, a Soldier Servant,” Temple Bar, July 1891.

—“The New Aspect of the Woman Question,” The North American Review, 158 (March 1894): 270–6.

Our Manifold Nature. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1894.

—“Some Recollections of My School Days,” Lady’s Magazine, January 1901: 42–3.

Mangum, Teresa. Married, Middlebrow and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman Novel. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1998.

McFall, Frances E., [pseud. Sarah Grand]. Two Dear Little Feet. London: Jarrold and Sons, 1873.

Stead, W. T. “The Novel of the Modern Woman,” Review of Reviews, 10 (1894): 64–74.

O’Toole, Tina. The Irish New Woman. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.