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Ménie Muriel Dowie (1867-1945)

Ménie Muriel Dowie (1867-1945) was a British journalist, travel writer, poet and novelist. Her brand of flippantly radical feminism has recently attracted renewed academic interest, although the author herself still remains little known, probably owing to the fact that she officially withdrew from the literary scene at the age of thirty-five.

What we do know is that Ménie Muriel Dowie had a short literary career. At the age of eighteen, she became a successful reciter of poetry and her first known publication was a three-stanza poem entitled “Rondel” (1889).  After the success of A Girl in the Karpathians (1891) had established her as an adventure writer, Gallia, published in 1895 (and still in print) turned her almost instantly into one of the most prominent New Woman novelists. The novel proved controversial mostly because of its daring portrayal of sexual relationships, and it also displayed many characteristics of other New Woman novels written just before its publication, in particular its appeal for women’s education, female independence and self-respect, or a recognition of motherhood. Around that time, she also contributed newspaper articles and short stories to both The Yellow Book and Chambers’s Journal, material later included in the volume, Some Whims of Fate (1896). Only two more novels followed: The Crook of the Bough (1898), about contemporary attitudes to women in Turkey; and Love and His Mask (1901) on the Boer War. Over the following two years, she wrote numerous articles on gardening and country life, gathered in volume form as Things About Our Neighbourhood (1903).  Her last known publication is “The Thrall Song,” which appeared in Pall Mall Magazine. In 1903, she stopped writing altogether, but may have carried on writing under a currently unidentified pseudonym after her very embarrassing divorce.

The life of Ménie Muriel Dowie reads like an endless peregrination. Born in Liverpool in 1867, the daughter of James Muir Dowie, a merchant, she was also the granddaughter of the Scottish author and publisher Robert Chambers. As a child, she became fond of fishing and shooting during repeated trips to the Scottish Highlands. She was educated in England and Germany as well as in France and spent her early twenties travelling, with her most notable tour occurring on her own in the summer of 1890, wearing tight trousers on horseback through Ruthenia (modern Ukraine and Belarus). The resulting travelogue, A Girl in the Karpathians proved immensely popular, partly due to its highly entertaining and unconventional protagonist, who was fond of smoking, drinking and … revolvers. Over the next eight years, she travelled extensively around Europe, Asia and North Africa, wrote for The Daily Chronicle, and edited a collection of essays entitled Women Adventurers. Besides this, Dowie gave numerous talks and presentations throughout her life, in several countries, which attracted large audiences. Following her divorce, she continued to travel around Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Back in England, she lived on a farm near Chichester and became a successful cattle-breeder, exporting animals to Kenya in the late 1920s. In her sixties, she carried on travelling abroad, to Egypt, Italy and Austria. In 1942, suffering from asthma and believing that Britain was going to lose the war, Dowie emigrated to Arizona where she died in 1945 aged 77.

In 1891, she had married the journalist and travel writer, Henry Norman. However, Norman divorced her in 1903, publicly accusing her of adultery after he discovered she was having an affair with the mountain-climber and writer, Edward Arthur Fitzgerald. She then went on to marry Fitzgerald the same year. They separated in 1928, and he died three years later. Nigel Norman, Dowie’s only son, died in action in 1943.

Traditional notions of femininity, romance and marriage were constantly explored and challenged both in her fiction and non-fiction, and her modernity not only resided in the themes she tackled with humorous cynicism, but in her belief in and advocacy for sexual freedom.

Anne-Sophie Leluan-Pinker is an independent scholar currently living and working in the UK. She attended the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lettres in Lyon, France and is a qualified teacher of English (Agrégation) and Modern Languages. She holds a Master’s Degree (DEA) from the University of Paris XII and has published papers on the sensation novel, fin-de-siècle culture and more recently on New Woman fiction.