Sarah Grand

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Sarah Grand (Frances Elizabeth Bellenden McFall née Clark) 1854-1943

"Our opinion of people depends less upon what we see in them, than upon what they make us see in ourselves" Sarah Grand (


Frances Elizabeth Bellenden Clarke was born on June 10, 1854 in Ireland to Edward John Bellenden, a naval surgeon, and Margaret Bell Sherwood, a well-educated Yorkshire woman. After her father's death at age seven, Frances' mother moved her and her four siblings to live near Scarborough, Yorkshire. There is little known about her childhood but that her education was sporadic although she read widely (Senf xxvii). At fourteen at her great-aunt's bequest Frances was sent to the Royal Naval School at Twickenham where she was "unhappy and bored" (Forward 67). While there she became interested in Josephine Butler's campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1866-1869 ( 2765.html) and at fifteen she organized a club in support of Josephine Butler to which the school disagreed. Frances used her own convictions in later writings (e.g. The Heavenly Twins) in which she focused on informing readers about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, urging them to protest laws that did not protect innocent young women from becoming infected (Kersley 48).

Following the Royal Naval School, Frances was sent to finishing school at Holland Road in Kensington, London to prepare her for her "true career of marriage" (Forward 67). At sixteen she married thirty-nine year old David Chambers McFall, a widowed army surgeon with two sons, Haldane and Albert, aged ten and eight and a half, with whom she had a son, David Archibald Edward (Archie) in 1871. Marriage to McFall was considered a "good catch" as he offered Frances an escape from her mother and school, and provided her with knowledge for her future writings. According to Gillian Kersley, it was from McFall that Frances learned about physiology and prophylactics, and would incorporate medical details into her works (Senf xxix). In 1873 she published Two Little Dear Feet, a morality tale about tight boots which ran to 125 pages of serious lecturing, but as she matured as a writer she became more artistic in her incorporation of medical details, as she does in The Heavenly Twins with syphilis (Senf xxx).

Frances used her daily life as inspiration for much of her writings incorporating travel destinations, causes and cities, as well as her own unhappiness and disregard. From 1871 to 1878, Frances and Archie traveled along with McFall as he was transferred to Singapore, Ceylon, China, Japan and the Straits Settlement and she used the conditions to later publish writings about the treatment of military men and their wives. In 1879 McFall was appointed to barracks in Norwich which she transforms into Morningquest, the cathedral town in which three of her novels are set (xxx). Later that year they move to Malta where Frances begins work on her first novel, Ideala: a story from life, which she completes in 1881, the same year that her husband goes into semi-retirement at Warrington, Lancashire giving Frances more time to devote to her writing.

With the completion of Ideala, Frances began to search for a publisher, but received no reception. Determined to have the novel published, and frustrated by repeated rejections, she has it published anonymously and at her own expense in 1888 (xxxi). Kersley suggests it was her marriage that influenced Frances’ anonymity because her husband did not want his name to be associated with her ideas (xxxi). The following year the novel was reissued by Richard Bentley, a progressive publisher recently credited with publishing a collection of articles by Mrs. Lynn Linton. Bentley reprinted Ideala three times in 1889 (xxxi). The limited success of Ideala helped develop the theme for Frances’ next two novels, The Heavenly Twins, and The Beth Book and in 1890 Frances left her husband and son to pursue her career as a feminist novelist.

 It has been suggested that Frances found little fulfillment in her marriage, or in motherhood and Forward claims Frances was “increasingly disgusted by her husband’s sexual advance, and by coarse aspects of his behaviour generally: there was a sense of being confined and invaded” (Forward 67). In contrast Senf states that “literary success” and a newfound “confidence in her ability” pushed Frances to pursue her writing career unencumbered by husband and child (xxxi). There were other contributing factors to her departure in 1890 which included the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882 which enabled women to retain their own property after marriage, as well as with publishing Ideala at her own expense she gained determination to support herself by her own efforts (Forward 67). Frances' novels described women that were trapped in unhappy marriages, but in her article, "The Modern Girl," published in the North American Review in 1894, she supports marriage as the "holiest and most perfect state for both men and women (706) even though parents keep their daughters in needless ignorance, and the English girl is often the chattel of her parents, then the chattel of her husband (Forward 68). Frances' notions and ideas on the modern girl were that she should "rebel if she is pressured against her will, and should not imprisoned in a sphere that is distasteful to her (Grand, 'The Modern Girl', 708, 711-712).

Regardless of what her true reasons might have been, Frances left her previous life as wife and mother behind and changed her name to Sarah Grand. By choosing a very female pen name Grand went against the norm of many feminist writers selecting masculine names, and showed her view that she, along with her heroines in her novels, was a New Woman (Senf xxxii). Under her new name and with a following of feminist supporters, Grand achieved success with her novel The Heavenly Twins, published by a daring young publisher named William Heinemann. Heinemann, according to Joan Huddleston, was a supporter of Grand and published most of what she wrote, “He reissued Ideala and went on to publish all but one of her short-story collections till the last Variety, in 1922” (xxxiii).

Following the death of McFall in 1898, Grand transferred much of her efforts from writing to social and political work, a transfer that was typical of feminists of that day (xxxiii). Part of her switch may have come from the demise of the New Woman novel. She had used her writing to inform and make changes, but the subjects that feminists writers had introduced - equal education for women, freedom from arbitrary authority, the need for autonomy - had become open topics of discussion (xxxiii). In response, Grand joined her step-son Haldane and his family and became a popular lecturer. She continued to publish works but focused more on lecture tours in New York, San Francisco, Pennsylvania and Chicago as her later works were not as popular and did not receive the critical acclaim she had become accustomed to. Although this may have diminished her interest in writing, Sarah Grand was anything but idle. She lectured all over England, published collections of stories and became a member of the Women Writers' Suffrage League, the Women's Citizens' Association as well as the vice-president of the Women's Suffrage Society; the president of the local branch of the National Council of Women; and president, chairman, and principal speaker of the Tunbridge Wells branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (xxxiv).

In spite of her hectic political and social schedule, Grand began to write a trilogy of which she completed only two parts, Adnam's Orchard and The Winged Victory, both published by Heinemann, and compared to her early novels, expressed more benevolence towards her male characters. In 1920, Grand moved to Bath where she served as mayoress from 1922 to 1929, a position in which she was so popular that she was asked to stand as mayor in her own right, but declined (xxxv). Grand remained in Bath, where she left her reputation as a best-selling novelist and feminist behind her, living out her life until during World War II when her house was damaged by bombing. Relatives convinced Sarah Grand to move to Calne in Wiltshire where she would be somewhat safer and she died there a year later on May 12, 1943, at the age of eighty-eight.


By Sarah Grand

Adnam's Orchard. London: Heinemann, 1912.

A Domestic Experiment. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1891.

Ideala: a study from life. London: William Heinemann, 1893; first published by E.W. Allen in 1888.

The Beth Book. London: Heinemann, 1898.

The Heavenly Twins. London: Heinemann, 1893.

"The Man of the Moment," North American Review, 158 (May 1894): 620.

"The Modern Girl," North American Review, (June 1894): 706-714.

The Modern Man and Maid. London: Horace Marshall & Son, 1898.

The Winged Victory. London: Heinemann, 1916.

Our Manifold Nature: Stories from Life. London: Heinemann, 1893.

Sex, Social Purity and Sarah Grand: The History of Feminism. Eds. Ann Heilman and Stephanie Forward. Routledge, 2000.

Variety. London: Heinemann, 1922.

About Sarah Grand

Bonnell, Marilyn, "The Legacy of Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins: A Review Essay," English Literature in Transition, 36, 4 (1993).

- "Sarah Grand and the Critical Establishment: Art for (Wo)man's Sake," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 14, 1 (Spring 1995): 123-148.

Forward, Stephanie, "Attitudes to Marriage and Prostitution in the Writings of Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird, Sarah Grand and George Egerton," Women's History Review, 8, 1 (1999): 53-80.

Kersley, Gillian. Darling Madame: Sarah Grand and Devoted Friend. London: Virago Press, 1983.

Heilman, Ann. New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, and Mona Caird. Manchester UP, 2004.

Huddleston, Joan. Sarah Grand: A Bibliography. St. Lucia, Queensland: U of Queensland, 1979.

Magnum, Teresa Lynn. Married, Middle-Brow, and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman Novel. U of Michigan P, 1998.

Navarette, Susan, "As You Like It: A Source for Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins," Turn-of-the-Century Women, 4, 2 (1987): 42-47.

Rowlette, Robert, "Mark Twain, Sarah Grand and The Heavenly Twins," Mark Twain Journal, 16, 2 (1972).

Saunders, T. Bailey, "Sarah Grand Ethnics," Open Court, 397 (4 April 1895): 4447.

Senf, Carol. Introduction, The Heavenly Twins, by Grand. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992.

Stoddard, Jane T., "Sarah Grand: Illustrated Interview," Women at Home, 3 (1895): 249-50.

Sutton-Ramspeck, Beth. Raising the Dust: A Literary Housekeeping of Mary Ward, Sarah Grand, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Ohio: Ohio UP, 2004.

Tooley, Sarah A., "The Woman's Question: An Interview with Madame Sarah Grand," Humanitarian, 8 (March 1896): 161.


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Prepared by Rachel Haveman (2004).

Nipissing University
Contact:  Professor Ann-Barbara Graff
Department of English Studies
Last modified: October 12, 2004