~ George Egerton ~
(Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright)
"Images of late-Victorian writers circulated for many reasons. Among the most important were to publicize their works and, in the case of 'New Women' authors such as 'George Egerton,' to reassure conservative audiences that even writers who produced challenging feminist texts were conventionally attractive and feminine in appearance. John Lane of the Bodley Head, 'George Egerton's' publisher, encouraged his prize property to have herself photographed and to let journalists reproduce the results. He also engaged the artist E. A. Walton to paint her and then used the portrait in Vol. V (April 1895) of the Yellow Book. To her dismay, however, 'George Egerton' found that cartoonists for Punch and other magazines seized upon her physical features--especially her short hair and pince-nez glasses--and produced wildly unflattering caricatures of the 'New Woman' as a mannish-looking harpy that clearly were based on photographs of her such as this one." (http://www.1890s.org/wbsite/sub/egerton.htm)
George Egerton is the pen name for Mary Chavelita Dunne (Bright), a
short story writer of the Victorian Era. Born December 14th, 1859 in Melbourne, Australia
to John J. Dunne, an Irish army officer, and wife Isabel George.
Raised in New Zealand and later educated briefly in Germany, Dunne
trained as a nurse even though her desire was to be an artist.
She briefly followed this career in a London and New York hospitals.
In 1886 Dunne returned to Ireland as a travelling companion to Charlotte
Whyte Melville and her husband Henry Higginson. Dunne eloped with Higginson to Norway in 1887 and then later
settled in England. In 1888 she
left Higginson and moved to London where she worked on The Yellow Book.
In 1891 Dunne married Canadian novelist George Egerton Clairmonte and
settled with him in Ireland and they had one child together.
Their marriage ended in divorce in 1895 after numerous affairs on her
part. Dunne then moved to London where she met and eventually
married Golding Bright a drama critic turned theatre agent (www.pgil-eirdata.org).
George Egerton rose swiftly but briefly into popularity in the 1890’s was credited as one of the women who helped shape the concept of the “New Woman.” Her first collection of short stories Keynotes propelled her into the limelight from which she quickly disappeared. Keynotes was considered a ground-breaking book that took steps to advance the cause of women. Oddly this was not Egerton’s intent. She did not consider herself feminist at all and sought to distance herself from her feminist counterparts. Egerton believed that the women’s rights movement produced “an atrophied animal, with degenerative leanings towards hybridism.” Instead of arguing for women’s civil rights, Egerton promoted sexual rights for women—an attitude greatly at odds with the Victorian views of female sexuality. She urged her readers to embrace their sexuality and recognize the “bewitching” power that they held (http://web.nwe.ufl.edu). Keynotes is decribed as a book written for women by a woman because George Egerton considered herself a woman foremost and a writer secondly. She wrote because she felt driven to account the real lives of women and not the overly sentimental, victimized woman so often depicted in literature at in this period (Middlebrook 142). This is also the reason she wrote under a male name; the name George Egerton gave Dunne the freedom to write freely and escape the previously mentioned expectations Victorian readers and editors had of female writers (http://web.nwe.ufl.edu). She wrote several other collections of short stories and two novels after Keynotes, one of which was and still is the focus of many literary papers that examine the development of the “New Woman” and her ideals. Discords, her second collection of short stories, are one of the books that was also well received for its depiction of motherhood and women’s sexuality.
There are many writings interpreting and examining the work of George Egerton but very little on her life or views (and that information that is available often conflicts with itself). She refused to be interviewed and therefore there is very little in the way of biographical information after she dropped out of the limelight. George Egerton (Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright) “lived quietly, without fanfare, preferring solitude and her memories to society's distraction until her death in 1945” (Princeton University Library).
On The Author
Websites of Interest
Prepared by Jennifer Tompkins (2004).