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Mary Russell Mitford

Mary Russell Mitford (December 16, 1787 - January 10, 1855), was an English novelist and dramatist.

The only daughter of Dr George Mitford, or Midford, she was born at Alresford, Hampshire. Her place in English literature is as the author of Our Village, a series of sketches of village scenes and characters vividly drawn. Her father spent his wife's fortune in a few years; then he spent the greater part of £20,000, which in 1797 his daughter, then aged ten, drew as a prize in a lottery; from then on he lived on a small remnant of his fortune and the proceeds of his daughter's literary career. He is thought to have inspired Mary with the keen delight in incongruities, the lively sympathy, self-willed vigorous individuality, and the womanly tolerance which inspire so many of her sketches of character. She was devoted to him, refused all holiday invitations because he could not live without her, and worked incessantly for him except when she broke off to read him the sporting newspapers.

Her writing has all the charm of unaffected spontaneous humour, combined with quick wit and literary skill. She met Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1836, and their acquaintance ripened into a warm friendship. The strain of poverty told on her work, for although her books sold at high prices, her income did not keep pace with her father's extravagances. In 1837, however, she received a civil list pension, and five years later her father died. A subscription was raised to pay his debts, and the surplus increased Mary's income. She eventually moved to a cottage at Swallowfield, near Reading, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Her youthful ambition had been to be the greatest English poetess, and her first publications were poems in the manner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Walter Scott (Miscellaneous Verses, 1810, reviewed by Scott in the Quarterly; Christine, a metrical tale, 1811; Blanche, 1813). Her play Julian was produced at Covent Garden, with William Charles Macready in the title role, in 1823; The Foscari was performed at Covent Garden, with Charles Kemble as the hero, in 1826; Rienzi, 1828, the best of her plays, had a run of thirty-four nights, and Mary's friend, Thomas Noon Talfourd, imagined that its vogue militated against the success of his own play Ion. Charles the First was refused a licence by the Lord Chamberlain, but was played at the Surrey Theatre in 1834.

The prose, to which she was driven by domestic necessities, is more successful than her verse. The first series of Our Village sketches appeared in 1824, a second in 1826, a third in 1828, a fourth in 1830, a fifth in 1832. They were reprinted several times. Belford Regis, a novel in which the neighborhood and society of Reading were idealized, was published in 1835.

Her Recollections of a Literary Life (1852) is a series of causeries about her favorite books. Her talk was said by her friends, Elizabeth Browning and Hengist Horne, to have been even more amusing than her books, and five volumes of her Life and Letters, published in 1870 and 1872, show her to have been a delightful letter-writer.