Florence Marryat was born in Brighton in 1833, the daughter of novelist and mariner Captain Marryat. Her parents separated when she was an infant, and she led a peripatetic existence, educated entirely as home with the help of governesses and her father’s extensive library.
In 1854 she married Captain Thomas Ross Church and travelled throughout India with him, assuming the role of an officer’s wife in the Raj. By 1860 she had suffered a breakdown and returned to England on her own, with three children in tow. It was during this difficult period that she wrote her first novel, Love’s Conflict, in order to distract herself from “sad thoughts”. It was a modest success, and was quickly followed in the same year by Too Good for Him and Woman Against Woman.
Marryat had set herself an astonishing pace and managed to maintain it throughout her career, penning around ninety novels. The critical reception was mixed, with many reviewers alarmed by themes of marital cruelty, adultery and alcoholism. Marryat rejected accusations of sensationalism, maintaining that she wrote from experience. It is no wonder, therefore, that her marriage broke down and she separated from her husband.
Her second marriage, to Colonel Francis Lean, was equally unsuccessful and she instead embarked upon a career on the stage, touring with the D’Oyly Carte company, and appearing with George Grossmith in a revue called Entre Nous. She also appeared in her own plays, and enjoyed international success with her one-woman show Love Letters.
Not content with only two careers, she also assumed the editorship of the journal London Society during the 1870s, and also contributed to many others. It was while working as a journalist that she developed a lifelong belief in Spiritualism. Her experiences were chronicled in the hugely successful There is No Death and its sequel The Spirit World.
The 1890s saw a renewed focus on her literary career. She was instrumental in the creation of the Society of Authors, and also established her own School of Literary Art in St John’s Wood. It was here that she died in 1899 after a period of ill health. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, following a funeral attending by many friends and colleagues from the worlds of literature and the stage.
More information can be found on the Florence Marryat website.
Florence Marryat is also one of the interviewees in Notable Women Authors of the Day.