English poet and novelist Mary Gladys Webb was born on March 25, 1881 in Shropshire, England. She was a romantic novelist and poet of the early 20th century, whose work is set chiefly in the Shropshire countryside and its people which she knew well. Her novels have been successfully dramatized, most notably the film Gone to Earth (1950). Her father, George Edward Meredith, a private schoolteacher, inspired his daughter with his own love of literature and the local countryside. Her mother, Sarah Alice was distant relative of Sir Walter Scott. Mary loved to explore the countryside around her home, and developed a gift of detailed observation and description, of both people and places, which infuses her poetry and prose. At the age of 20, she developed symptoms of Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder, which caused ill health throughout her life and probably contributed to her early death. This affliction gave her great empathy with the suffering, and finds its fictional counterpart in the disfiguring harelip of Prue Sarn, the heroine of Precious Bane (1924).
Her first published writing was a five verse poem, written on hearing news of the Shrewsbury rail accident in October 1907. Her brother, Kenneth Meredith, so liked the paper and thought it potentially comforting for those affected by the disaster that, without her knowledge, he took it to the newspaper offices of the Shrewsbury Chronicle, who printed the poem anonymously. Mary, who usually burnt her early poems, was appalled before hearing the newspaper received appreciative letters from its readers. In 1912, she married Henry Bertram Law Webb, a teacher who at first supported her literary interests. Between 1914 and 1916, she wrote The Golden Arrow. In 1921, they bought a home in London hoping that she would be able to achieve greater literary recognition. This, however, did not happen. By 1927, she was suffering increasingly bad health, her marriage was failing. She died on October 8, 1927 at St. Leonards on Sea, England, aged 46. She was buried in Shrewsbury, at the General Cemetery. In her own lifetime, she her literary output was not greatly esteemed. It was only after her death that there was commercial success. Consequently her collected works were republished in a standard edition, which became best sellers in the 1930s.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Literary Legends. The book can be purchased at Amazon through the following links: