Not much is known abut her life, and she's another of the many novelists not much remembered because of not being perceived as 'literary'. However, New Woman Hybridities: Femininity, Feminism, and International Consumer Culture, 1880–1930 (Routledge, 2004) argues (see pages 20-21) for her having a deal of cultural significance as a feminist and an atypical member of the 'New Woman' movement of writers, and for the Anglo-Welsh cultural sensibilities she brought to her works. She was, in fact, not at all 'unliterary', and moved in the Continental writing/litcrit circuit that included figures such as Samuel Butler, Helen Zimmern, Amy Levy, and Henry Festing Jones.
The At the Circulating Library entry - Bertha Thomas (1845–1918) - lists what are probably her best-known works, but that list has proved hugely expandable from other sources including British Library Newspapers reviews, the British Library catalogue, Walter E Houghton's 2013 The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals 1824-1900, and a Google Books search of periodicals to find plot descriptions. A surprising number of her works are findable online via the British Library.
BERTHA THOMAS BIBLIOGRAPHY
Proud Maisie: A Novel (London: Sampson Low, 1877, British Library BLL01014824406 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
A novel of complicated relationships among five people: "... five lives were at stake—Hilda’s, Jasper's, Leopold Meredith’s, Sophie's, and mine" ... Ililda was married to Jasper, but was in love with Leopold Meredith. Meredith was married to Sophie, but, without being in love with Hilda, was quite ready to run away with her, merely to disgrace her because she had previonsly rejected him for a wealthier suitor. Jasper was in ibve with the heroine, and had found out what a mistake he had made in jilting her when he had married Hilda. The heroine, Proud Maisie, was in love with Jasper, and was watching with a spiteful eye the unhappy life that he and his wife were leading. Besides this a famous old German musician, and a young opera singer who was rising into fame, were both in love with Maisie also.Cressida: A Novel (London: Sampson Low, 1878, British Library BLL01014824403 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options). It was serialised in London Society ("A Monthly Magazine of light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation") in VOL. XXXIII. NO. CXCVIII, 1878.
- The Saturday Review, March 30, 1878
A novel of the relationships of the bored heroine Cressida Landon, a country clergyman's daughter who has a succession of five or six suitors/lovers before marrying one, for whom she has no regard. He dies saving people from a shipwreck; stricken with remorse, she "succumbs to one of those diseases which are ever at hand to dispose of superfluous heroines" (quote from NEW BOOKS AND NEW EDITIONS.The Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday, December 3, 1878).The Violin Player (London: Bentley, 1880, British Library BLL01014824408 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
Set initially in Italy: a musically gifted girl called Renza Therval disguises herself as a boy - Laurence - to pursue her education as a violinist.In a Cathedral City: A Tale (London: Bentley, 1882).
This concerns a woman who leaves her criminal husband and quits her identity as Mrs. Selby Knowles to live a quiet life as the dressmaker Elsie Ford in the city of "Bury St Martin", where she becomes friends with the talented cathedral musician Leonard Hathaway. Her husband, however, shows up. See the 1st December 1900 Tablet synopsis: here. (The 1920 A pictorial and descriptive guide to Canterbury, Herne Bay, Whitstable and the Isle of Thanet - Internet Archive pictorialdescrip00wardrich - notes that "Bury St Martin" is based on Canterbury).The Life of Richard Wagner (non-fiction, The Elzevir Library: A Tri-Weekly Magazine, New York: John B Alden, Vol. 1, No. 38. May 3, 1883).
Ichabod: A Portrait (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1885, British Library BLL01014824405 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
“... a clever study of the attempts of an imaginary pessimist, of the school of Schopenhauer, to carry out his creed to its final consequences”Elizabeth's Fortune: A Novel (London: Bentley, 1887, British Library BLL01014824404 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
- New Novels. The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, January 31, 1885.
"'Ichabod' is worthy of a more permanent form than the popular one in which it appears. It is called 'a portrait' and is in some sense a novel, but its worth lies in the fact that it reflects with singular accuracy the destructively inquiring spirit of our time and shows whither certain exaggerations of that spirit seem likely to lead. The book is a caustic one, wise as well as witty, and it is timely in a degree that is very rare. There are few readers of Bertha Thomas's books who, however much they may have admired the qualities that have won success for her, will read this work without a feeling of surprise at the evidence it gives of her possession of powers considerably greater than she has hitherto been credited with. The work is a minutely realistic sketch of a man of whom it is said that 'he was a clever fellow and might almost have made a philosopher—but for his philosophy.'"
- N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.
This concerns the rather picaresque life of a Bloomsbury orange seller who successively cleans boots in a parson's household, joins the theatre, marries an officer (who goes missing in India), and then has to go back to the theatre to support herself. Brian Tyson's Bernard Shaw's Book Reviews, Volume 1 (2008) reprints the March 1887 review by George Bernard Shaw: see pages 254ff.Sundorne (London: Chapman and Hall, 1890, British Library BLL01014824407 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
This concerns a playwright behaving badly.The House on the Scar: A Tale of South Devon (Bertha Thomas, New York: John W Lovell Company, 1890, Internet Archive houseonscar00thomgoog).
"There have been some good musical novels, but very few good theatrical ones. Perhaps if they were true to life they would not be pleasant, and if they were pleasant they wouldn't be true.
"Miss Bertha Thomas's Sundorne is not an exception. It is powerful, but not agreeable. Sundorne (which is not a Cockney allusion to the earliest hours of the day) is a disappointed dramatic genius who has struggled against the light-hearted indifference of the public for nearly fifty years. He wanted to have his plays produced, in spite of the fact that "ten years' close observation of the London stage, from before and behind the curtain, and of literary life," had resulted in "disgust, amounting' to abhorrence, for the whole august body, managers, actors, and authors, as cheap-jacks, mountebanks, and parasites." These being, unfortunately, in possession of the theatres, Mr. Sundorne was obliged to make use of them when he was lucky enough to find a man of wealth to pay for his pieces, and an actor of talent to play in them. He retained his low opinion of his colleagues in art, and the courage of it; for when Mr. Crowe, the manager of the Theatre Royal, made some uncomplimentary suggestions of alterations in King Rupert, Mr. Sundorne "struck the manager across the face with the roll of paper in his hand," and exclaimed, in a tempest of wrath:—" Silence! with your idiot's jabber and huckster's chattering. Keep to your scurvy trade of lying advertisements and cooking accounts. Dare to talk to me, Arthur Sundorne!" and so on. Episodes of this sort seem not to interfere with theatrical business arrangements; for the play is brought out, has an immense success, and Sundorne has name, fame, position, and wealth at once. The young actor who had helped so much to the good fortune of Sundorne's plays, has a beautiful and noble wife (Marcia, by the way, is very cleverly described) with whom he has perfect domestic happiness, and who makes his exciting life wholesome by her influence and care. It occurs to Mr. Sundorne that Marcia would be of great service 1 in his own neglected interior, so he takes her away from her home without an apparent tnought on his part or hers of the ruin she leaves behind. It is the way of genius, and genius must have its way. The deserted husband continues to act, but takes to chloral, morphia, and Drandy, with the usual results, descriptions of which are not spared us. The Sundornes live on a pinnacle of success, happiness, and popular worship, until he dies of heart-disease, and Marcia flits about in black "like a widowed queen." This is but a brief sketch of the story, which is filled out by social and tkea) trical people and scenes described for tho most part as vulgar and : commonplace, and is told with vehemence and intense earnestness. It is interesting, if not pleasant, and it is suggestive, if the suggestions are scarcely encouraging."
- The Saturday Review, November 8, 1890
See the previous post - The House on the Scar: A Tale of South Devon - for a description and contemporary reviews.Famous or Infamous: A Novel (New York: G. Munro, 1890).
A young English actor of great promise marries the daughter of London's foremost critic. The woman, who has inherited her father's mighty intellect, guides her husband's genius and restrains and counteracts the weaknesses of his character, fully understanding the complexity of the mind of genius, and its dangers. At the zenith of his glory the actor brings out a play by an unknown dramatist and succeeds in making it known. The author visits him, and a new love springs up in the heart of the actor's wife, who forgets all to follow this man of her choice.Camera Lucida; or Strange Passages in common life (London: Sampson Low & Co., 1897, British Library BLL01014830783 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
- blurb from U. S. Book Co., quoted in Book Chat, 1891 (Internet Archive bookchat00unkngoog).
Camera Lucida. By Bertha Thomas.—Under this title we have a collection of "strange passages in common life" that are fated to command attention. Rarely does the mere story attain such completeness and finish as in Miss Thomas' hands. The theatrical side of things has a special attraction for the author, as may be seen in the clever bit of delineation called the "Satellite" and its principal figure, Eliza Loraine; in the curious episode of operatic life recorded in "A Compelling Occasion;" in the sudden end of Terry Gower, the flautist, and in the amazing example of thought-reading extraordinarily described in " The Song and its Shadow." An "Unbidden Comrade" and " A Brief Acquaintance" both take us to the Alps and to a study of foreign idiosyncrasies, while the "History of Jake" is another illustration of the law that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon their innocent children. Whether "Hand in Hand" is correctly described as a "comedy" must be left for its readers to decide. There are ten tales in all.The Son of the House: A Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1900).
- The Bookseller, August 6th, 1897.
The advert in the Athenaeum for October 30, 1897, indicates the story topics in some cases:
Hand in Hand: "A love comedy written in a vein of cheerful good nature, varied by a touch of irony."— Vanity Fair.
A Compelling Occasion: "An exceedingly well-told bit of comedy."— Scotsman.
The Satellite: "A pathetic little tale, and a pretty little tale to boot."—Daily Chronicle.
A Little Lifetime: "A pitiless study, almost Ibsenite in its realism."—Librarian.
A Brief Acquaintance: "A spirited account of a jaunt in the Tyrol, in which the writer shows a thorough appreciation of the beauties of nature as well as a marked vein of humour."—World.
My Friend Kitty: "A perfectly admirable sketch."—Court Circular.
How He Became a Conservative: "An excellent piece of fooling."—Librarian.
The Dead March: " Told with tenderness and a certain tearful humour that is very effective, and giving a vivid picture of London under the great snow of sixteen years ago."—Court Journal.
An Unbidden Comrade: "Takes us to the Alps and to a study of foreign idiosyncrasies."—Bookseller.
A Song and its Shadow: "The amazing example of thought-reading extraordinarily described"—Bookseller.
The central theme of this novel seems to be the same as that of Maxwell Gray's The Great Refusal: what happens when an heir to a fortune - the son of a glove tycoon - questions the moral and political basis of its origin.
A rich landed proprietor affected with strong socialistic views is certainly in a difficult position, and is little likely to find sympathy and help from his near relations. Oswald Hendry, tho hero of Miss Bertha Thomas's latest novel, The Son of the House, finds himself in this awkward predicament. He is the eldest son of a clever and unscrupulous merchant, who has not looked too closely into the strict uprightness of the means by which his money has increased, but who by some means or other had managed to leave behind him a lucrative business, a handsome country house, and a will giving his wife Sarah absolute power over the estate until her son should be of age to take possession.
- The Literary World, April 27, 1900.
Domestic peace broods over Miss Bertha Thomas’s latest novel—peace chequered or obscured by nothing more tragic than a tinge of Christian Socialism, little affairs of the heart, maidens’ caprices and young men’s consequent despair, physical fevers and moral degeneration. The author deals with the last in a half-hearted sort of way, does not needlessly blacken her villain, and allows him to flourish, as villains often do. The story has no world-problems, except a theoretic Socialism; no sex-problems, except in the elementary rules of attraction and affection; and the only approach to morbidity is when the heroine is just a trifle tired of the villain, and sits on the edge of a pond, watching a butterfly as it drowns. On the other hand, there is plenty of English interior, of rustic simplicity, of candid innocence, and placid contentment. ‘The Son of the House’ is a pleasant domestic story, such as the author has more than once shown that she can write, and her readers will not fail to be charmed by it. Its stronger passages bear fresh witness to her power of developing character, and werking out a situation :n convincing lines.
- The Athenaeum, No. 3779, March 31, 1900.The Lucky Sister, a Fairy Play (London: G. Pulman & Sons, 1900).
I have no idea what this is about, but it runs to only 23 pages.Picture Tales from Welsh Hills (London, Leipsic [Leipzig?]: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912). The 1913 FG Browne edition is online: Internet Archive picturetalesfro00thomgoog.
In “Picture Tales from Welsh Hills,” Miss (?) Bertha Thomas gives us nine short stories, the perusal of which cannot fail to awaken a sympathetic interest in the Welsh folk who have escaped the sophistication of Board Schools, and the corrupting influence of town life. As we have a right to expect in a book so exclusivelywe have a right to expect in a book so exclusively Celtic as this, an element of mysticism is predominant. The longest story in the collection is “The Way He Went,” which deals "with the meteoric career of a humbly born youth who, after an exceptionally brilliant career at Oxford, marries the daughter of an aristocratic clergyman, and dies abroad towards the wane of his honeymoon. “The Only Girl” is illustrative of the belief in pixies, which still survives in the remoter districts of the Principality. “The Madness of Winifred Owen,” with which the volume opens, is, to our thinking , the best story. Winifred's father wanted to marry her to a wealthy farmer, whereas her heart set on a petty officer in the Navy. In her perplexity, she seeks the advice of a certain Dr. Dathan, who is devoting his life to research work. With her consent he injects into her arm a drug of his own invention, which has the effect of producing temporary insanity. By this means she contrives to gain the consent of her father to her marriage with her sailor lover. “Picture Tales from the Welsh Hills” is a book of intense interest, exquisitely written.Stranger within the gates: short stories / by Bertha Thomas; edited by Kirsti Bohata (Dinas Powys: Honno, 2008). It's basically a reprint of Picture Tales from Welsh Hills, whose story lineup it largely duplicates - see WorldCat OCLC 435727631).
- The Westminster Review, J Chapman, 1912.
From the cover blurb:PERIODICALS
First published in 1912, this is a collection of witty, sharply observed short stories which engage with feminism, the "new women" of the 1890s, alongside narratives which explore the personal and emotional conflict experienced by people torn between multiple ethnicities or between different social and national groups.
- George Sand (non-fiction, part of an Eminent Women series, The Galaxy, May, 1870). Book reprint: Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883, Internet Archive georgesand00thom).
- A vision of communism: a grotesque (Cornhill Magazine, September 1873, pp 300-310). This is a short story, an allegorical fantasy with remarkable thematic resemblance to Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron. It was variously syndicated from Cornhill to publications including the Boston-based Every Saturday (18 October 1873, page 431) and Australian newspapers: the Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Friday 28 November 1873, page 4) and the Sydney Morning Herald (Friday 27th February 1874, page 6).
- Intellectual wild oats (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 89, O.S., 9 N.S., May 1874). Online via Hathitrust.
- A professor extraordinary (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 90, O.S., 10 N.S., July 1874).
- Latest intelligence from the planet Venus [on woman’s suffrage] (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 90, O.S., 10 N.S., December 1874). This A gender-reversal satire on anti-suffrage arguments is probably Thomas's best-known polemical work. It's reprinted in the anthology Women's Writing of the Victorian Period, 1837-1901: see preview for page 197ff.
- Critics in Wonderland: a study (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 93, O.S., 13 N.S., February 1876). Online via Hathitrust.
- The fable of Wagner’s Niebelungen trilogy (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 94, O.S., 14 N.S., July 1876). Online via Hathtrust.
- Bassano (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 96, O.S., 16 N.S., July 1877).
The fortunes of the
Sundew family: a social nightmare in seven chapters (New Quarterly
Magazine, Volume 9, January 1878). "A clever social skit" (The Academy).
- Technical training for girls (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 99 O.S., 19 N.S., March 1879).
- Autobiography of an agnostic (Fraser’s Magazine, Volume 103, O.S., 23 N.S., May 1881). "an irresistibly amusing reductio ad absurdum of the postulates of dogmatic scepticism by showing the consequences of their application to the actual affairs of life" (desc. from The Illustrated London News, vol. 78, p.483, 1881). Reprinted in The Living Age, v.149 1881 Apr-Jun - online via Hathitrust.
- Two truants (London Society, Christmas 1884): "an amusing story by Miss Bertha Thomas. It tells how a young actress and a dean's daughter personate one another, the actress going to a garden party at Lambeth Palace, and the dean's daughter to a theatrical reception. The thing is well kept up to the end, and concludes merrily" (description from The Graphic, Dec. 1884). The story's reprinted in the 1885 collection Irving tales; being good short stories, original and selected (Internet Archive irvingtalesbeing00unse, pages 81ff).
- Conspirators at home (London Society, Christmas 1885) - “an amusing story of the straits some young people were put to in their natural craving for dramatic amusement” (from Our Library Table. The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Wednesday, December 2, 1885).
- The Country of George Sand (English Illustrated Magazine, March 1887).A detailed travelogue of the Nohant district of central France, location of George Sand's estate.
- At A Month's End: Leaves from the Diary of a Man of the Time: a story in three parts (London Society. starting in Sep. 1887 issue). I decided to transcribe this, as it has the added local interest of a South Devon setting. See At a Month's End: part 1 / part 2 / part 3.
- How I Became a Conservative: a tragedy in five acts (National Review, Volume 17, May 1891). This appears to be the same story as in Camera Lucida: sources differ in whether it's "He" or "I" in the title.
- The Satellite (The Ludgate Monthly, Volume 6, 1894, page 246). Later collected in Camera Lucida.
- A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1450-1889) (George Grove et. al, 1900, Internet Archive dictionaryofmusi02grovuoft). The contributor list has "Miss Bertha Thomas" as author for entries labelled "B.T.". I don't have independent confirmation that it's her, but the name's unusual, and the area of interest not inconsistent. According to the intro to Stranger within the gates, her sister Florence was a musician and conductor.