|Ryde, Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight, 1873|
I'll expand on her biography in a moment, but firstly, her credits I've found so far:
- A Friend in Ten Thousand (Remington & Co., 1884). Novel.
- The Bachelor Vicar of Newforth (Fisher Unwin, 1885). Novel.
- My Twin-Brother Richard, Home Chimes, Vol. 3, 1885, page 344). Short story.
- Whose Wife? (W. H. Allen, 1888). Novel.
- A Balloon Story (Belgravia: a London Magazine, Volume 69 (Holiday Number), page 65, 1889. Short story.
- A Man of Mystery (Blackwood, 1893). Novel.
- The Naval Officer's Mistake: a story of war and peace (Hampshire Telegraph, 1894). Serialised novel.
- The Silent Room (Skeffington, 1895). Novel.
- The Romance of Mrs Wodehouse (Hutchinson & Company, 1896). Novel.
- "That Figure-head" (Temple Bar, 1901). Short story.
- The Shadow of a Fear ("accepted in the Chicago Daily News competition", 1908). Serialised novel - unverified.
- The Sacrifice of Enid (Observer, Adelaide, 1909). Serialised novel.
There's one other credit - Jenetha's Venture (Cassell) - listed for her in The Literary Yearbook and Bookman's Directory for 1900, but this turns out to be a mistaken attribution to the 1899 Jenetha's Venture: A Tale of the Siege of Delhi by Colonel AFP Harcourt, who was a colonial official in India and wrote various travel and topographical accounts.
My impression from skimming the reviews is that she specialised in novels in middle-class social settings, often with clergy and naval characters, with the staple scenario of major consequences arising from conflicts or misunderstandings. But she wrote at least one that was quite ground-breaking in its theme; there can't be many English Buddhist antiheroes - the "man of mystery" of her 1893 book - in 19th century fiction.
There are a handful of personal descriptions findable. The Hampshire Telegraph (September 9, 1893) review of A Man of Mystery says she was “a native of Southsea, and a lady intimately associated with the naval service”, and the Dundee Evening Telegraph for Thursday 1st July 1909 describes her rather patronisingly as "to ordinary acquaintances, an unaffected Englishwoman of homely instincts, with simple kindliness inherited from generations of naval officers". But prize for useful detail has to go to the Whitehall Review biography which, despite the Hello! magazine flavour of its relentlessly positive spin, is massively informative:
The daughter of a naval officer who was never on half-pay, the earlier part of the life of Mrs Harcourt-Roe, one of the most popular of the lady novelists of the day, was spent in constantly moving about. At 12 years old she went to reside in Melbourne, Victoria, her father being at that time senior naval officer in the Australian colonies. She was always a voluminous reader, and had an unlimited run of books. At 15 her education, so-called, was concluded; after which she read more than ever, for hours of a day, from sheer pleasure. Although now a writer of fiction solely—believing that fiction is the most powerful factor of the present day—she never selected novels for perusal, not caring for them. She read essays, travels,, poetry, history, all and everything; Mullins’ library (the Melbourne Mudie’s) providing well for the large demands made. At 16 she entered the gay society of the colony, and at 18 returned to England, where she married, and lived in London until three years ago, since when she has resided at Ryde, I.W. Her first novel appeared almost 10 years ago, but met with little attention, and for some considerable time she had nothing out. Since then she has written for many periodicals—Temple Bar, Belgravia, and others. Her principal novels are: “The Bachelor Vicar of Newforth,” “Whose Wife?,” “A Man of Mystery” and the “Silent Room.” “The Bachelor Vicar,” a story of social life, has been most warmly received by the Church and the Navy. “Whose Wife?” being a psychological roman with a good deal of metaphysical conversation, is considered by some people her best work, but is not so generally popular. “A Man of Mystery” has been, and still is, very warmly received by people of all sorts and conditions. We have had occasion to highly eulogise this remarkable tale in the Whitehall Review. The authoress had the most extravagant letters of praise from the public, people constantly telling her they could not put the book down, but read far into the night. Almost all the reviews united in appreciation of this powerful work. The subject being an unusual one, and the hero an English Buddhist, may have aroused interest. “The Silent Room”—a weird and impressive tale—appeared in March last, since when 4000 copies have been brought out. It has been very well received. Until Mrs Harcourt Roe wrote her first long novel, she had neither desire nor intention of becoming an author, being quite unaware of any taste in that direction. Her work is a delight to her. She writes only when a story seems given to her to tell which she is compelled to pen down, knowing no rest until this has been fully accomplished. Her work usually plans itself in the middle of the night, and she has little trouble with it.—Whitehall Review.(The Portsmouth Evening News for Thursday 1st August, 1895, notes that the Whitehall Review piece has "an excellent portrait" too).
RYDE, SATURDAY, AUGUST 3RD, 1895, Isle of Wight Observer (Ryde, England), Saturday, August 03, 1895; pg. 4 (quoting then current Whitehall Review piece).
The reference to letters of praise leads to an interesting detail: that Mrs Harcourt Roe was a correspondent with Isabel, Lady Burton, wife of the soldier and explorer Sir Richard Burton. Their letters were triggered by the mystical angles in A Man of Mystery.
The history of the late Lady Burton was a very.strange one. She is said to have .met her husband, Sir Richard Burton, a total stranger, on the ramparts of Boulogne, but so strong was the magnetic influence between them that she said at once to her sister, 'That man will marry me,' while the same idea instantly dominated him.' With reference to this incident she, not long ago, wrote to Mrs. Harcourt-Roe concerning 'A Man of Mystery,' saying, 'I cannot tell you how much I thank you for your very remarkable book. I could not put it down. I read far into the night, and again all next day. I think it is simply splendid. It very much applied to my own case, and I was greatly struck with many portions of it. . . . You and I know things that they (the general public) never dreamt of.' This letter was the beginning of a warm correspondence.The Literary Yearbook shows that Mrs Harcourt Roe (and her husband) continued to move around, giving her address as: Rosehill, Ryde, Isle of Wight (1897); Rothesay, Netley Abbey, Hants (1900 and 1903); The Nest, Twyford, Berks (1905); and Hovenden, Hurst, Berks (1915).
- Table Talk, The Literary World, James Clarke & Co, Volume 53, page 316, April 3, 1896
These details were enough to help fill out a general biography with census and BMD records, with only minor complication: "Harcourt Roe" / "Harcourt-Roe" turns out to be her husband's name - Harcourt James Roe - rebadged into a gentrified double-barrel pseudonym: there's no relation to the aristocratic Harcourts who were around Ryde in that era (who proved an irrelevant sidetrack). She's furthermore credited sometimes as "A. Harcourt Roe" and sometimes "J. Harcourt Roe", with or without the hyphenation.
Mrs Harcourt Roe was born in January 1848 at Portsea Island, Hampshire (that is, the main island the city of Portsmouth occupies); the district of Southsea was then outside the city walls. She was christened Elizabeth Augusta Sibella Cox.. She was the youngest daughter of Henry Laird Cox, R.N. (1809-1872), a naval officer who joined the Navy in 1824, reached the rank of commander in 1857, and commanded coastal surveying of Victoria (hence the Australian connection) until his retirement with the rank of captain in 1866. His daughter married Harcourt James Roe - 22 years older, and then an insurance clerk living in the parental home at East Dulwich (though he was born in Newport, Isle of Wight) - at the parish church of Camberwell on 22nd August 1871.
The couple appears on the 1881 census still at Camberwell - as “Harcourt J Roe” (55), commercial clerk and life insurer (?) - now for some reason saying he was born in West Cowes - and “Elizabeth A. S. Roe” (33) born in Southsea. But by the early 1890s, they were living in Ryde; the Isle of Wight Observer's List of the Principal Residents of Ryde and Environs shows a "Mr & Mrs Harcourt Roe and family" (their daughter Isobel) living at Rosehill, Wood Street, Ryde, from May 1892 to May 1898. This was where she wrote the last three of her novels. None of the census returns make any mention of her occupation as a writer.
As The Literary Yearbook confirms, they later moved on; in 1911 (84/63) they're living at "St Nicholas Hurst", Berkshire; and in 1913, "Hovenden Hurst", Berkshire, where she died (aged 65) on 25 April 1913. Despite his greater age, her husband outlived her for over a decade, dying in Bath on 12th June 1926 (10 days after his 100th birthday, according to the Wells Journal, 18 June 1926).
Refs, variously: The Literary Yearbook; The Navy List; England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915; Hampshire Telegraph Births, Deaths, Marriages and Obituaries; Wells Journal; Isle of Wight Observer; censuses 1871-1911; and the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
Let's have a more detailed look at the works.
MRS HARCOURT-ROE (a.k.a. HARCOURT ROE) BIBLIOGRAPHY
• A Friend in Ten Thousand: A Novel (1884)
(Remington & Co., 1884). Novel in 2 vols. by "Mrs J. Harcourt".
The story largely focuses on the complications when the heroine wavers between two men of very different personality, and the circumstances - such as one being thought dead - keep changing.
“I was engaged to Captain Vincent. When I heard that he was dead I became engaged to our dear, good, kind Rector. Then, only the day before yesterday, we heard that Captain Vincent was alive, and I am now engaged to him again.” This terse and candid statement of her position, made by the heroine to a friend, gives a much better résumé of this rather rigmarole story than a critic could convey in many pages. The “dear, good, kind Rector” is a saintly aristocrat, who has a Duke for the head of his family, and to whom the last sacraments are administered by a bishop; he leaves all his money to his successful rival. There is a great deal, too, in this novel about a Mr. Fortescue, who at the age of thirty makes an income of two thousand pounds a year as Secretary to twenty City Companies, and who becomes the husband of a woman who drinks herself to death.Both volumes can be read at, or downloaded from, the British Library website: BLL01014812661 / BLL01001591127 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options). The title has quite nice ornamental graphics, and the British Library has also uploaded scans to its Flickr pages: see 001591127.
- New Novels, The Standard (London, England), Thursday, June 26, 1884; pg. 2.
• The Bachelor Vicar of Newforth (1885)
(Fisher Unwin, 1885). Novel, by "Mrs. J Harcourt-Roe".
This is the story of an eligible and charismatic vicar, Theophilus Manley, who comes to a small coastal town and turns around the fortunes of its shabby church and ailing church community, as well as becoming engaged to be married. That is, until his career crashes and burns when he's seen kissing a unknown woman. (He can't explain that she's his sister, because this would expose her to scandal / prosecution over money her ailing husband has mislaid). He exiles himself to ministry among the aboriginals in the Australian outback, where he nearly dies, but is eventually vindicated when the explanation comes out.
This is an Isle of Wight novel in all but name. I find the descriptions of the cliffside harbour town "Newforth" (whose name recalls Newport) a portmanteau of Ventnor and Ryde, and there are other highly applicable locations such as a "Fisherman's Cove" that's not unlike Steephill Cove, and a “Seafort” whose name strongly recalls Seaview and the Solent sea forts.
An English country town, with the usual accompaniment of love and gossip, forms the background for a clever, well-written story. The Rev. Theophilus Manley, the vicar, comes to Newforth in the prime of life, with good birth, fair means, and great intellectual power. He finds the church and congregation dying of apathy and indifference. He inspires both with new life, and raises himself to the highest pitch of popularity. A foolish scandal, based upon a misunderstanding of facts, ruins his character, and he loses both his church and his lady love. His subsequent wanderings and sufferings and final reinstatement are full of pathos.The New York, G. Munro  edition is available via Hathitrust 000245697.
- Publishers Weekly (American Book Trade Journal), Vol. XXIX, No.727, January 2, 1886.
How many novels, romances, poems, dramas, have turned upon mistaking a young woman’s brother or a young man’s sister for a sweetheart or lover? This fine old anecdote constitutes the entire plot ... A superhumanly good, intellectual, and beautiful vicar, adored by a parish which he rules as a benevolent despot, and engaged to be married to the most charming of his parishioners, is seen to be kissing a lovely and mysterious stranger. He, influenced by a point of honour, refuses any explanation even to his fiancée, is turned out of her father’s house, driven to resign his living, and goes out as a missionary into the Australian bush where at last even his faith in Providence wavers. However, a very simple explanation ensues, and he returns in triumph to Newforth and Ethel. To have made two long volumes out of this trite and venerable episode is a feat of ingenuity; and apart from a sort of abject worship on Mrs. Roe’s part towards her own hero, the feat is crowned with better success than might have been expected. The means by which the Vicar transformed the benighted place he found into a model parish are certainly well described, and convey several sensible suggestions. Full enjoyment of the tale demands an even exceptional interest in Church work and clerical personality; but given the latter, the former is tolerably sure to follow. We are not sure, however, that the real moral of the story is exactly what Mrs. Roe intends. According to her, it is “Trust your vicar.” What it amounts to really is that not even a vicar—a rank which Mrs. Roe seems to rate considerably higher than archangel—can fairly ask for confidence unless he gives it in return.
- New novels, The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, January 23, 1886
The story of the Vicar is so innocently and naively silly that one hesitates to condemn it. The Vicar is a model of perfection, adored by his parish; falls under a most flimsy suspicion, evidently concocted with much care by the simple-minded lady who writes the book, as the best way she can contrive to break him down; is rejected by his parish and his sweetheart, subjected to extreme trials as a missionary among the savages; cleared of suspicion, and brought back in meek triumph to distribute forgiveness. The intended theme is evidently the saint-and-martyr one—always highly effective in an emotional novel, if half-way well done; but the effort under review is merely comical.
- Recent fiction, Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, page 210, February 1886.
• My Twin-Brother Richard (1885)
(Home Chimes, Vol. 3, 1885, page 344). As "J. Harcourt Roe". 5000-word short story from the viewpoint of a stupid egotistical man who with difficulty impersonates his smarter, more sensible, identical twin in order to pursue the lovely Sophonisba Jones - then lives to regret it when she finds out the imposture, shortly after their marriage.
• Whose Wife?: A Novel (1888)
(W. H. Allen, 1888). Novel in 2 vols., by "Mrs. Harcourt-Roe".
"A tale of bigamy and marital abuse" (Varieties of Women's Sensation Fiction, 1855-1890: Sensationalism and the sensation debate, Andrew Maunder, Sally Mitchell, Pickering & Chatto, 2004).
The central scenario is that the heroine Elma first marries the abusive Mr Brownrigg, then later, thinking him dead, remarries the nicer Percival - only find herself a bigamist, because Brownrigg turns up alive. Along the way, there's a deal of metaphysical sidetracking in expositions from an author character, Mr Courtney; it's kind of tempting to suspect that Mr Courtney is channelling his own author.
All this happens on a distinctly globetrotting scene, Elma being at the start a naive girl of 16, from New Zealand. The action starts on Lake Tarawara [sic], then is off from Auckland aboard the SS Queensland via Honolulu to England and "Arlyme ... a small town on the borders of Devonshire and Dorsetshire ... separated from Axminster by a lofty ridge". This places Arlyme as Lyme Regis - one scene visits the nearby Trinity Hill - though we don't actually go to Lyme, but to "Arlyme Hall" (somewhere in the vicinity of Uplyme). Elma and Percival have a honeymoon in Japan, visiting Yokahama and the Zenkō-ji temple; and later the story takes off again to Barcelona Cathedral and Palma de Mallorca. Ultimately, Elma and her good husband (the bad bigamous one having been shot while threatening to horsewhip her again) do the sensible thing and return to New Zealand to take up sheep farming.
Both the plot and the style of Whose Wife? are somewhat commonplace, and here and there we have such a vulgarism as the use of "transpired " for "happened;" but the story has a briskness and celerity of movement which make it quite readable. The heroine leaves New Zealand, where she has been born and brought up, to take possession of her English property, and bids farewell to the hero, with whom she has an understanding which is morally equivalent to a betrothal. In the course of the voyage she makes the acquaintance of two other men, one of whom is destined to play the part of guardian angel, the other to undertake the role of the villain The villain makes love to her, and she is false to her troth, so that when, after two years, the hero comes to England to claim his bride, he finds her on the point of marriage with another man. After gambling his wife's money away and otherwise misconducting himself, the villain goes to America, whence comes the usual apparently well-authenticated report of his death. The heroine, who has long ere this discovered her mistake, makes haste to rectify it by marrying the hero, and, of course, soon after the marriage the villain returns. After allowing him to make things very unpleasant for the hero and heroine for a sufficient time to fill up the story, he is at last really despatched, and the troubled pair are married again and live happily ever afterwards. There is not much to be said of Whose Wife? beyond the remark that it is a moderately good specimen of the not very valuable class of fiction to which it belongs.Whose Wife? can be read at, or downloaded from, the British Library website: BLL01014828480 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
- The Spectator, 29th September, page 22, 1888
The answer to the question which Mrs. Harcourt-Roe has chosen for her title is not difficult. Elma Tremaine's husband does not die till the end of the book, and although she married Percival Murray in the belief that George Brownrigg was dead, that piece of inadvertence on her part could not, of course, get rid of George as a "hard fact." The story turns upon what the virtuous but unlucky Elma ought to do when she discovers that she is not Mr. Murray's wife. As, however, there is no explanation of the almost incredible levity with which she had accepted the at first unwelcome attentions of Brownrigg while in honour bound to Murray, the sympathy of the most tender-hearted reader in her subsequent and consequent misfortunes is a good deal diminished. Mrs. Harcourt-Roe has a great passion for matrimonial complications, though her book is not in the least improper, and the reader who does not share the taste had better avoid Whose Wife?. Elma, it may be said in extenuation, as Mr. Disraeli said of Byron, was "very young." She was only sixteen when she came from New Zealand in the same ship with Mr. Brownrigg, and she had plenty of money, which, we are told, she could not " touch" till she was eighteen. How she could " touch" it then, not being of age, Mrs. Harcourt-Roe does not explain. Mr. Brownrigg wanted the money, and, after being some time disliked and despised, suddenly found himself its possessor along with the hand of its mistress. Of Mr. Brownrigg's breeding a single specimen may suffice. When Percival returned from the antipodes, and met Elma, her husband remarked, "No flirting with him, young lady, remember that; for I won't have it." The Brownriggs speedily quarrelled, and Mr. B threw political economy at her. This degradation was more than the cultivated Elma well could bear, and she retorted, with proud intelligence, "I do not in the least care for political economists; if one attended to them, one would never do a kind action." After this one partly understands why Mr. Brownrigg left her and sought in the more congenial society of Utah that repose which the flippancy of an ignoramus can never afford. Some time after his departure Elma heard that he was dead, and made up for lost time by promptly marrying Percival. The circumstances of Mr. Brownrigg's supposed demise were communicated to her, in a singularly businesslike manner, by Major Poole, a famous traveller. Elma bore it calmly, as was perhaps natural; but, by way of a likely hypothesis, took it into her head that the worthy George had been buried alive. She consulted the Major on this point, who hastened to reassure her by saying "He was as dead as a door-nail." "He felt this comparison," we are informed, " to be irreverent, but made it simply from the fact that he knew of no other to express an equal amount of deadness." After marrying, or doing her best to marry, Percival, Elma became a mother. It was a boy, and the father's emotion found vent in a passionate outcry. "I thought no man cared about a baby," he exclaimed; "but if I lost this little chap, it would be an actual grief to me." Could paternal love go further? We need not pursue the narrative of Mrs. Brownrigg's trials when George turns up, as odious as ever and just as much in want of money. He is a violent ruffian, but a good deal more lifelike than John Newcastle, the famous author, or his uncomfortable, mysterious wife, with a concealed title. Mrs. Harcourt-Roe's pages may amuse an idle hour, and she is sometimes most amusing when she means to be most serious. But she describes herself in speaking of some imaginary personage as "simply a manufacturer of something to read, not a living writer."
- The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 65, March 31, 1888.
• A Balloon Story (1889)
(Belgravia: a London Magazine, Volume 69, Holiday Number, 1889, page 65). Story, as "A Harcourt Roe".
This is rather an odd story, with mildly SF elements, in Belgravia, the London illustrated monthly magazine founded by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Somewhere in the French mountains, a balloon terrifies the villagers; it comes down, carrying the corpse of a beautiful woman, and then a distraught and near-skeletal man arrives, saying that he killed her. The villagers are all for lynching him, but the local Curé persuades them to put the man into his custody until proper justice has been served. The man explains: he's a Parisian scholar who moved out to the sticks, where he met his wife, to work on his project of developing an indestructible self-guiding balloon. He became so obsessed with this that he neglected his wife, not buying food or fuel, until she died of starvation. Stricken with guilt, he decided to destroy the invention (and simultaneously dispose of the corpse) by sending it out to sea. But the wind blew it back to the mountains, which he takes as karma for his crime of neglect. Having confessed to the Curé - and being starved, exhausted, and generally on self-destruct - he too dies.
• A Man of Mystery (1893)
(Blackwood, 1893). Novel, by "Mrs. Harcourt-Roe".
This is probably the book by Mrs Harcourt Roe that attracted most interest and attention. It presents a highly unusual central character - in modern terms, an ascetic cult leader as antihero - whose beliefs are presented in a not unsympathetic light. The novel chiefly concerns how his status quo unravels when he falls in love with one of his female students, Dorothea.
This is another of Mrs Harcourt Roe's novels with a Westcountry setting. Part of the novel is set in "Penlist", a Cornish coastal village close to Saltash; and Fellerman's Buddhist community is in a granite farmhouse "in one of the most secluded parts of Dartmoor". It also visits Newforth, the setting of the earlier The Bachelor Vicar of Newforth, making it a crossover novel.
Mrs Harcourt Roe was evidently interested in Buddhism and issues of religious philosophy; she'd already devoted much of a chapter in Whose Wife? ("A Man without a Body") to an exposition - via the author character Mr Courtney - on contrasts between Buddhism and Christianity, and the whole question of "What is I?".
The reviews were generally positive.
Mrs. Harcourt Roe introduces us to a very remarkable character in the hero of A Man of Mystery. She is fond of drawing ideal types; in the present instance she has chosen to portray a character raised to the highest point of virtue that can be attained by adherence to the tenets of pure Buddhism, and, while doing full justice to both, she very well contrasts with it the Christian ideal as shown forth in the person of Mr. Manly. It is an error, from our point of view, to have presented Mr. Fellerman in a distinctly unpleasant light at the opening of the volume; such a character, though likely to call out feelings of antagonism and suspicion, should hardly awaken dislike in the mind of the reader, and we are haunted by this first disagreeable impression to the end of the book. Though far from resembling the ordinary tale of mystery, there is plenty of mystery in the story, and the reader is carried through a series of extraordinary scenes painted with considerable vigour. The author has a dramatic power of presenting strong feeling that raises the book above the ordinary level, and its tone is always pure and pleasant. It is impossible not to read it through from beginning to end, and even then we bid a regretful farewell to Fellerman and Dorothea. The self denial exercised by the former in obedience to his religion, and the suffering entailed on both, affects us keenly. The marriage in tho churchyard at dead of night is drawn with a graphic and weird power that chills us to the bone. We are grateful to the author that she brings us into calm waters at the close, and that the troubled careers end together. The final scenes are full of pathos and simplicity.The Scottish Law Review commented on the legal aspects of the rather strange denouement, in which a character charges himself with manslaughter:
- New novels & new editions, The Literary World, Volume 48, page 233, October 6, 1893.
A title goes for much—sometimes for too much, and the book (proves a disappointment. This is not the case with Mrs. Harcourt Roe's novel, A Man of Mystery. Such a title, though not startling from its novelty, cannot fail to awaken interest, and in this instance the author has not aimed at setting that interest to rest. The man is mysterious and does not cease to be so even after the strange circumstances of his birth and life are explained to us. Mr. Fellerman, alias Lord Mountain, was son of an English peer, but, being wrecked off the coast of "India, or Burmah, or somewhere"—such is the explicit narrative of a certain Mrs. Worsley—at the age of seven, he is picked up by a wealthy native and educated in the Buddhist faith. When of age, he returns to Europe with the intention of preaching that religion in Christian countries. Finding that the weaker sex are the most amenable to his teaching (he was "a singularly attractive, handsome man "), 'he organizes a kind of girls' college, whence the pupils, after a strict and careful preparation, are to go forth and reform the world. His early training of severe self-abnegation, his unknown parentage, an iron will, and the peculiar manner of propagating his religion, are facts in themselves sufficient to veil him in mystery, and the succession of events in the story are well contrived to allure the curiosity of the reader yet more. After remaining obdurate to the charms of numerous fair collegers, he falls a complete victim to his last acquisition. It is a relief to read of the fall of this severe stoic, and it is a good touch of human nature that he squares the matter to his conscience by the discovery that love—though only human love—has an ennobling and not a degrading effect upon its votaries. The novel is well constructed until the last few chapters, in which the reader is wearied out by a detailed account of the trial, imprisonment, and eventual release of a character of only secondary interest, after the man of mystery and his wife have married, lived long, died, and been buried. The passages relating to Buddhism—its difference from and resemblance to Christianity—are written with a .genuine open-mindedness. It is clear that the author has studied the Buddhist religion, and is better acquainted with the subject than she has occasion to prove in so limited a space.
- Novels, The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 76, page 302, September 9, 1893.
Mrs. Harcourt-Roe's "A Man of Mystery" is not a good specimen of her work. The character Felterman [sic], Bhuddist, enthusiast, and certainly more than half a maniac, is too improbable to enlist either sympathy or interest. As much may be said of the vacillating heroine, Rose Challoner. It is easy to understand the feeling of exasperation excited in honest Jack Ashworth by the "man of mystery," and many will be inclined to share in it.
- The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, September 05, 1893; pg. 6
English Fiction And Scottish Law.—Apropos of the article on this subject in the August number of the Review, the following excerpt from a review in the Glasgow Herald of 17th August may interest our readers:—
A Man of Mystery. By Mrs. Harcourt-Roe. (London: James Blackwood & Co.)—This is by way of being a remarkable novel; we have an altogether wonderful man as hero, who is something of a theosophist and a great deal of a charlatan, and of whom we are very tired before his rehabilitation when he dies in the odour of Christian sanctity. After his death the one fairly sensible man in the book up to that point charges himself with the manslaughter of the "Man of Mystery," and then the authoress thoroughly enjoys herself in describing the trial. It must, indeed, have been a remarkable trial; for irregularity we have never known of a more remarkable. The counsel for the prosecution gives evidence on his own account, causing "great sensation in Court" (which we do not doubt); the witnesses' evidence meanders over all sorts of irrelevant matters, and the prisoner's counsel, not to be outdone, also enlivens the proceedings by his personal recollections of various interesting circumstances which come to his recollection. As it appears that the prisoner (who is himself a barrister), when charged, pleaded guilty, the jury's finding that he was guilty is not surprising, but what the judge can have been about we cannot imagine; perhaps he slept. At the end, however, his lordship rose nobly to the level of the counsel and witnesses, and triumphantly crowned the amazing proceedings by sentencing the criminal to "three months as a first-class misdemeanant." Mrs. Harcourt-Roe may not be a novel writer of the best, but as a legal humourist it is difficult to excel her. Lawyers will, indeed, find her concluding chapters a feast of fat things.A Man of Mystery can be read at, or downloaded from, the British Library website: BLL01014828478 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
- The Scottish Law Review and Sheriff Court Reports, Volume 9, 1893 [quoting in full the review from the Glasgow Herald, Thursday, August 17, 1893].
• The Naval Officer's Mistake: a story of war and peace (1894)
Novel "by Mrs. Harcourt-Roe" serialised over seven issues of the Hampshire Telegraph between March-April 1894. It was syndicated elsewhere, such as in the Sunderland Weekly Echo.
The story concerns a romantic triangle comprising Marietta Franklin and her two rival suitors, the cousins Arthur Westmoreland (a naval officer) and Frank Heathcote (an army officer). Arthur is rather the better catch, and Marietta used to like him more. But she's engaged to Frank by default, Arthur having messed up his prospects ten years previously - this is the titular "mistake" - by a) having a silly argument with his uncle and being disinherited, and b) then whingeing to Marietta about it in a way that came across as unpleasantly money-obsessed. The novel follows how all this plays out.
The novel is very heavy on exposition and drawing-room conversations, but it'll be of local interest to readers familiar with Portsmouth, the Solent and the Isle of Wight, as Mrs Harcourt Roe makes undisguised use of these settings.
The instalment dates were: March 10, 1894; March 17, 1894; March 24, 1894; March 31, 1894; April 7, 1894; April 14, 1894; and April 21, 1894. I read it via the 19th Century British Library Newspapers database; the whole set will come up if you do an internal text search for "naval officer's mistake". If you have a Devon library ticket or an Athens account you can log on remotely; otherwise you'll need to enquire at your own library/institution about access methods.
• The Silent Room (1895)
(Skeffington, 1895). Novel. This one isn't findable online, but it looks an interesting Gothic psychological mystery. Treloar House is an isolated mansion, whose middle-aged mistress has a repeated compulsion to go to a particular room at night, emerging in a traumatised state. Eventually, she pays a down-at-heel young man a large sum of money to take her place. The explanation, the reviews indicate, is to do with mesmerism.
The title of Mrs. Harcourt Roe’s story … suggests mystery, and it does not belie the expectations aroused by its name. It is drenched in mystery. Treloar Hall is a lonely mansion surrounded by neglected grounds. Its mistress is a middle-aged unmarried woman, direct of speech, abrupt of manner, addicted to rising in the dead of night and making her way to a remote room, in which she remains for hours, and from which she emerges with face “white and bloodless” and lips “that seemed glued together.” Chance causes the lady to meet Godfrey Wilkinson, a young man ruined in fortune. She bribes him with large sums of money to take her place in the mysterious chamber. What is the nature of those vigils is the secret of the Silent Room. We shall not disclose that secret. The author knows how to stimulate curiosity and keep it wakeful to the end.But The Literary World is far less coy about what's going on - and it turns out that the mistress of Treloar is the perpetrator, not the victim, of the Silent Room's secret. The reference to Westminster Aquarium - an entertainment venue - alludes to the then recent two-year run by the comedy mesmerist "Professor" TA Kennedy.
- Novels, Daily News (London, England), Wednesday, June 5, 1895.
In The Silent Room ... the author has utilised the latest sensation at the Westminster Aquarium as the leading idea. We are first introduced to a young gentleman who is very much on his last legs, and seems to have nothing before him save suicide or enlistment. He encounters temptation in the form of an old lady, who bribes him by splendid offers to aid her in a scheme by which she is keeping the rightful heiress out of her inheritance very much to the old lady's own advantage. It would be unfair to the author to detail the plot or the method in which it is carried out. Involving as it does a young and handsome girl, it is small wonder that the young man's wife, who is obtained as one of the results of his unexpected fortune, grows suspicious, and from the secrecy necessitated and the probings of a not too rigid conscience the hero soon sickens of his bargain. The wife conveniently dies, and his love is transferred to the object of his care and surveillance; but nothing comes of it, and a dreary succession of deaths ends the story. The Silent Room has some original features in plot and some weaknesses in construction; but the story being obviously intended for the enjoyment of a spare hour, hardly justifies the expenditure of adverse critical effort, and may be left for those who can still find the shilling shocker a satisfying form of literary recreation.
- The Literary World, Volume 51, March 29, 1895.
• The Romance of Mrs. Wodehouse (1896)
(Hutchinson & Company, 1896). Novel, by "Mrs. Harcourt-Roe".
The novel is a tapestry of the unsatisfactory family relationships of the Bayner family: Colonel Bayner at loggerheads with Mrs Bayner, who's a violent drunk, and their daughter Mabel caught unhappily between. All this is shaken up and resolved through the catalyst of the arrival of a Mrs. Wodehouse, who is Colonel Bayner's lover from the past.
Followers of southern UK topographic references could find it of interest, as although the action is largely divided between London and a Yorkshire village called Tessle, it makes some very specific excursions to Portsmouth harbour and the HMS Victory, as well as to Exeter Cathedral and Yes Tor near Okehampton. (I'm wondering what, if any, Devon connection Mrs Harcourt Roe had, as her later The Sacrifice of Enid also has a Dartmoor location).
"The Romance of Mrs. Wodehouse" is an old lover, who lives near her, married to some one else, and a further and somewhat surprising development which it were unfair to mention here, as it is the keynote to the whole plot. It is a pleasant little book, and ends in the overpowering happiness of all the deserving characters.The Romance of Mrs. Wodehouse can be read at, or downloaded from, the British Library website: BLL01014828479 (click I want this for links to the PDF viewer options).
- The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, Volume 82, 7th November, 1896.
The Romance of Mrs. Wodehouse is another story which, by reason of its weak spots and insufficient handling, it is not possible to grow very enthusiastic over. At the outset we have a girl who is hated and maltreated by her mother for no better reason than that the marriage has been a loveless one on the part of the man, and that the child has a share of his love which she herself has never obtained. Early in the story a Mrs. Wodehouse — who is, we are assured, 'by no means perfect; a very woman, and, therefore, full of failings'— comes on the scene, and turns out to be an early lover of Mabel's father. After the somewhat irritating mystery of the woman with a fiend's temper and disposition, it is a relief when a gentlemanly young bagman appears on the scene and proceeds to make ample compensation to Mabel for the love that is lacking towards her on her mother's part. An elopement ensues, and the story proceeds to deal indiscriminately with the practical history of the young man, and the rising attachment between Mrs. Wodehouse and Colonel Bayner, ending up with a series of astounding revelations of parentage into which we have not space to go. As the matter is crude and amateurish, so is the telling frequently ungraceful, such phrasing as 'you do not evidently know my mother' for 'you evidently do not,' &c, lying continually in the way to irritate the mildest of sticklers for literary observances. To leave the story thus, with the added assurance that there are many readers who could find the family history of the Bayners of an absorbing nature, seems preferable and kinder to our mind than to damn it with the very faintest of faint praise.
- New novels & new edtions, The Literary World, Volume 54, page 327, October 23, 1896
“The Romance of Mrs. Wodehouse” … is at least the lady’s fifth novel, and, though the construction of the story is poor, the drawing of the characters even weak, the book has a naturalness that many far better ones lack, and the characters, even in their defects, give the reader the impression that they have been drawn from life. There are, too, some clever bits of observation and analysis scattered up and down its pages. The story itself drags occasionally, and seems to have been put together in a somewhat haphazard fashion, but it is interesting all the same. The heroine, if Mrs. Wodehouse is intended to fill that part, does not by any means monopolise the chief interest. That is given rather to the Rayner family. Colonel Rayner’s wife is a woman of violent and jealous temper, who ill uses her daughter to such an extent that that young lady’s elopement with the supposed commercial traveller, Denham Smith, is not surprising. Mr. Smith is a young man in the employment of a large firm of florists. By an accident he finds his way to the Rayner luncheon table, where he displays an unexpected knowledge of the manners of good society, and of Chateau Latite and Veuve Monnier. This is remembered against him afterwards in so offensive a speech that the Colonel, who is really an excellent fellow, never wholly recovers from it in the reader’s eyes, any more than he does in his son-in-law’s. The Admiral and the Flag Captain are drawn with clever and humorous touches, and so are kindly Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, whose behaviour to the very refined servant-of-all-work is admirable. As for the actual “romance,” it is the least successful and least pleasant part of the book; it is even a little preposterous. However, it all works in, everything ends happily, and the story, as a whole, is not bad reading.
- Some new novels, The Standard (London, England), Friday, November 13, 1896; pg. 6.
• "That Figure-head" (1901)
(Temple Bar, Vol. 124, page 517 D, 1901). Story, as "A Harcourt Roe". Spooky tale of a guilt-ridden ship's captain, Wilson, who is haunted by the glaring eyes of the figure-head on a mysterious hulk his ship encounters when becalmed off Central America. As i'm 99.99% sure it's out of copyright now (Mrs Harcourt Roe having died in 1913), I've posted a transcript here on JSBlog: "That Figure-head."
• The Shadow of a Fear (1908) - unverified
Serial "accepted in the Chicago Daily News competition" according to a news item in the Literary, dramatic, and musical notes section of The Author, Vol. XVIII, June 1st, 1908. I haven't so far found this one; perhaps it was never used, or not used under that title.
• The Sacrifice of Enid (1909)
Novel in serial form "purchased by the Northern Newspaper Syndicate", according to the same The Author news item above. The Northern Newspaper Syndicate handled British newspaper syndication; it seems to have run in at least the Dundee Evening Telegraph and Hartlepool Mail. But it also turns up syndicated in Australia, where it ran over 13 issues in the Adelaide-based Observer in the summer of 1909.
Its Devon setting has, I think, a bit of a thematic hat-tip to The Hound of the Baskervilles. It's a romantic melodrama set around a Dartmoor paper mill. Louise Ormonde has set her sights on Ronald Westlake, son of the mill owner. Jealous of his growing friendship with a young woman called Enid (who, for her own reasons, is going incognito as "Mary Williams"), Louise contrives to frame Ronald for aiding Enid's convict lover in escaping from Dartmoor Prison.
You can read it online via the National Library of Australia's Trove archive:
- Saturday 24 July 1909, page 10: I - Her request / II - A curious resting place.
- Saturday 31 July 1909, page 10: III - Dartmoor.
- Saturday 7 August 1909, page 10: III (Continued) / IV - The factory.
- Saturday 14 August 1909, page 10: V - The typist's office / VI - Arrangements.
- Saturday 21 August 1909, page 10: VI (continued) / VII - A declaration / VIII - The chief butler / IX - Alarm.
- Saturday 28 August 1909, page 10: X - Henry Jackson / XI - His arrival.
- Saturday 4 September 1909, page 10: XII - His conduct / XIII - Sir Thomas Tredale.
- Saturday 11 September 1909, page 10: XIII (Continued) / XIV - An important interview / XV - A gloomy outlook / XVI - Satan's suggestion.
- Saturday 18 September 1909, page 11: XVI - (Continued) / XVII - Flight.
- Saturday 25 September 1909, page 9: XVIII - Danger / XIX - Search / XX - The terror that walked by night.
- Saturday 2 October 1909, page 9: XXI - A cat's paw / XXII - A lonely bride / XXIII - The wedding.
- Saturday 9 October 1909, page 11: XXIV - Her honeymoon / XXV - Escape or capture / XXVI - His escape / XXVII - Explanation / XXVIII - Awaiting the trial.
- Saturday 16 October 1909, page 11: XXIX - The trial / XXX - The verdict / XXXI - Ronald's fate.