Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born Gladys Mary Meredith, on March 25, 1881, in the Shropshire village of Leighton, 13 km SE of Shrewsbury. Her father was a schoolteacher, who inspired his daughter with his own love of literature and the countryside. On her mother's side she was descended from a family related to Sir Walter Scott. Mary loved to explore the countryside around her home, and developed a gift of detailed observation and description, which infuses her poetry and prose.
At the age of 20 she developed symptoms of Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder, which was the cause of ill health throughout her life and probably contributed to her early death. This affliction gave her great sympathy with the suffering, and finds its fictional counterpart in the disfiguring harelip of Prue Sarn, the heroine of Precious Bane.
In 1912 she married Henry Webb, a teacher who at first supported her literary interests. They lived for a time in Weston-super-Mare, before moving back to Mary's beloved Shropshire where they worked as market gardeners until Henry secured a job as a teacher at the Priory School. This enabled them to live at Lyth Hill, a place which Mary loved.
In 1921 they moved to 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, and she returned to Shropshire alone. She died at St Leonards on Sea, aged 46.
In her own lifetime, although she was acclaimed by John Buchan and by Rebecca West, who hailed her as a genius, and won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse for Precious Bane, she won little respect from the general public. It was only after her death that the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, earned her posthumous success through his approbation. As a result, her works were republished in a standard edition by Jonathan Cape. Though her work is still well-loved by fans, it is currently out of fashion and only two of her novels are in print.
Her writing is notable for its descriptions of nature, and of the human heart. She has a deep sympathy for all her characters and is able to see good and truth in all of them. At the same time, the apparent unremitting gloom of some of her work does not appeal to all readers, and was all too easily ridiculed by other writers. The most successful of these parodies, Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, became a bestseller in its own right.
- The Spring of Joy (Essays and Poems) (published 1917)
- The Golden Arrow (1916)
- Gone to Earth (1917)
- The House in Dormer Forest (1920)
- Seven For A Secret (1922)
- Precious Bane (1924)
- Armour Wherein He Trusted (unfinished)
Gone to Earth is the story of Hazel Woodus, a child of nature who simply wants to be herself, living among the remote hills of the Welsh Marches, but gets drawn into the world of normal human relationships. Gone to Earth was filmed in 1950 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus. However, it was drastically re-cut by the studio before release, only 35 minute of the original film remaining. In 1985 the full 110-minute restored version was released by the National Film Archive, to great acclaim. The novel is clearly based on the diaries of Francis Kilvert; a curate in the Welsh Marches falls in love at first sight with a fey half-gypsy girl.
Precious Bane is set in the years after the Battle of Waterloo, and tells the story of Prue Sarn, disfigured by a harelip which her superstitious neighbours regard as a sign that she is a witch.
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