7 Best-Selling 19th Century Female Novelists You've Never Heard Of

"Brontë who?"
"Brontë who?"
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When you think of 19th-century women’s literature, it’s likely you automatically think of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, or George Eliot. You think of Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, or Middlemarch. Few people today know the names Mrs. Henry Wood, Charlotte Riddell, or Maria Edgeworth—yet these women all wrote immensely popular, best-selling Victorian novels that allowed them to command top dollar. To put their work into context, Austen had to pay to publish Mansfield Park herself, while Maria Edgeworth was paid the enormous sum of £2100 for just one of her novels. Here are some of the greatest Victorian female novelists that you’ve never heard of.

1. Maria Edgeworth

Shanequinlan01, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The daughter of a wealthy father, Maria Edgeworth was born in England but grew up in Ireland, where the Edgeworths moved in 1782. Edgeworth was educated alternately at home and at a series of schools as the family moved between England and Ireland. Later, she became her father’s assistant and helped him run the family estate. She began writing in the mid-1790s and published her first novel, Castle Rackrent, in 1800.

Thanks to her unusual upbringing, Edgeworth’s writing was unconstrained by what were believed to be “proper” subjects for young ladies of the time, and her books were wildly popular. She had achieved the status of literary celebrity by 1813, hobnobbing with such stars as Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. A year later, she reached the height of her success, being paid the enormous sum of £2100 for her novel Patronage.

Must Read Novel: Castle Rackrent

2. Charlotte Riddell

Charlotte Riddell (nee Cowan) was born in Ireland, though into less exalted circumstances than Edgeworth’s. Her mother was English, and following her father’s death in 1851, Charlotte and her mother returned to London around 1855. There, she began her career as a writer—first to support her dying mother, and later to support her husband, J.H. Riddell, whom she married in 1857 and who was constantly in debt.

Initially, her work was frequently rejected (she would later recall of her early days in London, “I could not eat; I could not sleep; I could only walk over the ‘stony-hearted streets’ andoffer my manuscripts to publisher after publisher,who unanimously declined them”), but eventually, Thomas Cautley Newby published several of her short stories under the name F.G. Trafford. In 1856, The Moors and the Fens was accepted by the publishing firm Smith and Elder, which also published both Charlotte Brontë and Thackeray, and published under Riddell’s Trafford pseudonym.

As Emma Dale notes in her introduction to a reissued edition of Riddell’s semi-autobiographical novel A Struggle for Fame, “Female authors commonly wrote under male or gender-neutral pseudonyms in order to avoid being treated unfairly by the critics and reading public because of their sex.” But by the 1860s, Riddell commanded a decent price for her work, and, according to Dale, “was prosperous enough to buck this trend.” The author “was convinced to publish under her own name,” Mrs. J.H. Riddell. In 1967, Riddell became part owner and editor of St. James Magazine. She wrote more than 50 novels in her lifetime.

Must Read Novel: The Moors and Fens

3. Ellen Price, a.k.a. Mrs. Henry Wood

Rebecca Batley

Growing up, Ellen Price was always surrounded by books, and she began writing as a child. None of her early stories survive—she unfortunately destroyed them—but she eventually picked up the pen again to support her family when her husband’s business failed. Wood began contributing short stories to New Monthly Magazine while living with her husband in France. Her first novel, Danesbury House, was written as part of a contest; she won £100, and the novel put her on the literary map.

Wood became a household name, smashing through all sectors of society with her brilliant (if implausible) 1861 novel East Lynne. By the end of her 30-year career, she was earning £6000 a year. Wood’s works were read all over the world—they reached as far as Australia, where she outsold Charles Dickens.

Wood died in 1887. Her obituary in the London Illustrated News called her “one of the most acceptable female contributors to popular literature,” while The Times described her as a “female phenomenon.”

Must Read Novel: East Lynne

4. Mary Russell Mitford

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Considered by many to be a writer and playwright without rival, Mary Mitford’s fans included Samuel Coleridge and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, with whom she exchanged nearly 500 letters. Her melodramatic tragic drama Rienzi was performed 34 times; over 8000 copies of the play were sold.

Mitford’s most popular work, however, was her series of prose sketches, entitled Our Village, which was published by installment in Lady’s Magazine. According to The Times, there wasn’t “a household in the whole country that was not talking about these stories,” and Mitford earned enough money to buy her own country retreat.

Must Read Novel: Our Villages

5. Sarah E. Farro

Born in Illinois in 1859, Sarah Farro became one of only five African-American novelists who published in the entire 19th century, and only the second Black woman to do so, when she published her first and only novel, True Love, in 1891. Her fanciful and melodramatic style of writing was in fashion at the time, and the novel was a smash hit: People in the UK in particular were particularly keen on reading a story written in America but which emulated British writers such as Thackeray and Holmes.

At home, Farro’s book was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, and her popularity soared. Sadly, today her book is mostly forgotten. As University of Amherst Massachusetts English professor Gretchen Gerzina writes at The Conversation, “The reason for True Love’s disappearance might be simple: It takes place in England, a place Farro probably never visited, and all of its characters are white.” Farro was emulating her favorite novelists—among them Charles Dickens and Oliver Wendell Holmes—in her writing. “Had Farro’s role models been black female authors who had written novels about black women,” Gerzina concludes, “she may have crafted a different kind of novel.”

The name Sarah Farro, on the lips of thousands of readers and in dozens of newspapers in the 1890s, has hardly been spoken since.

Must Read Novel: True Love: A Story of English domestic life

6. Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Born in London in 1835, Mary Elizabeth Braddon had an unconventional childhood. Her mother, Fanny, defied the norms of the period by leaving her husband—who had been cheating on her—when Mary was 4, choosing to raise her three children as a single mother. Braddon took up writing early, and attended several schools before moving to Bath to become an actress. In 1861, Braddon raised eyebrows when she moved in with the already married John Maxwell, who was also the publisher of some of her works. (They wouldn’t marry until October 1874, a month after Maxwell’s wife Mary Ann died.)

Braddon’s novel Lady Audley's Secret, published in 1862, made her almost instantly famous and earned her a small fortune. She went on to publish two novels a year, which allowed her to buy a large house. By the time she died in 1915, Braddon had written over 80 novels as well as a number of magazine articles.

Must Read Novel: Lady Audley’s Secret

7. Ann Radcliffe

Dubbed the 19th century’s “Queen of Gothic novel” and the “Shakespeare of Romance Writers,” Ann Radcliffe (nee Ward), born in 1764, outsold almost every other 19th-century female writer. Her name is best known today through her 1794 book The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is referenced by Jane Austen in her own gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.

Radcliffe was extremely private and exceedingly shy, and not much is known about her life. In 1787, she met and married the journalist William Radcliffe, who encouraged her to write to occupy her time. Her first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, was published in 1789.

Radcliffe wrote five novels, which terrified, delighted, and enchanted her readers in equal measure, in her lifetime. The books proved so popular, she quickly became the highest-paid writer of the early 1800s. She stopped publishing fiction after 1797’s The Italian—in theory because she no longer needed to do so to make money—and focused on poetry, where she had less success. Radcliffe died in 1823 of complications from pneumonia; another novel, Gaston de Blondeville, was published posthumously.

Must Read Novel: The Mysteries of Udolpho

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The 12 Best Stephen King Movies and TV Shows You Can Stream Right Now

Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983).
Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone (1983).
Paramount Home Entertainment

In 2017 Andy Muschietti's It—an adaptation of horror legend Stephen King’s 1986 novel—became the highest-grossing horror film of all time. It was a fitting badge of honor for King, the prolific horror novelist who has seen many of his books and stories transferred to film, often with only mixed success.

Fortunately, there's still plenty of King-inspired material that lives up to his name. Take a look at 12 movies and television shows currently streaming that capture the essence of King’s work.

1. Carrie (1976)

The first Hollywood adaptation of King’s work—from his very first novel published in 1974—is drenched in dread. As high school wallflower Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) struggles with an overbearing mother and vindictive mean-girl classmates, her latent telekinetic powers begin bubbling to the surface. When she's pushed too far, Carrie delivers a prom night no one will soon forget.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

2. Creepshow 2 (1987)

A macabre King vibe inspired this anthology, a sequel to 1982's Creepshow that the writer collaborated on with horror master George A. Romero. The standout: "The Raft," about a group of college kids who find a sentient sludge at a lake that makes their weekend getaway anything but relaxing.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

3. 11.22.63 (2016)

King’s revisionist take on the Kennedy assassination comes to life in this Hulu original series. James Franco stars as a professor who discovers he can travel back in time to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting at the motorcade in Dallas. Unfortunately, those heroics have consequences in the future.

Where to stream it: Hulu

4. Gerald’s Game (2017)

Carla Gugino’s weekend getaway with her husband turns into an endurance test when she finds herself alone and handcuffed to a bed. Slowly, creeping horrors both real and imagined begin to materialize. To keep her sanity—and her life—she’ll need to escape by any means necessary.

Where to stream it: Netflix

5. In the Tall Grass (2019)

King's 2012 novella—co-written with his son, Joe Hill—is a classic King conceit of taking the mundane and making it terrifying. After chasing a boy into a thick patch of farm land grass, two siblings realize that it harbors dangerous and mystifying entities. Patrick Wilson co-stars.

Where to stream it: Netflix

6. Christine (1983)

In what may be some kind of record, this 1983 adaptation of the King novel was released the same year as its source material. Teenage outcast Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury, a car that appears to have its own plans for Arnie and the high school bullies taunting him.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

7. The Shining (1980)

Widely regarded as the best King adaptation of all time, this Stanley Kubrick film is actually not all that well-liked by King himself: He felt it failed to capture key elements of his 1977 novel (in 1997, King remade it as a miniseries starring Steven Weber). But it’s an undeniably rich and evocative horror show, with writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) slowly becoming unwound as he and his family settle in for an isolated winter at the Overlook Hotel.

Where to stream it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

8. The Mist (2007)

King's 1980 novella casts a group of strangers who are trapped in a grocery store, a malevolent mist outside seemingly obscuring monstrous predators. As their peril increases, the danger inside becomes just as threatening. The ending, changed from King's own, remains one of the biggest gut-punch twists in film.

Where to watch it: $3.99 on Amazon Prime

9. The Dark Half (1993)

King's 1989 novel about a writer who has to fend off a physical manifestation of his pseudonym is brought to eerie life by Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. The Dead Zone (1983)

Christopher Walken has the weight of the world on his shoulders as Johnny Smith, a teacher who emerges from a coma with psychic powers. When he encounters a power-mad politician (Martin Sheen) with destructive tendencies, Johnny must decide whether to take drastic action. King's 1979 novel also inspired a USA Network television series starring Anthony Michael Hall, which is available on Amazon Prime.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

11. Children of the Corn (1984)

King's short story from 1978's Night Shift collection imagines a small town in which children are free to explore their most violent impulses without any parental supervision. Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton are a couple who stumble upon their community and quickly come to regret it.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

12. Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

When Joan Allen finds some incriminating evidence pointing to her perfect husband (played by Anthony LaPaglia) being a serial killer, she must decide between the love of her life and a monster who takes lives. The film is based on the novella of the same name in King's 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

This story has been updated for 2020.