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Marryat, Florence

Category: Writer

Florence Marryat (9 July 1838 – 27 October 1899) was a British author and actress. The daughter of author Capt. Frederick Marryat, she was particularly known for her sensational novels.  Marryat was active in the Society of Authors, founded in 1884 and during the 1890s, she ran a school of Journalism and Literary Art. She wrote novels – both fiction and non fiction -  her entire life, but some of her best known books were her late-career writings on spiritualism.

While working for a London newspaper in 1874, Florence interviewed a prominent clairvoyant, and that marked the beginning of a lifelong belief in spiritualism.  She became friends with several celebrated spiritual mediums of the late 19th century and through them and the séances she attended, she collected quite a number of case histories, which she included in her later books.

The Spirit World

Some have asked me if I was sure, considering the long time that, in some instances, has elapsed since the marvels I wrote of took place, if my senses had not deceived me, or if I remembered distinctly what happened. To these I return the answer,  that the notes were made of all the events at the time, and better still, perhaps, that similar experiences are occurring to me every day.

She became a keen participant in seances, claiming to have communicated with her brother Frank, who had died in a shipwreck, and her two dead daughters.  Her experiences were chronicled in the hugely successful There is No Death (1891), and its sequel The Spirit World (1894).  Her interest also informed her fiction writing in such novels as The Strange Transfiguration of Hannah Stubbs and Open! Sesame!

Letter from a young soldier .. from the Cape.

I have no authority to mention his name; but I know, in consideration of all the pleasure he has given me, he will pardon my giving a few extracts from his letter here :

'' I ask your acceptance of the deepest and purest gratitude for the good work you are doing in the cause of Spiritualism, and for the help, personally, your work has been to me. Not only do I tender this on my own behalf, but on that of many others, united with me in the bond of a common faith, but who, like myself, the exigencies of fate, or circumstances, have scattered, far and wide, to remote corners of the globe, where ideas keep pace with the actions of those about us, and creep on all fours; where the sunbeams of advanced thought have not, as yet, penetrated the gloomy, cobwebby recesses of old-time notions, old-time ignorance and bigotry; where the refining, softening influences of civilization are wanting.

I have just closed the pages of your latest and greatest work (for such it may be called) " There is no Death”, and laid the book reverently aside, with a feeling of wonderment, and a sigh of gratitude. It has exerted a strange influence over me. This influence has elevated me above myself — drawn to the front some of that better self (a casual visitor only, and then in dreams far apart), a little of whom still remains, despite the malodorous atmosphere of a soldier's life — made me, in fact, a better man. Yet this is merely an individual experience, and nothing in comparison to the full and glorious effect your book is creating on the thinking world. The more one learns of Spiritualism, particularly of the phases you describe, the more one becomes horrified at the natures of the majority of those around us, especially so in the life I am now leading.

Miserable, blighted ruins — stunted, deformed, suffocated soul natures — moribund in decaying walls of the bodily prison, natures to whom to compare the brutes of the field were a calumny upon nobler animals. You are nobly spreading that knowledge, the light of which alone can revive the smouldering soul embers of such creatures.

Books

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 9 by Patrick Joseph Lennox, Florence produced some ninety novels, many of which were republished in America and Germany, and translated into French, German, Russian, Flemish, and Swedish.  [Wikipedia mentions only 68 novels].

She also wrote various non-fiction works such as Gup (1868), an account of garrison life in India.  In 1872, she wrote a biography of her father, Life and Letters of Captain Marryat, and in 1886, Marryat wrote a light-hearted book about her travels in the United States called Tom Tiddler's Ground.  She also wrote newspaper and magazine articles, short stories and works for the stage.  From 1872 to 1876, in addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she edited the monthly magazine London Society.

Marryat wrote her first novel, Love’s Conflict (1865), while her young children were suffering from scarlet fever, to distract herself from “sad thoughts”. The novel met with modest success and was followed by Too Good for Him. Other early works included Woman Against Woman (1866), The Confessions of Gerald Escourt (1867), Nelly Brooke (1868), Veronique (1868) and The Girls of Feversham (1869), Her Father's Name (1876), The Dead Man's Message (1894) and The Blood of the Vampire (1897).

Her works treated such then-controversial themes as marital cruelty, adultery, and alcoholism “mining the British public's taste for sensational fiction: lurid stories of seduction, murder, insanity, extramarital sex, incest, and the exploits of the demi-monde". The public found Marryat's work ‘accessible’, and reviewers admitted the effectiveness of her "graphic, nervous, vital" style, in other words they were pot boilers and were very popular with the general public.  Marryat continued to write novels for 35 years, rejecting accusations of sensationalism, maintaining that she wrote from experience.

Miss Florence Marryat is well known to the readers of sentimental novels. She has a bright and crisp way of presenting the frailties of the human race, which makes her stories entertaining, even if they are devoid of all good moral purpose. They open one's eyes to the inconsistencies of life without wholly destroying his faith in his fellow citizens. — Boston Herald.

Stage Career

Urged by doctors to take a break from writing, Florence embarked upon a career on the stage.  From 1876 to 1890, she had a performing career, at first writing and performing a comic touring piano sketch entertainment, together with George Grossmith called Entre Nous ("Between you and me"). This piece consisted of a series of piano sketches, alternating with scenes and costumed recitations, including a two-person "satirical musical sketch", really a short comic opera, by Grossmith called Cups and Saucers.

In 1881, Marryat returned to the stage, playing the role of Hephzibah Horton in a drama she wrote based on her novel Her World Against a Lie.

The next year, she joined a D'Oyly Carte Opera Company touring company, performing in dramas, comedies, and comic opera in shows such as Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, playing the role of Lady Jane.  In 1884 she played Queen Altemire in a revival of W. S. Gilbert's fairy comedy The Palace of Truth in London with Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

She later appeared in her own one-woman show, Love Letters, and appeared as a lecturer, dramatic reader and public entertainer. She continued performing until 1890, when she played Cassandra Doolittle in an operetta called The Dear Departed.

The Spirit World

An universal belief in Spiritualism would do what all the churches in the world, and all the religions they have carved out for us, have failed to do — it would transform a blaspheming, adulterous, murdering, backbiting, lying and thieving crew, into a band of thankful and adoring children, cognizant of their Maker's love and patient of the accidents which may be against them in this world, because, assured of passing on to another — acknowledging what very few of them do now, that His dispensations in removing their dearest ones out of their sight for awhile, are all for the best ........

Family life and death

Marryat was born in Brighton, Sussex, in 1838.  She was the sixth daughter and tenth child of Captain Frederick Marryat, R.N., and his wife, Catherine, second daughter of Sir Stephen Shairp of Houston, Linlithgow, Scotland, and for many years consul-general in Russia.  Her parents separated when Marryat was young; her childhood was divided between her parents' residences, where she led ‘a peripatetic existence, educated entirely at home with the help of governesses and her father’s extensive library’.

On 13th June 1854, shortly before her 16th birthday, she married Thomas Ross Church at Penang, Malaya. Church was an officer in the Madras staff corps of the British Army in India.  She travelled throughout India with him, assuming the role of an officer’s wife in the Raj. By 1860, she had suffered a breakdown and returned to England, pregnant, and with three children in tow. They settled in Brighton with her husband remaining in India. The appearance of another four children suggests ‘he must have been at least an occasional visitor to the family home’.  She had eight children with Church, three of them while in India.

By the mid-1870s Marryat was an internationally successful author and was living with her future [second] husband, Colonel Francis Lean of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, whilst still being married to her first husband.  Church eventually sued for divorce in 1878, citing his wife’s adultery as the grounds. The divorce hearing uncovered a desperately unhappily married couple who disagreed fundamentally over religion. Florence had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1870, but returned to Anglicanism following pressure from her husband. In 1874 she again turned to Rome, which probably marked the end of their marriage.  Later that year, she wed Colonel Lean, but they divorced only a year later, in 1880.  But Florence found solace in neither the Protestant or Catholic religion and it is more likely to be her total dissatisfaction with either sect as it was then being practised that caused the real disharmony.

The Spirit World [1894]

The priests ……. have no desire to raise the veil. If they admitted the teachings of Spiritualism and taught the people to seek counsel and advice of those who are nearer to God than any mortals can be, what further need of their own services ?
Were they to go hand in hand with their congregations in this, seeking with them and learning with them, they would find themselves far better fitted to teach the ignorant and the mourner where to find comfort and relief. The priests of the Catholic Church know all about it ; but, from the first, they have determined to keep it within the circle of their own authority.
The Roman Catholic Church is a mass of Spiritualism — she teems with so-called miracles; the men and women who have witnessed them have been transformed into saints for their wonderful powers; but the knowledge must not be disseminated amongst the masses.

The reason is obvious. The people would learn too much.

They would no longer believe that a man's word could either condemn their souls to hell, or give them the entrance to heaven; they would begin to use the conscience which God has implanted in each one of our breasts for the purpose of warning us what to follow and what to avoid — they would, in one word, be free. I know that this is a most terrible sentiment to issue from the mouth of a Catholic; but if to be a Catholic is to be blind and deaf and dumb, I give up all claim to the title.

Marryat’s spiritualism provided much comfort as her health began to fail. Newspapers started reporting her decline in the summer of 1899, and she passed away on 27th October of that year at her home in Abercorn Place, London.  The death certificate shows that she died of diabetes and pneumonia. 

At the time of her death she was accompanied by Herbert McPherson, an actor who inherited half of her estate. Despite an age gap of 33 years, Marryat and McPherson had enjoyed a happy relationship over the last 14 years of her life. After a short service in a Catholic church, she was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, alongside her beloved daughter Eva, who had died of blood poisoning at the age of 32.

When will enquirers understand that mediums cannot command spirits, nor control them, nor raise them up, nor order them about in any way.
They come to teach us — not to be treated like servants to run messages, or gratify idle curiosity. They are the higher powers — we, the lower. They, the preachers — we, the congregation.
A man from America wrote me, that if my controls would tell him what was his real name (he signed himself by an assumed one), profession, age, complexion, and characteristics, he would become a Spiritualist.
Such an enormous inducement for me to take any trouble in the matter !
It is a person's own loss and that of no one else, if he misses being convinced of the truth of Spiritualism in this life. He will only be the less prepared for entering on another.
We shall all be Spiritualists as soon as we are spirits.

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