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Ethel Sidgwick (December 20, 1877 - April 29, 1970) wrote early twentieth-century novels of which the earlier ones are ambitious and highly literary, the later ones in general longer and more romantic in tone, set within the confines and structure of the family. In examining love, or self-fashioning, or 'genius', she continues to highlight family and class responsibility and obligation. She also wrote plays for children (three published collections) and a biography of her aunt who was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1923 Ethel Sidgwick collaborated on the translation of a history of France.
She was born on 20 December 1877 in Rugby, Warwickshire, educated at Oxford High School, and brought up in intellectual circles. She was the second child in her family of five. Her father was Arthur Sidgwick (1840–1920). She was first cousin to the Benson brothers. Her brother Francis "Frank" Sidgwick (d. 1939) founded the publishers Sidgwick & Jackson, and published his sister's novels. Mrs Alfred Sidgwick was married to a cousin of Ethel's father.
In 1909 Sidgwick published her first play for children (based on a famous Victorian story by W. M. Thackeray (1811–1863)), "Thackeray's Rose and the Ring, Dramatised in two acts". It appeared in the anthology Plays for Schools, from her brother's firm Sidgwick and Jackson. Ethel Sidgwick wrote a dozen novels between 1910 and 1926, starting with Promise (1910), most of which were lightly critical stories of upper-class life in England, France, and Ireland, with a clear eye for national cultural traits. Promise is described in the preface thus: ‘The central figure of the book is a young musical genius, half English, half French, and the author's aim is to illustrate by means of incidents in his life the futility of all attempts to control artistic impulse. The five divisions of the story show how the Child of Promise is affected by the various persons with whom he is brought into contact.’ The Child of Promise is Antoine, the second son of James Edgell, an English railway engineer, and his wife Henriette, née Lemaure, the beautiful, spoilt daughter of a famous French violinist. The focus of the story is divided between Antoine and his less gifted but more sympathetic elder brother, Philip, and most of the action takes place in English schools and country houses. ‘We are left to hope that the life of this English Jean Christophe [hero of a sequence of novels by Romain Rolland (1866–1944), translated by Gilbert Cannan 1910–13] will continue through at least another volume,’ the Spectator declared, ‘filled with people as variegated and attractive as those to whom we are introduced here.’ Succession: A Comedy of the Generations (1913) duly followed, thus identifying the sequence as a family saga of the kind favoured by Rolland and Cannan, among others. The sequel transfers the action to Paris, where Antoine studies music and Philip medicine. Le Gentleman (1911) is an ‘idyll’ of the Latin quarter in Paris: art student Alexander Ferguson is torn between shallow, merciless (English) Meysie Lampeter and calm, practical, self-sacrificing (French) Gilberte.
In October 1938 she wrote Mrs. Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, appeared two years after its subject's death. Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, née Balfour (1845-1936) had been President of Newnham College, Cambridge, from 1892 to 1910, and wife of the philosopher Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900).
Sidgwick died on 29 April 1970 at 96 years old. Her papers are held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
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