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Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury (22 August 1812 – 23 September 1880) was an English novelist, book reviewer and figure in London literary life, best known for popular novels such as Zoe: the History of Two Lives and reviews for the literary periodical the Athenaeum. Jewsbury never married, but enjoyed intimate friendships, notably with Jane Carlyle, wife of the essayist Thomas Carlyle. Jewsbury's romantic feelings for her and the complexity of their relations are reflected in Jewsbury's writings. She also wrote encouraging other women to reach their full potential.
Jewsbury was born at Measham, Derbyshire (since 1897 Leicestershire), the daughter of Thomas Jewsbury (died 1840), a cotton manufacturer and merchant, and his wife Maria, née Smith, (died 1819). Her paternal grandfather, Thomas Jewsbury Sr (died 1799), was a surveyor of roads, an engineer of canals, and a philosophy student. In his will he left the family four cottages, a warehouse, some land in Measham and a large cash bequest.
Thomas Jr and Maria had six children: Maria Jane (1800), Thomas (1802), Henry (1803), Geraldine (1812), Arthur (1815) and Frank (1819). Maria Jane had literary interests and wrote for the Manchester Gazette. After their mother's early death, she helped to bring up the family till she married, but herself died young of cholera. Geraldine then took care of her father till he died, and also of Frank until he married.
Her father's cotton business suffered from the War of 1812, and he became an insurance agent based in Manchester. Geraldine was educated at a boarding school kept by the Misses Darbys at Alder Mills near Tamworth, Staffordshire, and continued her studies in French, Italian, and drawing in London in 1830–31, before returning to her family home. Soon, however, she was suffering from depression, questioning her fate and expressing religious doubt. This clearly inspired her first novel, Zoe: the History of Two Lives.
About 1840, Jewsbury wrote to the eminent Scottish author Thomas Carlyle for advice about a literary career. Invited to his home in Chelsea, London, she immediately began a warm friendship with his wife Jane that would become the deepest relationship of her life.
In the early stages, it was highly passionate, as surviving letters reveal, although it is generally thought to have remained platonic. It weathered many disagreements, especially over the role of women, since Jane was a famously dutiful wife, who never considered a career of her own. Jane also displayed jealousy over Jewsbury’s other relationships with men and women, some of them carnal. But the friendship lasted over 25 years, and Jewsbury nursed Jane through periods of illness. Their relationship was recognised by literary scholars, including Virginia Woolf in her article on Jewsbury’s letters to Jane. It also led to Jewsbury’s appearance in print, when Jane helped edit Jewsbury's first two books.
Jewsbury was highly sociable, with many friends and literary partnerships, and able to find common ground with people of any class. Her growing prominence and unconventional personality, smoking and wearing men's clothes like George Sand, soon brought her a high profile in literary society. Her friends included the Huxley, Kingsley, Rossetti, and Browning families, W. E. Forster (with whom she visited revolutionary Paris in 1848), John Bright, John Ruskin and G. H. Lewes.
She never married, but had close personal relationships with men and women, some of them carnal, some platonic, the most significant of these being with Jane Carlyle. Another was with the actress Charlotte Cushman, a powerful, notably mannish figure, whom she admired for her wide experience of life, which contrasted with Jane's dutiful domesticity. (Jane Carlyle became jealous and upset about the relationship.) Cushman was the model for Bianca in The Half Sisters.
Sydney Owenson, also known as Lady Morgan, had helped Jewsbury when she first arrived in London, and Jewsbury provided much unconditional friendship, eventually helping her to write her memoirs in old age.
Of her male companions, the most significant was the somewhat younger New Zealander Walter Mantell, who felt uneasy about his job, pressuring the Maoris to sell their land cheaply to the British, and came to live in England. She made great efforts to promote him in the literary world, and even proposed marriage, but it seems that he began to sicken of her excessive attentions, and they drifted apart.
Jewsbury moved to Sevenoaks, Kent after the death of Jane Carlyle in 1866. She contracted cancer in 1879, died in a private London hospital in 1880 and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. She was writing until the very end of her life, her last report for Bentley being dated 9 September 1880. She left all her papers to the businessman and feminist John Stores Smith, with whom she had had a strong relationship.
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