Born as Ellen Price, better known by her pen-name Mrs. Henry Wood (17 January 1814 – 10 February 1887), Ellen Wood was an English novelist of the mid-Victorian era. She is perhaps best known for her extraordinary dramatic novel East Lynne, which was published in 1861.
With passing years, the novel got rendered in many languages. An international hit, it has been dramatized into numerous stage and film adaptations. Aiding her initial success Ellen would later go on to write thirty more novels in her lifetime. A prolific writer, Ellen was also renowned for editing the Argosy magazine since 1867.
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Ellen Wood was born on 17 January 1814, in Worchester, to a glove manufacturer and trader and his wife. Ellen was the eldest daughter of her parents. For the major part of her childhood, she was brought up by her grandparents.
It was only after her grandfather’s death that she returned to her familial house, at the age of seven years. An eager learner and a prodigious kid, Ellen started composing her works at a very young age in her childhood. Some of these works included accounts of the lives of Lady Jane Grey and Catherine de Medici.
Throughout her childhood, Ellen suffered from many ailments. She was thirteen when she was first diagnosed with a severe bend in her spine. Barred by the curvature, she was often restricted to a reclining chair or couch, yet she always had the company of good books to keep her spirits high.
Eventually, with passing days Ellen’s condition worsened and it affected her stature, confining her to a height of five feet. Afflicted, Ellen’s muscular strength was too degraded and she could never pick up or carry hefty books. A special chair was built for Ellen for the sole purpose of comfortable writing.
In 1836, at the age of twenty-two, Ellen married Henry Wood, a businessman involved with the banking and shipping trade, from Dauphiné. She moved with her husband to France where she spent the next twenty years with her family. Ellen and Henry were parents to at least three sons and a daughter.
Although Ellen gave birth to two daughters, one of them died due to scarlet fever when she was just an infant. Charles, one of Ellen’s sons, would later go on to become her acquaintance at the Argosy magazine, writing only a short piece of a biography on his mother.
Early literary ventures
It was while she was living in France that Ellen started writing and contributing short stories on a regular once-a-month basis to the New Monthly Magazine. Her first short story Seven Years in the Wedded Life of a Roman Catholic got published in the magazine’s February 1851 issue.
She also donated several short stories to Bentley’s Miscellany. Initially, a self-pleasure for Ellen, writing quickly became the main earning factor for the family moved to Upper Norwood in light of Henry’s business failure. Her first novel Danesbury House was published in 1860 mainly to cope up with the financial crisis.
Ellen was a stout critic of the social indoctrination, who raised questions about ethical morality and the distinctions between good and evil. Although her chief impression was to entertain and please her readers.
She wrote as many as 30 novels that observed themes of thrill and suspense with a very incisive outlook. Some of the novels and books from Ellen’s stock are Danesbury House (1860), East Lynne (1861), The Elchester College Boys (1861), A Life’s Secret (1862), Mrs Halliburton’s Troubles (1862), and The Channings (1862).
Ellen’s most celebrated novel, East Lynne, published in 1861, is a story about a young woman, Lady Isabel Carlyle, who elopes with an honourable suitor leaving her husband and children.
The book was first serialized in The New Monthly Magazine, from January 1860 to September 1861, later published in three volumes. A pivotal work of literature, East Lynne was received with grand applauses amongst the crowd for its far-fetching dark themes of infidelity, murder, polygamy, abduction, imitation, and false identities.
Often called the greatest Victorian sensation, the novel catapulted Ellen Wood as one of the greatest of all time.
It was in 1867 that Ellen bought the English magazine Argosy, which was founded by Alexander Strahan in 1865. Even though she had contributed to the magazine before taking over, it was only after she took over that she gained the independence to curate it according to her taste.
Ellen wrote and contributed a large number of writings although she did muster contributions from the likes of Christina Rossetti, Julia Kavanagh, and Sarah Doudney amongst many others. Ellen remained its editor until she passed away in 1887 after which her son Charles took over.
Later years and death
On the Christmas Eve of 1886, Ellen caught a cold which later turned worse and into bronchitis. Ellen Wood died on February 10th, 1887, not before completing two Johnny Ludlow novellas. She was laid to rest in the Highgate Cemetery in London.