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The Early Life of Grant Allen
Charles Grant Blairindie Allen was born on 24 February 1848, in Alwington, Kingston, Ontario in Canada. He was the second and only surviving son of his mother, the daughter of the fifth Baron of Longueuil (a French title recognized in Canada), Catharine Ann and his father, Rev. Joseph Antisell Allen who was a Protestant minister in Dublin, Ireland.
Until the age of thirteen, Grant was taught at home, by his father and then by a Yale tutor when their family moved to Connecticut. After they moved to France, he was sent to a private school in Dieppe, France, at the College Imperial.
Later he went to the King Edwards School, Birmingham, after which he received a first-class degree in classical moderations from Merton College in Oxford University in 1871. During his times at Oxford University, Allen married a woman but soon she became ill and due to her poor health, she died within two years of their marriage.
“What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!”
In 1873, after grant graduated he was employed as a mental and moral philosophy professor at college established for blacks, Queens College in Jamaica. In the same year, he was married to Ellen Jerrard and had a son after five years of their marriage.
After growing up his son, Reginald Grant Allen aka “Reggie”, became theatrical agent/manager and got married to the famous actress and singer, Violet Englefield in 1913. In 1876, the prep school in Jamaica collapsed with the death of his founder and then Grant decided to come back to England in hope and with the ambition to become a writer.
Writing Career and Famous Works of Allen
Grant was recognized as a writer in around 1875, publishing under his name, Grant Allen and Martin Leach Warborough, J Arbuthnot Wilson Cecil Power, Olive Pratt Rayner and others.
He very soon gained a reputation in science and literature writing. His early article, ‘Note Deafness’ was a description of what is now known as amusia, published in 1878 in a learned journal Mind, which was cited in a book by Oliver Sacks in 2007.
Enhancing his writing skills and moving forward from essays in magazines and articles in journals, he wrote his first nonfiction, dealing with scientific subjects, including a series of books which were majorly based on evolution theory from social Darwinist angle titled “Physiological Aesthetics” published in 1877, “Flowers and Their Pedigrees” published in 1886 and “The Colour-Sense” in 1879.
Associationist psychology is the first and the major influence to Grant’s writings which were expounded by Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer. Herbert Spencer was not only the most important individual in the transition from associationist psychology to Darwinian functionalism but also was in a long friendship with Grant which started while Grant was returning from Jamaica.
In many of his articles, the Darwinist’s perspective was hence replaced by the old Spencerian theories, especially on those related to flowers and perception in insects. On a personal level, the long friendship between Spencer and Grant came to unease eventually due to distances over its long course.
Later Grant wrote a critical and revealing biographical article on Spencer that was published posthumously.
In the early 1880s, Grant started helping Sir W. W. Hunter in his book “ Imperial Gazetteer of India”. It is at this time that Grant looked forward and viewed the new era of fiction and beautified the world of imagination. Between his step towards fiction in 1884 and his death in 1899, he wrote at least 30 novels.
Many of them were adventure novels which were the trend in the Victorian era as many writers switched their writing styles to fiction and turned their talents to the uncontrollable urge to write in weekly or monthly serial magazine.
Some, however, were quite reformative. For instance, in 1895, Grant wrote one of his famous books “The Woman Who Did” which was a result of a child born without wedding history of their parents as the subject matter.
The Woman Who Did
The story revolves around a freethinker women Herminia Barton who chooses to live independently from her parents and moves to London where she falls in love with Alan Merrick who suggests living together without marriage in France.
Because of love, Herminia agrees but before the birth of their daughter, Merrick dies. Since without marriage it was legally impossible to inherit the fortune, in hope of becoming a role model to her daughter Dolores, Herminia decides to fight from society for her daughter and gives her entire life for the good future of her daughter.
But eventually, her daughter, Dolores finds out the truth about the relationship of her parents and is ashamed of it. Having no courage and strength to fight her daughter, Herminia decides to commit suicide for the better future and image of her daughter in society.
This novel depicts quite startling views on marriage. Even though it was a very odd and provocative subject matter of questioning the role of two rings and a marriage certificate and the conventional hardships of independent women in that century, yet it became one of the best sellers keeping up with his reputation in the society.
Interestingly Grant wrote two of his novels under female pseudonyms. One of them was a short novel “The Type-writer Girl”, published in 1897 for which he used Olive Pratt Rayner as the pen name.
The Type-writer Girl
Juliet Appleton is the protagonist of the novel, who is an officer’s daughter. After her father’s death, she is forced to make her way in the world and live her difficulties.
Relieved by the fact that she is trained in typewriting and is shorthand, she obtains employment at a law office, but later she decides she can no longer work with her unpleasant colleagues and employer.
Juliet is not the woman of that century who possess qualities of an ’ideal women’ of that era instead she is the criticized ‘new women’ having the characteristics of education(graduated from Girton College), smoking, and riding out of the country on her bicycle.
After several ventures, Juliet finally finds a new opportunity as a type-writer girl for a publishing company. To bring out more adventures and complications inevitably ensue the narrator forms the love story between Juliet and her employer. The book brings out the changes during the end of the century concerning technology, evolution and the role of women.
The Evolution of the Idea of God
Another famous work, “The Evolution of the Idea of God” published in 1897, propounds a question of human belief in the existence of God. Grant studies the theory of existence starting from the primitive tribal religion until the latest theory of the Christian view.
The most important question which is focused on in his book is that “how did we come to the knowledge that God exists?” rather than focusing on the proofs and arguments for/against the existence of the divine. Allen’s methods simply study the psychological process that led humans to religious beliefs.
Due to the explanation given based on only one theory, Allen’s method of study proved to be disadvantageous. This “ghost theory” was often seen as the origin of Herbert Spencer’s theory. Yet it was very well known work in those times and Marcel Mauss, Durkheim’s nephew also gave a brief reference to it in his review.
In the articles of William James and the works of Sigmund Freud the reference to this can also be seen. The young G. K. Chesterton argued that the concept of God is preceded by human mythologies and hence the derivation of the existing theory cannot be developed by this flawed premise of the development of God from human beliefs.
Chesterton commented about the book that “it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book on the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen”.
Grant also helped to pioneer science fiction, with his novel “The British Barbarians” published in 1895, which narrates a time travel incidence.
To the reform in that era, Grant wrote female detective fictions and several mystery fictions among which “An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay” published in1897, is well known. His character Colonel Clay his most famous characters and has been referred by other writers also.
Other famous books by Grant Allen
The Hand of God (1909), Linnet (1900), The Backslider (1901), A Bride from the Desert (1896), Michael’s Crag(1893), The Lower Slopes(1894), Post-Prandial Philosophy(1894), The British Barbarians(1895), At Market Value(1895), The Story of the Plants(1895), The Desire of the Eyes(1895) Evolutionist at Large(1881), Vignettes from Nature(1881), The Colours of Flowers(1882), Colin Clout’s Calendar(1883), Flowers and Their Pedigrees (1883) and several others.
Later Life and Death of Allen
By 1881 he settled in Dorking, England where he used to appreciate botanical walks in the woods and sandy heathland. Every winter he used to leave for milder climes, the south of Europe, normally at Antibes, though sometimes as far as Algiers or Egypt.
His interest in art was rediscovered later in his life which helped him combine art, literature and history in his writings majorly the Series of Guide Books on Venice, Florence, the cities of Belgium and Paris
In his new neighbour Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Grant found a new friend though with opposite political, religious, social views they became good friends. To an extent that in 1899, when gran Allen realized his death, he asked Doyle to complete the last episode of his novel “Hilda Wade”. Doyle kept his promise and wrote the last episode, which came under the title The Episode of the Dead Man Who Spoke in the Strand Magazine in 1900.
On 25 October 1899 dictating the last episode of Hilda Wade, Grant Allen died at him home in Hindhead, Haslemere, Surrey in England.
We rarely hear of Grant Allen today, but in his time he did a lot to push genres and pioneered the art of science fiction entertaining the masses and building his name in the writing business which is still read upon.