Mary Cholmondeley (usually pronounced /ˈtʃʌmli/, 8 June 1859 – 15 July 1925) was an English novelist. Her bestselling novel, Red Pottage, satirised religious hypocrisy and the narrowness of country life. It was adapted as a silent film in 1918.
Mary Cholmondeley was born at Hodnet near Market Drayton in Shropshire, the third of eight children of Rev Richard Hugh Cholmondeley (1827–1910) and his wife Emily Beaumont (1831–1893). Her great-uncle was the hymn-writing bishop Reginald Heber and her niece the writer Stella Benson. An uncle, Reginald Cholmondeley of Condover Hall, hosted the American novelist Mark Twain on his visits to England. Her sister Hester, who died in 1892, wrote poetry and kept a journal, selections of both appearing in Mary's family memoir, Under One Roof (1918).
After brief periods in Farnborough, Warwickshire and Leaton, Shropshire, the family returned to Hodnet when her father was appointed rector in 1874 in succession to his father. Much of the first 30 years of her life was taken up with helping her sickly mother to run the household and her father to do his parish work, although she was herself debilitated by asthma. She entertained her brothers and sisters with stories from an early age.
After her father retired in 1896, she moved with him and her sister Diana to Condover Hall, which they had inherited from Reginald. They sold it and moved to Albert Gate Mansions in Knightsbridge, London. After her father died, she lived with her sister Victoria, moving between Ufford, Suffolk, and 2 Leonard Place, Kensington. During the war she did clerical work at the Carlton House Terrace Hospital. The sisters moved in 1919 to 4 Argyll Road, Kensington, where Mary died on 15 July 1925, aged 66. She never married.
Mary Cholmondeley began writing with serious intent in her teens. She wrote in her journal in 1877, "What a pleasure and interest it would be to me in life to write books. I must strike out a line of some kind, and if I do not marry (for at best that is hardly likely, as I possess neither beauty nor charms) I should want some definite occupation, besides the home duties." She succeeded initially in publishing some stories in The Graphic and elsewhere. Her first novel was The Danvers Jewels (1887), a detective story that won her a small following. It appeared in the Temple Bar magazine published by Richard Bentley, after fellow novelist Rhoda Broughton had introduced her to George Bentley. It was followed by Sir Charles Danvers (1889), Diana Tempest (1893) and A Devotee (1897).
The satirical Red Pottage (1899) was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic and is still reprinted occasionally. It satirises religious hypocrisy and the narrowness of country life, and was denounced from a London pulpit as immoral. It was equally sensational because it "explored the issues of female sexuality and vocation, recurring topics in late Victorian debates about the New Women. Despite the book's great success, however, the author received little money for it because she had sold the copyright.
Later works such as Moth and Rust (1902) and Notwithstanding (1913) were less successful. The Lowest Rung (1908) and The Romance of his Life (1921) were collections of stories; the latter, her final book, was dedicated to the essayist and critic Percy Lubbock. Lubbock later commemorated her in Mary Cholmondeley: A Sketch from Memory (1928)
- Her Evil Genius (c. 1875, unpublished, assumed burnt 1896)
- The Danvers Jewels (1886)
- Sir Charles Danvers (1889)
- Let Loose (1890)
- Diana Tempest (1893)
- Devotee: An Episode in the Life of a Butterfly (1897)
- Red Pottage (1899)
- Moth and Rust (1902)
- Prisoners (1906)
- The Lowest Rung (1908)
- After All (1913)
- Notwithstanding (1913)
- Under One Roof (1917)
- The Romance of His Life (1921)
- Literary Heritage West Midlands: Mary Cholmondeley, Retrieved 4 May 2012 Archived 23 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine, citing Gordon Dickins: An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire (Shrewsbury: Shropshire Libraries, 1987).
- ODNB entry by Kate Flint: Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Mary Cholmondeley site by biographer Carolyn Oulton: .
- Quoted on the Cornell University Library site "Women in the Literary Marketplace" Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Bentley paid £40 for The Danvers Jewels and £50 for Sir Charles Danvers, both in two volumes, but then increased an offer of £250 for the three-volume Diana Tempest to £400, the first of her books to appear under her own name. Introduction to a typescript bibliography compiled by Jane Crisp of the University of Queensland, 1981: Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- "On Tuesday, October 24, , eight thousand copies of it were offered to London, and it was also published in New York and in the Colonies. Mr Mudie desired two thousand copies for his library. The trade generally was hungry and pertinacious. Over two thousand supplementary copies were ordered on November 2, and the same on November 3.... On the 9th the first edition was exhausted, and large orders yet unfulfilled, but a great firm of printers had the affair in hand, and on the 15th, by the aid of their resources, a second edition of ten thousand copies was ready to be devoured." The Academy, 18 November 1899. Quoted in Jane Crisp bibliography.
- "Cholmondeley's entry in The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 1999): Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2009. ISBN 1934555673.
- Jane Crisp bibliography.
- The full text of Red Pottage online: Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Biography: Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton: Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009).
- Critical appraisals: Mary Cholmondeley Reconsidered eds: Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton and SueAnn Schatz (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009).
- Brief accounts of her main works: Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Literary Heritage – West Midlands profile and e-texts of excerpts from her novels.
- Works by Mary Cholmondeley at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Mary Cholmondeley at Internet Archive
- Works by Mary Cholmondeley at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Jane Crisp Mary Cholmondeley - Victorian Fiction Research Guide