Mary Lamb

Author Ann Gilchrist
Author Name Variants Mrs. Ann Gilchrist
Publication Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884.
Link to Text
Genres Biography
Keywords Life Writing, Literary Scholarship, Women’s Work & Culture
Contributing State Massachusetts
Research Notes Famous Women Series; Listing of others in the series preceded title page
Digital Source Notes  

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Amanda Sablowsky

Tulane University, December 2015

Culture Anne Gilchrist’s biography of Mary Lamb tells the story of a talented, troubled English writer who lived from 1764 until 1847. The biography comprises numerous letters, essays, and other anecdotes from Lamb and her many close acquaintances, including her dearest brother, Charles. Lamb’s biography, according to Gilchrist, “is mainly the story of a brother and sister’s love; of how it sustained them under the shock of a terrible calamity, and made beautiful and even happy a life which must else have sunk into desolation and despair” (MaryLamb1). According to Gilchrist, Lamb’s life was plagued with annual visits to psychiatric institutions after she murdered her mother when Mary was thirty-two. During her clearer moments, she wrote children’s literature with her brother and essays on controversial topics such as the importance of women earning their own wages. Her desire to reform the labor system to include aspects of domestic science helped pave the way for women in the workplace, and Gilchrist emphasizes this aspect of her subject’s life by reprinting Lamb’s essay “On Needle work”–a piece arguing for recognition and remuneration of women’s work–in the biography. The work largely avoids the sensational episode from Mary Lamb’s early life, and this did not go unnoticed. One recent critic describes Gilchrist’s framing of the murder as a “violent exclusion of Mary’s violence”(Craciun 34). Anne Gilchrist lived from 1828 until 1885. She resided in the London area all her life, except for a year spent in Philadelphia. Her visit to the U.S. occurred due to her close relationship with the poet Walt Whitman. After reading Leaves of Grass, Gilchrist struck up a correspondence with Whitman that continued for years. “The reading of his poems,” she wrote later,“is truly a new birth of the soul”(“Letter”).As for Whitman, he claimed to have“known none more perfect in every relation” than Anne Gilchrist(H. Gilchrist v). Not only was Gilchrist renowned for her writing during her lifetime, but today pieces of her work and about her life are still being printed. Mary Lamb deserved its position in the Women’s Literary Department at the 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Part of the prestigious Famous Women Writers series produced by the Roberts Brothers press in Boston, it represents an important work by a woman writer. Moreover, it shares the story of a woman who played an important role in literary history. This biography not only depicts Lamb’s interesting life but the lives of prominent members of English and American literary society as well.

Works Cited

Craciun, Adriana. Fatal Women of Romanticism. Cambridge University Press, 2003.


—. Mary Lamb. Boston:Roberts Brothers, 1883.,

Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden. Preface. Anne Gilchrist, Her Life and Writings by Anne Gilchrist. Edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, 2nded.,T. Fisher Unwin,1887,, Drawing of Anne Gilchrist. Anne Gilchrist, Her Life and Writings by Anne Gilchrist. Edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist.2nded.,T.Fisher Unwin, 1887,,

Drawing of Anne Gilchrist. Anne Gilchrist, Her Life and Writings by Anne Gilchrist. Edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist.2nded.,T. Fisher Unwin, 1887, between pages 280 and 281.,