Sue Young Histories

Mona Caird 1854 - 1932

October 07, 2008

Mona Caird 1854 – 1932Mona Caird 1854 - 1932 (née Mona Alison, also called Alice Mona Henryson Caird) was a Scottish novelist and essayist whose feminist views sparked controversy in the late 19th century.

Mona Caird wrote for the wrote for the _Westminster Review_ and was a friend of John ChapmanMona Caird’s brother in law Robert Henryson Caird was prominent on the Board of Management of the London Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street since 1904. He became Chairman of the hospital’s House Committee from 1908, and supervised the building of the new wing and nurses’ home in the years that followed.

In 1891, Mona Caird was a member of the first Council of the Women’s Emancipation Union alongside Agnes Pochin, Florence Dixie, *Harriet McIlquham and Agnes Sunley. Agnes’ daughter Laura Elizabeth Pochin McLarenwas also a staunch feminist activist and she spoke alongsideElizabeth Cady Stanton in 1882.

Mona Caird was a friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Lady JeuneThomas Hardy,  John Moorhead Byres Moir, and William Sharp (Fiona Macleod) (Elizabeth Amelia Sharp,* *William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): a memoir, (Duffield, 1910). Multiple pages).

From One of the leading hostesses of the day, just a few years older than Mona Caird, was the energetic and well connected Mary Lady Jeune, active in social issues through the Primrose League. Through Mary Lady Jeune and others, Mona became a member of literary and political circles and expanded her knowledge of the humanities and science.

Thomas Hardy regularly dined at Mary Lady Jeune’s (staying there when in London) and was soon an admirer of Mona Caird’s work and ideas.

The _Westminster Review_ was founded in 1823 by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill as a quarterly journal for philosophical radicals, and was published from 1824 to 1914.

In 1851 the journal was acquired by John Chapman based at 142 the Strand, London, a publisher who originally had medical training.

The then unknown Mary Ann Evans, later better known by her pen name of George Eliot, had brought together his authors, including Francis William Newman, William Rathbone Greg, Harriet Martineau and the young journalist Herbert Spencer who had been working and living cheaply in the offices of The Economist opposite John Chapman’s house.

These authors met during that summer to give their support to this flagship of free thought and reform, joined by others including John Stuart Mill, William Benjamin Carpenter, Robert Chambers and George Jacob Holyoake. They were later joined by Thomas Henry Huxley, an ambitious young ship’s surgeon determined to become a naturalist.

Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the name George Eliot, became assistant editor and produced a four page prospectus setting out their common beliefs in progress, ameliorating ills and rewards for talent, setting out a loosely defined evolutionism as “the fundamental principle” of what she and John Chapman called the “Law of Progress”.

Mona Caird was born in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, daughter of John Alison, Midlothian inventor of the vertical boiler, and Matilda Hector.

She wrote stories and plays beginning in her early childhood, which reveal a proficiency in French and German as well as English.

In 1877, she married farmer James Alexander Henryson Caird, son of Sir James Caird (former MP for Sterling) on whose land in Cassencary he worked. Her husband was supportive of her independence, and although he resided primarily at Cassencary, she spent only a few weeks a year there, spending much of her time in London and traveling abroad.

She associated with literary people, including Thomas Hardy who was an admirer of her work, and educated herself in many areas of the humanities and science. The Cairds had one child, Alister James in 1884, and remained married until his death in 1921.

Caird published her first two novels, Whom Nature Leadeth (1883) and One That Wins (1887), under the pseudonym “G. Noel Hatton”, but these drew little attention.

Subsequent writings were published under her own name, which came to prominence in 1888 when the _ __ __Westminster Review_ printed her long article Marriage. In it, she analyzed indignities historically suffered by women in marriage and called its present state a “vexatious failure”, advocating the equality and autonomy of marriage partners.

London’s widely circulated Daily Telegraph quickly responded with a series called “Is Marriage a Failure?”, which ran three months and drew a reported 27,000 letters from around the world. Feeling that her views had been misunderstood, she published another article called Ideal Marriage” later that year. Her numerous essays on marriage and women’s issues written from 1888 to 1894 were collected in a volume called The Morality of Marriage and Other Essays on the Status and Destiny of Women in 1897.

Continuing to write fiction, Caird published the novel The Wing of Azrael (1889), which deals with the subject of marital rape. In it, Viola Sedley murders her cruel husband in self defense.

Next was a short story collection, A Romance of the Moors (1891). In the title story, a widowed artist, Margaret Ellwood, stirs up the relationship of a young couple by counseling them to each become independent and self-sufficient persons.

Her most famous novel, Daughters of Danaus (1894), is the story of Hadria Fullerton, who has aspirations to become a composer, but finds that the demands on her time by family obligations, both to her parents and as a wife and mother, allow little time for this pursuit. The novel has since been regarded as a feminist classic.

Also well known is her short story The Yellow Drawing Room (1892), in which Vanora Haydon defies the conventional separation of “spheres” of men ans women. Such of her works have been referred to as “fiction of the New Woman“.

Active in the women’s suffrage movement from her early twenties, Caird joined the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1878, and later the Women’s Franchise League , the Women’s Emancipation Union, and the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.

Her essay Why Women Want the Franchise was read at the 1892 WEU Conference. In 1908, she published the essay Militant Tactics and Woman’s Suffrage and participated in the second Hyde Park Demonstration for women’s suffrage.

She was also an active opponent of vivisection, writing extensively on the subject, including The Sanctuary Of Mercy (1895), Beyond the Pale (1896), and a play The Logicians: An episode in dialogue (1902), in which the characters argue opposing views on the issue.

Caird was a member of the Theosophical Society from 1904 to 1909. Among her later writings are a large illustrated volume of travel essays, Romantic Cities Of Provence (1906), and novels The Stones Of Sacrifice (1915), which depicts harmful effects of self sacrifice on women, and The Great Wave (1931), a social science fiction which attacks the racist policies of negative eugenics.

Mona Caird died February 4, 1932 at Hampstead.

Of interest:

James Key Caird 1st Baronet 1837 – 1916 was a staunch advocate of homeopathy, and in 1866, James Caird was  the Vice Chairman of the Association for the Trial of Preventative and Curative Treatment in the Cattle Plague by the Homeopathic Method.

Robert Henryson Caird 1850 - ?1917 Chairman of the London Homeopathic Hospital.


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