In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Grant Allen

  • Introduction
  • Shorter Overviews
  • Longer Overviews
  • Portraits, Memoirs, and Obituaries
  • Bibliographies
  • Allen on Allen and the Writing Trade
  • Collection of Critical Articles
  • Edited Collection of Stories
  • The Late Victorian Context
  • Science
  • Race and Colonialism
  • Sex and Gender
  • Travel Literature
  • Fiction in the Fantastic Mode
  • Detective Fiction
  • Creative Responses to Allen’s Fiction

Victorian Literature Grant Allen
Nicholas Ruddick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0181


Evolutionist, naturalist, atheist, socialist, Celtophile, armchair sexual radical, Grant Allen was one of the most prolific, versatile, and controversial men of letters in the Victorian fin de siècle. Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen was born on 24 February 1848 in Alwington, Canada West, now a suburb of Kingston, Ontario. His father was an Irish-born minister of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland; his mother came from a distinguished Canadian military family. In 1861 the Allens moved to Connecticut, and thereafter to Dieppe, France and Birmingham, England. When his family returned to Canada in 1866, Allen remained in England, entering Oxford University on a scholarship in 1867. In 1868 he married a woman of a lower social class who would die of tuberculosis in 1872. This first marriage, which caused Allen to lose his scholarship, may have been motivated by a desire to save his wife from the streets, and probably underlay his later determination to confront the problem of prostitution in his writings. In 1873 Allen married Ellen (Nellie) Jerrard; they would remain happily espoused until Allen’s death. Later that year Allen was appointed a professor at a new, short-lived college in Spanish Town, Jamaica. His (for their time) radical views on further education, gender roles, race, and colonialism were intensified by his Caribbean experience. From 1876 he was based in England, publishing his first book, Physiological Aesthetics, in 1877. In 1878 Nellie bore their only child, a son, and Allen found he could not support his family with scientific-philosophical writing. He expanded his literary scope to include popular fiction, and continued to write on an enormous variety of subjects. In a relatively short literary career blighted by ill health, he published about eighty books, including novels, short story collections, poetry, works on scientific subjects, collections of nonfiction essays, biographical and historical works, and travel guides. Much of his vast body of writing was ephemeral journalism and potboiling fiction. But his best-selling novel-with-a-purpose The Woman Who Did (1895) remains a landmark response to first-wave feminism, and he made pioneering contributions to scientific romance, horror, and detective fiction. And because he spoke eloquently for both progressive and transgressive elements in fin-de-siècle culture, his oeuvre and the records of his dealings with fellow-writers, editors, and publishers increasingly interest literary and social historians. Allen died at the age of 51 on 25 October 1899 at his home in Hindhead, Surrey.

Shorter Overviews

The best short introductions to Allen’s life and work are Morton 2001 and Morton 2016, focusing on the fiction and nonfiction respectively. Shorter still, the Introduction (pp. 1–16) to Morton 2002 (cited under Bibliographies) is also useful in this regard. Greenslade and Rodgers 2016 summarize Allen’s many interests, how he struck his contemporaries, and why we might read him profitably today. Clarke 1938 and St. Pierre 1990 place him in a Canadian context.

  • Clarke, George Herbert. “Grant Allen.” Queen’s Quarterly 45(1938): 487–496.

    Short biographical overview, indebted to Clodd 1900 (cited under Longer Overviews), in this distinguished Canadian periodical.

  • Greenslade, William, and Terence Rodgers. “Resituating Grant Allen: Writing, Radicalism and Modernity.” In Grant Allen: Literature and Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Edited by William Greenslade and Terence Rodgers, 1–22. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016.

    Introduction to a collection of essays by various authors aiming to revive Allen’s reputation as a versatile and progressive fin-de-siècle writer.

  • Morton, Peter. “Grant Allen: A Centenary Reassessment.” English Literature in Transition 1880–1920 44.4 (2001): 404–440.

    A summary of Allen’s life and literary career, focusing on his fiction and concluding that his most lasting achievements are a few short stories and The British Barbarians (1895); his main legacy will be “as a quarry of raw materials for the cultural historian” (p. 436).

  • Morton, Peter. “Grant Allen: A Biographical Essay.” In Grant Allen: Literature and Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Edited by William Greenslade and Terence Rodgers, 23–43. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016.

    A survey of Allen’s career, focusing on his nonfiction, and emphasizing his versatility, economic success, and aesthetic weaknesses.

  • St. Pierre, Paul Matthew. “Grant Allen (24 February 1848–28 October 1899).” In Dictionary of Literary Biography 92: Canadian Writers, 1890–1920. Edited by W. H. New, 3–9. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.

    Short, enthusiastic, but rather unreliable biographical entry in this reference work on Canadian writers.

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