In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Flora Annie Steel

  • Introduction
  • Primary Materials
  • Edited Editions and Anthologies
  • Biography and Autobiography
  • Reference Entries
  • Edited Collections
  • The British Woman in India
  • The Woman Question and The New Woman
  • Health and Medicine
  • The Imperial Relationship and Indian Nationhood

Victorian Literature Flora Annie Steel
Danielle Nielsen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0189


During her lifetime, Flora Annie Webster Steel (b. 1847–d. 1929) was one of the most popular Anglo-English writers of the fin de siècle. She was born in Harrow, England, the sixth child and second daughter of George Webster, a government employee, and Isabella MacCallum, an heiress to a fortune derived from Jamaican plantation holdings. When George Webster’s financial mismanagement required the family to move to Scotland, it prevented the young Flora from having any formal educational opportunities. She was largely self-taught and highly valued education. She married Indian Civil Service member Henry Steel when she was twenty years old and spent the next twenty-two years in India, primarily in the northern Punjab region. While living in the subcontinent, she served as the first female Inspector of Schools, organized girls’ and women’s secular education, worked with John Lockwood Kipling to preserve Indian handcrafts, and collected Indian folk tales. These folktales were first published in Anglo-Indian periodicals for readers in the subcontinent and later collected and published in Britain in the collections Tales from the Punjab and Wide Awake Stories with Richard Carnac Temple. While in India, she and Grace Gardiner co-authored The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, a domestic manual intended to help newly-arrived British women manage their households. After returning permanently to Scotland in 1889, Steel used her Indian experiences to support what would become a prolific writing career, publishing short story collections such as In the Permanent Way, and Other Stories; newspaper columns on The Woman Question, marriage, and late in life, suffrage; novels; and histories of India. Referred to, often derisively, as “the female Kipling,” she continues to be most recognized for her novel On the Face of the Waters, which portrayed the Indian Uprising of 1857, though scholarly interest in her other writing is increasing. Her interest in Indian history is also evident in her series of novels, Prince of Dreamers, King-errant, Mistress of Men, and The Builder, detailing specific moments in the Mughal Dynasty, Dramatic History of India: 29 playlets, and non-fiction work like India, illustrated by Mortimer Menpes, and India Through the Ages: A Popular and Picturesque History of Hindustan. Her posthumously published autobiography, The Garden of Fidelity: Being the Autobiography of Flora Annie Steel, 1847–1929, concluded her writing career.

Primary Materials

Though there has been a growth in Steel scholarship during the last twenty years, most of her work remains out of print and is most easily accessed online through the British Library, Internet Archive, and HathiTrust, all of which include multiple editions of fully scanned texts. One publisher, Read & Co., has recently begun to reprint unedited versions of Steel’s novels.

  • British Library.

    Multiple full-text scans available to view and download through the library catalog. Some texts are limited to online viewing in the library’s physical reading rooms while others are available to download from anywhere.

  • HathiTrust.

    Offers multiple, full-text editions of most of Steel’s work.

  • Internet Archive.

    Includes multiple editions of Steel’s work in scanned full-text files.

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