Novelist. Born Ellen Price in Worcester, the daughter of a glove maker, she spent most of her younger years with her grandmother. As a result of a curvature of the spine, while still a girl, she was to become a semi-invalid for the rest of her life. Ellen married an important banker and shipping agent, Henry Wood, in 1836 and thereafter lived abroad, mainly France. She began writing and her stories were published by Harrison Ainsworth in his New monthly magazine and later in Bentley's miscellany, receiving very little remuneration. Her work was popular and her output was steady, although it was put aside when the demands of raising a family required her full attention.
Always using her husband's name, her first novel to be published was Danesbury House in 1860, soon followed by her most famous work, East Lynne (1861). Good reviews led to massive sales and she became a household name. The book lent itself to melodrama and a succession of dramatic adaptations helped to maintain interest in its author. Although her popularity continued and her output was prolific (with fifteen novels appearing in the next seven years) she was never to repeat the success of that book.
Following the death of her husband in 1866, she took on responsibility for publication of the periodical, The Argosy, with the help of her son, Charles. She contributed most of the content, some of it anonymously, including her Johnny Ludlow stories. A life's secret (1867) was also published without the author's name - a good thing since it caused an uproar with its derision of liberal thinking. She settled back in London, at St.John's Wood, after her husband's death and was to live to the ripe old age of seventy-three. She is buried in Highgate cemetery.
Mrs. Henry Wood was once considered to be a minor writer of the mid-nineteenth century, but is now being rediscovered by academia. She had her critics at the time, particularly those who could not stand her strong views on religion and social issues, which she always managed to weave into her stories, often surreptitiously. Although her novels are still very readable, with potentially clever plots, she sometimes lacks the polish of many of her contemporaries.
She remembered, with affection, the English country life of her youth and many of her novels feature Worcester, which she called Helstonleigh:-
I narrate to you, as you may have already discovered, a great deal of truth: of events that have actually happened, combined with fiction. I can only do this from my own personal experience, by taking you to the scenes and places where I have lived. Of this same town, Helstonleigh, I could relate to you volumes. No place in the world holds so green a spot in my memory.
This extract is taken from Mrs Halliburton's troubles in which she portrayed the Worcester glovemaking industry, with inspiration for Mr. Ashley coming from her father. The Channings (1862) has the cathedral and its school as a backdrop.
Charles wrote a glowing biographical account of his mother's life and work in The argosy during April, May and June 1887, immediately following her death. He makes particular mention of her early life and the influence it had upon her work:-
Johnny Ludlow treats of a time, and circumstances, and people, and a condition of society… all described with a realism which, it is easily seen, is the result of personal observation and familiarity... The old Squire and Tod and Johnny were her personal friends. They existed, and were not mere creations of fancy. The stories betray, too, an intimate acquaintance with almost all the highways and byways of Worcestershire... No one could write Johnny Ludlow who had not spent many years in Worcestershire.
The following works are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Anne Hereford (1868)
Ashley and other stories (1897)
Bessy Rane (1870)
The Channings (1862)
Court Netherleigh (1881)
Danesbury House (1860)
Dene Hollow (1871)
East Lynne (1861)
Elster's folly (1866)
George Canterbury's will (1870)
The House of Halliwell (1890)
Johnny Ludlow stories. Second and Fifth series. (1880 and 1890)
Lady Adelaide's oath (1867)
A life's secret (1867)
Lord Oakburn's daughters (1864)
The master Of Greylands (1873)
Mildred Arkell (1865)
Mrs Halliburton's Troubles (1862)
Oswald Cray (1864)
Pomeroy Abbey (1878)
The Red Court Farm (1868)
Roland Yorke (1869)
The shadow of Ashlydyat (1863)
St. Martin's Eve (1866)
The story of Charles Strange (1888)
Trevlyn Hold (1865)
The unholy wish and other stories (1890)
Verner's pride (1862)
Within the maze (1872)
A sample chapter and the complete text of the following are available on this website.
In addition, you can find here a selection of short stories, many featuring Johnny Ludlow and set in Worcestershire.
Follow these links to find introductions and selected stories from books in the Johnny Ludlow series:-
Many of the novels and short stories of Mrs. Henry Wood have now been digitised. The Minor Classic Novels website has a list with links to where they may be found.
The Ellen Wood (Mrs. Henry Wood) Website can be found at http://www.mrshenrywood.co.uk. Compiled by Michael Flowers, it contains a biographical sketch, a chronology, bibliography (including a useful list of all the Johnny Ludlow stories), articles on her connection with Worcestershire, essays on her work and some fascinating contemporary reviews.
Page created 9 February 2001 and last
updated 5 September 2011
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