Julia Wedgwood, The Unexpected Victorian

Julia Wedgwood, The Unexpected Victorian

The Life and Writing of a Remarkable Female Intellectual

By Sue Brown

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

The first biography of Julia Wedgwood, the leading Victorian female intellect and writer, niece of Charles Darwin, intimate friend of Robert Browning and mentor of E. M. Forster. The book draws on a mass of unpublished family correspondence offering critical consideration of her ambitious range of non-fiction books, articles and novels.

Paperback, 384 Pages


February 2023

£25.00, $35.00

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About This Book

Julia Wedgwood (1833-1913) was a leading Victorian female non-fiction writer who ventured fearlessly into the reserved territory of the Victorian “man of letters”, writing about the Classical world, Darwinism, German Biblical criticism, moral philosophy, theology and science as well as literature and history. Her successful debut as a novelist was halted by her father’s objections. Non-fiction proved a more congenial métier and she was a regular contributor to the Spectator, Contemporary Review and other upmarket periodicals. Her books include The Moral Ideal and The Message of Israel and biographies of John Wesley and her great grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood.

Based on her extensive correspondence this biography also considers the tensions in her family life, the challenges she faced in establishing an unconventional, independent household and the impact of her deafness. Her wide, eclectic circle of friends included Harriet Martineau, Mrs Gaskell, her uncle Charles Darwin and his family, Browning who might have married her, F.D. Maurice, George Eliot, Frances Power Cobbe, Arthur Munby, Mary Everest Boole, Richard Hutton and the young E.M. Forster. She also played a significant role in Victorian feminism. 

Amongst the many themes explored are the pioneering days of women’s higher education and first wave feminism, feminist theology and the significance of female friendships, Christian Socialism, Darwinism, idealism and Victorian agnosticism, spiritualism, antivivisectionism, periodical writing, perceptions of the Classical world, the impact of German Biblical criticism and the Wedgwood family’s sense of itself and its history.


‘This sparkling biography is as wide-ranging as its subject, a serious writer and niece of Charles Darwin who enjoyed friendships with luminaries from Elizabeth Gaskell (in whose home Wedgwood heard gossip about Charlotte Brontë), to Robert Browning, and – thanks to her long life – E. M. Forster. A fascinating life!’—Linda Hughes, Addie Levy Professor of Literature, Texas Christian University, USA

‘Susan Brown’s deeply researched and penetrating study corrects a historical erasure and brings to full prominence the multifaceted influence of Julia Wedgwood on 19th and early 20th century literature and thought. Skilfully interweaving a wide array of correspondents, collaborators and intellectual companions, Brown’s biography traces the enthralling history of a brilliant but stubbornly self-contained mind and reveals Wedgwood’s substantial contributions to Victorian literature, philosophy, science and theology. Thoughtful, moving and beautifully written, Julia Wedgwood: The Victorian Female Intellectual explores the ways in which Wedgwood’s uncompromising pursuit of the life of the mind and principled retreat from intimacy attracted and repelled the leading writers and thinkers of her day.’—Jane Susan Stabler, Professor, School of English, The University of St Andrews, UK

‘A compelling portrait of a remarkable, highly gifted Victorian woman and her contribution to nineteenth-century thought.’—Joanne Shattock, Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature, University of Leicester, UK

‘This is a beautifully written book about an important, yet neglected, Victorian intellectual that provides a new perspective on a number of central figures of the period. Julia Wedgwood was at the center of many of the important philosophical, social, religious, and literary movements of the era. A restless spirit, her broad intellectual interests and commitments brought her into contact with so many fascinating Victorians, including Browning (who interested her romantically), Darwin (who was her uncle), George Eliot, F. D. Maurice, R. H. Hutton, James Martineau, and many others. The author has a knack for analyzing Wedgwood’s relationships with these figures, probing both their intellectual ties and the personalities that could attract or repel. She also has an uncanny ability to examine, with a great deal of sensitivity, the dynamics of the family relationships within the Darwins and the Wedgwoods.’ — Bernard Lightman, Professor of Humanities, York University

‘This engaging biography brings to light a remarkable and forceful figure who has long required attention. Sue Brown’s study – detailed, immaculately researched and eloquently written – reveals the full range of Julia Wedgwood’s achievements and intriguingly situates her at the centre of a wide network of nineteenth-century writers, scientists, reformers and intellectuals. It is certainly hard to imagine this biography being surpassed.’ — Simon Avery, Reader in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Westminster University

Author Information

Sue Brown is an independent scholar based in London. She has published Joseph Severn: A Life. The Rewards of Friendship (2009), Small Island, Great Riches: the Life of Paul Asciak: Tenor and Teacher from Malta (2010) and many articles on Severn, Browning, Julia Wedgwood and Gladstone.


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations; Introduction: ‘The Formidable Snowie’; Part I The Education of Julia Wedgwood Chapter One A Brilliant Child; Chapter Two Mentors, Friends and Pioneers; Chapter Three Waiting; Chapter Four The Young Novelist; Part II Great Men and Female Friends Chapter Five The Promise of Darwinism; Chapter Six ‘The Era of My Life’; Chapter Seven A Woman’s World; Chapter Eight The Responsibilities of the Poet; Part III Becoming a Woman of Letters Chapter Nine Finding a Voice; Chapter Ten A Forgotten Feminist; Chapter Eleven Doubt and the Fallibility of Idols; Chapter Twelve Domestic Contentment; Chapter Thirteen Coming to Terms with Darwin and His Legacy; Part IV The ‘Thoughtful Woman Par Excellence’ Chapter Fourteen The Message of Julia Wedgwood; Chapter Fifteen ‘The Old Order Changeth’; Chapter Sixteen ‘A Satisfi ed Guest’; Acknowledgements; Notes; Bibliography; Index


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