Author Picture
1 November 1885 - 23 December 1952

WHEN The Viper of Milan was published, its author, then a girl of eighteen, was instantly pronounced a genius. It was indeed a remarkable piece of work for one so young, and for one, moreover, who had never been away from England. Not only was its history accurate, but its atmosphere was astonishingly real, qualities that would have set the book apart, even without the glamour of romance that revealed its author the possessor of a wonderfully fertile and rangeful imagination.

To the question, Who is “Marjorie Bowen?” the answer presently came with a photograph of a beautiful. fair-haired English girl, who might herself have served—in picture at least—as a model for a fascinating heroine of romance. “Marjorie Bowen” proved to be the daughter of Mrs. Vere Campbell, herself an English novelist of not, and the younger writer’s name disclosed itself as Gabrielle Margaret Vere Campbell. And a little later a second book was issued in which the versatility of Marjorie Bowen became apparent, since The Master of Stair was as Scotch as The Viper of Milan had been Italian, and now no one questioned the possibility of the youthful author’s being a mere infant prodigy— Marjorie Bowen was established as a writer of historic fiction of true worth.

There are still in existence—now and then one runs across one of them—a few writers of accomplishment in whose makeup the talent for publicity is minus. Marjorie Bowen is of this small company. Her reticence, her tendency to retirement, are not pose—one has only to talk to her for five minutes to realize that her indifference to the demands of the curious is a perfectly natural part of her general character. She has been brought up simply, as an English girl of gentle birth; practically her whole life, up to a few years ago, was passed in London. She never visited Italy until after the publication of The Viper of Milan, just as she never visited Holland until she had written her Netherlands novels—I Will Maintain, The Defender of the Faith and God and the King.

I asked Miss Campbell for the facts of her biography and she answered very frankly that she had no biography. Nothing very important had ever happened to her. She was ready to talk about her work certainly; that was a different matter; she appreciated the kindness with which her books had been received; she was grateful for the many nice things that were said of her. But then she worked hard and earnestly. Her achievement was not the result of a passing inspiration; it was based on steady and persistent study and honest labor. One may be modest and unassuming in demeanor, and yet uphold in a gentle but firm way the dignity of patient, systematic, unremitting effort. Miss Campbell stated that she had always loved history. It was this natural inclination that led her to historic study out of which grew her first attempts to write novels. Research work is her preparation for each succeeding book; in fact, in the case of some of her stories she has spent as much as two years in collecting data and has then written the book in two months. She advocates for the historical novel first and foremost historical exactitude. She believes that the characters introduced should be actual historic figures. She does not employ the fictitious hero—the narrator in the first person—as do so many writers of historic tales; her practice is to endow the real facts and the real characters with that element of romance which her imagination reads into their circumstances and acts, and so make history romantic. In other words, Marjorie Bowen is the romantic interpreter of those historic periods she essays to write about. And perhaps in no one of her stories is this so clearly evidenced as in her most recently published The Soldier from Virginia, the story of George Washington and his wife Martha, which is a revelation to American readers, to whom the “Father of His Country” has long been chiefly a name. That an Englishwoman should restore to us a flesh-and-blood hero to take the place of the conventional plaster-cast object of stereotyped reverence, seems more than a little strange, and yet the fact is that Marjorie Bowen has created a new national hero in the tall and manly young soldier who becomes the brilliant leader of the forces that quelled Anglican greed on American soil in the years that cluster about that splendidly significant year, 1776.

In addition to the books we have mentioned, Marjorie Bowen has written Black Magic, which has not come to America; The Rake’s Progress, The Sword Decides, and The Quest of Glory, the last issued very lately. She has also contributed several stories each year to Harper’s Magazine, and has written for various English periodicals, The Gentle-woman, Cassell’s, and The Sketch. She writes short stories, however, only on commission; she does not care for the short-story work, preferring to write books, but recognizing that lamentable fact that is the cause today of so much literary deterioration that the short story makes money much faster than the novel can. Since the present writer talked with Marjorie Bowen in London, Gabrielle Campbell has become the Signora Contanza and has gone to Italy to live. From which point of vantage she will doubtless send forth to the world many more stories of heroic days and achievements, which, if presented as artistically and effectively as those that have gone before have been, will find a ready welcome awaiting them.

It is interesting to note in connection with Miss Campbell that of the many literary women in London she was one of the few, besides Mrs. Humphry Ward, who was not a suffragette. She spoke warmly on the subject, maintaining that militant suffragism defeated its own purpose, and expressing the belief that men were becoming chary of engaging women in business capacities owing to the aggressive attitude assumed by such a great number of them.

Asked if she would care to come to America, Miss Campbell said that she would, but that it seemed a very long journey. But she was deeply interested in the people on this side; she had been greatly taken with Mark Twain, who, in his last visit to England, had shown himself very friendly to her, and she spoke as if she might like to realize some of the possibilities of our country as a rich field of backgrounds for the sort of novel she writes. Certainly, if she can do other American history novels with anything like the success reached in The Soldier of Virginia, she will have an increased claim upon our consideration and our admiration—indeed, we shall be deeply indebted to her, for few of our own writers have produced anything that surpasses in an equal share of real value and charm Marjorie Bowen’s story of George Washington.


An article by Norma Bright Carson,
The Book News Monthly 1913-05: Vol 31 Iss 9