Walter Besant, 1836-1901

Portrait

Biographical note

Novelist and historian of London, born at Portsmouth and educated at King’s College, London, and Cambridge, was for a few years a professor at Mauritius, but a breakdown in health compelled him to resign, and he returned to England and took the duties of Secretary to the Palestine Exploration Fund, which he held 1868–85. He published in 1868 Studies in French Poetry.

Three years later he began his collaboration with James Rice. Among their joint productions are Ready-money Mortiboy (1872), and the Golden Butterfly (1876), both, especially the latter, very successful. This connection was brought to an end by the death of Rice in 1882. Thereafter Besant continued to write voluminously at his own hand, his leading novels being All in a Garden Fair, Dorothy Forster (his own favourite), Children of Gibeon, and All Sorts and Conditions of Men. The two latter belonged to a series in which he endeavoured to arouse the public conscience to a sense of the sadness of life among the poorest classes in cities. In this crusade Besant had considerable success, the establishment of The People’s Palace in the East of London being one result. In addition to his work in fiction Besant wrote largely on the history and topography of London. His plans in this field were left unfinished: among his books on this subject is London in the 18th Century.

Other works among novels are My Little Girl, With Harp and Crown, This Son of Vulcan, The Monks of Thelema, By Celia’s Arbour, and The Chaplain of the Fleet, all with Rice; and The Ivory Gate, Beyond the Dreams of Avarice, The Master Craftsman, The Fourth Generation, etc., alone. London under the Stuarts, London under the Tudors are historical.

Works

Fiction

Collected editions (fiction)

Plays

General non-fiction

[excluding items on London]

The Fascination of London (series)

The Survey of London

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