Riddell, Charlotte Eliza Lawson (DNB12)

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RIDDELL, Mrs. CHARLOTTE ELIZA LAWSON, known as Mrs. J. H. Riddell (1832–1906), novelist, born on 30 Sept. 1832 at the Barn, Carrickfergus, co. Antrim, was the youngest daughter of James Cowan of Carrickfergus, by his wife Ellen Kilshaw. After her father's death Charlotte lived with her mother at Dundonald, co. Down, the scene of her novel 'Bema Boyle' (1884) and then came to London. Her mother died in 1856, and in 1857 Miss Cowan married J. H. Riddell, a civil engineer, of Winson Green House, Staffordshire. Her husband soon lost his money, and Mrs. Riddell began to write for a livelihood.

Her first novel, 'The Moors and the Fens,' appeared in 1858 (3 vols.; 2nd edit. 1866). She issued it under the pseudonym of F. G. Trafford, which she only abandoned for her own name in 1864. Novels and tales followed in quick succession, and between 1858 and 1902 she issued thirty volumes. The most notable is perhaps 'George Geith of Fen Court, by F. G. Trafford' (1864; other editions 1865, 1886), for which Tinsley paid her 800l. It was dramatised in 1883 by Wybert Reeve, was produced at Scarborough, and was afterwards played in Australia. From 1867 Mrs. Riddell was co-proprietor and editor of the 'St. James's Magazine,' which had been started in 1861 under Mrs. S. C. Hall [q. v.]. She also edited a magazine called 'Home' in the sixties, and wrote short tales for the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Routledge's Christmas annuals. Her short stories were less successful than her novels.

Her husband died in 1880. Despite harass and misfortune her twenty-three years of married Life were happy. After 1886 she lived in seclusion at Upper Halliford, Middlesex. She was the first pensioner of the Society of Authors, receiving a pension of 60l. a year in May 1901. She died at Hounslow on 24 Sept. 1906. There were no children of the marriage.

Mrs. Riddell, by making commerce the theme of many of her novels, introduced a new element into English fiction, although Balzac had naturalised it in the French novel. She was intimately acquainted with the topography of the City of London, where the scenes of her novels were often laid. At the same time she possessed a rare power of describing places of which she had no first-hand knowledge. When she wrote 'The Moors and the Fens' she had never seen the district.

[The Times, 26 Sept. 1906; Helen C. Black, Notable Women Authors of the Day, 1893; W. Tinsley, Random Recollections of an Old Publisher, 1900, i. 93-6; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

E. L.