Wolverhampton BTW

Mary Saunders

Saunders, Mary, later Bennett, 1813—1899

Mary Saunders was born at Exeter in 1813, probably the daughter of John Saunders and Sarah Saunders, née Northcote, both of Exeter. Her elder brother John (1811-1895; ODNB) and Mary Saunders found themselves at an early age in adverse circumstances, having to support and educate themselves. Both, however, were drawn to literary work, though Mary Saunders also supported herself from time to time as a teacher.

In the early 1830s, Mary Saunders and her brother domiciled together at Lincoln, where John Saunders had established himself as a printer and publisher. They jointly wrote a collection of poems, Songs for the Many, by Two of the People (1834) later republished as Songs, Sonnets, and Miscellaneous Poems (1838). Another project was a series of views with letterpress description, to be written by Mary Saunders, under the series title of England in the Nineteenth Century. The first number of this appears to have been Lincolnshire in 1835 (1835) which was incorporated into Lincolnshire in 1836 (1836); it is doubtful whether further numbers were produced. A more successful venture was her series of historical melodramas which began with The Jew’s Daughter (1837), The Cottage Girl (1838), Jane Shore (1839), and The Gipsy Bride (1840).

On 12 February 1838, Mary Saunders married John Bennett (1815-1894), a publisher, journalist, and novelist. At times in collaboration with her husband, but as often on her own, she continued to write in a variety of genres and media, including frequent periodical contributions. As her family grew with numerous children, many of whom did not survive, literary activity became a crucial source of income, but one that required continuous exertion. When her husband’s chief employer’s business failed around 1868, he applied to the Royal Literary Fund for assistance. Mary Saunders was also advised at this time to apply to the Fund, but she held out until 1872 when she submitted her first application for assistance. For the rest of her life, periodic applications chart the hand-to-mouth penury in which she lived, and the exhaustion and ill-health under which she suffered. She died on 1 December 1899 at Fulham.

Sources:

Law, Graham. ‘Saunders, John (1811–1895)’. ODNB.

Royal Literary Fund. ‘Mrs Mary Bennett, formerly Miss Mary Saunders Sister of John Saunders, Case 973, and wife of William Bennett, Case 1815’. Loan 96 RLF 1/1875. British Library, London.

Texts

Title Published
Lincolnshire in 1835 1835
Lincolnshire in 1836 1836

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