OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

Rhoda BROUGHTON (1840–1920)

Novelist

‘River View’, Headington Hill, Oxford

Agatha Christie
Rhoda Broughton by Herbert Rose Barraud,
published by Eglington & Co carbon print, 1889
NPG Ax5443, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Rhoda Broughton was born at Segrwyd Hall near Denbigh into the old Staffordshire family of the Delves Broughton baronets. She was the daughter of the Revd Delves Broughton and his wife Jane, née Bennett. She grew up at Broughton Hall, Eccleshall, where her father held the living and thereafter resided at various times with family members in Denbighshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Surrey, London, and Oxford. She never married and made her living from writing best-selling novels and short ghost stories. Her uncle by marriage was Sheridan Le Fanu. She was a leading proponent of the novel of sensation, a new genre first appearing in the 1860s.

She became known as ‘Queen of the Circulating Libraries’ for the popularity of her stories about unconventional and impetuous heroines torn between love and duty and stifled by conventional mores. Her first great success was Cometh up as a Flower (1863). Five others, Red as a Rose is She, Goodbye Sweetheart, Nancy, Tales for Christmas Eve and Joan followed (1870–1876) while she lived with her sister Ellinor and her husband William Newcombe in Denbighshire. These early novels were her most sensational and clearly struck a chord with female readers at a time when movements for women’s civic and educational rights were beginning to take shape. Her reputation was widespread and she had the distinction of being satirised by Punch in 1876 as Miss Rhody Dendron, author of an invented novel Gone Wrong. Anthony Trollope commented that ‘she has made her ladies say and do things which ladies would not do and say.’ Mrs Oliphant said in a review that ‘it is a shame for women so to write’.

When Ellinor’s husband died in 1877, the sisters moved to Oxford to 27 Holywell Street and lived there until 1890. Here she wrote Second Thoughts (1880), Belinda (1883), and Dr Cupid (1886). Belinda is partly a satire on Oxford academic life. The elderly and ascetic Dr Forth whom the young Belinda foolishly marries is clearly modelled on Mark Pattison, Rector of Lincoln. Inevitably she was not popular in some Oxford circles. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) refused to meet her as did Oscar Wilde who feared her trenchant wit. Others however were eager to attend her tea parties and enjoy her stimulating conversation. Henry James was among her admirers.

River View

After a decade away from Oxford (1890–1900), living at Richmond Hill and London where she retained a flat in Cadogan Square, she returned to live with her cousin at River View at the top of Headington Hill (above), and remained there until her death in 1920. She wrote nine novels there, including Foes in Law (1900) and A Fool in her Folly (published posthumously in 1920). There had by now been a decline in her popularity as the changing mores of the new century made her novels seem rather tame. She herself remarked ‘I began by being Zola and I have now become the Charlotte Yonge of English fiction.’ She was cremated at Golders Green but there is a memorial tablet to her in St Cross Church.

Sources:

The plaque was unveiled at River View, Headington Hill on 22 October 2020, with a small gathering because of pandemic restrictions. Professor Robert Evans, Chair of Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board, gave the tribute.

Picture awaited


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

RHODA BROUGHTON
1840–1920
Popular novelist
Independent woman and wit
lived here
1900–1920

Headington Action

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com