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“The Man Who Did”

For the week of Monday February 20, 2006

Born on February 24, 1848, near Kingston, Ontario, Grant Allen wrote many popular essays and novels that made a major contribution to the world of literature in the second half of the 19th century. He was an exceptionally versatile author, whose works ranged from biology, anthropology, botany, philosophy to history.

Grant Allen
© Haslemere Educational Museum

Educated first in Canada and France, in 1871, he graduated from Merton College in Oxford, England. In 1873, he began teaching at Queen’s College in Spanish Town, Jamaica, then became principal the following year until the school closed in 1876. Upon his return to England, he devoted himself to writing.

His books deal with many topics and are signed under four different pseudonyms. In his writings, he clearly expresses his opinions and often provokes readers with his ideas inspired by socialism, Darwinism and even feminism. Through his outrageous and radical statements, he courageously exposed taboos and questioned the established societal boundaries, in spite of the controversies this caused in a rather conservative era. Financial reasons forced him to conform to the mass market and write fiction. Nevertheless, he had a marked preference for science. His innovative ideas stood the test of time and are still relevant to contemporary discourse.

Cover from " The Woman Who Did" by Grant Allen, edited by Wintle, 1995
© Oxford University Press

Since his first work, Physiological Aesthetics (1877), he was noticed by renowned authors such as Herbert Spencer. An ardent socialist but not a political activist, he satirized society’s economic structure in Philistia (1884). His themes often focussed on social differences, as in Babylon (1885). Advocating the empowerment of women, his book The Woman Who Did (1895) attacks the institution of marriage and the exploitation of women, while The British Barbarians (1895) defends free love. These two very controversial books took him to the pinnacle of his career. A disciple of Darwin, he discussed the theory of evolution in The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897) and called into question the meaning of religion. He also published a series of historical and travel guides, as well as a collection of poems, The Lower Slopes (1894).

Before his death on October 25, 1899, in Haslemere, Surrey, England, Grant Allen had written more than 70 books in addition to contributing to many newspapers and magazines. A notable author, he was designated a person of national historic significance in 1938.

For further information, visit the following Web site dedicated to Grant Allen: http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/english/GA/GAHome.htm .

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