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Corvey 'Adopt an Author'

Susan Edmonstone Ferrier

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University


A biography of Susan Edmonsone Ferrier by Lucy Burnett

Susan Edmonstone Ferrier was born on the 7th of September 1782. She was the tenth child to be born to James and Helen Ferrier, after Jane, Janet, Helen, John, Archibald, James, Lorn, William and Walter. Due to Mr. Ferrier's success in his law career, the family were able to afford a house in the New Town of Edinburgh and in 1784 the Ferriers moved to 25 George Street where Susan was to remain for the majority of her life.

The Ferriers were an extremely close family throughout their lives. They all enjoyed an animated social life but were taught by their father to avoid being frivolous and over indulgent. The Ferrier children, under their father's influence, were brought up in the Presbyterian Church, except for the eldest, Jane, who was Episcopalian like her mother. (Grant, 1957, 13) Religion was important to Susan throughout her life. Susan's education began at Mr. Stalker's Academy (Todd, 1989, 242) but continued at home thereafter. There is no evidence of a governess residing with the Ferrier family and so it can be assumed that Susan was educated primarily by her elder brothers and sisters.

Mrs. Ferrierís death in February 1797, when Susan was 14 years old, had a significant effect on Susan's nerves. Jane then tried her best to take on the role of her mother. She had been engaged to Mr. Campbell of Ardkinglass who was an officer in the army but he was killed in battle before the marriage could take place. Jane Ferrier was a great beauty and had even inspired one of her admirers, Robert Burns, in his poetry writing.

Mr. Ferrier as Principal Clerk of Session was close friends with the Duke of Argyll and Susan often visited Inverary Castle with her father. It was here that two life long friendships blossomed between Susan and both the Dukeís daughter, Lady Charlotte, and also his niece Charlotte Clavering.

By the end of 1800 there were only four Ferrier children still at home. William and James, as soldiers, were abroad with their regiments, the former in India and the latter involved in the Siege of Seringapatam. Lorn too was in the armed forces as a soldier in the Black Watch, in the West Indies. Janet had married James Connell of Conheath in November 1796 and she too lived abroad in India. Archibald and Helen both married during 1800 and on becoming Mrs. Kinloch, Helen moved to London.

On a number of occasions throughout her life, Susan travelled to London to visit Helen as she did Conheath, where her sister Janet and family lived after 1803 when they returned to live in Scotland. In August 1804, Jane, now 37, married General Graham and in May of the same year John married Miss Margaret Wilson, a close friend of the family who lived nearby. Margaret, like her siblings, was like family to Susan and she enjoyed spending time at their family home since the majority of her own family was now absent. It was Susan's role to look after her father and his was often the only company that she had.

In Autumn of 1804 James and William were reported dead in India. The Ferriers had already lost Lorn in battle in Demerara during 1801. Susan's health was also suffering and she was constantly troubled by coughs and colds. Her illness was particularly bad during the winters of 1806 to 1807 and 1807 to 1808 when she was unable to write.

It was in 1809 that Susan Ferrier began to plan and write her first novel, Marriage. The novel was originally intended to be a collaboration with Charlotte Clavering but with the exception of one chapter in the first volume, ĎHistory of Mrs. Douglasí, the novel was written by Ferrier alone. Jane Graham carried out primary negotiations with William Blackwood to have her sisterís first novel published as she herself had had a work of her own (Lacuna Strevelinense; a Collection of Heads) published in the previous year. Susan Ferrier received 150 pounds for the completed manuscript (Church Quarterly Review, 1901, 165) and Marriage was published anonymously in 1818 .

Walter Ferrier married in 1818. Mr. Ferrier was no longer fond of travelling, and from then on Susanís social life was relatively quiet as she refused to leave her father. However, every Spring they would journey to Morningside on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where Susanís novel-writing continued for over half of the year. Although it is unknown when she first began work on The Inheritance, negotiations concerning its publication began in 1823. In 1824, after securing Miss Ferrier one thousand pounds from Blackwoods, The Inheritance was again, like Marriage, published anonymously.

Mr. Ferrier resigned from his position at the Court of Session in 1826 and Susanís days from then on were mainly spent with him as he became steadily more averse to company. (Grant, 1957, 129) His health also grew steadily worse until on the 20th of January 1829, Mr. Ferrier died at the age of eighty-four.

After giving up her house at George Street, Susan decided to go and stay with Jane at Stirling Castle where it is likely that she completed Destiny, which was published in1831. She also visited Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford where he offered to handle the negotiations for the publication of her third novel. Her eye sight had deteriorated and writing was almost an impossibility. Susan was forced to spend a lot of her time in a darkened room to avoid pain.

Jane Graham moved in with Susan at Nelson Street after the death of her husband but Susanís ill health stopped her from leading anything but a tranquil life. In 1837 after a request from a London publisher, Susan attempted to write again but she was unhappy with the material that she produced. After Janeís death in Spring, 1846, members of the Ferrier family, including Helen Kinloch, would read to Susan to fill her time. In 1851, Susan finally moved to her brother Walterís home before her death on the 5th of November 1854. She was buried in St. Cuthbertís Churchyard, Edinburgh.

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