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Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Agnes Musgrave
The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Biography of Agnes Musgrave

Lucy Fraser

Despite being a Minerva Press best seller with her first novel, Cicely; or the Rose of Raby. An Historical Novel (1), there is no information available about the life of Agnes Musgrave.

She was probably born in the latter half of the eighteenth century, unless she began her novel-writing career very late in life, because the novel already mentioned was published in 1795. Musgrave went on to publish another two books with the Minerva Press; Edmund of the Forest. An Historical Novel in 1797 and The Solemn Injunction a year later in 1798. In 1801, The Confession was published by Cawthorn, and in 1808, her final novel, William de Montfort; or the Sicilian Heiresses was published by Richards (2). Musgrave's first two novels were published anonymously.

It can be assumed that Musgrave was born into a family of at least middle class standing due to her writing talent, which required some sort of education. It is possible that she belonged to a higher class as both of the novels with which this project is concerned involve members of the gentry, and in the introduction to Cicely she talks of connections between her family and the nobility. Musgrave claims that the novel is based upon letters entrusted to her grandmother's aunt's grandmother who was brought up by Lady Lumley (4).

The introduction to Cicely is again the source for the information that Musgrave suffered from a severe illness which left her bound to her apartment for months (5). When she recovered she visited locations described in the novel with a friend, but did not venture abroad (6); in The Solemn Injunction she mentions France, but it is difficult to say whether or not she travelled extensively from only this evidence.

In the preface to Edmund of the Forest, Musgrave says she is "safely shrouded at present from observation, in a retreat, amidst hills and winding streams, I mix not in the busy world" (7) which may suggest she prefers to be solitary when writing, or even that she was a solitary or private person; the latter idea is reinforced by the fact that there is so little information on the author. However, in the process of publication she eventually brought herself prominently within the public domain; despite keeping her anonymity for the first two books, Musgrave puts her name to the rest.

Once more, it is difficult to know for sure if Musgrave was married at any point in her life or not and in those texts in which her name is mentioned, there is no title, i.e. Mrs. or Miss, given. Without any aid, it is impossible to make definite assertions about Musgrave's place and date of birth, marital status, other accomplishments or time of death and the author must remain, as she did with her first two books, mostly anonymous.


(1) Blain, 1990, p782

(2) Summers, 1964, p303, p508, p280, p259

(3) Blain, 1990, p782

(4) Musgrave, 1795, ppiii-v

(5) Ibid., pii

(6) Ibid., pxv

(7) Musgrave, 1797, piv



Allibone, S[amuel] Austin, 1885, A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors Living and Deceased.

From the Earliest Accounts to the Latter Half of the Nineteenth Century, London, Lippencott Mentioned by name only.

Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy, 1990, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, Batsford

Novels by Musgrave and an idea of themes in some of them. No biographical facts.

Crawford, Anne, et al., 1983, The Europa Biographical Dictionary of British Women: Over 1000 Notable Women from Britains Past, Gale Research

No mention.

The Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, 1922

No mention.

Kirk, John Foster, 1891, A Supplement to Allibone's Critical Dictionary, London, Lippencott

No mention.

Kunitz, Stanley J and Howard Haycraft, 1952, British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, Wilson

No mention.

Musgrave, Agnes, 1795, Cicely; or the Rose of Raby. An Historic Novel, Minerva Press, London

Musgrave, Agnes, 1797, Edmund of the Forest; An Historical Novel, Minerva Press, London

Musgrave, Agnes, 1808, William de Montfort; or The Sicilian Heiresses, Richards

Shattock, Joanne, 1988, Oxford Guide to British Women Writers, Garland

No mention.

Summers, Montague, 1964, A Gothic Bibliography, New York, Russell & Russell

Name, list of novels, dates and publishers.