Annie Shepherd Swan

Annie Shepherd Swan
Annie S. Swan CBE

Annie Swan in April 1905
Born Annie Shepherd Swan
July 8, 1859(1859-07-08)
Mountskip, Gorebridge, Scotland
Died June 17, 1943(1943-06-17) (aged 83)
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Pen name Annie S. Swan, Annie S. Smith, David Lyall, Mrs Burnett-Smith
Occupation Writer, novelist, journalist
Nationality Scottish
Genres Fiction, dramatic fiction, romantic fiction, non-fiction, advice, feminism, politics, religion, social commentary
Notable work(s) Aldersyde (1884)
Spouse(s) James Burnett Smith (1883–1927)

Annie Shepherd Swan CBE (July 8, 1859 – June 17, 1943) was a Scottish writer, journalist, novelist and short story writer. Although used her maiden name for most of her literary career, Swan also wrote under the pen names David Lyall and later Mrs Burnett-Smith. She was a highly popular writer of romantic fiction for young women during the Victorian era and published more than 200 novels, serials, short stories and other works of fiction from 1878 to her death in 1943.[1][2][3][4]

Many of her stories appeared in prominent magazines of the period, among these The Woman at Home and The People's Friend, which she long regarded as the mainstay of her writing career. She was one of the earliest female authors to contribute to women's magazines, especially when they were first becoming popular during the mid-to late 19th century, and later became an influential figure in the industry.[5] Because of her dominance over the Women at Home, editor-in-chief W.R. Nicoll often called it Annie Swan's Magazine.[3] She later became editor of the magazine from 1893 to 1917.

Swan was also very active in politics during her lifetime. A well-known suffragist, she was a member of the Liberal Party and was its first female candidate when she stood for the Maryhill division of Glasgow in the campaign of 1922. She was also a founding member[6] and one-time vice president of the Scottish National Party.[7]



Annie Shepherd Swan was born at Mountskip, near Gorebridge, Midlothian, on July 8, 1859. One of seven children, her family was broken up following her mother's death and her father's subsequent remarriage.[8] She was homeschooled by a governess and began writing short stories at the age of 15.[9] Swan was educated at the Ladies' College in Edinburgh, and later began writing children's books and articles for The Woman at Home[2][3] and various religious magazines. During the next several years, her monthly articles were praised for being "full of sound sense and sympathetic knowledge".[10]

She published her first novel, Ups And Downs (1878), at age 19. Though it was not commercially successful, her second book Aldersyde (1883)[2] proved very popular and ended up becoming a best-seller. The story, a romance set in a coastal community in the Scottish Borders, was favourably reviewed by critics. Swan received an autographed letter from Lord Tennyson as well as a letter from then Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone who considered it a "beautiful as a work of art" for its "truly living sketches of Scottish character".[9][11] Aldersyde served as a model for her later "Kailyard" writings as well as those of regional middle class life and light romance novels.[4] These stories often featured themes of "sisterly and motherly love, the virtues of a good woman, and a happy resolution of romantic problems".[8]

Swan later sold the copyright of Aldersyde for £50. Already having acquired a large audience though her novel, she capitalized on this success by reaching an even wider audience though serial publications in magazines such as The Woman at Home and The People's Friend. Though she was long associated with publisher W.R. Nicoll, she later wrote for other publications as well.[5][8] Among them included The British Weekly[12] and the Glasgow Weekly Mail.[9]

Some however, such as fellow author Margaret Oliphant, criticized these novels as portraying a stereotypical and unrealistic depiction of Scotland.[5] Upon reviewing Carlowrie (1884), Oliphant publicly claimed the young authoress' work "presented an entirely distorted view of Scottish life". Swan responded that her novel's had indeed been influenced by Oliphant's work[5] adding "The story was frankly modelled on the Border stories of Mrs Oliphant, for whom I had a passionate admiration, amounting to worship."[11] She also defended her stories as being based on her own experiences.[8]

In the same year Aldersyde was published, Swan married James Burnett Smith[10] and they settled in Fife, then moved back to Edinburgh two years later. While living in Fife, she became close friends with Scottish theologin Robert Flint and his sister.[13] Smith had wanted to become a doctor, but was unable to afford the heavy financial costs, and abandoned his studies to become a schoolteacher. The lived in a schoolhouse near the Star of Markinch from 1883 to 1885; the Scottish poet Duncan Glen resided in a nearby farm cottage almost a century later.[14] Through Swan's encouragement, he later resumed his studies, partially supported by her income as a writer, and eventually earned his medical degree.[8] In 1892, she and her husband moved to London where she became a leading writer for women's magazines in the earliest years of their popularity. She became an influential figure in the industry and edited The Woman at Home from 1893 to 1917, and ran a penny weekly called the Annie S. Swan Penny Stories towards the end of the 1890s.[10] While living in Camden Square, Swan and her husband became close friends with writer Beatrice Harraden and others; they were later friends and neighbours with Harraden as well as Joseph and Emma Parker[15] while living in Hampstead years later.[16]

By 1898, Swan had published over 30 books.[2] While these were primarily novels, many of which being serially published, she also wrote poetry and short stories as well as non-fiction books on advice, politics and religion. In 1901, The Juridical Review reported that Swan's books were the most favoured among female inmates in Irish prisons.[17] In 1906, she was profiled in Helen Black's Notable Women Authors of the Day.[9]

She used her maiden name for most of her career[2][5] but also used the pseudonyms David Lyall and later Mrs Burnett-Smith at various times. Swan was a respected public speaker as well and became involved in social and political causes, such as the Temperance movement,[10] in Britain during this time. She wrote books and novels on the suffragette movement in Britain, often under her David Lyall pen name, such as Margaret Holroyd: or, the Pioneers (1910).[18][19] The novel was a collection of interconnecting short stories that followed a young suffragette, Margaret Holroyd, and dealt with many real-life problems faced by suffragettes such as disapproval from family and friends, fear of public speaking, physical exhaustion and ethical dilemmas in a rebellious and sometimes militant atmosphere.[20]

During the First World War, Swan resigned her editorial position and volunteered to join the British war effort. Working for the Ministry of Food, she visited soldiers' camps in Britain and abroad.[10] Swan visited the United States in January 1918 and again after the Armistice at the end of the year. She met with Herbert Hoover, then head of the U.S. Food Administration, and lectured on the necessity for conserving food on the American homefront as well as informing the American public of Britain's wartime contributions. Two successful plays, Getting Together by John Hay Beith and The Better 'Ole by Bruce Bairnsfather, were written for the occasion.[21] While in the United States, she also took the opportunity to write a book on the cultural differences between women in Britain and the United States titled As Others See Her: An Englishwoman's Impressions of the American Woman in War Time (1919).

Shortly after the passage of voting rights for women in the United Kingdom, Swan became a member of the Liberal Party and became its first female candidate[6] when she ran for the Maryhill division of Glasgow in the general election of 1922. Following her defeat, the Women's Freedom League claimed that Swan and other female candidates would have been elected under the system of proportional representation as seen in other European countries such as Ireland, Holland and Germany.[22]

Starting in 1924, Swan ran another penny weekly The Annie Swan Annual. She also wrote several popular novels during this time including The Last of the Laidlaws (1920), Closed Doors (1926) and The Pendulum (1926).[4] After her husband's death in 1927,[2][10] Swan returned to Scotland settling in Gullane, East Lothian. In 1930, she received the CBE in recognition of her contribution to literature. She also remained involved in politics becoming a founding member of the Scottish National Party[6] and served as its vice president.[7] She continued writing throughout her life and, in 1934, wrote her autobiography My Life.[3] Her final published work was an article for Homes and Gardens, "Testament of Age", in March 1943. She died of heart disease three months later at her home in Gullane on June 17, 1943.[8] A collection of her personal correspondence, The Letters of Annie S. Swan (1945), was edited by Mildred Robertson Nicoll and published posthumously two years later.

In the years following her death, there has been little study of her life or work by literary historians. However, articles such as Edmond Gardiner's "Annie S. Swan - Forerunner of Modern Popular Fiction" (1974) and Charlotte Reid's "A Cursory of Inspection to Annie S. Swan" (1990) have pointed out her literary contributions. Several of her novels have been reprinted in the last decade.[8]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.
  1. ^ Aitken, William Russell. Scottish Literature in English and Scots: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. (pg. 170) ISBN 0-8103-1249-2
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sutherland, John. The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8047-1842-3 (pg. 200-201)
  3. ^ a b c d Varty, Anne, ed. Eve's Century: A Sourcebook of Writings on Women and Journalism, 1895-1918. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. (pg. 254) ISBN 0-415-19544-6
  4. ^ a b c Anderson, Carol and Aileen Christianson. Scottish Women's Fiction, 1920s to 1960s: Journeys Into Being. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell Press, 2000. (pg. 165) ISBN 1-86232-082-9
  5. ^ a b c d e Lindsay, Maurice. History of Scottish Literature. London: Hale, 1977. (pg. 348) ISBN 0-7091-5642-1
  6. ^ a b c Harvie, Christopher. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes: Twentieth-century Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. (pg. 124) ISBN 0-7486-0999-7
  7. ^ a b Brand, Jack. The National Movement in Scotland. London, Henley and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. (pg. 236) ISBN 0-7100-8866-3
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Burgess, Moira. "Annie S. Swan." Discovering Scottish Writers. Ed. Alan Reid and Brian D. Osborne. Hamilton and Edinburgh: Scottish Library Association, 1997. ISBN 1-898218-84-6
  9. ^ a b c d Black, Helen C. Notable Women Authors of the Day. London: Maclaren and Company, 1906. (pg. 313-319)
  10. ^ a b c d e f Kemp, Sandra, Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter. Edwardian Fiction: An Oxford Companion. Oxford University Press, 1997. (pg. 380) ISBN 0-19-811760-4
  11. ^ a b Crawford, Robert. Scotland's Books: A History of Scottish Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 0-19-538623-X
  12. ^ Gilder, Jeannette Leonard, ed. "Notes". The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts. Vol. XXVI. New York: The Critic Company (July–December 1896): 373+
  13. ^ Macmillan, Donald. The Life of Robert Flint. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914. (pg. 466-467)
  14. ^ Norman, Alan. Bold Scotland: A Literary Guide. London: Routledge, 1989. (pg. 36) ISBN 0-415-00731-3
  15. ^ Henry, Dr. Robert T. The Golden Age of Preaching: Men Who Moved the Masses Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2005. (pg. 126) ISBN 0-595-36222-2
  16. ^ Waller, Philip J. Writers, Readers, and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain, 1870-1918. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006 (pg. 505) ISBN 0-19-820677-1
  17. ^ Guthrie, Charles J. "Our Punishment Of Crime - An Admitted Failure". The Juridical Review: A Journal of Legal and Political Science. Vol. XIII. Edinburgh: William Green & Sons, 1901. (pg. 139)
  18. ^ Joannou, Maroula and June Purvis. The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. (pg. 116) ISBN 0-7190-4860-5
  19. ^ Crawford, Elizabeth. The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. (pg. 471) ISBN 0-415-23926-5
  20. ^ Miller, Jane Eldridge. Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism, and the Edwardian Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. (pg. 139-140) ISBN 0-226-52677-1
  21. ^ Lyddon, William George. British War Missions to the United States, 1914-1918. Oxford University Press, 1938. (pg. 186)
  22. ^ Law, Cheryl. Suffrage and Power: The Women's Movement, 1918-1928. London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2000. (pg. 153) ISBN 1-86064-478-3

Further reading

  • Beetham, Margaret. A Magazine of Her Own?: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-04920-2
  • Finkelstein, David and Alistair McCleery. The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland: Professionalism and Diversity, 1880-2000. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-7486-1829-5
  • Gardiner, Edmond F. "Annie S. Swan - Forerunner of Modern Popular Fiction". Library Review. 24.6 (1974).
  • Reid, Charlotte. "A Cursory of Inspection to Annie S. Swan". Cencrastus. (Winter 1990/91).

External links

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