Gaskell House Blogs

Discovering ‘Miss Thackeray’

4th May 2021
in blog, Literature, People

Writing a bookplate for a book in the study recently, I came across a Victorian woman writer who was new to me.

Lady Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (1837 -1919) was the elder daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray. Known as Annie, she grew up in elite literary circles and was friends with the children of Dickens. After her mother Isabella Gethin Shawe was declared insane, she became her father’s companion and hostess. One of her major tasks was the conservation of her father’s writings, but she became a prominent literary figure in her own right, publishing her first article in the Cornhill Magazine at the age of 23.

After William Thackeray’s death in 1863, Annie focussed on publishing her own work and produced her first novel The Story of Elizabeth, based on her childhood with her grandparents in Paris.  This work met immediate acclaim, and Annie wrote five more novels, as well as biographies, criticism and non-fiction including Toilers and Spinners (1874) which exposed the difficulties of unmarried unemployed women.  Her Book of Sibyls (1883) contained essays about four famous women writers: Anna Letitia Barbauld, Maria Edgeworth, Amelia Opie and Jane Austen. The sequel essay, A Discourse on Modern Sibyls (1913) was dedicated to George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Margaret Oliphant.  Her article “Heroines and their Grandmothers” published in Cornhill Magazine in 1866 included reflections on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters.

Five books written Miss Thackeray, in the Study at Elizabeth Gaskell's House.

Annie had a flair for adapting folk tales to depict and reflect on modern situations. Bluebeard’s Keys (London, Smith, Elder and Co., 1882. Volume 5 of The Works of Miss Thackeray) is one of these, published in 1874 and is the book I was writing a bookplate for: Elizabeth Gaskell’s House has an incomplete set of The Works. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk contained in this volume cleverly changes the fairy-tale so the giant is portrayed as a greedy landlord and Jack (Hans) is one of the tenant farmers fighting for their rights. 

Annie married her second cousin Richmond Ritchie in 1877 and had two children. Richmond was knighted in 1907, which bestowed on Annie the title Lady Ritchie. In 1903, Annie Ritchie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and served as president of the English Association from 1912 to 1913.

Annie was related by marriage to Virginia Woolf. It was Virginia Woolf who wrote Annie’s obituary in the Times Literary Supplement and it is thought the character of Mrs Hilbery in Woolf’s novel Night and Day (1919) is based on Annie.

Elizabeth Gaskell is said to have considered William Thackeray the greatest living author but also to have had an uneasy relationship with him. This was partly induced by Thackeray’s failure to respond to Elizabeth’s request that Meta and Annie be encouraged to meet. Eventually the two daughters did meet and became close lifelong friends. In 1891, Annie wrote to her husband Richmond about her visit to Manchester and her stay at Plymouth Grove:

“O what kind ladies

O what a delicious dinner!

O what a nice room!

Meta met me at the station in a beautiful brougham. Pheasant, jelly, Apollinaris* for dinner, champagne on the side table. The sun is shining, the air is delicious! I like the climate of Manchester!” (Uglow, p.613)

Jackie Ould, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

*Apollinaris was naturally sparkling German Mineral Water


More Blogs about the study book collection

Literary Detectives and Cranford
Elizabeth Gaskell’s February Reading List
Book Plates in the Study

We've got a certainly is a beauty...I must try and make the house give as much pleasure to others as I can.’

Elizabeth Gaskell, in a letter to her friend Eliza Fox in 1850.