Grant Allen

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Grant Allen
Photo of Grant Allen.jpg
Born Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen
(1848-02-24)24 February 1848
Kingston, Canada West
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Hindhead, Haslemere, England
Occupation Writer
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater Oxford
Notable works The Woman Who Did
The Evolution of the Idea of God
The British Barbarians
Children Jerrard Grant Allen

Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen (24 February 1848 – 25 October 1899) was a Canadian science writer and novelist, and a proponent of the theory of evolution.[1]


Early life and education

Allen was born near Kingston, Canada West (known as Ontario after Confederation), the second son of Catharine Ann Grant and the Rev. Joseph Antisell Allen, a Protestant minister from Dublin, Ireland.[2] His mother was a daughter of the fifth Baron de Longueuil. Allen was educated at home until, at age 13, he and his parents moved to the United States, then to France, and finally to the United Kingdom.[3] He was educated at King Edward's School in Birmingham and at Merton College in Oxford, both in the United Kingdom.[4]

After graduation, Allen studied in France, taught at Brighton College in 1870–1871, and in his mid-twenties became a professor at Queen's College, a black college in Jamaica. Despite being the son of a minister, Allen became an atheist and a socialist.

Writing career

After leaving his professorship, in 1876 he returned to England, where he turned his talents to writing, gaining a reputation for his essays on science and for literary works. A 2007 book by Oliver Sacks cites with approval one of Allen's early articles, "Note-Deafness" (a description of what became known as amusia, published in 1878 in the learned journal Mind).[5]

Allen's first books dealt with scientific subjects, and include Physiological Æsthetics (1877) and Flowers and Their Pedigrees (1886) He was first influenced by associationist psychology as expounded by Alexander Bain and by Herbert Spencer, the latter often considered[by whom?] the most important individual in the transition from associationist psychology to Darwinian functionalism. In Allen's many articles on flowers and on perception in insects, Darwinian arguments replaced the old Spencerian terms, leading to a radically new vision of plant life that influenced H.G. Wells and helped transform later botanical research.[6]

On a personal level, a long friendship that started when Allen met Spencer on his return from Jamaica grew uneasy over the years. Allen wrote a critical and revealing biographical article on Spencer that was published after Spencer's death.

After assisting Sir W. W. Hunter with his Gazetteer of India in the early 1880s, Allen turned his attention to fiction, and between 1884 and 1899 produced about 30 novels. In 1895, his scandalous book titled The Woman Who Did, promulgating certain startling views on marriage and kindred questions, became a bestseller. The book told the story of an independent woman who has a child out of wedlock.[7]

In his career, Allen wrote two novels under female pseudonyms. One of these, the short novel The Type-writer Girl, he wrote under the name Olive Pratt Rayner.

Another work, The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897), propounds a theory of religion on heterodox lines comparable to Herbert Spencer's "ghost theory".[8] Allen's theory became well known and brief references to it appear in a review by Marcel Mauss, Durkheim's nephew, in the articles of William James and in the works of Sigmund Freud. The young G. K. Chesterton wrote on what he considered the flawed premise of the idea, arguing that the idea of God preceded human mythologies, rather than developing from them. Chesterton said of Allen's book on the evolution of the idea of God: "it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book on the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen".[9]

Allen also became a pioneer in science fiction, with the novel The British Barbarians (1895) This book, published about the same time as H. G. Wells's The Time Machine (which appeared in January–May 1895, and which includes a mention of Allen[3][10]), also described time travel, although the plot is quite different. Allen's short story The Thames Valley Catastrophe (published December 1897 in The Strand Magazine) describes the destruction of London by a sudden and massive volcanic eruption.


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Personal life

Portrait of Grant Allen, by Elliott & Fry

Allen married twice and had one son, Jerrard Grant Allen (1878–1946), a theatrical agent/manager who in 1913 married the actress and singer Violet Englefield. They had a son, Reginald "Reggie" Grant Allen (1910-1985).[citation needed]

Grant Allen's nephew, Grant Richards, was a writer and publisher who founded the Grant Richards publishing house. Allen encouraged his nephew's interest in books and publishing and helped him obtain his first positions in the book trade.[11] Richards was later to publish a number of books written by his uncle, including The Evolution of the Idea of God and those in the book series Grant Allen's Historical Guides.[12]

In 1893 Allen left London for the hills around the Devil's Punch Bowl, enthusing on the advantages of the change of scene: "Up here on the free hills, the sharp air blows in upon us, limpid and clear from a thousand leagues of open ocean; down there in the stagnant town, it stagnates and ferments."[13]

Death and posthumous publication

Grant Allen died of liver cancer at his home on Hindhead, Haslemere, Surrey, England, on October 25, 1899.[14] He died before finishing Hilda Wade. The novel's final episode, which he dictated to his friend, doctor and neighbor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from his bed, appeared under the appropriate title, "The Episode of the Dead Man Who Spoke" in the Strand Magazine in 1900.


Many histories of detective fiction mention Allen as an innovator. The illustrious Colonel Clay is a precursor of other gentleman rogue characters; he notably bears a strong resemblance to Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin, introduced some years later, and both Miss Cayley's Adventures and Hilda Wade feature early female detectives.

The Scene of the Crime Festival, an annual festival celebrating Canadian mystery fiction, takes place annually on Wolfe Island, Ontario, near Kingston, Allen's birthplace and honors Allen.[15]

Major publications

The British Barbarians, 1895
  • (1877). Physiological Æsthetics.
  • (1879). The Colour-Sense: Its Origin and Development
  • (1881). Evolutionist at Large.
  • (1881). Vignettes from Nature.
  • (1882). The Colours of Flowers.
  • (1883). Colin Clout's Calendar.
  • (1883). Flowers and Their Pedigrees.
  • (1884). Philistia. Allen's FIRST NOVEL.
  • (1884). Strange Stories. Short Stories.
  • (1885). Babylon. A novel in 3 volumes.
  • (1886). For Mamie's Sake.
  • (1886). In All Shades.
  • (1887). "The Beckoning Hand and Other Stories". Short Stories
  • (1888). This Mortal Coil: A Novel.
  • (1888). Force and Energy.
  • (1888). The Devil's Die.
  • (1888). The White Man's Foot.
  • (1889). Falling in Love.
  • (1889). The Tents of Shem.
  • (1890). Wednesday the Tenth.
  • (1890). The Great Taboo.
  • (1891). Dumaresq's Daughter.
  • (1891). What's Bred in the Bone.
  • (1892). The Duchess of Powysland.
  • (1893). The Scallywag.
  • (1893). Michael's Crag.
  • (1894). The Lower Slopes.
  • (1894). Post-Prandial Philosophy.
  • (1895). The British Barbarians.
  • (1895). At Market Value.
  • (1895). The Story of the Plants.
  • (1895). The Desire of the Eyes.
  • (1895). The Woman Who Did.
  • (1896). The Jaws of Death.
  • (1896). A Bride from the Desert.
  • (1896). Under Sealed Orders.
  • (1896). Moorland Idylls.
  • (1897). An African Millionaire. Colonel Clay's novel.
  • (1897). The Evolution of the Idea of God.
  • (1897). Paris.
  • (1897). The Type-writer Girl. (as Olive Pratt Rayner)
  • (1897). Tom, Unlimited. (as Martin Leach Warborough)
  • (1898). Flashlights on Nature.
  • (1898). The Incidental Bishop.
  • (1898). Venice.
  • (1899). The European Tour.
  • (1899). A Splendid Sin.
  • (1899). Miss Cayley's Adventures. Detective novel.
  • (1899). Twelve Tales: With a Headpiece, a Tailpiece, and an Intermezzo.
  • (1900). Hilda Wade. Detective novel finished by Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • (1900). Linnet.
  • (1901). The Backslider.
  • (1908). Evolution in Italian Art.
  • (1909). The Hand of God.
  • (1909). The Plants.

Selected articles


  1. "Grant Allen Biography". Retrieved September 26, 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Rand, Theodore H. (1900). Treasury of Canadian Verse. New York: Dutton. p. 387.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Robert Colombo, ed. (1979). "Grant Allen – The Child of the Phalanstery". Other Canadas An Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. McGraw-Hill Ryerson. p. 30. ISBN 0-07-082953-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Head, Dominic (2006). The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge University Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-521-83179-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Sacks, Oliver (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Pan Macmillan (published 2011). ISBN 9780330471138. Retrieved November 29, 2015. The first extended description of amusia in the medical literature was an 1878 paper by Grant Allen in the journal Mind [...] Allen's lengthy paper included a superb case of a young man whom he had "abundant opportunities of observing and experimenting upon" - the sort of detailed case study that established experimental neurology and psychology in the latter part of the nineteenth century.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Endersby, Jim (2016). "Deceived by orchids: sex, science, fiction and Darwin". The British Journal for the History of Science. 49 (02): 205–229. doi:10.1017/S0007087416000352.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Cameron, Brooke (2008). "Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did: Spencerian Individualism and Teaching New Women to Be Mothers". English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920. 51 (3): 281–301.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Review of The Evolution of the Idea of God by Grant Allen". The Journal of Religion. January 1899.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Chesterton, G. K. (1926). The Everlasting Man. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Chapter V of the Heinemann text and Chapter VII of the Holt text
  11. Grant Richards (1872–1948), Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  12. Grant Allen's Historical Guides (Grant Richards) - Book Series List, Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  13. Quoted in Richard Mabey, Dreams of the Good Life (Penguin 2015) pp. 47-48.
  14. Van Arsdel, Rosemary T. (October 2005). "Allen, (Charles) Grant Blairfindie (1848–1899)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/373.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  15. "'Scene of the Crime' Festival Honoring Grant Allen".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links