Florence Marryat (1833-1899) was born in Brighton, Sussex, on 9th July 1833, the eighth of eleven children of the novelist and mariner Captain Marryat and his wife, Catherine (nee Shairp). Her parents separated when she was an infant, and she led a peripatetic existence, educated entirely at home with the help of governesses and her father’s extensive library.
On 13th June 1854, she married Thomas Ross Church at Penang, Malaya, and travelled throughout India with him, assuming the role of an officer’s wife in the Raj. By 1860, she had suffered a breakdown and returned to England, pregnant, and with three children in tow. They settled in Brighton with her husband remaining in India. The appearance of another four children suggests he must have been an least an occasional visitor to the family home.
It was during this period of caring for her children alone that she wrote her first novel, Love’s Conflict. The children were suffering from scarlet fever and she wrote in order to distract herself from “sad thoughts”. The novel was published by Bentley and Son in 1865, with modest success, and was quickly followed by Too Good for Him and Woman Against Woman in the same year.
She set for herself an astonishing pace and managed to maintain it throughout her career, penning around 90 novels. The critical reception was mixed, with many reviewers alarmed by the themes of marital cruelty, adultery and alcoholism. Marryat rejected accusations of sensationalism, maintaining that she wrote from experience. It is no wonder, therefore, that her marriage broke down and she separated from her husband.