Who? Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet, translator, writer
When? 6 March 1806
Where? Coxhoe Hall, Kelloe, Durham
Why should I read her work? Elizabeth Barrett Browning is, arguably, a finer poet than her more famous husband, Robert Browning. Her work expresses her humane and liberal point of view, and her Sonnets from the Portuguese has a place amongst the finest collections of love poems in western literature.
Try: Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), Aurora (1857)
Interesting fact: Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 opens with the lines: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’ and has been described as ‘the victim of a thousand wedding readings’.
Who? Anna Sewell, English novelist
When? 30 March 1820
Where? Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Why should I read her work? Sewell wrote only one novel, a fictional biography about a gentle, highbred horse; today it’s regarded as a children’s book but it was written, and published, as a story for adults
Try: Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse (1877)
Interesting fact: Sewell hoped her book would ‘induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding of the treatment of horses’ and animals in general. Her story is credited with helping in the abolition of the cruel use of the check rein – a short rein keeping a horse’s head unnaturally high and leading to chronic spine, head and back problems.
Who? Elizabeth Jane Howard, English novelist and playwright
When? 26 March 1923
Why should I read her work? Howard is especially skilled at characterisation and depicting the subtle nuances of family relationships.
Try: The Beautiful Visit (1950), The Long View (1956), After Julius (1965), The Cazalet Chronicles (1990-2013)
Interesting fact: Unlike her brothers, Howard was not sent to school and did not learn to read until she was six, when she became a voracious reader. A lack of books in her childhood home led her to begin writing so that she would have something to read!
Who? A(lfred) E(dward) Housman, English poet and Latin scholar
When? 26 March 1859
Where? Near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire
Why should I read his work? A fine, lyric poet, Housman’s verses are spare, nostalgic and wistful, evoking life in a pastoral England that has long gone, or perhaps never was.
Try: A Shropshire Lad (1896), Last Poems (1922)
Interesting fact: On the centenary of the publication of A Shropshire Lad, Housman was honoured with the dedication of a window in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Who? Kenneth Grahame, Scots-born novelist
When? 8 March 1859
Where? Edinburgh, Scotland
Why should I read his work? Grahame’s best-known work, The Wind in the Willows, evokes an Edwardian riverside idyll, and deals with themes of mysticism, morality, adventure and friendship.
Try: The Wind in the Willows (1908)
Interesting fact: Grahame had a successful career at the Bank of England and rose to become the bank secretary; on 24 November 1903 he was shot at by a ‘socialist lunatic’ at the bank, but was uninjured. A year later he left the bank and retired to Cookham Dean to write his much-loved book; loathed by critics and loved by readers it has been in print ever since.
Who? Alan Sillitoe, English novelist
When? 4 March 1928
Why should I read his work? Sillitoe’s powerful sense of social injustice drives his best work and he depicts, unsparingly, the attenuated lives of disillusioned, young working-class men and women in post-war Britain.
Try: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959)
Interesting fact: Sillitoe failed the entrance exam to grammar school and went to work at the Raleigh factory. In 1997 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.