We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Brooke, Emma Frances (1844–1926), novelist, was born on 22 December 1844, at Bollingdon, Macclesfield, Cheshire, daughter of Joseph Brooke, a wealthy industrialist—in later life she described him as a ‘capitalist’ (Sutherland, 86)—and his wife, Anne, née Swindells. On her mother's side she was descended from old yeoman family. Educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, she gave her recreations in Who's Who as ‘walking, the study of bird life, sitting over the fire with a friend or book, and hearing clever people talk’. In 1879 she moved to London where she became a socialist, joining the Fabian Society at its inception (1884). She studied at the London School of Economics, and published economic analyses of the working conditions of women in Britain and Europe, including A tabulation of European factory acts, in so far as they relate to the hours of labour, and special regulations for women and children (1898). She did not marry.

Writing under the curious pseudonym E. Fairfax Byrrne, Brooke published several novels, of which A Superfluous Woman (1894) and Life the Accuser (1896) attracted most critical attention. In the first, the heroine, married to a syphilitic male, gives birth to ‘a poor malformed thing’ and is reprimanded by her doctor for the ‘crime’ of becoming ‘a mother by that effete and dissipated race’ (A Superfluous Woman, 258). She had affinities with eugenic ‘new woman’ writers such as Sarah Grand, who explored the consequences of degenerate, syphilitic men, arguing that only with premarital chastity for all could the British race be salvaged and improved. In spite of its purported moral intentions, W. T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, and vociferous on matters of moral reform, declared A Superfluous Woman ‘an immoral tale’:
its whole significance lies in the supreme audacity of the authoress. She is so penetrated by a sense of the hideous horror of the fashionable, loveless marriage of a healthy young woman to a roué worn out by excess and honeycombed by disease, that she compels her readers to admit that even the unblushing proposal her heroine made to a man who loved her was virtue itself compared with the union which the Church blessed and all the papers chronicled with admiration. (Stead, 68)
Life the Accuser tells the story of three women: Eliza is too conventional; Rosalie is overly emancipated, and Constantia has an unfaithful husband with whom she stays on account not of duty but sexual desire. Her other novels included Transition (1895); The Confession of Stephen Whapshare (1898); The Engrafted Rose (1900); The Poet's Child (1903); Twins of Skirlaugh Hall (1903); Susan Wooed and Susan Won (1905); Sir Elyot of the Woods (1907); The Story of Hauksgarth Farm (1909); The House of Robershaye (1912).

Writing in The Ludgate (1898) on the progress of women under Victoria, Brooke argued that through education women had ‘raised the standard of what is expected of them in affairs of the world. Many barriers are broken down, but the test to entrance is always ability to perform.’ She added:
a growing and most remarkable sense of independence is probably to be traced more than anything else to the breakdown of the artificial line of demarcation in games. There is no saying how much women owe to the bicycle! Meanwhile the page on which we read of the progress of women is really the same from which we study the progress of men. (Brooke and others, 213–14)
Brooke died of old age and cardiac degeneration on 28 November 1926 at the Heath Nursing Home, Weybridge, Surrey. Her novels fell out of fashion, after her death, but late twentieth-century scholarship on the ‘new woman’ has revived critical interest in her work.

Angelique Richardson

Sources  

b. cert. · d. cert. · WWW · E. F. Brooke, Iota, S. Grand, and G. Egerton, ‘Women in the queen's reign: some notable opinions, illustrated with photographs’, The Ludgate, 1898, 213–17 · W. T. Stead, ‘Book of the month: the novel of the modern woman’, Review of Reviews, 10 (1894), 64–74 · J. Sutherland, The Longman companion to Victorian fiction (1988) · A. Richardson, Love and eugenics in the late nineteenth century: rational reproduction and the new woman (2003) · A. Richardson and C. Willis, eds., The New Woman in fiction and in fact (2000) · A. L. Ardis, New Women, new novels: feminism and early modernism (1990)

Archives  

UCL, corresp.


Likenesses  

Elliott & Fry, photograph, repro. in Brooke and others, ‘Women in the queen's reign’

Wealth at death  

£702 1s. 5d.: probate, 1927, CGPLA Eng. & Wales