Knowles, Mabel Winifred [pseuds. May Wynne, Lester Lurgan]
- Sally Mitchell
Knowles, Mabel Winifred [pseuds. May Wynne, Lester Lurgan] (1875–1949), popular writer and church worker, was born at Ribblesdene, Leigham Court Road, Streatham, London, on 1 January 1875, the second daughter of William Knowles, a London merchant banker, and his wife, Emma Letitia Paxton. She was educated at home, and she remained single throughout her life.
Knowles's first books were essentially religious and rather old-fashioned. Life's Object (1899), a short volume evidently intended as a confirmation gift, recommended that girls exercise influence at home and avoid both athletics and the reading of 'foolish mawkish love stories'. In the Shadows (1900) had consoling thoughts for mourners, and early children's books such as Mollie's Adventures (1903) imitated the ‘city arab’ tales of the 1860s and 1870s.
During the next decade, however, Knowles became skilled in two genres that proved widely popular with girls and women, eventually publishing more than 200 books as well as stories for Cassell's Family Magazine, Lady's Realm, Pall Mall Magazine, and other periodicals. Under the pen-name May Wynne she became known as a writer of safe but thrilling historical romances. Most of them featured young women on their own in some exciting era when they could become servants of an endangered queen. As in a 1917 title, A Spy for Napoleon, the heroine often encountered ‘real’ characters from history (especially Charles Stuart or Henri of Navarre). The story might eventually be resolved in orthodox Christian domesticity—but not until after several hundred pages of intrigue and melodrama.
May Wynne also produced more than a hundred children's books. The most interesting gave contemporary girls their own opportunities for peril and bravery. An English Girl in Serbia (1916), among others, used the First World War as a setting. Dozens of school and guide adventures also emphasized courage. In Peggy's First Term (1922), for example, a Canadian girl in an English school wins friends through an act of heroism, and in Lost in the Jungle (1921) two shipwrecked daughters of an officer save themselves and a boy companion with the skills they have learned as girl guides.
Between 1910 and 1913, before perfecting the formulas that made May Wynne popular, Knowles published under the name Lester Lurgan six science-fiction or detective novels, including Bohemian Blood (1910) and A Message from Mars (1912). In addition, some of her historical novels were made into films.
For the last twenty-five years of her life, while continuing to write popular fiction, Mabel Knowles was in charge of the St Luke's Mission Church in London's Victoria Docks and lived nearby at Tyne House, 93 Maplin Road. She died of heart failure at 124 Butchers Road, Victoria Docks, London, on 29 November 1949 while preparing to lead a mission service for women.
- photograph, repro. in The Bookman (Feb 1909), 235
Wealth at Death
£6070 11s. 7d.: probate, 27 Jan 1950, CGPLA Eng. & Wales