Image of Mary Brunton


Lifetime: 1778 - 1818 Passed: ≈ 205 years ago





Mary Brunton

Mary Brunton was a Scottish novelist, whose work has been seen as redefining femininity. Fay Weldon praised it as "rich in invention, ripe with incident, shrewd in comment, and erotic in intention and fact."

Mary Balfour (married name Brunton) was the daughter of Colonel Thomas Balfour of Elwick, a British Army officer, and Frances Ligonier, daughter of Colonel Francis Ligonier and sister of the second earl of Ligonier. She was born on 1 November 1778 on Burray in the Orkney Islands. Her early education was limited, but her mother taught her music, Italian and French.

About 1798, she met the Rev. Alexander Brunton, a Church of Scotland minister. Although her mother disapproved of the match, she eloped with Brunton on 4 December 1798, when he rescued her from the island of Gairsay in a rowing boat. He was minister at Bolton, near Haddington, East Lothian, until 1797, then at two successive Edinburgh parishes: New Greyfriars from 1803 and Tron from 1809, becoming in the meantime Professor of Oriental Languages at the University in 1813.

Their marriage was happy, and they had no children. Guided by her husband, she developed an interest in philosophy, and remarked in a letter to her sister-in-law that she was in favour of women learning ancient languages and mathematics, which was still a rare female accomplishment in that period. The couple made a tour to Harrogate and the English Lake District in 1809, although the former did not meet with her approval: "A scene without a hill seems to me to be about as interesting as a face without a nose!" (p. xxxii, Introduction)

Brunton became pregnant at the age of 39. She died at their house, 35 Albany Street in Edinburgh on 12 December 1818, five days after giving birth to a stillborn son.

She is buried against the western boundary wall of Canongate Kirkyard on the Royal Mile. Her husband is buried beside her.

Books by Mary Brunton

Self-Control: A Novel Cover image

Self-Control: A Novel

Marriage Children Death Control Self Reform Religious London Sketches Inspirational

Self-Control is a novel by the Scottish novelist Mary Brunton, published in 1811. The novel, which had some success in its own time, tells a rocambolesque tale, which inspired Jane Austen when she wrote her Plan of a Novel. Part of the author's inten...