Image of May Sinclair


Lifetime: 1863 - 1946 Passed: ≈ 77 years ago


Novelist, Poet


United Kingdom

May Sinclair

May Sinclair was the pseudonym of Mary Amelia St. Clair a popular British writer who wrote about two dozen novels, short stories and poetry. She was an active suffragist, and member of the Woman Writers' Suffrage League. She once dressed up as a demure, rebel Jane Austen for a suffrage fundraising event. Sinclair was also a significant critic in the area of modernist poetry and prose, and she is attributed with first using the term 'stream of consciousness' in a literary context, when reviewing the first volumes of Dorothy Richardson's novel sequence Pilgrimage (1915–1967), in The Egoist, April 1918.

Sinclair was born in Rock Ferry, Cheshire. Her mother, Amelia Sinclair, was strict and religious; her father, William Sinclair, was a Liverpool shipowner, who went bankrupt, became an alcoholic, and died when Sinclair was still a child. The family moved to Ilford on the edge of London. After one year of education at Cheltenham Ladies College, Sinclair was obliged to look after her brothers, as four of the five, all older than her, were suffering from a fatal congenital heart disease.

From 1896 Sinclair wrote professionally to support herself and her mother, who died in 1901. An active feminist, Sinclair treated a number of themes relating to the position of women and marriage. Her works sold well in the United States.

Around 1913, she was a founding supporter of the Medico-Psychological Clinic in London which was run by Dr Jessie Murray. Sinclair became interested in psychoanalytic thought, and introduced matter related to Sigmund Freud's teaching in her novels. In 1914, she volunteered to join the Munro Ambulance Corps, a charitable organization (which included Lady Dorothie Feilding, Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm) that aided wounded Belgian soldiers on the Western Front in Flanders. She was sent home after only a few weeks at the front; she wrote about the experience in both prose and poetry.

Her 1913 novel The Combined Maze, the story of a London clerk and the two women he loves, was highly praised by critics, including George Orwell, while Agatha Christie considered it one of the greatest English novels of its time.

She wrote early criticism on Imagism and the poet H. D. (1915 in The Egoist); she was on social terms with H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Richard Aldington and Ezra Pound at the time. She also reviewed in a positive light the poetry of T. S. Eliot (1917 in the Little Review) and the fiction of Dorothy Richardson (1918 in The Egoist). Some aspects of Sinclair's subsequent novels have been traced as influenced by modernist techniques, particularly in the autobiographical Mary Olivier: A Life (1919). She was included in the 1925 Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers.

Sinclair wrote two volumes of supernatural fiction, Uncanny Stories (1923) and The Intercessor and Other Stories (1931). E. F. Bleiler called Sinclair "an underrated writer" and described Uncanny Stories as "excellent". Gary Crawford has stated Sinclair's contribution to the supernatural fiction genre, "small as it is, is notable". Jacques Barzun included Sinclair among a list of supernatural fiction writers that "one should make a point of seeking out".Brian Stableford has stated that Sinclair's "supernatural tales are written with uncommon delicacy and precision, and they are among the most effective examples of their fugitive kind." Andrew Smith has described Uncanny Stories as "an important contribution to the ghost story".

Sinclair also wrote non-fiction based on studies of philosophy, particularly idealism. She defended a form of idealistic monism in her book A Defence of Idealism (1917).Sinclair was interested in parapsychology and spiritualism, she was a member of the Society for Psychical Research from 1914.

From the late 1920s she was suffering from the early signs of Parkinson's disease, and ceased writing. She settled with a companion in Buckinghamshire in 1932.

She is buried at St John-at-Hampstead's churchyard, London.

Books by May Sinclair

A Journal of Impressions in Belgium Cover image

A Journal of Impressions in Belgium

Memoir War

In 1914, at the age of 51, the novelist and poet May Sinclair volunteered to leave the comforts of England to go to the Western Front, joining the Munro Ambulance Corps ministering to wounded Belgian soldiers in Flanders. Her experiences in the Great...

A Defence of Idealism  Cover image

A Defence of Idealism

Philosophy Non-Fiction
Twentieth Century 19th century Love War Realism School Poverty Idealism Philosophical Life World Wars

"On the whole, then, the argument from desire and design holds good. It is the weak and inefficient, the unwise in the affairs of life, the bunglers and the failures, the bankrupts and the unhappy lovers who most want to leave off living. Think of th...

The Romantic  Cover image

The Romantic

Romance Novel
Romantic Love Adventure Sex World Wars Humanity Sexuality Extra-Marital Affairs

The Romantic feels modern; in it, our protagonist, Charlotte Redhead, has a sexual affair with her boss. In a way, this affair gives her a sense of power; she feels suddenly like herself. Largely set during the First World War, The Romantic is immedi...

The New Idealism  Cover image

The New Idealism

Realism Idealism Philosophical Modern

The genius of May Sinclair lies in her brilliant bridging of the Victorian and the modern eras, in her determination never to become ossified in an outdated way of thought or of Art. Though a generation older than the famous literati of the postwar e...

Audrey Craven  Cover image

Audrey Craven

Love Young Religion Passion Literary Fiction Horror

In May Sinclair’s remarkable first novel, Audrey Craven is a beautiful young woman who has by her idiosyncrasies acquired a thoroughly undeserved reputation for originality. In fact, Audrey is a shallow, selfish, malleable person of negligible intell...

Life and Death of Harriett Frean  Cover image

Life and Death of Harriett Frean

Fiction Novel
Love Death Romance Sacrifice Life Literary Fiction

Harriett Frean is a well-to-do, unmarried woman living a life of meaningless dependency, boredom, and unproductivity as she patiently cares for her aging parents, waiting for a man to marry. When her opportunity for Love finally comes, she is offered...

The Immortal Moment Cover image

The Immortal Moment

Love Young Struggle Determination political World Wars England Women

It is a story of a young woman named Dinny Cherrell, who falls in love with a man named Wilfred Desert. The novel is set in the aftermath of World War I, a time of great social and political change in England. As Dinny navigates her relationship wit...

The Judgment of Eve Cover image

The Judgment of Eve

Fiction Novel
Marriage Love Fear Passion Desire Emotion Relationships

It explores the complexities of human relationships and the consequences of our choices. The book was first published in 1913 and is considered a classic of modernist literature. Set in England, the story follows the lives of two sisters, Eve and Mu...

The Tree of Heaven Cover image

The Tree of Heaven

Fiction Novel
Literature Challenges Freedom Struggle Feminism Inspirational Suffragette movement Social Justice Expectation

This thought-provoking book explores the themes of feminism, societal expectations, and the quest for personal freedom. Published in 1917, "The Tree of Heaven" offers readers a glimpse into the lives of three women from different backgrounds: the re...

Tasker Jevons: The Real Story Cover image

Tasker Jevons: The Real Story

Fiction Novel
Dream Spirit Passion London Ambition Imagination Existence

Tasker Jevons: The Real Story is a novel by May Sinclair, first published in 1916. The novel revolves around the life of Tasker Jevons, a man who is seemingly ordinary on the outside but harbors a dark secret. Tasker Jevons is a man of contradiction...

Tysons Cover image


Another frank May Sinclair exploration of fin de siècle English love and sex, marriage and adultery, "The Tysons" is the story of the caddish Nevill Tyson and his beautiful but frivolous young wife Molly. Sinclair uses a different narrative voice tha...

Two Sides of a Question Cover image

Two Sides of a Question

Here are two gemlike novellas in one volume, written in May Sinclair’s clearest and cleverest prose and exploring the many ways in which a woman can be held captive, held back from the “intoxication of freedom.” In “The Cosmopolitan,” Frida Tancred i...

Anne Severn and the Fieldings Cover image

Anne Severn and the Fieldings

Written in an era of cheap, formulaic romantic fiction, the nuanced, seditious, quietly erotic novels of May Sinclair stand out like literature from another era entirely. There is romance in “Anne Severn & the Fieldings,” but it’s romance of the best...

Mr. Waddington of Wyck Cover image

Mr. Waddington of Wyck

May Sinclair’s 1921 novel tells the story of the ridiculous Mr. Horatio Bysshe Waddington, a pompous, self-deluded poser making his way through life caring only for the impressions he makes on others. His long-suffering wife Fanny, his secretary Barb...

Combined Maze Cover image

Combined Maze

Ranny Ransome is an idealistic young man, devoted to exuberant gymnastic exercises and to fighting “flabbiness” in his own life, body and soul. He loves the girlish and athletic Winny Dymond, and particularly loves participating with her in the Combi...

Creators:  A Comedy Cover image

Creators: A Comedy

Jane Holland is a genius, the greatest of a group of extraordinary literary friends. She has an intense artistic and intellectual kinship with George Tanqueray, another remarkable novelist. Despite this keen spiritual relationship, both Holland and T...

Flaw in the Crystal Cover image

Flaw in the Crystal

One of May Sinclair’s “uncanny” stories, this novella explores many of Sinclair’s most treasured themes: the bounds of marriage, the conflict between flesh and spirit, the complexity of human emotions in relation to other humans, the practical everyd...

Uncanny Stories Cover image

Uncanny Stories

May Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories is a collection of short stories filled with macabre, romantic, and Gothic themes. Enjoy tales of love and loss, murder, philosophy, and supernatural happenings. Summary by RhiannonD.