Grant Allen

Grant Allen books and biography


Grant Allen


Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen (February 24, 1848 - October 25, 1899) was a science writer, author and novelist; an able upholder of the evolution doctrine and an expounder of Darwinism.

Born near Kingston, Ontario, Canada, the son of an emigrant Anglo-Scottish Protestant minister, he studied in the United Kingdom and France and in his mid twenties became a professor at Queen's College in Jamaica.

Despite his religious father, Allen became an agnostic and a socialist. After leaving his professorship, in 1876 he returned to the UK, where he turned his talents to writing, gaining a reputation for his essays on science and for literary works.

His first books were on scientific subjects, and include Physiological Æsthetics (1877) and Flowers and Their Pedigrees (1886). He was first influenced by associationist psychology as it was expounded by Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer, the latter often considered the most important individual in the transition from associationist psychology to Darwinian functionalism. In Allen's many articles on flowers and perception in insects, Darwinian arguments replaced the old Spencerian terms. On a personal level, a long friendship that started when Allen met Spencer on his return from Jamaica, also grew uneasy over the years. Allen wrote a critical and revealing biographical article on Spencer that was published after Spencer was dead.

After assisting Sir W. W. Hunter in his Gazeteer of India in the early 1880s, Allen turned his attention to fiction, and between 1884 and 1899 produced about 30 novels. In 1895, his scandalous book titled The Woman Who Did, promulgating certain startling views on marriage and kindred questions, became a bestseller. The book told the story of an independent woman who has a child out of wedlock.

Another work, The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897), propounding a theory of religion on heterodox lines, has the disadvantage of endeavoring to explain everything by one theory. This "ghost theory" was often seen as a derivative of Herbert Spencer's theory. However, it was well known and brief references to it can be found in a review by Marcel Mauss, Durkheim's nephew, in the articles of William James and in the works of Sigmund Freud.

He was also a pioneer in Canadian science fiction, with the 1895 novel The British Barbarians. This book, published about the same time as H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine", also described time travel, although the plot is quite different.

Many histories of detective fiction also mention Allen as an innovator. His gentleman rogue, the illustrious Colonel Clay, is seen as a forerunner to later characters. In fact, Allen's character bear strong resemblance to Maurice Leblanc's French works about Arsene Lupin, published many years later.

Allen was married twice and had one son. He died at his home on Hindhead, Haslemere, Surrey, England on October 25, 1899. His unfinished novel "Hilda Wade" was completed, at his request, by his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

An annual festival celebrating Canadian mystery fiction is held annually on Wolfe Island, near Kingston, Allen's birthplace.


Partial bibliography

  • Physiological Æsthetics (1877)
  • Philistia - (1884)
  • Babylon - (1885)
  • Flowers and Their Pedigrees (1886)
  • The Devil's Die - (1888)
  • The White Man's Foot - (1888)
  • The Great Taboo - (1891)
  • The British Barbarians - (1895)
  • The Woman Who Did - (1895)
  • An African Millionaire - (1897)
  • The Evolution of the Idea of God - (1897)
  • Miss Cayley's Adventures - (1899)
  • Hilda Wade - (1900)
  • Colour Sense
  • Evolutionist at Large
  • Colin Clout's Calendar
  • Story of the Plants
  • In All Shades
  • Paris



  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton.
  • Barbara Arnett Melchiori, Grant Allen: The Downward Path which Leads to Fiction (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 2000), ISBN 88-8319-526-4
  • Peter Morton, "The Busiest Man in England" : Grant Allen and the Writing Trade, 1875-1900" London: Palgrave, 2005.
  • Edward Clodd, "Grant Allen: A Memoir"
  • Grant Allen, "My First Book. With an Introduction by Jerome K. Jerome." London Chatto & Windus, 1894


External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Grant Allen


  • Works by Grant Allen at Project Gutenberg
  • The Grant Allen Website

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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An African Millionaire

Biographies Of Working Men

Hilda Wade

Michael's Crag


Recalled To Life

The British Barbarians

The Great Taboo

The Woman Who Did

What's Bred In The Bone

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