Novelist Mary St Leger Kingsley (1852-1931) was born in Hampshire, England, third of four children of social reformer Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Frances Eliza Grenfell. Mary's writing under the pseudonym Lucas Malet began at the end of the Victorian Age and carried through the Edwardian Age into the Modernist Period. During her lifetime her critical acclaim rivaled well known authors such as Rudyard Kipling. She was called the best woman novelist since George Eliot, whose writings and approach to female authorship influenced Mary. Yet after Mary's death her writings fell into obscurity. Her father, niece, and cousin were all writers, but to date Mary has been the least studied of the Kingsley authors.
Early in life Mary was educated at home, and she studied art under Sir Edward Poynter. In 1876 she married Reverend William Harrison, her father's curate, and left behind her artistic career. Unfortunately the marriage was unhappy and childless; the couple soon amicably separated.
Mary wished to stand on her own laurels as a writer and not on that of her published relatives, so she combined two little-known family names into Lucas Malet as her pseudonym. Critical success came with her second novel, Colonel Enderby's Wife (1885), which dealt with a failed marriage. Her novels were intelligent, daring, and sometimes controversial, based on educated and artistic characters who confronted philosophical problems and harsh social issues. Her novel The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901), considered a masterpiece, shocked some readers because of its daring treatment of physical deformity and relationships. She continued to write works that dealt with ugly or brutal aspects of life. But she had many critical admirers, one of whom was author Henry James, who became a close personal friend. It has also been argued that Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure was influenced by Malet's 1891 novel, The Wages of Sin.
Mary Harrison traveled abroad frequently with her cousin (and adopted daughter), Gabrielle Vallings. She spent much of her later life in France as part of high literary circles. She had a great knowledge of French literature, and particularly admired the works of Gustave Flaubert. It was during this time that her most commercially successful novels were written, some under the pressure of needing income.
Despite Mary's success, it wasn't enough, and she died in penury in Wales in 1931 of colon cancer. She had written at least seventeen novels, two books of short fiction, many short stories, literary essays and poems, as well as completed one of father's novels. She remains little known today, which her biographer Patricia Lundberg calls a great loss to the literary world.