Department of English

Professor Carol Mackay edits new book, "Autobiographical Sketches" by Annie Besant

Fri, October 23, 2009


Annie Wood Besant (1847-1933) was a problematic and notorious figure in Victorian England, questioning and then breaking from the Anglican Church to become an atheist, women's rights advocate, and Freethinker. As editor of her own journal, Our Corner, she responded to inquiries about her life experiences by serializing her life story, which was published in 1885. After providing a vivid account of her trial, along with Charles Bradlaugh, for the right to publish birth control literature, Besant recounts her heartbreaking trial for custody of her daughter. 

With a critical and historical introduction by Carol Hanbery MacKay, this Broadview Edition includes comparative passages from An Autobiography, written in 1893 after Besant's conversion to Theosophy. Contemporary reviews, excerpts from publications about issues such as Socialism and trade unionism, and additional examples of Besant's writing about secularism and labour reform are also included.




"This important edition brings Annie Besant's first autobiographical work back into print. Written before her conversion to Theosophy, Autobiographical Sketches details Besant's remarkable spiritual and political transformation from wife of a Christian clergyman to celebrated campaigner for Freethought, secularism, women's rights, and birth control. Carol Hanbery MacKay's splendid introduction and supplementary materials offer an illuminating context for students and scholars alike. Altogether, the volume is a major contribution to the literature of feminism, autobiography, religion, and radical politics." - Elizabeth Miller, University of California Davis

"'Naughty Annie' (as the press called her) has been ill served by biographers and critics. This meticulous edition of her fascinating first foray into autobiography–before her extraordinary but quintessentially Victorian passage from secularism and Socialism to Theosophy and India–not only allows her to speak again for herself as a woman and a public figure, but, through the rich array of reviews, speeches, essays, and extended passages from her later Autobiography, also allows us to understand her against the full backdrop of her life and the times she helped to change." - Joss Marsh, University of Indiana


Carol Hanbery MacKay is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and Affiliate of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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