Biography and History

Mary Chavelita Bright was born Chavelita Dunne in 1859, in Australia, eldest daughter of Captain John J. Dunne, an Irishman who served in the Maori War in New Zealand and who politically allied himself with the Irish Home Rule party. Capatin Dunne's family often lived by their wits because of his constant indebtedness, and Chavelita took on family responsibilities early in life. A "free spirit" who scorned convention, she travelled to Norway to live with Henry Higginson, a married clergyman, in 1887.

In the two years before Higginson's death, Chavelita learned Norwgian, reading and absorbing the ideas of Ibsen, Strindberg, Olaf Hansson, and Knut Hamsun. Returning to London in 1890, she translated Hamsun's Hunger, beginning her literary career. She married George Egerton Clairmonte, a Newfoundlander, "idle and penniless" in 1891. As her biographer, Terence deVere White, notes, "She was to take [Clairmonte's] first two names as a non-de-plume... the only provision that he ever made for her... Her elopement with Higginson gave her the material for a book; her second husband, by his dependence on her, gave her the motive to employ it."

In 1893, Keynotes, a collection of stories written from the point of view of an "emancipated" woman, in the tradition of Ibsen's A Doll's House, was published by Elkin Matthews aided by Aubrey Beardsley's provocative cover, shocked the turn-of-the-century audience and created a whirl of speculation as to the identity of its author, "George Egerton." Success quickly promoted Chavelita into the literary realm of the "Yellow Book Circle." John Lane, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, and Richard LeGallienne were among those who made the acquaintance of "George Egerton." A second book, Discords, published in 1894, was also a success for John Lane. Chavelita's marriage to Clairmonte, however, deteriorated even as her literary success grew. It ended with a divorce in 1901. The had one son, George, born in 1895.

George Egerton's vogue waned quickly, however, as other women writers followed Bright's lead, writing in a similar feminist vein. By 1896, Mary Chavelita Bright's confidence in her literary worth had floundered; her writing, based on her experience, lacked direction. While Keynotes was known as a success, her later writings never fulfilled promises of greater expectations.

Chavelita married Reginald Golding Bright, a drama critic fifteen years her junior, in 1901, at the same time turning her creative attention to the stage, translating and writing plays with feminist themes ( His Wife's Family by Pierre Loti and Bernstein's The Attack, The Beautiful Adventure, and La Rafale). The marriage with Golding Bright was a moderate success, but George Egerton's plays failed. With her last play, Camilla States Her Case (1925), George Egerton disappeared from the literary world. Mary Chavelita Bright lived quietly, without fanfare, preferring solitude and her memories to society's distraction until her death in 1945.

Source: From the finding aid for C0105

  • Selected Papers of Mary Chavelita Bright. 1876-1950 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0105

    Mary Chavelita Bright (pseudonym George Egerton) was a writer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her papers include manuscripts, biographical notes, family correspondence, and letters to Bright from literary and theatrical figures.