Susan Ferrier

Other names: 
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
Born 7 Sept. 1782, died 5 Nov. 1854

Susan Ferrier was the daughter of Helen Coutts, and James Ferrier, Writer to the Signet and later Principal Clerk of Session. Born in Edinburgh, she was the youngest daughter among ten surviving children, and was mostly educated at home. Her mother died in 1797, and after her sister Jane’s marriage in 1804, she kept house for her father.

The Ferriers had many literary connections; Sir Walter Scott became a friend of Susan Ferrier’s, and her autograph album contains the signatures of Wordsworth, James Hogg and others. She accompanied her father on business visits to Inveraray where she met and formed a friendship with the 5th Duke of Argyll’s grand-daughter Charlotte Clavering. In 1809, they began planning a novel together. However, apart from one chapter, Susan Ferrier wrote Marriage alone, and it was published anonymously in 1818. It was attributed by many to Walter Scott who publicly praised his ‘sister shadow’, the author of this ‘very lively work’, perhaps innocent of her identity.

Marriage was a success and was followed in 1824 by another novel, The Inheritance, which was largely written at Morningside, where the family spent summers. This, too, was well received. Her third novel, Destiny (1831), was probably written at Stirling Castle where, after her father’s death in January 1829, she stayed for a time with Jane, whose husband was Governor there. Dedicated to Walter Scott, who had negotiated a generous payment (£1,700), this often pungently satirical novel is now somewhat neglected.

Susan Ferrier lived in increasing seclusion as her health, in particular her eyesight, declined. She often had to stay in darkened rooms, and writing was difficult. She became deeply religious, joining the Free Church after the 1843 Disruption and supporting charitable causes, temperance, missions and the emancipation of slaves. Her novels appeared in editions bearing her name for the first time in 1852. Admired by 19th-century critics, they have attracted fresh interest since the later 20th century.

The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women
Based on an entry by Carol Anderson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women