Better known by her pen name Mrs Pender Cudlip, Annie Hall Cudlip was considered one of the most prolific romantic fiction writers of the Victorian era. She was also an early sweetheart of Sir William Schwenck Gilbert.
Annie Hall Thomas was born on 25th October 1838. The only daughter of George Thomas, a gentleman officer from County Cork and lieutenant in the British Royal Navy. She took to writing at the age of 24, once her family moved to Morston, Norfolk. Her first novel, ‘The Cross of Honour’ was published in 1863 and she followed this with her first three-volume novel ‘Sir Victor’s Choice’ and ‘Barry O’Byrne’ three months later.
A prolific Victorian novelist
Writing was a full-time and financially lucrative career for Annie. She was a prolific writer and it was said she could write a three-volume novel in 6 weeks. Annie had a modern mind. Her heroines were independent and unconventional, often impetuous, but always attractive, with many being vagabonds or actresses. In total, Annie wrote and published over 100 novels. She also wrote many short stories, articles and verses.
A popular writer, Annie met W.S. Gilbert after her first novel was published. They became friends, possibly because she shared his slightly wry view of the world. They both preferred kindness over propriety and she wrote with a slight ironic, satirical tone in her novels.
An early sweetheart of W.S. Gilbert
It is said, In Jane W. Stedman’s book entitled ‘W.S. Gilbert – A classic Victorian & his Theatre’ (Oxford University Press, 1996) that Annie’s hero Roydon Fleming, (in her 1866 novel, ‘Played Out’), was based on W.S. Gilbert. He is described as having ‘the art of wording nonsense epigrammatically’ and also as ‘belonging to journalistic Bohemia, where his highest ambition at the moment, is to have a burlesque produced.’ Annie modelled her hero on someone she knew well, who she found attractive and who ‘had better brains than most young men’. She also described her hero as having a sense of humour and a tolerable command of brilliant language.
W.S. Gilbert proposed to Annie in 1866. Unfortunately, he was rebuffed by her widowed mother. This could be, in part, due to his connection to the stage and his bohemianism manner. On 9th June 1866, Gilbert published a piece in Fun magazine, entitled ‘To My Bride (whoever she may be)’. This implied that he hadn’t taken the rejection lightly – something that was further illustrated, in his reply to Annie’s correspondence to him, the following summer.
Annie wrote to Gilbert the following summer, informing him of her impending marriage to a curate and theology author, Pender Hodge Cudlip. Gilbert expressed his irritation and jealousy over their marriage (albeit in a rather jocular tone) in his reply, voicing how easily Mrs Thomas has obviously found it, to give her consent.
Nevertheless, Gilbert got over his rejection. Meeting Lucy Agnes Blois Turner the following year. She was eleven years younger than Gilbert and someone he’d known since she was 16.
Annie’s later life
Annie continued writing until the start of the 20th century. However, she began experiencing financial problems and applied to the Royal Literary Fund in 1907 and 1908, later claiming that the highest offer she’d received for a novel in that time was £15. Annie and Pender had three children together – Daisy, Ethel and Eric. Annie Hal Cudlip died on 24th November 1918 – after surviving her husband by seven years.