George Chetwynd Griffith (1857-1906)

George Chetwynd Griffith - author of The Angel of the RevolutionGeorge Chetwynd Griffith-Jones was born in Plymouth on 20th August 1857. His father, George Alfred Jones, was a clergyman and his mother, Jeanette Henry Capinster, was a spinster from Bath. In 1861 the family moved to Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester, where Griffith received a sporadic education from his father. He immersed himself in his father’s extensive library, which contained works by Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and Jules Verne. Following his father’s death in January 1872, he was sent to a private school in nearby Southport, where he spent fifteen months.

Griffith then embarked upon a period of youthful adventure when he became an apprentice on a Liverpool merchant vessel. He later remarked that ‘In the 78 days between Liverpool and Melbourne I learnt more of the world than I had learnt in 14 years’. Upon reaching Australia, he deserted his ship, working in various jobs, before taking to the sea again and travelling the world three times. Incredibly, he claimed to have turned down an offer from a Polynesian king to marry one of his daughters. Finally, just short of his twentieth birthday, he returned to England, securing a job at Worthing College, a preparatory school on the south coast. Griffith began writing while teaching in Brighton, a town further along the coast. Using the pen name ‘Lara’, he contributed to the Secular Review in 1883, later that year publishing a collection of poetry entitled Poems under the same pseudonym. A second collection, The Dying Faith, appeared the following year. By this time he was living in Bolton, where he met his wife, Elizabeth Brierly, whom he married in 1887. By 1888, he was living in London, and was involved for a time with a struggling newspaper, the failure of which left him in severe poverty. Fortuitously, he found a job working for Cyril Arthur Pearson, addressing envelopes for Pearson’s Weekly, and Griffith was soon contributing articles to the periodical.

Griffith’s major breakthrough came when his story The Angel of the Revolution was serialised in Pearson’s Weekly between January and October 1893. The Angel of the Revolution immediately established Griffith as a prominent author, and it also raised the circulation of Pearson’s Weekly, leading to an agreement that Griffith would write exclusively for Pearson. The story was published in book form by Tower Publishing in October 1893, and quickly passed through several editions. It was the first best-selling ‘scientific romance’ and Griffith’s success paved the way for subsequent authors of this genre, notably H. G. Wells.

Griffith quickly wrote a sequel called The Syren of the Skies, in which Olga Romanoff, a descendant of the Russian Tsar, builds an aerial fleet to challenge the global order established in The Angel of the Revolution. Urged on by Pearson, Griffith proceeded to circumnavigate the globe, and published an account of his adventures under the title ‘How I Broke the Record Round the World’ in fourteen instalments in Pearson’s Weekly from June 1894. Griffith undertook a series of travel assignments for Pearson, including trips to Peru and South Africa. (His 1897 Britain or Boer? foresaw the Boer War.)

After 1897, Pearson no longer needed Griffith to write scientific romance for him, and instead sought out H. G. Wells (Pearson serialised both The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds.) Griffith turned his attention to the adventure story, publishing two novels in this genre, The Gold Finder and The Virgin of the Sun (both 1898). In 1899, he moved to Littlehampton to indulge his love for sailing. In the same year, he appeared for the first time in Who’s Who, proof that he was now an established writer. Somewhat abruptly, he left for Australia again. On this trip, he wrote A Honeymoon in Space. This work featured a newly-married couple who use a spacecraft powered by anti-gravity to tour the solar system.

Griffith’s health began to deteriorate after 1904, and he moved to the Isle of Man for its more temperate climate. He was in poor health when The Great Weather Syndicate was published in May 1906. Griffith died of cirrhosis of the liver on 4th June, 1906.

Victorian Secrets will publish The Angel of the Revolution in May 2012.