Edith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” is born on May 2, 1858 on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. She writes in collaboration with her cousin “Martin Ross” (Violet Martin) under the pseudonym “Somerville and Ross.” Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte, and The Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.
A year after her birth, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.
In January 1886 she meets her cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898 Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Somerville, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.
Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 becomes master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffrage movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the Easter Rising of 1916 breaks out. On May 9, 1916 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism, and as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.
She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.
In 1936 her brother, Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book “Will Mariner” after his death.
Edith Somerville dies at Castletownshend on October 8, 1949, at the age of 91. She is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.