Alice Christiana Gertrude Meynell was born on October 11, 1847, in Barnes, west London, to Thomas Thompson, a lover of literature and friend of Charles Dickens, and Christiana Weller, a noted painter and concert pianist. Thompson insisted on a classical education for his children, who were homeschooled. This education, as well as the verses of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, inspired Meynell to try writing poetry as a teen.
Meynell suffered from poor health throughout her childhood and adolescence. In 1868, while she was recuperating from one of these bouts of illness, she converted to Roman Catholicism. It was also during this time that she fell in love with Father Augustus Dignam, a young Jesuit who had helped with her conversion and received her into the church. Dignam inspired some of her early love poems, including “After a Parting” and the popular “Renouncement.” Meynell and Dignam continued to correspond for two years until they fell out of touch.
In 1875, Meynell published her first poetry collection, Preludes (Henry S. King & Co.), which was received with great success. English poet and novelist Walter de la Mare called her one of the few poets “who actually think in verse.” Two years later she married Wilfred Meynell, another Catholic convert who was working as a journalist for a number of Catholic periodicals in London. He soon became the successful editor of the monthly magazine Merry England. Alice Meynell joined her husband at Merry England as coeditor, helping to keep the magazine at the helm of the Catholic literary revival. Her writing won her the recognition of other members of the literary elite of the time, such as Coventry Patmore, Francis Thompson, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats.
Meynell balanced her time between her journalism work with Merry England, her social life among the literati, her home life (she mothered eight children, one of whom died as an infant), and her social activism. She worked to improve slum conditions and prevent cruelty to animals, but she was best known for her work for women’s rights; Meynell worked with the Women’s Suffrage Movement and fought for workers’ rights for women. During this busy period, Meynell did not write much poetry; her second book, Poems (Elkin Matthews & John Lane, 1893), was published nearly two decades after the release of her debut.
Meynell published several more poetry collections in her lifetime: Ten Poems (Romney Street Press, 1915); Collected Poems of Alice Meynell (Burns and Oates, 1913); Later Poems (John Lane, 1901); and Other Poems, which was self-published in 1896. Restrained, subtle, and conventional in form, Meynell’s poems are reflections on religious spirit and belief, love, nature, and war.
Meynell was twice considered for the post of Poet Laureate of England—upon the deaths of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1892 and Alfred Austin in 1913. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the only other woman who had been considered for the post up to that point.
Meynell continued writing until her death. After a series of illnesses, she died on November 27, 1922. A final collection, Last Poems (Burns and Oates), was published posthumously a year later.