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Mary E. Mann, née Rackham, (August 14, 1848-May 19, 1929) was an English writer of novels and short stories, primarily on themes of poverty and rural English life.
Mary Rackham was born in Norwich, Norfolk. After her marriage to a farmer, Fairman J. Mann, she moved to Shropham village. Her husband was a churchwarden and parish guardian; she also became involved with the Union Workhouse, and visited the sick and other unfortunates of the parish, her observations and experiences informing her stories.
She took up writing in the 1880s with the guidance of an in-law relative, Thomas Fairman Ordish. Her first novel, The Parish of Hilby (1883) began a career lasting some 35 years during which she produced 40 works that focused on the experiences of Norfolk yeoman farmers during the late 19th century agricultural and economic upheaval.
After her husband's death in 1913, she moved to Sheringham, where she died aged 70. Her grave is in Shropham churchyard.
Shropham was renamed 'Dulditch' in her novels, reflecting her view of the village as isolated and bleak. Formerly regarded as a novelist belonging to the ‘earthy’ rural genre, her short stories in Tales of Victorian Norfolk are grim but authentic accounts of poverty and deprivation. Often described by some as Norfolk's Thomas Hardy, Mann was admired by D. H. Lawrence.
Novels include Mrs Day's Daughters, and The Patten Experiment (1899) where a group of well-meaning middle class folk try to live on a labourer's wage for a week.
Her work has recently been rediscovered as a major contributor to East Anglian literature, championed among others by A. S. Byatt, who in 1998 included her story Little Brother in The Oxford Book of English Short Stories.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography considers her best work to be not her novels but short fiction written in the 1890s such as Ben Pitcher's Elly, Dora o' the Ringolets and The Lost Housen, arguing them to be the equal of Hardy's but based on a matter-of-fact mood rather than Hardy's "vengeful determinism"
Some of her novels are still in print.
In 2005 theatre company Eastern Angles used a collection of her characters and stories to create a new play A Dulditch Angel. It was directed by Orla O'Loughlin and written by Steven Canny.