Australian novelist
Born 1897 Died 1940

Helen de Guerry Simpson was born on the 1st December 1897 in Sydney, the fourth and youngest child of a local solicitor Edward Percy Simpson, and his wife Anna Maria Alexandra Guerry, daughter of the French Marquis de Guerry de Lauret. Her parents separated when she was quite young and while her mother went to live in Lindon, Simpson remained in Australia where she was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Rose Bay (1910-11, 1913) and to Abbotsleigh (1911-12).

In April 1914 she came to Britain to live with her mother and attended the Society of Oxford Home Students (later St Anne's College, Oxford), Where she read French. In April 1918 she joined the Women's Royal Naval Service and worked in the decoding office at the Admiralty but returned to Oxford in September 1919 to study music, with the apparent intention of becoming a composer. During her second stint at Oxford she developed an interest in the theatre and founded the Oxford Women's Dramatic Society, but was sent down without completing her degree in 1921, for apparently breaking the regulations which prohibited male and female students from acting together.

Simpson returned to Australia in 1921 to attend her brother's wedding where a slim volume of poetry, Philosophies in Little was published at Sydney in a limited edition in 1921. She also wrote a play, A Man of his Time, based on the life of Benvenuto Cellini, for a literary competition being run by the Daily Telegraph which was performed at Sydney by Gregan McMahon and published there by Angus and Robertson in 1923. On her return to Britain her first novel, a detective story Acquittal was published in 1925. This was followed by a volume of collected short stories The Baseless Fabric and another novel Cups, Wands and Swords (1927), which combined her principal interests of detection and withcraft. Further novels followed but despite being capably written none of them were very successful.

It was not until Boomerang was published in 1932 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize that she became established as an author. She later diversified into writing works of historical biography such as volume on Henry VIII which appeared in 1934, The Waiting City a selection of her own translations from Le Tableau de Paris by Louis-Sebastien Mercier, books on household management such as The Happy Housewife, and historical novels set in colonial New South Wales. Simpson also wrote three detective novels in collaboration with Clemence Dane.

Simpson visited Australia again in 1937 to promote her latest novel Under Capricorn, and produces a series of broadcasts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. On her return to Britain in the following year she was chosen as the Liberal Party candidate for the Isle of Wight but never had the opportunity to contest the seat as she later became seriously ill and died of cancer on the 14th October 1940 at Overbury in Worcestershire, and was buried in the village churchyard.

Helen Simpson was married to Denis John Browne, a fellow Australian who became a consultant surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They had an only daughter named Clemence born on the 1st November 1928. Known for her forceful personality and for such mannerisms as taking snuff, she was a notedcollector of books on cookery and witchcraft.

Alfred Hitchcock filmed her Enter Sir John as Murder! in 1930 and also directed an adaptation of Under Capricorn in 1949.



With Clemence Dane



Non fiction


Alan Roberts, 'Simpson, Helen de Guerry (1897 - 1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, 1988, pp 611-612.
Serle, Percival. 'Simpson, Helen'. Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1949.

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