Hall, Anna Maria (1800–81), writer, editor, and philanthropist, was born 6 January 1800 in Anne Street, Dublin, the daughter of Sarah Elizabeth Fielding (d. 1856), a widow of Huguenot extraction. Her father, who died in Anna Maria's infancy, came from Co. Wexford. She spent her childhood at the comfortable home of Sarah Fielding's mother and stepfather, George Carr (d. 1823), of Graige, near Bannow, Co. Wexford. After the death of Mrs Carr in 1815, they moved to London, where in September 1824 Anna married the journalist and author Samuel Carter Hall (1800–89). The couple settled in Chelsea and had one daughter, Mary Louisa, who died in infancy. Samuel Carter was born 9 May 1800, at Geneva Barracks, near Waterford; his English-born parents, Robert Hall and Ann (née Kent), later moved to Cork, where his father made an unsuccessful attempt at running a copper mine. Samuel moved to London in 1821 and studied law, but never practised, instead embarking upon a diverse range of journalistic projects. He contributed reviews, art criticism, and gallery and parliamentary reports to a variety of newspapers, among them the British Press, Representative, and New Times, and edited many papers, including the New Monthly Magazine, Britannia, Morning Journal, Manners and Spirit of the Age, and Literary Observer. He also founded and edited the annual the Amulet (1825–37), which eventually became insolvent, leaving him with sizeable debts, but he was perhaps best known as the editor of the Art Union Journal (1839–80), through which he championed contemporary British art.
It was at Samuel's suggestion that Anna Maria began her lengthy and prolific literary career in 1828. Having been encouraged by him to write an account of an old Wexford schoolteacher, he secured publication for the story, entitled ‘Master Ben’, in the Manners and Spirit of the Age. A year later she published her popular first volume, Sketches of Irish character, followed by a second series in 1831. She became a prolific writer, producing hundreds of sketches and stories for many papers, nine novels, and three dramas, as well as maintaining an energetic editorial career. Her most successful works were Irish in subject matter, drawing on memories of her Co. Wexford childhood, and benefiting from the contemporary English vogue for tales of Irish life. In addition to works such as Lights and shadows of Irish life (1838) and Stories of the Irish peasantry (1851), she adapted her story ‘The groves of Blarney’ for a successful dramatic production at the Adelphi Theatre, London (1838), the cast led by Tyrone Power (qv). She resolutely avoided politics in her Irish writing (she was known for wearing green and orange ribbons in her hair), and although this endeared her to English readers, who came to regard her as an authority on Ireland equal to the Banims, William Carleton (qv), and Gerald Griffin (qv), her Irish reception was rather more circumspect. In a review of her novel The Whiteboy (1845), a writer in the Dublin University Magazine identified her literary constituency as ‘respectable English people’, and was highly critical of her tendency to write ‘an Irish novel suitable for their expectations’.
Though her present critical reputation rests largely on her Irish sketches, Anna Maria Hall also produced a large body of novels, drama, children's literature, musical comedies, religious tracts, and short stories unrelated to Ireland. Her plays The French refugee and Mabel's curse had lengthy runs at the St James's Theatre and achieved widespread popularity. She often collaborated with her husband in literary projects, as in the widely-read travelogue Ireland: its scenery, character, etc. (3 vols, 1841–3), and held various editing posts at, among others, the children's annual The juvenile forget-me-not, the St James's Magazine, and Sharpe's London Magazine. Versatile, prolific, and well connected, the Halls made a formidable literary team, and their home (by now in Brompton) became a favourite meeting-place for writers and artists such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, the celebrated soprano Jenny Lind, and Thomas Moore (qv). Though Samuel's political outlook and singular mannerisms often antagonised their guests – Margaret Oliphant described him as ‘a humbug of the old mellifluous Irish kind’ (40), and he is thought to be the model for Pecksniff in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit – Anna Maria was widely esteemed for her kindness and generosity. She was an active philanthropist whose concern for women's working conditions involved her in charities such as the Governesses’ Benevolent Institution, the Home for Decayed Gentlewomen, and the Nightingale Fund. This preoccupation was also frequently apparent in her writing, notably Tales of women's trials (1835) and The old governess (1858). She was essentially conservative in her social and political views, however, arguing that, if ‘women be displaced from their proper sphere, society, high and low, will receive a shock such as must not only convulse, but shatter the fabric’ (Retrospect, 437). She also supported the Brompton Hospital for Consumption, the Chelsea Hospital, street musicians, and teetotalism. Samuel shared many of her charitable concerns, and their joint evangelicalism accommodated an enthusiasm for spiritualism.
Despite their astonishing output (between them they produced well over 400 publications), the Halls’ finances were usually precarious. Some relief was afforded by Anna Maria's civil-list pension of £100, awarded in 1868, and in 1874 (at an occasion celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary) 600 subscribers presented them with another £100 annuity and a gift of £670. Anna Maria's last novel, The fight of faith, appeared in 1869; it was an intemperate attack on the proposed disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, which suggests that her attitudes hardened somewhat with age. She continued to produce pieces of journalism until shortly before her death, on 30 January 1881 at their home, Devon Lodge, East Molesey. Samuel survived her by eight years, living in relative seclusion and writing his memoirs, which appeared in 1883. He died 16 March 1889, at his home in Stanford Road, Kensington, London.
Anna Maria's portrait as a young woman was painted by Daniel Maclise (qv) (1830) and William Brocas (qv). An archive of both writers is held at the University of Iowa.