The True Love Story of Hilaire Belloc and Elodie Hogan
“The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth” – William Shakespeare
Much attention is focused upon the love stories of Edgar Allan and Virginia Poe and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning when discussing great love stories of the 19th century, while the love story of Anglo-French writer, Hilaire Belloc and his Irish-American wife, Elodie Hogan, is often overlooked. It is, however, a touching and romantic tale and the Bellocs actually faced more obstacles than the Poes and the Brownings. For one thing, they lived on two different continents when they met.
Hilaire Belloc was born in 1870 as Joseph Hilaire Pierre Belloc in France, the son of English writer, Elizabeth “Bessie” Parkes and French attorney, Louis Swanton Belloc. On his mother’s side, Hilaire was descended from English scientist, Joseph Priestly. His paternal grandparents were French painter, Jean-Hilaire Belloc and Irish/French writer, Louise Swanton Belloc, who translated many authors into French. After the death of their father while they were very young, Hilaire and his older sister, Marie, grew up primarily in England.
Elodie Agnes Hogan was born in 1868 in Napa, California, the child of Irish parents. At the time she met Hilaire Belloc, her mother, Ellen, was already a widow. Mrs. Hogan and her daughters had previously befriended Hilaire’s sister and mother. Hilaire encountered the beautiful American girl on her second visit with the Belloc women in 1890, and fell in love at first sight. He squired the young woman around London during her visit and she reciprocated his attentions.
The young couple’s first huge obstacle, similar to the Brownings, was parental opposition. Mrs. Belloc felt Hilaire was too young to contemplate marriage. Elodie’s mother did not want her to forsake her calling to a religious life and would put a great deal of pressure on her daughter in that regard. Mrs. Hogan also thought Hilaire’s financial prospects rather poor. The long distance aspect of their relationship was another problem which they tried to overcome with correspondence. Hilaire vowed to find a way to visit Elodie in California and in 1891, he sold all his belongings to raise money for the trip. Hilaire’s journey to Napa to win Elodie’s hand was far from successful and he left with little more than a “think-it-over” promise. He journeyed back to the East Coast, earning his way, and by the time he made it to Montclair, New Jersey, he received a letter from Elodie declining his proposal. Hilaire returned despondently to England, but filled up the next several years by serving in the French artillery and attending Oxford, where he distinguished himself through his oratorical skills.
In the meantime, Ellen Hogan passed away, but even so, by April 1895, Elodie decided to join a Maryland convent and to set Hilaire free once and for all. It only took a few weeks for Elodie to realize she was not where she belonged and that her love for Hilaire was far from infatuation. The following year, Hilaire sailed to America again. He worked his way to California only to find Elodie seriously ill upon his arrival. He collapsed himself at the prospect of losing her after all they had been through. The couple recuperated and were married on June 15, 1896 in St. John the Baptist Church in Napa, California. It was a long road of joys, sorrows and close calls from the spring meeting in 1890 when Cupid’s arrow first pierced Hilaire’s heart. That same year, Hilaire published “The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts,” which included such gems as:
“The Big Baboon is found upon
The plains of Cariboo:
He goes about with nothing on
A shocking thing to do.”
The book was an instant financial success, making Hilaire Belloc as popular as Robert Louis Stevenson with a “Child’s Garden of Verses.” The first edition sold out in 4 days and is one of his books that remains popular to this day.
In a novel, Hilaire and Elodie would have lived happily ever after but true life is often more harsh than fiction. They did enjoy a full and happy marriage for 18 years and had 5 children together. Elodie became seriously ill towards the end of 1913 and passed away at age 45 in February of 1914. Like Robert Browning, Hilaire survived his wife by a great number of years but never remarried.