Early life and education
Sara Hennell was born on 23 November 1812 at 2 St Thomas's Square, Hackney. She was the seventh (of eight) children in the Unitarian family of James and Elizabeth Hennell (born Marshall). Her mother had been born in Loughborough in the East Midlands in 1778 and had the maiden name of Marshall. Her father was born in 1778 and he had become a partner in the Manchester merchants of Fazy & Co. Sara's eldest sister was Mary Hennell and her youngest was Caroline Hennell. The sisters are considered to be the basis for the fictional Meyrick family in George Eliot's 1876 novel Daniel Deronda.
In 1836, Charles Bray married her sister Caroline. After his sister's marriage to Bray, a thoroughgoing skeptic, her brother Charles Hennell reviewed the evidences for Christian beliefs to parry his brother-in-law's argument. The result of the examination was that he became a sceptic himself, and in 1838 published an Enquiry concerning the Origin of Christianity in defence of his conclusions. Sara also increasingly became a skeptic too.
In 1851, she and her mother left Hackney in London, and moved to Ivy Cottage in Coventry in the Midlands. Ivy Cottage was adjacent to Rosehill, in which the Rosehill Circle met and where Sara's sister Cara and her husband Charles Bray. Sara become governess to her nephew, Franks and the Brays' adopted daughter.
Friendship with George Eliot
In 1842, at Rosehill, Bray's house in Coventry, she first Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot). They corresponded constantly for the following twelve years. Evan's endearments including "Beloved Achates" to "Cara Sposa" indicate their intimacy.
Having met David Strauss when travelling in Germany with the Brabants in 1844, Sara declined to translate Strauss' Das Leben Jesu and instead agreed to revise the work of her sister-in-law Rufa, and then of Evans, to whom the task of translation was passed in 1844. In 1854, Evans also consulted Hennell over her translation of Feuerbach.
At the end of their "German period", the theological and political paths of Sara and Evans diverged (Hennell was an active campaigner for women's rights), until by 1869 Evans noted herself "irritated" during her friend's increasingly rare visits. However, their association continued, and the Hennell sisters are considered to be the basis for the Meyrick sisters - Kate, Amy and Mab - in George Eliot's 1876 novel Daniel Deronda.
- Christianity and Infidelity, Hall, Virtue, London, 1857
- Present Religion as a Faith owning Fellowship with Thought, Trubner & Co, London, in three volumes in 1865, 1873 and 1887
- Thoughts in Aid of Faith, George Manwaring, London, 1865