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Hugh Lofting: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson details the biography and works of author Hugh Lofting, primarily his Doctor Dolittle series. Read the lesson to learn more about this 20th-century British author, then test yourself with the quiz!

Imagination Gone Wild

Do you remember when you were a kid and you talked to your dog? Maybe you talked to your cat, bird, hamster or even ferret. In any case, most of the time you just wanted to get something off your chest, and your pet served as a perfect listener. But imagine if you began speaking in a weird language, and your pet understood?

If this was your fantasy, then you may have been inspired to start conversation with your pet based on The Story of Doctor Dolittle. This book, as well as its subsequent series, is loved by children of all ages, and it has even been made into television and film productions. The author, Hugh Lofting, created this world of imagination for his children, and now children around the world know the tale of Doctor Dolittle.

Biography

Hugh Lofting was born in 1886 in Berkshire, England, as the youngest of two sons (his older brother, Hilary, also became a novelist). But Hugh Lofting did not initially intend to become an author. He attended boarding school in Derbyshire before departing for the United States to study civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became interested in writing. He returned to England after two years to finish college at London Polytechnic, and soon he was traveling all over the world for his civil engineering career. However, this did not satisfy Lofting's desire to write, and in 1912, he moved to New York to begin a writing career.

Hugh Lofting
Portrait of Hugh Lofting

Lofting met his first wife, Flora Small, in 1912. They married the same year and, shortly afterward, had two children. In 1916, Lofting enlisted to fight for England in World War I. As a result of his service, Lofting would be vehemently anti-war for the rest of his life. He was injured in France and sent back to the United States to recuperate.

After his return, Lofting and his family moved to Connecticut in the United States, and Lofting focused on his writing. Flora died in 1927, and Lofting married twice again: to Katherine Harrower Peters, who died the following year of influenza, and then to Josephine Fricker, who gave him a son. The family moved to California, and Lofting's health declined. He continued to write but slowed down a great deal. Lofting passed away at age 61 in 1947.

Books

When Lofting was serving in World War I, he wrote letters to his children at home. He struggled to figure out what to say to them, as he did not want them to realize the horror and danger he faced. It was out of this that he created the character Doctor Dolittle. After Lofting's return from the war, he wrote the first book of the series, The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920), in which Doctor Dolittle sails to Africa and saves a group of monkeys suffering from a disease.

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
The cover of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

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