Julia Kavanagh was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, the only child of Morgan Kavanagh, a poet and philologist, and his wife Bridget. As an infant, she was taken by her parents to London, and then to Paris, where she was educated and lived until she was about 20 years old. Her familiarity with, and enjoyment of, French life and culture later became central to her literary career. In 1844, she and her mother went to London, where she supported them both with her writing. Her first published book was Three Paths (1847), a story for young people. Madeleine, a Tale of Auvergne (1848) made her reputation. During her career, she published about 20 novels. She also was a prolific contributor of sketches and stories to periodicals such as Argosy magazine. She wrote a number of biographical works, including Women in France during the Eighteenth Century (1850), French Women of Letters (1862), and English Women of Letters (1862). She and her mother again went to live in Paris in the early 1860s, but moved to Rouen and then to Nice at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. She died there in 1877 at age 54.