inah Maria Mulock, who later became Mrs. George Lillie Craik, was born on 20 April 1826. Her father was at the time pastor of an independent nonconformist chapel in Stoke-on-Trent. But the stereotype called up by the phrase "a country clergyman's daughter," which has often been applied to Craik, conveys a grossly inaccurate picture of her early life. Margaret Oliphant's description of Craik's father as a man "whose profession of extreme Evangelical religiousness was not carried out by his practice" (Margaret Oliphant, "Mrs. Craik", Macmillan's Magazine, 57, 1887, p. 82.) only begins to hint at the man's character. He was known to his contemporaries as "Bloody Moloch" and also as "Muley." Both epithets seem justified.
Thomas Mulock was born in Dublin; his family were minor Irish gentry. By about 1812 he was in business as a merchant in Liverpool. The period at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was politically turbulent. Radicalism and democratic reform were afoot; there were riots, demonstrations, and mass meetings of the hungry and disenfranchised. Mulock became a vocal supporter of the other — the reactionary — side. He was known in Liverpool as a brilliant public speaker and a writer of vitriolic letters to the Courier. Some of his satiric pieces about the Radical orator Henry Hunt, which were printed in the London Sun in 1816, were much admired by George Canning (who had not yet matured into the liberalism he was to exhibit as Foreign Secretary). Mulock is said to have been for a time Canning's private secretary.
Evangelical revivalism was also in the air in the postwar years. Before long Mulock came under its influence. In 1817, at the age of twenty-seven, he matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, perhaps intending to take up holy orders. His Oxford career did not last [1/2] long (if indeed it ever began). He began to spew out pamphlets setting forth what one contemporary called "original views on the subjects of theology and Christian practice." (Rev. David Thorn, quoted in Reade, p. 43).
In 1820 Mulock gave a set of lectures on English literature at Geneva and Paris. He had not, however, abandoned his religious fervor; he criticized literature on the basis of the scriptural accuracy displayed by its authors. He pursued his prey by letter as well as lecture; Lord Byron reported that Mulock "wrote to me several letters upon Christianity, to convert me; and, if I had not been a Christian already, I should probably have been now, in consequence. I thought there was something of wild talent in him, mixed with a due leaven of absurdity. . . " (Moore, II, 383).
By 1821 Mulock was in England's industrial midlands, a fertile field for dissenting evangelists. William and Mary Howitt, a writing couple interested in the working class, went to hear him preach in the upper room of a china factory in Stoke-on-Trent. The congregation was mixed; there were several "ladies of wealth" and the rest were potters in their working clothes. The preacher was young and handsome, wearing a blue coat with gilt buttons, a buff waistcoat, and white trousers, his linen impeccable and his "delicately formed" hands adorned with rings. And, as Mary Howitt reported, "In his harangue he plainly intimated to us, that since the days of the apostles, the true faith had been revealed to no one but Thomas Mulock." (Howitt, II, 152-53)
Mulock was at this time lodging in a cottage between Stoke and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The widow of a prosperous Newcastle tanner lived next door with her three unmarried daughters. On 7 June 1825, one of the daughters, Dinah Mellard, was married to Thomas Mulock. The bride was past thirty; the groom dressed in white from head to foot on his wedding day. Dinah Mulock, born the next year, was their eldest child. Her brothers Tom and Benjamin followed at eighteen-month intervals in 1827 and 1829.
Since Mulock was not a staid rural clergyman with a secure living, but rather a charismatic preacher dependent on the favor of his congregation, and a contentious, opinionated, and undependable man, his daughter's childhood was anything but secure. The congregation built their preacher a handsome chapel, but at the same time he was constantly borrowing money — which he never repaid — from his friend William Reade (who married another of Mrs. Mellard's daughters). The money went for furniture, for stair carpeting, [2/3] for a blue topcoat and wool hose, for turkeys to eat and heavy Christmas bills to settle — and also for the expenses of lawsuits. Mulock finally destroyed his golden goose by engaging him in a long argumentative correspondence which ended with a public denunciation of Reade from the pulpit of the Stoke chapel as "a blasphemer and the greatest heretic that had arisen since the days of the Apostles." (Reade, Notes and Queries, p. 501.)
The subject of this desperate controversy was the exact number of Job's sufferings. Mulock's religious writings reveal him to have been a fundamentalist of the most easily satirized sort, whose every sentence is liberally sprinkled with scriptural citations. A portion of his congregation was railed off to hold the Elect; the unsaved sat beyond the pale. His hold on the Stoke congregation was brief (perhaps, indeed, his popularity with the "wealthy ladies" suffered after his marriage) and was before long brought to an end by debt and contentiousness. By the time Dinah Mulock reached her sixth year the chapel building had been taken over by the Quakers, Mulock had been briefly confined to the lunatic asylum, and the family had moved to Newcastle.
The childhood that Dinah Mulock remembered, then, was spent in a terraced house in Newcastle-under-Lyme. One of her essays paints a pleasant picture of its freedoms. The grown-ups were too busy to provide much supervision (and there was no nursemaid looking after the children); boys and girls alike were sent out to play with a blue print pinafore and "trousers" protecting their clothes. On the green and in the field behind the house the children played ball, prisoners' base, and marbles. They built a playhouse in the garden, where they had a fire and roasted potatoes; they dug deep holes in the field for no purpose except to sit in them; they laid elaborate plans to sneak out at night but made the tactical error of going to bed with no complaints and were discovered fully dressed — boots and all — under their nightgowns ("Going out to Play,"). These recollections were written in a magazine article appealing for contributions to build playgrounds in slum neighborhoods, but the tone suggests also Craik's criticism of the inhibiting over-supervision that urban middle-class parents imposed on their children — and especially their daughters.
Dinah Mulock was educated at Brampton House Academy, a day school near her home. The academic quality of the curriculum is unknown, although, judging from her later accomplishments, it [3/4] may have included both French and Latin. An essay on her private childhood reading reveals no particularly deep studies. The earliest books that she adored were cheap woodcut-illustrated copies of the adventure classics — Sindbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe — and narratives of travel and exploration, including George Lillie Craik's New Zealanders. The Mulock family were too poor to buy books, and the ones that found their way into the house on loan were chiefly pragmatic; "our elders," she wrote, had "a far stronger bias towards science, mathematics, and general solid knowledge, than towards art or the poetical side of literature" ("Want Something to Read," p. 291). There were no fairy tales. Dinah pored with her brothers over the Boy's Own Book and the Boy's Book of Science and regretted that they had no money to do the experiments. The Mulock children could borrow Chambers's Edinburgh Journal from a neighbor, but they fought so much over who would read it first that they were finally forbidden to bring it into the house.
At some point someone — perhaps an aunt — began to read aloud from Shakespeare, Chaucer, and modern verse. Then, during a winter when the children were shut up indoors with measles, whooping cough, and chicken pox in succession, a friendly bookseller supplied them with stock from his lending library. At the point of transition into adolescence, the future novelist became a fanatic novel-reader: Jane Austen, Mrs. Opie, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Sir Walter Scott, and the earliest installments, month-by-month, of Charles Dickens fed her fancies. By the age often she had written a long poem about her cat Rose entertaining at a supper party and at twelve she was inventing stories to amuse a child she had to look after — and when the child took to waking her at 4 A.M. to beg for another story she quickly learned to build her inventions around the moral of unselfishness ("The Age of Gold," p.297).
Educationally, then, Dinah Mulock had neither the restricted and trivial accomplishments of the young lady with a finishing governess nor the systematic learning imbibed by some of her contemporaries whose fathers undertook seriously to supervise their education at home. Her reading was eclectic; the epigraphs to her first novel include quotations from Shakespeare and Plutarch, Spenser and Coleridge, the working-class poet Kirke White, and the Americans Longfellow and Lowell, from an assortment of Jesuits, martyrs, and bishops — and from Joanna Baillie and Margaret Fuller. But she seldom pursued a subject deeply; she later told a reporter that she [4/5] did not read much because she found people more interesting than books (Harrison, p.538).
Just what Thomas Mulock was doing to support his family in these Newcastle years is not known. His wife had a small income from her father's will and, before long, was augmenting — or perhaps providing — the family purse by keeping a school. By the time she entered her teens Dinah Mulock had enough education to become her mother's assistant. A solicitor in Hanley many years later was fond of telling friends that he had received his first lessons in Latin from the little girl who grew up to be a famous novelist. Thus she discovered young that women could earn money and also, probably, that teaching was not particularly pleasant: she told a friend that the boys "would have had more respect for her if she had not been forced to go among them with the bare neck and arms of the thirteen-years-old girl of the period." (Reade, Mellards, p. 56.)
London and Literature
In the summer of 1839 Thomas Mulock's mother-in-law died. On the strength of the money his wife inherited, Mulock moved the family to London. There life was for a time more comfortable. The boys were sent to school; Dinah Mulock studied languages (including Italian and Greek) with them, learned Irish from a friend of her father's, and, during 1843, went daily from 11 to 2 to learn drawing at the Government School of Design at Somerset House.
Thomas Mulock's theology did not forbid the lighter pleasures. He became acquainted with Charles Mathews, manager of Covent Garden, who allowed the Mulock family the use of a box at the theatre from time to time. Dinah met actors and comedians at the Mathews's; she went to dances and parties and, adolescent that she was, came home to cry because she had been a wallflower (Showalter, "Dinah Mulock Craik", p.9).
More important, her father's contacts allowed her to meet women and men who worked at the profession of literature. George Lovell and his wife Maria, both successful dramatists, were friends, as was the young poet Eliza Leslie. The most significant of the new acquaintances were Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall, an industrious couple who were responsible, between the two of them, for over five hundred volumes of tales, novels, juveniles, snippet anthologies, and verse-and-prose pictures of the beauties of practically any geographical area one could name. They lived in Brompton, near where [5/6] the Mulocks were staying in Earls Court Terrace. Mrs. S. C. Hall was also Irish and, although a laborer in the cause of temperance, gave weekly soirees at which Dinah Mulock could meet other authors and painters who belonged to the provincial, nonconformist, and commercial middle class of the London cultural world.
Thomas Mulock was again writing pamphlets on subjects both religious and political. He held a succession of vague posts with short-lived organizations; in 1842 it was the "National Employment and Education Society" and in 1843 the "Institution for Assisting Heirs-at-Law," which he felt called upon to defend against charges that it was merely a scheme for mulcting hopeful inheritors. When Mrs. Mulock's mother died, Mulock had been persuaded by those who had a sound view of his wife's best interests to allow her inheritance to be put into a trust administered by two Newcastle merchants. In those days — more than thirty years before the first Married Women's Property Act — anything belonging to a wife was automatically her husband's; the trust arrangement could not reserve the money to her own use, but it could at least assure that the interest would be paid only at her request, and that the principal would remain intact to be passed to her children after she died.
Mulock spent a good deal of effort in the early 1840s trying to break the deed he had executed. He claimed to believe that the trust was merely a device for enriching rascally lawyers; clearly, he very much regretted having done the decent thing and wanted desperately to get his hands on his wife's capital. The trustees did make various advances to Mrs. Mulock in excess of the interest due to her; the largest, in 1842, was for 176 pounds.
In that year, 1842, Mrs. Mulock's health began to fail, and Dinah, at the age of sixteen, had to assume most of the housekeeping duties. In 1844 she took her mother on a visit to Staffordshire, possibly in search of health but possibly, also, because the household was on the verge of collapse. Mulock entered his name on the books of Gray's Inn, apparently with a wild idea of becoming a lawyer himself. He also became secretary to the Manchester-London Direct Railway scheme, a speculative balloon which soon came crashing down. On 17 April 1845 the husband of one of Mrs. Mulock's sisters wrote to the husband of another:
In confidence I am sorry to inform you that all is up with poor Mulock. His wife, who cannot live long, and his daughter, I saw in this neighbourhood [6/7] a day or two since on their way to Newcastle to set up a school again, as soon as Mrs. M. is able. Mr. M. will in all probability go through the Insolvent Court; he wants to avoid it by getting his wife's money, but the trustees are firm in withholding it. I advise a school again. The boys are with their father in London. (Reade, "Dinah Mulock and Her Father", Notes and Queries, 2 Feb. 1924, p. 79.)
Mrs. Mulock's health did not improve. She died on 3 October 1845. And after her death Thomas Mulock deserted his children entirely. He refused to have anything to do with them or to contribute to their support. Dinah Mulock was nineteen years old; she would not receive the money coming to her from her mother's trust until she was of age, in two more years. The Mulock children, wrote one of the trustees, "were left entirely destitute for a time till they could get into employment. . . . " (Reade, Mellards, p. 70).
The precise facts surrounding this failure of the family ideal were not ever known to Dinah Mulock's contemporaries. Some accounts of her early life had the most respectably conventional story, that the author's father had died, leaving his widow and three children to struggle along on a small annuity, which Dinah began to supplement by writing stories. But the version told by her friends and admirers reflected their own conception of heroic womanhood: that because her mother was "untenderly treated" by her father, "the young Dinah, in a blaze of love and indignation, carried that ailing and delicate mother away, and took in her rashness the charge of the whole family, two younger brothers, upon her own slender shoulders, working to sustain them in every way that presented itself, from stories for the fashion books to graver publications" (Oliphant, p. 82).
Removing the breathless adjectives, and considering the exploratory trip to Newcastle and, indeed, Thomas Mulock's subsequent refusal to speak to the children, there may be a core of truth in the story. The elements added provide details important to the image of the ideal woman. At first glance it might seem that this version showed Dinah Mulock declaring her independence from the image: defying her father, breaking up the family, and taking on the patriarchal prerogative of providing support and protection. But the story insists that she did so with the sanction of woman's finer moral nature and greater capacity for self-sacrifice in the service of others. Moreover, the presence of the invalid mother in all reported versions of Dinah Mulock's earliest writing years provides the ingredient [7/8] necessary to explain why she took up authorship rather than any other means of earning a living.
The stories of entry into the profession, as Elaine Showalter points out in A Literature of Their Own, are almost a distinct genre in the history of nineteenth-century feminine writers (Showalter, chap. 2). Either financial necessity or high moral purpose were virtually prerequisites: the desire for self-expression, or success, or fame, or public influence was not consonant with true womanhood. The accounts of Dinah Mulock's early career invariably emphasize that she had two brothers to care for — but, as a matter of fact, Ben, the youngest, was already sixteen by the time Mrs. Mulock died; most boys of that age, except in the very highest classes, would have been already at work in Victorian England. Once her mother had died, Dinah Mulock had no real need to maintain a home; she had both the qualifications and the experience to go out as a governess. There were also numerous aunts and cousins — some of them quite well-off — scattered about England, who would almost certainly have opened their homes to a helpless young woman had she sought their care and protection.
Dinah Mulock chose instead to take up the only profession in which, as she was later to write, women could compete with men "on level ground — and . . . often beat them in their own field." (A Woman's Thoughts about Women , chap. 3.) As early as 1841 she had written some verses on the Princess Royal's birth which were published in the Staffordshire Advertiser, Chambers's Edinburgh Journal printed some more of her poems in the summer of 1845, not long before Mrs. Mulock's death. Mrs. S. C. Hall was almost certainly the literary angel; she was a regular contributor to the magazine and acted as Robert Chambers's London contact, identifying and sending to him the work of possible new talent. With the start of the New Year, in January 1846, the poems signed "D. M. M." began to appear regularly. Chambers also supplied some pieces to be translated from French for the "Column for Young People." Dinah Mulock recalled her talent for fashioning moral tales for children and sold one to the Religious Tract Society.
These first years of her professional life must have been bitterly difficult. The trustees came through with small advances from time to time in order to save the three Mulocks from utter destitution, Tom Mulock, the elder of the two brothers, gave up his study of painting and articled himself to the captain of a merchant ship. (Tom's contemporaries in art school were the young innovators who were shortly to become the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; Holman [8/9] Hunt admired Tom's good looks and his drawing ability, and remembered that Dinah used sometimes to sit with him in the British Museum as he copied from models [Hunt, I, 105]). Just before the start of his second voyage he fell from the ship into the dry dock where it was berthed; both thighs were broken and he died, after a few days of intense suffering, on 12 February 1847.
Two months later Dinah Mulock turned twenty-one and was paid her share of the capital from her mother's trust. Placed at interest, it would have yielded her about forty pounds a year. Although whole families of the working poor survived on little more, it probably required about a hundred pounds a year for a single adult to manage at a minimum acceptable level of comfort and decency. Ben was studying to be a civil engineer; they lived together in lodgings on an obscure street off Tottenham Court Road. And, throughout the year that Jane Eyre was published and the doors of higher education were opened to women, Dinah wrote and wrote and wrote. Although one of the difficulties encountered by the new Queen's College for Women was the necessity of finding suitable chaperones for the students, Dinah Mulock forged ahead by herself, through the streets and into the editors' offices, placing a poem here, a story there, an article elsewhere, making her contacts, learning her craft, and grinding out the words. She managed to turn out five-thousand-word stories every two or three weeks, and to sell them to weekly magazines, to more prestigious monthly journals, and to Lady Blessington's fashionable annuals.
The way that she wanted to see this work can be glimpsed between the lines of Cola Monti, a children's book which she published in 1849. The title-page motto is "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves." The hero, a poor but talented young painter, does not simply hang about the fringes of the fine-art world depending on crumbs (as do many of his friends), but throws his very best efforts into commercial work. He learns to be careful, dependable, and punctual: therefore he is able to support himself as an illustrator. Ultimately, of course, he produces a painting that is the surprise hit of a Royal Academy exhibition.
By the end of 1848 Dinah Mulock had managed, with the children's books and the mountain of tales, to put herself far enough [9/10] ahead so that she could afford the time to work on a full-length novel for adults. The Ogilvies was published late in 1849 — It attracted a certain amount of attention. Mary Russell Mitford (at that time the grand old lady of British letters) thought that it had come from the pen of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Stebbins, p. 31). Jane Welsh Carlyle asked a friend to get her a copy of the book, reporting that "the authoress's name is Molock or something very like it, and it is published by Chapman. It must be rather curious to see, for I am told by Madame Pepoli the Molock is eighteen, has read 'absolutely no books,' and seen 'nothing whatever of society;' — and the book is coming to a second edition — 'circulates in families,' and will yield profit." (Froude, Letters and Memorials, II, 90-91).
Already the public were getting the facts wrong, and bending the professional writer into their own conception of what a young lady author should be, but at least they were reading the book. Olive followed in the next year. Chapman paid £150 for the copyright of each novel; it was not munificent, but it was more than most beginners were offered. Dinah Mulock's apprenticeship was relatively short, by either Victorian standards or our own. Five years after being left absolutely destitute at the age of nineteen, she was by twenty-five an accepted professional, able to write in a number of genres and to place what she wrote with a variety of editors.
When Ben turned twenty-one in the summer of 1850, he took his civil engineer's training and his share of their mother's estate and departed for Australia. Left without "protection," his sister joined forces with Frances Martin, a woman even younger than herself. They were, as a woman who heard of them from Mrs. Gaskell reported, "two handsome young girls, living in lodgings by themselves, writing books, and going about in society in the most independent manner, with their latch-key. Such a phenomenon was rare, perhaps unexampled in those days" (Shaen, p. 64.). (Frances Martin later promoted education for the blind and founded the Working Women's College now known as Frances Martin College.)
They had a wide circle of friends. Some were no doubt met at Mrs, S. C. Hall's soirees. George Lillie Craik, whose New Zealanders had inspired the garden playhouse of the Newcastle childhood, had been appointed Professor of English Literature and History at the University of Belfast but was frequently in London; he was writing popular educational works for the Chambers brothers. Camilla Toulmin, another of the regular contributors to Chambers's, introduced Dinah Mulock to the dramatic poet John Westland Marston; she [10/11] became godmother to his son Philip (also later a poet), born in 1850. She kept up contact with some of the artists who had been Tom's friends; it was perhaps through them that she met Sydney Dobell and his brother Clarence. Her friendship with Alexander Macmillan also dated from this period. His shop was still in Cambridge, but he was beginning to publish books by the Christian Socialists; it was reported that Dinah Mulock was among the disciples who visited Frederick Denison Maurice at his rooms in Lincoln's Inn.
As the novels and stories continued to earn their way, the lodgings were exchanged for a small house near Camden Town, where Dinah Mulock was able to give parties of her own. Among the people who came was Margaret Oliphant, another young novelist just at the beginning of her career; she recalled in her autobiography hearing Miss Cushman (the actress famous for her performance as Romeo) recite a song of Kingsley's, and she remembered looking about at the other guests "rather as one looked at the figures in Madame Tussaud's, wondering . . . whether the commonplace outside might not cover a painter or a poet or something equally fine — whose ethereal qualities were all invisible to the ordinary eye" (Cogshill, p. 39). Dinah Mulock's friends, like herself, were hard-working; George Lovell, for example, was Secretary of the Phoenix Insurance Company by day and a popular dramatist in his spare time. Margaret Oliphant also remembered being rather frightened by a deformed man in a wheelchair who was always at Dinah Mulock's parties; this would have been Frank Smedley who, as editor of Sharpe's London Magazine, had printed some of her earliest stories. When the spiritualist craze struck London, the parties were sometimes devoted to seances.
The young Dinah Mulock was described as a "brilliant conversationalist," always full of vitality and high spirits (Ward, p. 107) .Although late photographs show her looking uncomfortably like Queen Victoria, she was as a young woman tall and slim; the word "willowy" was often used, and a letter written at the age of fourteen complained that she felt like a giantess among Londoners. A photograph taken as late as 1869 shows her still unfashionably thin for mid-nineteenth-century tastes. Although she was not a conventional beauty, it was hard for her admirers to believe that she had so miserably failed in woman's vocation as to voluntarily remain single — or, worse yet, to have been unchosen. Her brother Tom's death was transmuted into a version of the "fiance lost in the war" story that teenagers [11/12] circulate about their favorite maiden teacher. The rumor was that she had been engaged to a "gentleman suited to her both in age and disposition" who, it was agreed, would spend two years in travel before the marriage, and that when she went to the docks to welcome him home he became so excited that he missed his footing, fell into the water, and was drowned (Shaylor, p. vi).She had many admirers. A "bevy of attendant maidens" (Oliphant, p. 82). was always clustered around her. She believed that working women had to help one another: she wrote a long story to be sold to raise funds for the Governess's Benevolent Institution. Sometimes she invited the girls from a nearby reformatory over to the house to sing with her. And she served as mentor and pathbreaker for other ambitious young women; she was always full of enthusiasm for their projects and designing schemes to promote them. Her intensity and forcefulness were uncomfortable to less assertive Victorian women; Margaret Oliphant complained that she had a way of "fixing the eyes" of the people she talked to as if she meant to read their minds (Cogshill, p. 38).
She also learned, of necessity, to be forceful in her business dealings. Some friends recalled that in early years she had been "happy-go-lucky" about what she earned; more probably she had neither the skills nor the leverage to do much except take whatever was offered. As new editions and cheap reprints of her first three novels continued to pour money into Chapman's coffers she realized what an advantage publishers gained by the outright purchase of copyrights. The years of daily creative effort were leading to physical and mental exhaustion. She nerved herself to ask Chapman if he didn't think it would be more fair to pass along some of the profits her work was earning. In the summer of 1856 she wrote to her friend Macmillan about finding some regular literary work — perhaps reading manuscripts — that would require less strain and uncertainty. (Showalter, A Literature of Their Own, pp. 50-51.)
It proved to be unnecessary; it was, in fact, perhaps merely a symptom of her state of mind just after finishing a novel that made her feel particularly insecure because it was of a different sort than the ones she knew she could sell. In 1852 she had driven to Tewkesbury with her friend Clarence Dobell, had looked at the alleys and the buildings, and had seen the name "John Halifax" on a tombstone in the abbey churchyard. Frances Martin and other friends had talked and laughed over "dear John," had commented, criticized, and helped to read proof. She had a new publisher — Henry Blackett, [12/13]introduced to her at his request by Mrs. Oliphant. She knew enough now to negotiate carefully; Blackett, it is reported, came so to fear her business sharpness that he would turn pale when he thought about her. John Halifax, Gentleman was published in the spring of 1856. It has never since that day been out of print. Its author was financially secure and also famous.
Dinah Mulock's books had never carried her name on the title page; each in succession had been identified as "by the author of the novels preceding it. There was not any real pretense of anonymity, however; reviewers used her name freely and when — as was later to happen with George Eliot — someone else tried to take credit for John Halifax, Gentleman, she promptly fired off a letter to set the matter straight. She was, however, very annoyed when Chapman began to advertise new editions of the books which he still owned as "Mulock's novels." The idea that she was continuing to earn him money that he failed to share with her undoubtedly contributed to the annoyance, but the letter that she wrote emphasized her wish to avoid personal publicity. The public position that she now held was the product not of her person but of her work. "The Author of John Halifax Gentleman" was someone to be listened to. She wrote less fiction; Chambers's and other magazines now turned to her for essays on serious subjects and social causes in which she spoke with the authority of a woman of stature.
Her personal life, however, was again shadowed. Ben drifted back from Australia, having given up engineering for photography. It is impossible to penetrate sufficiently between the lines of Victorian reticence to discover whether his difficulty was drink, opium, or mental instability; he "appeared and disappeared, always much talked of, tenderly welcomed, giving her anxieties much grudged and objected to by her friends, but never by herself" (Oliphant, p. 82). In 1859 she took a lease on "Wildwood," a cottage near Hampstead in what was then quite a rural area, surrounded by trees and a garden and a mile away from the nearest omnibus line. Ben lived with her at times; at others he was off to Brazil, and perhaps to Russia, to photograph railway works. In 1862, when an American in London for the Exhibition was taken to meet Dinah Mulock at Wildwood, Ben was there and was obviously unwell (Harrison, p. 538). Early in the next year he came suddenly home and said "Sister, I am going mad — you must take care of me." She watched him constantly for seven weeks, afraid that he would commit suicide, until her own health broke [13/14] down. Finally he had to be put in an asylum; he tried to escape, was badly injured, and died on 17 June 1863. His sister sublet Wildwood and went to live in lodgings at Wemyss Bay, on the Clyde (where she had spent several summers), perhaps for her health, perhaps to escape the pressures and unhappy memories of the house she had taken for Ben's sake. (The lease at Wildwood, incidentally, was taken over by Eliza Meteyard, another of the energetic, independent, single women who was making her own way as a professional writer.)
Marriage and Later Years
There may also have been a further reason for her residence — this time prolonged well past summer — in the vicinity of Glasgow. Dinah Mulock was nearing forty, and had for at least ten years considered herself likely to remain a single woman, if not an old maid. The story of her romance was dramatic enough to have been told in several conflicting versions.
It will be remembered that George Lillie Craik, the historian and writer, had been a friend of Dinah Mulock in her earliest publishing years. He had a nephew of the same name, who was born in 1837 and was therefore eleven years younger than Dinah Mulock. She may have met him with his uncle at the time that she was a young independent writer and he a schoolboy or little more. The younger George Lillie Craik had been educated at Glasgow High School and University and gone into business for himself in Glasgow as an accountant. Sometime in the early 1860s he was badly injured in a railway accident in or near London. One version of the story has it that he was carried to Wildwood, which Dinah Mulock had thrown open to receive victims of the wreck at the bottom of her garden; another that the surgeons asked if he knew anyone in London who could be summoned and he managed to remember the name of his uncle's friend, who hurried to the hotel where he had been taken and held his hand while his leg was amputated. It does seem certain that he spent several weeks at Wildwood convalescing and that sometime, then or after he returned to Glasgow, someone proposed.
It is an extraordinary case of life imitating art that the features of this story should so closely coincide with the model of sexual relationships that is an almost archetypal feature of the women's [14/15] novels of the 1860s. Dinah Mulock had written several versions of it herself. The implications of its literary use (the achievement of equality between the sexes by the illness or disability of the male, the expression of love as a function of the maternal instinct, the exercise of woman's power through the caritative womanly virtues) will be discussed in due course. Her later works suggest also one other value: the very fortuitousness of the circumstances confirmed her ideal that women must find love without seeking it. The woman who is in business for herself, without parents to smooth the path of romance, must at all costs avoid setting up for herself, like Becky Sharp, in the business of husband-hunting.
The coincidence of life and art and the emotional attractiveness of the scene no doubt account for the wide circulation of various accounts of the story. None of them, needless to say, came directly from the parties involved; another reason for the confusion was that both courtship and marriage were conducted with discretion and privacy. Dinah Mulock did not want to hurt her numerous interested friends, but she felt that fuss and festivity were entirely unsuitable for a woman of her age. They were married by special license on 29 April 1865 at Trinity parish church in Bath, where some of her aunts lived, and took furnished rooms at a farmhouse near Glasgow while they looked for a house.
In the meantime, however, Alexander Macmillan had been casting about for a partner who might undertake the business side of his burgeoning publishing house. He was attracted to the idea of a fellow Scotsman who was a trained accountant and perhaps also reluctant to see the "dear Lady Dinah," who was a "very useful" contributor (Graves, pp. 147, 188) to his shilling monthly magazine, move as far away as Glasgow. On 12 April he wrote to a friend for candid information about Craik's business capacity and by 1 July the offer had been made and accepted and the Craiks were staying with the Macmillans while waiting for a cottage to be decorated.
The circle of London acquaintances seems quickly to have accepted Mr. and Mrs. Craik as an ideal couple. Jane Welsh Carlyle wrote to her husband, after seeing them later that summer, that they "did not look at all ill-matched. His physical sufferings have made up in looks the ten years of difference. He has got an excellent imitation leg, and walks on it much better than American James" (Froude, III, 279). Craik dropped happily into the literary life and enjoyed meeting the firm's authors. All accounts of his character emphasize his kindness, [15/16] straightforwardness, and simplicity; forty years after his death the older employees at Macmillan's still remembered how he would call out, as he passed their desks, "Is your hearrt in your worrrk?" (Morgan, p. 69) He offended one of the self-important personages among the firm's authors by ordering him to come in through the shop like everyone else because it was a trouble to the housekeeper to open the private door (Nowell-Smith, pp. 148-49).
According to the stereotype of Victorian matrimony, Craik should have objected to his wife's working, and that he did so is duly reported as fact in several biographical sketches. There is, however, no evidence in the record of Dinah Craik's bibliography that she ever considered abandoning her career to become a full-time wife. She published a novel in each of the five years after her marriage; she continued to write for magazines and began again to work at children's stories; she did some translations and helped her husband read manuscripts for Macmillan.
The money went for a house: The Corner House, at Shortlands, a new exurban community to the southeast, near Bromley. Designed by the young architect Norman Shaw (who later created the buildings of New Scotland Yard), the house was a modern antique, complete with thick uneven glass in the window frames, and was finished in the summer of 1869. Mrs. Craik did not hesitate to tell her friends that she had built the house with books. House-building could be seen, of course, as an extension of woman's ideal function — but the building of a gentleman's residence also provided satisfactorily solid evidence of the financial position she had achieved entirely by her own efforts.
Mrs. Craik had also quietly been supporting her father for the past several years. He had continued to drift — to Inverness, where he edited a newspaper, to France, to Ireland. His last years were spent in Stafford. He wrote pamphlets — from personal experience — about both lunatic asylums and debtor's prisons; he was jailed once for contempt of court and, on another occasion, summoned by his landlord over a rent dispute. In testimony during the latter case he rather pathetically told the court that he had "a daughter whose powers the world well knew — a very celebrated writer — a daughter who was very kind and obedient to him, and who was worthy of every respect and honour." (Reade, "Thomas Samuel Mulock, 1789-1869," p. 502.) Perhaps she did manage to preserve an appearance of respect and obedience to a now-failing old man; Craik formally bought his father-in-law's manuscript life of Canning, [16/17] though there was no possibility that Macmillan's would ever publish it. Thomas Mulock died at last on 11 August 1869.
Only one thing was lacking to complete the transformation of the independent young professional into the perfect Victorian matron. That one thing, however, nature refused to supply. Mrs. Craik, whose essays made a point of distinguishing between submission to the inevitable and mere weak helplessness, and who had written in one of her novels about the duty "not only passively to accept joy or grief, but to take means to secure the one and escape the other" (A Noble Life, chap. 12), took matters into her own hands: as she had once chosen a profession, she now chose to become a mother. A baby girl about nine months old had been found abandoned in the road on 1 January 1869. Mrs. Craik went promptly to the parish workhouse and brought it home. The Craiks named her Dorothy — "the gift of God." We have trouble realizing how unconventional the act was in an age that believed strongly in eugenics, bad blood, and hereditary taints of character; the National Children's Home did not even begin its first experiments with placing children in families until some time later, and British law did not give an adopted child the same rights as a birth child until well into the twentieth century — although Mrs. Craik wrote a propaganda novel on the subject in 1886.
The anecdotes told of Mrs. Craik in her later years tend to reflect the tellers' interest in seeing her as the domestic ideal. It was said that she made all of her own clothes and her daughter's. The duties of wife and mother were reported to take precedence over the writing; one friend admired the way she could entertain a houseful of guests "well cared for in every detail — just slipping out of their ken during the mornings while she achieved her daily stint of work" (Matheson, p. 212). Yet she did continue to publish regularly (though her output was diminished in the years of Dorothy's early childhood). She could command as much as £2000 for the copyright of a book. She also needed the public platform from which to express herself and influence others. The suspicion of unwomanliness was avoided by emphasizing the ways in which she put herself out to serve people. She had a residence at Dover, in charge of a housekeeper, which was continually lent to friends; she made elaborate plans so that three or four different people might have the use of her carriage in one afternoon.
Yet her character was still informed by the independence and individualism that had led her to compete on her own and to survive. When the widowed Holman Hunt wanted to marry Edith Waugh, [17/18] the younger sister of his first wife, Mrs. Craik chaperoned the bride to Switzerland for the ceremony, which would have been illegal in England. (Diana Holman-Hunt, p. 284.) She annually invited the shopgirls from a big London store out to Corner House for a half-holiday; when someone asked how she entertained them she replied "Oh, like other ladies," and didn't appear to notice that the answer startled her listeners (Keddie, p. 314). She continued to help other professional women; the Civil List pension of £60 a year which had been awarded to her in 1864 in recognition of her services to literature was always passed along to struggling writers, and the sightseeing trips that provided the narrative for articles in Macmillan's new illustrated magazine of the 1880s gave her an excuse to take groups of independent young women on holiday with her. She had always been a working woman and continued to think of herself as one; shortly before her death she wrote to Oscar Wilde, suggesting with some asperity that the title of the magazine he was proposing to edit for Macmillan should be changed from Ladies' World to Woman's World.
Dinah Craik died suddenly of heart failure on 12 October 1887, while in the midst of preparations for Dorothy's wedding. Her last words were reported to have been "Oh, if I could live four weeks longer! but no matter, no matter!" (Martin, p. 539). The position that she held in contemporary life and letters is partially indicated by the composition of the committee that was formed to place a memorial to her in Tewkesbury Abbey. Its members included Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Mrs. Oliphant, Sir John E. Millais, Professor T. H. Huxley, and James Russell Lowell.
Last modified 16 August 2007