Craik, Dinah Maria Mulock (1826–1887)
Craik, Dinah Maria Mulock (1826–1887)
English Victorian who earned her living by writing and who believed in greater freedom of opportunity for women, especially those unmarried. Name variations: Miss Mulock; Mrs. Craik. Born Dinah Maria Mulock on April 20, 1826, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire; died on October 12, 1887, at Bromley, Kent; first child and only daughter of Thomas Samuel (an unstable dissenting preacher) and Dinah (Mellard) Mulock; educated at Brampton House Academy, with possibly sporadic tutoring by her father; married George Lillie Craik, in 1865; children: adopted abandoned baby girl, 1869.
Father lost job and family moved to Newcastle-under-Lyme (1831); helped mother to keep a school (183?–39); family moved to London (summer 1839); published verses in Staffordshire Advertiser, (1841); her mother died (1845); published first novel The Ogilvies (1849); lived with Frances Martin (1850); published John Halifax, Gentleman (1856); published A Woman's Thoughts about Women (1857); awarded Civil List Pension of £60 per annum (1864); published The Little Lame Prince and his Travelling Cloak (1875); wrote text for Fifty Golden Years (1887).
The ideal Victorian woman was a wife and mother, devoted to, and utterly dependent on, her husband. Dinah Mulock Craik believed in this ideal, but early experience and later observation taught her that for many women it was an impossibility. Her way of life and her writings advocated a fairer deal for all such women, while never losing sight of romantic love.
There are many question marks in piecing together Dinah Mulock Craik's life. She wrote no autobiography, actively disapproving of biographies of female celebrities. She maintained that it was unseemly for women to court any sort of publicity when alive, and that, when dead, their private lives were no business of the general public. Such information as remains is sketchy, often biased, occasionally open to more than one interpretation, and sometimes frankly inaccurate.
Dinah Mulock's father Thomas was born in Dublin, of minor Irish gentry. He was a lawyer, a journalist, a merchant, a lecturer, a Baptist preacher, a pamphleteer, a secretary, a dabbler, never sticking to anything. As a young man, he was handsome and a brilliant speaker. But he was also quarrelsome, stubborn (the poet Byron dubbed him Muley Mulock) and litigious. He was imprisoned for libel, for debt, and for contempt of court. At one stage, he was confined to a lunatic asylum. According to letters to her brother, Craik found it difficult not to hate him in later life.
Craik's mother, Dinah Mellard Mulock , seems to have been a woman of strong character. She married Thomas Samuel Mulock, the charismatic Baptist preacher who was lodging next door, on June 7, 1825. At the time, she was over 30 and living between Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme with her two unmarried sisters and her widowed mother. Her father had been a prosperous tanner. It may not be too farfetched to suggest that neither received from the other what they had hoped when they married. She did not make him rich. He did not bring her the position she had envisaged.
On April 20, 1826, their daughter Dinah Maria was born. By 1829, following the birth of two sons, the family was complete. At first, Thomas Mulock's career prospered. He was minister of a fine new chapel in Stoke-on-Trent and popular as a powerful preacher. But extravagance and quarrelsomeness were his undoing, and by 1831 he had lost his position. It seems certain that it was around this time that he was committed to a lunatic asylum but doubt surrounds how long he stayed there. Some believe that it was Mrs. Mulock who had Thomas committed when, six years into their marriage, he proved himself unfit to support his family.
Either with, or more likely without Thomas, the Mulock family returned to Mrs. Mulock's birthplace of Newcastle-under-Lyme and there remained until 1840 in a terraced house opposite one of the fields where the poor of the town were allowed to pasture their animals. Wherever he was, Thomas Mulock does not seem to have supported his family financially during this time. Mrs. Mulock's father had left her some money when he died, and this she augmented by running a school. Enough money was found to send Dinah to a local private day school, Brampton House Academy, but by 12 she was helping to support the family by looking after a child and by 13 she was teaching in her mother's school.
Stoke-on-Trent where Dinah Mulock Craik was born and Newcastle-under-Lyme where she spent much of her childhood are in that part of England called the Potteries. Until about the middle of the 18th century, the area had been mainly agricultural, though there was some coal mining, and pottery had been made there since about 1700 bce. However, the completion of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1770 provided cheap reliable transport equally suitable for carrying delicate wares such as china, and heavy goods such as coal and clay. This, combined with a concentration in the area of such skilled manufacturers as Wedgewood, Minton, Adams and Spode, caused an industrial explosion. According to Hugh McKnight in The Shell Book of Inland Waterways, "in 1760 the population of the area was about 7,000, but by 1800 it had reached 25,000 and in 1861 some 120,000." Stoke must have been something of a boom town when the Mulocks were living there—it was created a Parliamentary borough with the right to send two members to Parliament, by the Reform Bill of 1832. In contrast, Newcastle was less affected for, although it was only a few miles away, it did not lie directly on the main Trent and Mersey Canal. The connecting branch, built
at the end of the 18th century, came too late to enable Newcastle to benefit from the earlier dramatic expansion in trade.
As babies in Stoke, the young Mulocks were looked after by their mother (even then there was no money to pay a nursemaid), but in Newcastle they had to entertain themselves for much of the time. According to two of Craik's essays in Studies from Life, their chief occupations, when not at school, were reading and acting out, with acting out being far the more popular of the two.
Anything is a woman's business which she feels herself impelled to do, and which … she feels capable of doing.
—Dinah Mulock Craik
To go outdoors, all three children wore long, blue-print pinafores tied with a leather belt over their other clothes. These other clothes were a hat, "stout shoes, merino stockings," she wrote, "and those substantial under-vestments which we were then not ashamed to call 'trousers.'" For middle-class children, they seem to have had a great measure of freedom—Craik suggests it was because they were provincial rather than London dwellers. They were allowed to play freely on the Green, in the garden, and in the aforementioned field when suitable. They were at "full liberty to run, jump, climb, scramble, or crawl." In the winter, they skated on the frozen canal. At other times, they played whip and top, ball games and marbles. They made bonfires, dug holes, and built play-dens. Craik especially remembered how they killed an ash tree by making it into the chimney of one of their huts and then actually using "fire and a good deal of gunpowder."
As with many another household of limited means, all available money was needed for life's necessities. Craik noted that they did not "live in a reading community," so she and her friends preferred playing to reading. Furthermore, very few books specifically for children were being published this early in the 19th century, so any books or periodicals that came their way tended to be adult. When their next-door neighbor began lending them Chamber's Edinburgh Journal, the young Mulocks quarrelled so fiercely over it that they were forbidden to bring it into the house. Problem solved, they read it in the garden.
The first book Craik recalls reading was about a family of robins. She was six and it was lent to her by a seven-year-old friend. She graduated to cheap editions of Sinbad the Sailor and Jack the Giant Killer and thence to more factual travel stories. After geography came an interest in science, though this had its limitations. As Craik writes, "Many books of this era come to mind: Endless Amusements—which would have deserved its name with us, save for the unfortunate fact that the experiments therein were quite impracticable for want of capital."
Dinah Mulock Craik makes tantalizing reference to how her interest in the "romantic element" was awakened by being read to "during one summer, and at intervals during several other summers and winters." By whom and at what age she does not say. It could not have been her mother for "the treat of being read to was quite impossible in our busy household." One chore familiar to many a 19th-century child, but spared the little Mulocks, was learning religious poetry and chunks of the Bible by heart although, according to Dinah, "we all read [the Bible] aloud reverently, verse by verse, elders and youngers alternately, every Sunday evening." Her final succumbing to the unconstrained pleasures of reading came when she and her brothers were forced to spend the whole of one winter indoors by a succession of childish ailments. They were rescued from total boredom by "the bookseller of the town, who granted us free range of his circulating library."
Craik was finally released from the unpleasant task of trying to make unruly schoolboys respect her while still only a child herself by the reconciliation of her parents. In 1840, the family moved to London, and thanks to Mrs. Mulock's inheritance on the death of her mother, lived comfortably for a while. Mrs. Mulock's inheritance had been put into Trust (some claim at her instigation), thus preventing her husband from taking control of it. Otherwise, until the Married Women's Property Act of 1870, any money or property belonging to a woman automatically became her husband's. Dinah learned Italian, Greek and drawing. She went to the theater, to dances, and to parties. The family entertained and were entertained in return. But the setting up of the Trust had prevented Thomas Mulock from getting his hands on the capital sum of money left to his wife, and they were soon living way beyond the means of the interest. By 1844, Mrs. Mulock and Dinah had left Mr. Mulock and the boys in London and returned to Staffordshire, possibly intending to start up another school. But this never happened. Mrs. Mulock had been ill for some time and on October 3, 1845, she died.
By now Thomas Mulock was bankrupt. It is sometimes claimed that he entirely abandoned his children, but a letter from Dinah to her father seems to suggest that the arrangement was more mutual than is often implied. Ben, the youngest, was 16. Tom was 18 and studying painting. Dinah was 19. By the terms of the Trust, no money was available to them until their 21st birthdays. Middle-class females who had fallen on hard times often sought refuge in the home of a wealthier relation. Those sufficiently educated often became governesses. Dinah Mulock Craik did neither of these. The three Mulocks set up house together in cheap lodgings. Tom left art school and joined the merchant navy (sadly he fell into the dry dock during preparations for his second voyage, broke both thighs, and died on February 12, 1847). Ben studied to become a civil engineer, while Dinah took to professional writing.
Before the death of her mother, Craik had had several of her poems published, but now she wrote stories for children and adults. She learned how to produce both the simple moral tales that appealed to the educated working-class readership of the weekly Chamber's Edinburgh Journal and the romantic and exotic stories favored by the middle-class readers of the monthly magazines springing up in the wake of more widespread literacy and cheaper printing techniques. Late in 1849, her first novel The Ogilvies was published and was an instant success. The romantic tale of three girl cousins seeking after love and marriage perfectly suited the popular taste of the time.
As soon as Ben received his inheritance in 1850, he immigrated to Australia. On being left alone, Dinah took lodgings in Camden Town with another independently minded young woman, Frances Martin. Such a thing was almost unheard of at this time and the novelty seems to have amused her. She wrote in a letter to her novelist friend, Elizabeth Gaskell , "She, 22—I, 25.—Are we not a steady pair of elderly women?" About this time, Margaret Ogilvie described her as being "a tall young woman with a pliant figure and eyes that had a way of fixing the eyes of her interlocutor … as if she meant to read the other on which she gazed … but Dinah was always kind, enthusiastic, somewhat didactic and apt to teach."
She continued contributing to magazines, writing children's books and popular novels until, in 1856, she published John Halifax, Gentleman, which critics hailed as a masterpiece and which has never since been out of print. Perhaps significantly, the main character is male. The story of a poor boy rising to middle-class respectability by honesty and hard work has been likened in sentiment to a book published three years later by Samuel Smiles entitled Self-Help. John Halifax, Gentleman was probably the novel critics had in mind when they began to compare the up-and-coming George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans ) to her, causing Eliot to write rather pettishly to a friend, "the most ignorant journalist in England would hardly think of calling me a rival of Miss Mulock—a writer who is read only by novel readers, pure and simple, never by people of high culture."
It is only fair to say George Eliot did have a point. Although Dinah Mulock Craik continued to write and her novels remained popular (she was demanding £2,000 a novel at the height of her career), she never produced another John Halifax, Gentleman. Its success, however, gave her the confidence and authority to speak out about her own beliefs. In 1858, A Woman's Thoughts about Women was published. In this series of essays, Craik sets down the mores upon which she lived her life. Happy marriage and motherhood is best. However, no woman—married or unmarried—should be idle, for activity brings self-respect. Girls ought to be brought up in such a way that, should happy marriage be denied them, they are capable of supporting themselves. Women have a special responsibility towards one another that transcends class distinctions.
For the next few years, Craik continued to write, living as an independent woman and succeeding in a man's world. In 1859, she moved to Hampstead. In 1864, she was awarded a Civil List Pension for her services to literature. Intermittently, she supported her father (who did not die until 1869) and her brother, Ben. There seems to have been much of the father in the son's make-up. For 13 years, he traveled about the world, doing various jobs but settling at nothing. From time to time, he came back to Dinah until in 1863 he returned once again but this time so mentally ill that she was unable to look after him. He was committed to an asylum, tried to escape, was injured, and died on June 17. After this, Craik left London for a while to live at Wemyss Bay on the River Clyde in Scotland.
Then, in 1865, Dinah Mulock married. While she was still living in London, there had been a railway accident nearby. One of the injured was George Lillie Craik, a young man belonging to a family with whom she had been friendly for many years. He was the nephew of George Lillie Craik, Sr., a well-known writer. For some time, George the younger was nursed at her house. When he was sufficiently recovered, he returned to Glasgow where he was an accountant. Now they were man and wife. It was an unconventional match, for the groom was 11 years her junior and physically disabled.
Not everyone approved of the alliance. George's mother accused her of abusing the role of elderly aunt while he was a guest in her house and saw her as lacking in that deference expected of a Victorian wife towards her husband. Dinah certainly continued to work as hard as ever and used her own money to have a house designed for them both by Norman Shaw, a leading architect of the day. Be that as it may, the marriage seems to have been a happy one. The couple lived in London where George had become a partner in Macmillan's publishing firm. In 1869, the Craiks adopted a daughter whom they called Dorothy (meaning gift of God). This was another act that flew in the face of convention. The baby had been found abandoned near their home and nothing was known about her background. Medical scientists at this time still believed in "bad blood" and the strength of heredity, but the Craiks were undeterred.
Throughout her life, Craik tried to live according to her beliefs. From time to time, she wrote on behalf of "good causes," for example, the Governesses Benevolent Institution (1852) and the Edinburgh Children's Hospital (1865), donating the proceeds to them. She encouraged and befriended women attempting to live independently. For instance, she gave financial help toLaura Herford , the first woman student at the Royal Academy of Art, and used her Civil List Pension to help struggling women writers. She invited women of all classes to her home, from groups of young, middle-class admirers, to London shop girls and local reformatory girls. As biographer Shirley Foster writes, she had "no desire for revolution" but she whole-heartedly championed the right of women to fulfil their potential, unhindered by the blind conventions of the times.
Perhaps surprisingly, Craik did not travel beyond Britain until 1867. On her return, she began to add travel articles to her other writings. Although she wrote children's stories all her life, the one for which she is best remembered, The Little Lame Prince, was not written until 1875. This has not lost its appeal. In 1990, Rosemary Wells adapted it for younger, modern-day readers because, as it says on the fly-leaf, it was one of Wells' "favorite books as a child." Craik's later novels were written for specific purposes. A Brave Lady (1870) argued for married women's property rights, King Arthur: Not a Love Story (1886) was a propaganda novel about adoption, Hannah (1871) championed the right of a husband to marry his dead wife's sister. Four years later, Craik accompanied Edith Waugh to Switzerland so that Edith could marry William Holman Hunt, her brother-in-law, because such marriages were illegal in England. Holman Hunt had been a friend since the days when he and Tom Mulock had been art students together. In 1887, Craik wrote the text for Fifty Golden Years, a souvenir publication for Queen Victoria 's Jubilee celebrations. In October of the same year, Dinah Mulock Craik died of heart failure in the midst of preparations for her daughter's wedding.
Craik, Dinah Maria Mulock. Studies from Life. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1861.
——. A Woman's Thoughts about Women. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1858.
Foster, Shirley. "Dinah Mulock Craik: Ambivalent Romanticism," in Victorian Women's Fiction: Marriage, Freedom and the Individual. London: Croom Helm, 1985.
Mitchell, Sally. Dinah Mulock Craik. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.
Barbara Evans , research associate in women's studies at Nene College, Northampton, England