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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > Entertainment > Books > Mrs Craik - Potteries author

Shout about life By D A Shout

Mrs Craik - Potteries author

One of the best-selling novelists of her time, the Victorian author Mrs Craik - from Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent is now largely forgotten. We look back...

When I was told that one of Radio Stoke's Book-Club books was to be "John Halifax, Gentleman", I had a rummage through my book shelves and came across an old copy that had been given to my Grandad, when he was a boy at his Sunday school.

Now, I never went to Sunday School but I had a notion that 90 years ago they weren’t in the habit of handing out frivolous novels to their pupils, which made me wonder what kind of book John Halifax, Gentleman was going to be?

The daughter of a Stoke on Trent paster...

What made it even more interesting for me is that Mrs Craik is a local author. She was born Dinah Mulock in 1826 (Craik being her married name), and her father, a pastor, ran a Stoke on Trent chapel, and she was educated at Brampton House Academy in Newcastle.

One of the foremost historians of her works, Sarah Brown, who now teaches at Cambridge University, is also from North Staffordshire - which completes a circle!

I'm pretty sure that she lived in Hartshill, but I can find no confirmation of this, nor can I find out what house she lived in.   If anyone can help... would they put something on the messageboard, which is further down the page?

A story about a young man's journey...

Undeterred by the Sunday School connection, I began reading "John Halifax" - and was pleasantly surprised to find myself getting caught up in the story of a young “vagabond” and his journey into adulthood and beyond. It turned out I was reading a good old ‘rags to riches’ story, much loved by the Victorians with their steadfast belief in progress.

However, this is much more than a story of a poor boy who makes good. It also has a not-so-subtle moralistic undertone, which explains it being a suitable gift from a Sunday School to a mischievous ten year old boy!

The book, on a basic level, traces the life of John Halifax from childhood to death as he rises in status from orphan to wealthy tradesman through honest hard work.

The story, though, is centred around the author’s belief that true nobility is based upon moral fibre and integrity of character - and not wealth or status.

Mrs Craik, it seems, wishes her book to act almost as a guide for the reader in leading a virtuous life.

A book for its time

The goodness of the main characters can become weary to modern readers; and by today’s standards the writing is dull and old fashioned - but it is the moral themes of John Halifax, Gentleman that made it so successful when it was first published.
It was one of the first works of fiction (along with Pilgrims Progress) to become acceptable in Victorian times, and in 1863 was second only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a list of the era’s most popular books.

("John Halifax, Gentleman" is carefully dated, so for history lovers it is interesting to read how Halifax’s life is affected by what was actually happening in the world at the time in which the book is set.
John Halifax is born 178,0 so we know he is growing up through the French Revolution which so frightened the English aristocracy,and  there is also the then decline of agriculture and rise of industry, which enabled men such as Halifax to find wealth of their own.)

Overall I enjoyed this book and would recommend anyone to read it.

It can be interpreted in different ways which makes it really interesting. It can simply be a story of a boy growing up and making his way in the world;  it can be a glimpse into life at this time; or even a lesson for the reader in the ways of leading a moral existence like our hero John Halifax.

You have to read it to decide for yourself… 
JN

last updated: 04/01/2010 at 10:56
created: 19/02/2006

Have Your Say

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR COMMENTS. THIS BOARD IS NOW CLOSED.

richard wakerley
i have my fathers copy of john halifax gentleman given to my father for good attendance at sunday school in 1942 in grantham and i am currently reading it when was it first published

Vanessa Clewes
Mrs Craik lived at a house called Wildwood in Hampstead, London. I don't know if she wrote 'John Halifax' at Wildwood or if she simpoly lived there with her publisher husband

Daniele Tinti
Hi, I find the book extraordinary. As you all know, to write "John Haifax, Gentlemen" Dinah Craik took inspiration from real locations. I've carried a research about Dinah Craik, and I've found that:1) Abel Fletcher's mill is described after the Mill of the Abbey of Tewkesbury, Staffordshire. In fact, the mill has been long called "Abel Fletcher' Mill". Now there are flats in it;2) Abel Fletcher' house is today the Bell Hotel in Tewkesbury. The "garden on the river" is today a car park;3) the "mayor's house with its 14 windows" is today the Tudor's House hotel in Tewkesbury;4) the Mythe is Mythe Hill (or Brendon Hills?), a few miles away Tewkesbury;5) I understand that Longfield is described after Longfield Cottage, where the author was born.Does anybody know what ROSE COTTAGE is described after?I'm a literary researcher; if you can find something interesting I'll be glad to discuss the matter at the following address: daniele.tinti@email.it.Daniele

Mal Richardson
recommended by my 92 year old mother. what a wonderful read.

Randall Smart
I just finished reading the book, here in Manitoba, Canada.The book had been in the possession of my grandparents many years ago. I found myself quite captivated by the unfolding of the story. This was surprising because I seldom read fiction. Having read her biographical notes after reading the story provides some interesting angles on the development of the plot. I would recommend the book as a story well told and still readable although it was first published 150 years ago.

olive
john halifax has always been one of my favourite books from the first time i read it ,through many rereadings

Martha Stoddard Holmes
I am working on Craik's biography and delighted to see Staffordshire engaging the work of one of its great gifts to the world! Craik had a fascinating life--after her mother died (this was after they had moved to Brompton, I believe) died, the father, a nonconformist minister who had lost his chapel in Stoke-upon-Trent and was periodically confined to an asylum, deserted Craik and her two younger brothers. She had been writing since an early age and now stepped in to support the family. Her brothers both died tragically young--Tom, after giving up an education in the company of Pre-Raphaelite painters Holman Hunt and others, went to sea but was killed in a shipboard accident before ever sailing. Ben became an engineer and worked for England during the Crimea, as well as travelling to Australia. He returned to England very ill in body and mind and was institutionalized--and later was hit by an omnibus while trying to escape. Dinah, who had shared a flat with Frances Martin (another working woman and founder of the working women's college that bears her name), kept a house for Ben when he was in England until his death. After he died she married a younger man who was an amputee, George Lillie Craik the younger (his uncle, George Lillie Craik, was a famous writer and historian), and he became a partner at her publisher, Macmillan. The couple lived in London until she had earned enough money to build the Corner House, her "house of books," as she called it, in Shortlands, Kent. They adopted an abandoned baby, Dorothy, in 1869, but Craik continued to work and publish while also devoting herself to her child. The family lived in Kent until her death in 1887, during preparations for Dorothy's wedding. I'm reading and transcribing Craik's diaries and letters and would welcome any information from local people! Please contact me at mstoddar@csusm.edu. I am a literature professor in California.

Eveline Shore
John Halifax. Mrs Craick, You can find a lot about the author, on http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/craik. many local details

Eveline Shore
I read John Halifax at a very early age around 1936. A marvellous book.
Regarding where dianna Mullock/Craik lived, there is information at all our local libraries. However one residence not mentioned is a house on a street corner opposite Newcastle High school, When we passed this house as a child my dad always pointed out the fact that she lived there.
The Illustrated book of John Halifax, which I have, once belonged to my aunt Mrs Lilian Hollins. I would say she received it around 1910.

nicky lawrenson
Is 'John Halifax, Gentleman' set in North Staffs & the SOT area?

Richard Talbot
I have been invited to assist in the book club as a local historian. I have just finished reading the book which represents a very true acount of the difficulties of the time. Places like Enderley Mills and Longfield (as in Longfield cottage at Hartshill where the author was born) plan an important part in the wonderful - love story. I really do feel that although some of the terms are dated, its reading displays an important message for all even today.

Justin Cartlidge
The 1871 and 1881 Census both show her as living in 'The Corner House, Beckenham, Kent' along with her husband George and adopted daughter Dorothy. Her occupation is given as 'Authoress'. Hope this helps!

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