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!
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.
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.
("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.
Overall I enjoyed this book and would recommend anyone to read it.
last updated: 04/01/2010 at 10:56
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Martha Stoddard Holmes