‘An Entirely Different Order of Writer’: A Re-Evaluation of Dinah Mulock Craik
2013-09-26T10:16:48Z (GMT) by
Dinah Craik is generally considered a conservative author of ‘domestic’ literature, yet, as this thesis argues, she wrote forthrightly on the key socio-political topics of the day, almost invariably challenging the mainstream viewpoint. Drawing from a broad range of Craik’s journalism and fiction, the thesis considers in particular how the reconfiguration of gender boundaries suggested in her work, is radical in its insistence that the requirements for virtue and fulfilment are essentially the same for both sexes. Chapter One examines one of Craik’s periodical articles, ’War-sparkles’ (1855), an exceptional piece of journalism which encapsulates many of the key themes and values defining her work. Chapter Two explores Craik’s representations of masculinity. The hero of John Halifax, Gentleman, is commonly perceived as the product of an over-idealised view of men, but it is clear from the many essays and novels in which she vehemently condemns male conduct, that his portrayal is a reaction against the failure of the middle-classes to live up to the reformist ideals he embodies. Craik’s concept of gentlemanliness is explored further through her use of the figures of the clergyman, doctor, author, and disabled man, each illustrating her engagement with specific contemporary issues central to the construction of masculine identity. Chapter Three considers how Craik’s encouragement of female self-dependence through education and employment, and exposure of the damaging effects of ‘the want of something to do’, openly subverts the prevailing view of marriage as the only path to fulfilment, and reflects her generally pessimistic vision of domestic life. Her portrayals of self-reliant working women provide positive role models for her readers, but also reveal her understanding of the anxieties of single life. Craik’s sympathetic depictions of women who do not conform to the Victorian model of acceptable femininity, whether through physical impairment, race, or ‘fallenness’ are, it is suggested, further evidence of the progressive stance that makes her work so distinctive and compelling.