When novelist Dinah Craik (1826-87) died, expressions of grief came from Lord Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, T.H. Huxley, and James Russell Lowell, among others, and even Queen Victoria picked up her pen to offer her consolation to the widower. Despite Craik’s enormous popularity throughout a literary career that spanned forty years, she is now all but forgotten. Yet, in an otherwise respectable life bookended by scandal, this was precisely the way that she wanted it.
Victorian Bestseller tells the story of Dinah Craik’s remarkable life for the first time. Combining extensive archival work with theoretical work in disability studies and the professionalization of women’s authorship, Karen Bourrier engagingly traces the contours of this author’s life. Craik not only wrote extensively about disability but her personal and professional life was also marked by experience with mental and physical disability, and the ebb and flow of health. Following scholarship in the ethics of care and disability studies, the book posits Craik as an interdependent subject, placing her within a network of writers, publishers, editors and artists, friends, and family members. Victorian Bestseller also traces the conditions in the material history of the book, from steam-powered presses to illustrated magazines, that allowed Victorian women writers’ careers to flourish. In doing so, the biography connects corporeality, gender, and the material history of the book to the professionalization of Victorian women’s authorship.
“A readable and riveting literary and cultural biography that documents Craik’s embeddedness in personal, professional, and literary relationships. The book fills a gap in literary studies while also exploring new questions for Victorian disability studies. A meaningful scholarly work and a frankly enthralling read.”
—Martha Stoddard Holmes, California State University, San Marcos
“An invaluable record of a fascinating life, and a real tour-de-force of both research and organization. Bourrier has synthesized an impressive amount of primary research: manuscript diaries, letters, photographs, even genealogical information. This book will make it possible to give Craik the scholarly attention she has long deserved.”
—Talia C. Schaffer, Graduate Center, City University of New York