Victorian Bestseller

The Life of Dinah Craik
Karen Bourrier
An engaging, rigorously researched biography of popular 19th century novelist Dinah Craik


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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 is the first book to relate the story of Dinah Craik’s remarkable life. 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, who wrote extensively about disability in her work, was no stranger to it in her personal and professional life, marked by experiences of 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 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
Photo of Dinah Maria Craik ca. 1885 by Hayman Seleg Mendelssohn © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Karen Bourrier is Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

Praise / Awards

  • "Though her novels are synonymous with domestic values and Christian piety, Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) was not unacquainted with sensation and even scandal. In this first extant biography of the author, Karen Bourrier deftly mingles two Victorian narratives: the period's emphasis on respectability, modesty, and hard work, and the drama that ensues when these values are disrupted."
    -Tabitha Sparks, Review 19
  • "Bourrier’s fascinating biography of Dinah Craik convincingly casts the neglected author as the quintessential woman writer of her era. Bourrier is the first to fully recount the story of Craik’s life... This abundance of primary source material allows Bourrier to bring Craik to life with a brilliant specificity..." - Jennifer Phegley, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies
  • "Scholars of women writers, the Victorian era, and the material history of the book, in particular, will appreciate Bourrier’s detailed research into the life of one of the Victorian period’s most popular authors." 
    -Victorian Periodicals Review 
  • "Its distinctive contribution to disability history is just one of this book’s many strengths. From its rich details about Craik’s embodied experience as a woman writer to the detailed portrait it paints of literary life and sociability in Victorian Britain, Victorian Bestseller offers much to different audiences, and it does so in an elegant, accessible style that we can all appreciate." 
    Victorian Studies

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Reviewed in Review 19 | 4/16/2021

Product Details

  • 362 pages.
  • 24 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12526-5

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