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Miss Mulock (Dinah Craik)

The position of Dinah Craik - sometimes referred to as Miss Mulock - at the forefront of female novelists from the 19th century is unarguable, as she produced some of the finest of works - for children and otherwise - of that era.

Born on 20th April, 1826, Dinah Marie Craik was brought up in the Staffordshire area of England, particularly the town of Newcastle under Lyme, and would make her mark as a novelist and poet of the highest order at a time when the country was producing writers in great numbers.

Following her mother's death, in 1845 - after which her father deserted the family, Dinah Marie Mulock - as she was born - moved to the capital, London, settling there the next year. She had always wanted to make writing her life and set about doing so straight away, with excellent results. Her first published work, in fact, had been a poem about the birth of the Princess Royal in 1841.

Her first works were children's books - critically and commercially acclaimed - yet she would progress to writing serious fiction within a short time.

Her first such work - 'The Ogilvies' was dedicated to her late mother upon publication in 1949, and immediately cemented her place among the annals of London literary circles.

Dinah's earlier life had involved her helping her mother who worked at a school, and it would appear that she mastered both French and Latin in her early years, and used this to help in tuition at the school.

Craik's second novel - 'Olive' - is considered a contemporary of 'Jane Eyre' and many scholars question why Craik's work is not as highly regarded as that momentous title. The lead character in 'Olive' is noted to suffer a spinal deformity, and such physical handicap would become a trademark of many of Craik's characters.

Indeed, both her most famous children's work - 'The Little Lame Prince and his Travelling Cloak', of 1875, and her most regarded novel 'John Halifax, Gentleman' draw on such deformity and disability, the inflicted in the latter being the narrator, Phineas.

The latter work was hailed as a great work when published in 1856, and remains regarded as an important work of the era to this day.

Despite the unabated regard for 'John Halifax, Gentleman', Dinah considered a later novel - 'A Life for a Life', from 1959 - to be her best work. It is the former, however, that is still remembered when her name is mentioned in literary circles.

Other novels by Craik include 'The Head of the Family' of 1851, 'Agatha's Husband' which was published in 1853, plus 'Hannah' - an 1871 work - and 'Young Mrs Jardine' first published in 1879.

A collection of well regarded short stories - 'Avillion and other Tales' was published in 1853, and she also wrote a number of travelogues and narratives, plus the curious and endearing 'A Woman's Thoughts about Women' in 1858.

Her most famous work, the aforementioned 'John Halifax', is interesting in that it is somewhat biographical, being based around the life of a Cheltenham wine merchant, one John Dobell.

Craik's work is notable for being aimed at the lower end of the readers market - pulp fiction, to a point, of an early form - and is often likened not just such as 'Jane Eyre' as has already been said, but also to the works of Charles Dickens and other notable writers of the era.

Dinah married George Lillie Craik - from whom she took her better known name in 1864, her husband being a partner in a publishing house Macmillan and Co. Although she did not bear children, the couple adopted a baby, a girl who they named Dorothy, in 1869.

Tragically, Dinah Craik died of heart failure on 12th October 1887, at the age of 61, shortly before her beloved daughters planned wedding.