Craigie, Pearl (writer)

Reference: MS 2133ADate: 1898-1906 Extent: 6 boxes, 2 volumes

Pearl Craigie was the author of a number of plays and novels who wrote under the pseudonym John Oliver Hobbes.

Pearl Craigie was born on 3 November 1867 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the eldest of five children of John Morgan Richards, a prosperous merchant, and his wife Laura. Immediately after her birth, Pearl’s father moved to England and settled his family in London where he carried on a business selling patent medicines and American cigarettes, which eventually made him a millionaire. Summers were spent on the Isle of Wight, and the family travelled extensively in Britain, Europe and the United States, but Pearl never had a home in America.

Pearl was educated mainly at home, reading voraciously and writing stories and plays from an early age. Growing up in some luxury, Pearl studied music and French and dressed fashionably and expensively. Although she was presented at court, she was aware that she would never be fully accepted by society because her American nonconformist father had made his money in trade. Pearl was very close to her father but found her mother’s religious enthusiasms and erratic behaviour difficult to live with.

In 1887, at the age of nineteen, Pearl married Reginald Walpole Craigie, a handsome man seven years her senior, but the marriage was a disaster from the start. Craigie drank and womanised, and Pearl retreated into studying classics at University College London and writing. In 1890, Pearl gave birth to a son, John Churchill Craigie, in a house near her parents’ home on the Isle of Wight. In May 1891, determined to protect her child, she left her husband and moved back in with her parents permanently, although she did not obtain a divorce until 1895. In 1892, she shocked her family by becoming a Roman Catholic and adopting the name Mary-Teresa.

Pearl’s brilliant mercurial personality, together with her literary success and her wealth, made her a celebrity and much in demand as both a hostess and a guest. She conducted close platonic relationships with several men but could never be persuaded to greater intimacy, much to the chagrin of some, including Lord Curzon. She was President of the Society of Women Journalists in 1895 and a member of the Anti-Suffrage League.

In 1891, Pearl published her first novel, Some Emotions and a Moral, under the name of John Oliver Hobbes. She wrote more novels and plays with considerable success, such as The School for Saints (1897), Robert Orange (1900) and The Vineyard (1904). She also lectured on a variety of subjects, undertaking a grueling lecture tour of America from November 1905 to February 1906. Her hectic lifestyle and anxiety about her family and friends took their toll on her always-fragile health, and she died suddenly of heart failure in her sleep on 13 August 1906 at the age of 38.

One of Pearl’s deepest friendships was with the Reverend Monsignor William Francis Brown (1862-1951). Brown was born in Scotland and always retained his accent. His parents were Episcopalians, but in 1873, his mother became a Roman Catholic and gradually influenced her whole family in that direction. Brown was received into the Church in 1880 and decided to become a priest. He was ordained in 1886 and worked in London, first in Camberwell and then moving to a new parish later known as St Ann’s, Vauxhall, where he remained for the rest of his life, eventually becoming a bishop. Brown was deeply involved with his parishioners and worked tirelessly to promote their social and spiritual welfare. He was particularly concerned with the education of children.

Brown first encountered Pearl Craigie when he wrote to her in 1898 to tell her of his high opinion of her book The School for Saints, and she invited him to lunch. Thereafter, they maintained a close friendship in which she supported his parish work and poured out her problems to him, and he dispensed good advice and enjoyed her company and literary connections. At her funeral, he preached a sermon highlighting her good works and the qualities of her mind, which ‘was so prehensile and active that it wore out her body.’

This collection consists of correspondences and two news cuttings albums. The letters, which make up the majority of the collection, are mainly between Pearl Craigie and Revd. Mgr. William F. Brown, dating from 1898-1905. There are also a handful of letters from other correspondents including John Craigie, Lord Curzon and John Richards. The news cuttings in one album relate to Pearl’s lecture tour of America in 1905-6 and in the other, to her death and funeral. There are also typed transcriptions of some letters and a copy of a pamphlet by Margaret Maison, John Oliver Hobbes, her life and work (1976).

Source of biographical information: Harding, M., 2004. Craigie [Née Richards], Pearl [Pseud. John Oliver Hobbes] (1867–1906), Novelist and Playwright. [online] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

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