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Library Talk 201010

Library Talk 201010

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Published by Liam Byrne
A talk on B. M. Croker, writer, born in Co. Roscommon. To be given in Roscommon Library in 2010. (See also Powerpoint presentation to accompany this talk).
A talk on B. M. Croker, writer, born in Co. Roscommon. To be given in Roscommon Library in 2010. (See also Powerpoint presentation to accompany this talk).

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Liam Byrne on Sep 08, 2012
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A talk on the works of B. M. Croker, given by Liam Byrne in Roscommon CountyLibrary on 20
th
October 2010 – the 90
th
Anniversary of her death.
Good evening,
Today, the 20
th
October 2010, marks the 90
th
Anniversary of the death of B. M. Croker  – novelist. We gather here this evening to remember her. In the Foreword to “The Lifeand Works of B. M. Croker – Irish Novelist” by Seamus Kelly, Croker’s great-grandsonBen Whitaker OBE, congratulated the author on giving her some overdue recognition.In a scrapbook that has not yet been acquired for Roscommon Library, is a note thatstates “although her popularity as a novelist is quite assured, few living writers have sovague a personality to the general public as Mrs. Croker”. It could be said that, 90 yearsafter her death, little has changed.Seamus Kelly’s book was my introduction to B. M. Croker. It began a three year questthat has led down some very interesting historical and literary paths. I don’t intend, thisevening, to give any detailed description of all of B. M. Croker’s fifty books. Rather Ihope to mention all of them in passing, and spend a few minutes on a few of the onesthat have, for one reason or another, acquired some form of importance or fame. In thisway I hope to leave you a little wiser and better informed. This talk is purely asubjective view on my part, and leaves you all free to pursue different research topics inthe future, should you so wish.As the author of fifty individual titles, B. M. Croker can, without argument, bedescribed as one of Ireland’s most prolific writers. A contemporary, Annie M. P.Smithson (1873 – 1948), often described as THE most successful Irish romancenovelist of her era, wrote all of nineteen books!B. M. Croker’s first book “Proper Pride” was based in India. It was initially titled“After Long Years” but the name was changed by her agent. It was written during her years in India and read to the other military wives with whom she socialised. Their enthusiasm led her to publish the book anonymously after her return to England in1882. “The Times” of 24 October 1882 states “the author of Proper Pride need not have been ashamed of putting his name to it …”. But the book shot to fame and popularityafter an incident in the British House of Commons. “The Belfast Newsletterreportedthat “Mr. Gladstone (the Prime Minister) was observed the other night during a heateddebate … to be reading a novel … The novel in question is by an Irish lady namedCroker, the wife of an officer now serving with his regiment at Dover”. Her fame wasassured.Her second novel “Pretty Miss Neville” followed in 1883. She had also written this book in India. The newspaper review said “the reader of the brilliant novel Proper Pridewill not be disappointed in Pretty Miss Neville”. This book also carried anadvertisement for the publisher Engelhorn of Stuttgart in Germany, who translated thisnovel into German in 1884 and began a long association with the writer that producedat least 15 titles in German. Her popularity there lasted until the beginning of the FirstWorld War. (The National Library don’t have any German versions, The BritishLibrary has four, Roscommon Library currently has six).
 
Books followed almost every year – “Some One Else” (1885), “A Bird of Passage”(1886), “Diana Barrington” (1888), “Two Masters” (1890), “Interference” (1891), “AFamily Likeness” (1892) and “To Let” in 1893.“To Let” was a series of short stories. Recent research appears to show that Croker sometimes wrote parts of her books, initially, as short-stories. (They never appearedafter the book had been completed). Roscommon Library has one short story titled “Thecap that fitted” published in “The Illustrated London News” of 16 November 1901. Itlater appeared in her book “The Old Cantonment” in 1905. The illustration for “The capthat fitted”, a story about the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa around the time of theAnglo-Boar War (1899 – 1900) was by Allan Stewart. Croker used many fineillustrators for her books and short stories, including Sidney Paget for “Terence”, morefamous for illustrating Sherlock Homes, and Fred Pegram for “The Cats Paw”.Other short-stories by her, that we currently know of, are “A Comedy of Correspondence” from “Pearsons Magazine” (1904), “The Chowkedor” (a ghost story)from “The Onlooker” Magazine (1905) and “The Mad Englishman” from “TheCavalier” Magazine (1909). Her short stories were not always well received with onereviewer commenting that they were “pleasantly told but somewhat slight …”. To Letwas her first full-length book of short stories.“The Daily Mail” of 16 February 1897 said that “Mrs. Croker has distinguished herself as a novelist of two distinct and equally fascinating styles of fictional narration and itwould be hazardous to say in which direction her powers are the more marked”. Thetwo directions that The Mail mentioned were in Anglo-Indian Stories (in which onerecent writer compared her most favourably with a giant in this genre – RudyardKipling, author of The Jungle Book), and Irish Life and Character.“To Let” on the other hand, has been remembered in history for quite another reason.Any search of the internet for B. M. Croker will quickly reveal her as a giant in the fieldof ghost-story writers. In fact, she is probably better known online as a ghost-storywriter than as a romantic novelist? “To Let” is a series of ghost-stories, based in Indiaand Burma, and indicates Croker’s incisive ability to read people – a skill she may haveacquired initially under the shadow of Slieve Bawn?Melissa Edmondson in a recent essay states that “Croker uses the ghosts as warnings of the negative effects of empire, but she also establishes her female narrators as witnessesto these ghosts. These women therefore become privileged critics of the EnglishImperial presence in India. This is a serious political commentary, in what might appear on the surface to be just another ghost-story”. And remember, this was in 1893 – a fulltwenty years before Ireland began the dis-establishment of the British Empire, in 1916,and more than fifty years before India gained her independence in 1947.“A Third Person” was also published in 1893, followed by “Mr. Jarvis” (1894),“Married or Single” and “Village Tales” (1895), “In the Kingdom of Kerry” and “TheReal Lady Hilda (1896), “Beyond the Pale” (1897), “Miss Belmaines Past” and “Peggyof the Bartons” (1898) and “Infatuation” and “Jason and Other Stories”, her twentiethtitle, in 1899. “Vanity Fair” states: “our assurance is, that Mrs. Croker could not write a bad or a feeble story, if she tried”.
 
A third title published in 1899 was “Terence”, a romantic novel based in Ireland and setin Co. Kerry. The book was illustrated by Sidney Paget. The following year, 1900, the book was published in America by F. M. Buckles & Co. of New York. This was notCroker’s first American book – most of her earlier novels had American editions,however Terence was different! Within a couple of years it had come to the attention of an “Oirish-American” entertainer by the name of Chauncey Olcott.Olcott was an American, who had originally set out to become an opera star, but on hisway to study in Italy he stopped off in England and, as they say in the movies, got the break that was to change his life. He was persuaded to take the part of an Irishman in aLondon Play. Thus began a career as a Stage “Oirishman” and a songwriter of such popular Irish numbers as “Mother Macree”, “That Tumbledown Shack in Athlone” (betyou all thought that was John McCormack?), “Machushla”, “Eileen Asthore”, “SweetIniscarra” “My Wild Irish Rose” and numerous successful plays, including “ARomance of Athlone”.Having discovered “Terence”, Olcott set about rewriting the script and setting the playin Ballybay, Co. Monaghan and Dublin. He even produced his own book (later referredto by Croker in her correspondence as “The American” edition). Between ca. 1903 and1905 “Terence” became hugely successful in America and propelled Olcott to fame.Croker kept abreast of developments by collecting newspaper clippings and pastingthem into a scrapbook (which is now part of the Roscommon Library collection).In 1905 she began a long and interesting correspondence with her agent Morris Collesabout Olcott’s dramatization of Terence and bemoaned the fact that he made over $140,000 from it, while she got nothing. She later wrote her own stage version butstruggled to have it produced. Wolffe, in his biography, states that it was never  produced, however the scrapbook shows that it was staged in “The Repertoire Theatre”in Margate in 1907 and made £170, and was again performed at “The Fulham” inLondon in December 1909 and at “The Pleasure Gardens Theatre” Folkestone in May1910, with Mr. A. Austin-Leigh in the role of Terence. According to the press cuttingsthe play was well received but we don’t know exactly how many times it was stagedand we have little further evidence for it’s staging in England, or, as was mooted atleast once, in Ireland.Olcott wrote four songs for his version of the play – two of which are omitted from his biography. They were “My Own Dear Irish Queen”, “The Girl I Used to Know”, “MySonny Boy” and “Tick, Tack, Toe”.In 1901 she wrote “A State Secret” and “Angel”. “The Cats Paw” followed in 1902,“Her Own People” and “Johanna” (1903), “The Happy Valley” (1904) – of which “TheIrish Times” of 16 December wrote: “The story is well worth reading”. (This is one of the few Irish reviews of her works collected by her). “A Nine Days Wonder” and “TheOld Cantonment” (1905), “The Youngest Miss Mowbray” (1906), “The CompanyServant” and “The Spanish Necklace” (1907) and “Katherine the Arrogant”, her 33
rd
.title, in 1909.For her 1907 book “The Spanish Necklace” she received £1,650, a huge sum of moneyat the time. Dr. Eileen Reilly, speaking in October 2003, stated that “B. M. Croker typically sold 25,000 volumes in the first print”. In her letters to Morris Colles she

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