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A talk on the works of B. M.

Croker, given by Liam Byrne in Roscommon County Library on 20th October 2010 the 90th Anniversary of her death. Good evening, Today, the 20th October 2010, marks the 90th Anniversary of the death of B. M. Croker novelist. We gather here this evening to remember her. In the Foreword to The Life and Works of B. M. Croker Irish Novelist by Seamus Kelly, Crokers great-grandson Ben 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 that states although her popularity as a novelist is quite assured, few living writers have so vague a personality to the general public as Mrs. Croker. It could be said that, 90 years after her death, little has changed. Seamus Kellys book was my introduction to B. M. Croker. It began a three year quest that has led down some very interesting historical and literary paths. I dont intend, this evening, to give any detailed description of all of B. M. Crokers fifty books. Rather I hope to mention all of them in passing, and spend a few minutes on a few of the ones that have, for one reason or another, acquired some form of importance or fame. In this way I hope to leave you a little wiser and better informed. This talk is purely a subjective view on my part, and leaves you all free to pursue different research topics in the future, should you so wish. As the author of fifty individual titles, B. M. Croker can, without argument, be described as one of Irelands most prolific writers. A contemporary, Annie M. P. Smithson (1873 1948), often described as THE most successful Irish romance novelist of her era, wrote all of nineteen books! B. M. Crokers 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 in 1882. 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 popularity after an incident in the British House of Commons. The Belfast Newsletter reported that Mr. Gladstone (the Prime Minister) was observed the other night during a heated debate to be reading a novel The novel in question is by an Irish lady named Croker, the wife of an officer now serving with his regiment at Dover. Her fame was assured. 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 Pride will not be disappointed in Pretty Miss Neville. This book also carried an advertisement for the publisher Engelhorn of Stuttgart in Germany, who translated this novel into German in 1884 and began a long association with the writer that produced at least 15 titles in German. Her popularity there lasted until the beginning of the First World War. (The National Library dont have any German versions, The British Library 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), A Family 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 appeared after the book had been completed). Roscommon Library has one short story titled The cap that fitted published in The Illustrated London News of 16 November 1901. It later appeared in her book The Old Cantonment in 1905. The illustration for The cap that fitted, a story about the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa around the time of the Anglo-Boar War (1899 1900) was by Allan Stewart. Croker used many fine illustrators for her books and short stories, including Sidney Paget for Terence, more famous 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 The Cavalier Magazine (1909). Her short stories were not always well received with one reviewer commenting that they were pleasantly told but somewhat slight . To Let was 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 it would be hazardous to say in which direction her powers are the more marked. The two directions that The Mail mentioned were in Anglo-Indian Stories (in which one recent writer compared her most favourably with a giant in this genre Rudyard Kipling, 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 field of ghost-story writers. In fact, she is probably better known online as a ghost-story writer than as a romantic novelist? To Let is a series of ghost-stories, based in India and Burma, and indicates Crokers incisive ability to read people a skill she may have acquired 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 witnesses to these ghosts. These women therefore become privileged critics of the English Imperial 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 full twenty 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 The Real Lady Hilda (1896), Beyond the Pale (1897), Miss Belmaines Past and Peggy of the Bartons (1898) and Infatuation and Jason and Other Stories, her twentieth title, 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 set in 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 not Crokers 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 his way 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 a London 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 (bet you all thought that was John McCormack?), Machushla, Eileen Asthore, Sweet Iniscarra My Wild Irish Rose and numerous successful plays, including A Romance of Athlone. Having discovered Terence, Olcott set about rewriting the script and setting the play in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan and Dublin. He even produced his own book (later referred to by Croker in her correspondence as The American edition). Between ca. 1903 and 1905 Terence became hugely successful in America and propelled Olcott to fame. Croker kept abreast of developments by collecting newspaper clippings and pasting them 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 Colles about Olcotts 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 but struggled 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 in London in December 1909 and at The Pleasure Gardens Theatre Folkestone in May 1910, with Mr. A. Austin-Leigh in the role of Terence. According to the press cuttings the play was well received but we dont know exactly how many times it was staged and we have little further evidence for its staging in England, or, as was mooted at least 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, My Sonny 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 The Irish 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 The Old Cantonment (1905), The Youngest Miss Mowbray (1906), The Company Servant and The Spanish Necklace (1907) and Katherine the Arrogant, her 33rd. title, in 1909. For her 1907 book The Spanish Necklace she received 1,650, a huge sum of money at 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

intimates that she was also popular in France (as well as Germany, as we have seen), but we have been unable to find any French versions of her work, to date. In 1910 she wrote Babes in the Wood and Fame. A Rolling Stone appeared in 1911 and The Serpents Tooth in 1912. In Old Madras was first published in 1913, and was republished in Bombay in 2002 showing the continued popularity of her works. Lismoyle (1914), Quicksands (1915), Given in Marriage (1916), A Rash Experiment and The Road to Mandalay (1917), Bridget, a novel based in Rathangan, Co. Kildare, according to Seamus Kelly, was written in 1918 and then, in 1919, a virtual avalanche Blue China, Jungle Tales, Odds and Ends and The Pagoda Tree. In 1920, the year of her death, she published The Chaperon and in 1921, posthumously, and perhaps fittingly, appeared The House of Rest. B. M. Croker had written fifty books in the forty years from 1880 to 1920. At the time of her death she had four more commissions unfinished. She was one of the most prolific female authors in England and The London Times of 22 October said of her Mrs. Croker was a remarkable example of that school of romance light, wholesome and refreshing, which unfortunately is fast disappearing. Thanks to the foresight of Helen Maher, who recognized Croker as a Roscommon Author in her book of that name and began collecting examples of her works and thanks to the continued interest of her successor in the library, Richie Farrell, Roscommon Library now holds what may be the largest collection of her books anywhere in the world. When writing his book in 2007, Seamus Kelly spoke of the 30 individual titles held by the library that number now stands at 41. The National Library of Ireland has 45 individual titles, in a collection of 77 volumes, five in Hungarian. The British Library has 13 English titles and four German. Belfast Library has 26 books and 21 individual titles. Roscommon Library has 84 volumes and 41 titles. It also has six of the fifteen German editions. The National Library also has a number of letters by B. M. Croker Roscommon Library has no original manuscript letters by her, but it does have 3 unique scrapbooks, compiled by her and containing a lot of very important information on her books and plays. The library also has a small archive of material relating to Chauncey Olcotts play, including his American edition of Terence and the words of My Own Dear Irish Queen. The largest collection of Croker correspondence is believed to be held by The Ranson Centre at The University of Texas Austin. They hold the original documents used by Robert Lee Wolff for his book Nineteenth Century Fiction (1981) which contained a lot of original quotes from Croker letters to her agent. B. M. Croker was a prolific writer of romantic fiction. The books displayed here in the library represent an interest in reading her books spanning all of the 90 years since her death. Her books have been translated into German and Hungarian, and possibly French, Spanish, Italian and other Eastern European languages. Even in the 21st Century her works continue to be enjoyed. New research in the UK is showing Croker to be an astute observer of local custom and a keen student of colonial politics, who observed the injustices of imperial rule and was not afraid to write about it. In this respect, her upbringing in Roscommon, as a Church of Ireland Unionist living amongst native Irish Catholics, is just one of the fascinating

research possibilities that might in the future be explored, for this prodigious Roscommon Author. I hope you have enjoyed this short journey through the works of B. M. Croker. I invite any of you that are interested to continue the journey, to find out what more can be discovered about this fascinating author. She certainly offers many opportunities for anyone interested in womans studies, colonial politics or literature, to mention just a few themes. Roscommon Library now holds a unique space in that area, as anyone studying Croker will have to visit it as part of their research. We will, of course, continue our attempts to make the collection even better. If you can help in any way then your assistance would be welcome. Except for any questions you may have thats the end of my presentation. I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for listening.

Liam Byrne.