This blog has been a reflection on the creation of Social Edition of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes and has focused broadly on digitization in the Humanities. This week we focus on John Oliver Hobbes and her work. This list is by no means exhaustive but here are a few reasons we’ve come to ♥ John Oliver Hobbes.
1) She was a widely admired author in her day: Though Hobbes’s work fell out of print in the twentieth century, her first book Some Emotions and a Moral (1891) was a sensation in its day, selling eighty thousand copies in only a few weeks. When it became clear to the public that John Oliver Hobbes was the pseudonym for woman writer Pearl Mary Craigie (for Craigie had only adopted the pen-name after her publisher insisted she do so), there was incredulity that such form and style could be a woman’s work.
2) She’s a damn good writer: That same style and form, as well as her epigrammatic wit and often-satirical cultural and philosophical musings, amply warrant a contemporary readership for her work. She has the rare quality of twisting engaging plots while also reflecting deeply what it means to live and to love. Her writing gives the sense that she has taken her time choosing each word and that we should also slow down enough to unravel and savour her meaning.
3) She is a fascinating woman and early proponent of the feminist movement: In Air-Bird in the Water: The Life and Works of Pearl Mary Craigie, author Mildred David Harding calls Hobbes “a wealthy, beautiful and brilliant young socialite, a successful novelist and playwright… but also… a heartless flirt and social climber” (11). Sounds like fun. She was a modern and cosmopolitan woman who separated from and ultimately divorced her husband after only 4 years of marriage. In her book, Harding argues that the writings of John Oliver Hobbes exhibit Craigie’s personal brand of feminism, “not a reversal or radical change, but a continued unfolding, an increasing wisdom and compassion, a firm, courageous feminism” (310). Harding also notes her involvement in the “feminist movement” (23) in her later years, though she only lived to 38.
4) She rubbed shoulders and collaborated with some big names: She was not unknown in literary and artistic circles of her day. She had work published in The Yellow Book, the leading journal of Aestheticism and Decadence in the 1890s. Aubrey Beardsley illustrated the cover of her novel The Dream and the Business and, in letter to William Rothenstein, Beardsley suggests Hobbes as the subject for a portrait: “Dear Billy, What of John Oliver Hobbes as a portrait. Do you know her? She is a dear pretty little lady.” The portrait (above) was published in the Illustrated Supplement to The Saturday Review, Christmas 1986.
5) She’s a great reason not to re-read Pride and Prejudice for the eighth time: If you are a devout follower of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot (as, let’s face it, most of us are) than Hobbes is your new gal. Though these women should never be ushered off their thrones, it’s time to bring forgotten women writers into the fold. I can already picture Keira Knightley as Anna in The Sinner’s Comedy.