Papers of Pearl Craigie

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists mainly of a large amount of correspondence between Pearl Craigie and Revd. Mgr. W. F. Brown, 1898-1906, together with a few letters from other correspondents including John Craigie, Pearl's son [2 letters to Pearl, 1 letter to Father Brown], Lord Curzon [1 letter to Pearl] and John Richards, Pearl's father [8 letters to Father Brown written after Pearl's death]. 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 TS transcriptions of some letters and a copy of a pamphlet by Margaret Maison, John Oliver Hobbes, her life and work, 1976.

Administrative / Biographical History

Pearl Craigie was born on 3 November 1867 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, eldest of the 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 but 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 about town 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 parent's 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. Also in 1891 she published her first novel under the name of John Oliver Hobbes and 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 hostess and 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. One of her deepest friendships was with the Revd Mgr William Brown.

Pearl wrote more novels and plays with considerable success and lectured on a variety of subjects, undertaking a gruelling 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 thirty eight.

William Francis Brown [1862-1951] 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 as well as 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.'

Arrangement

The letters are roughly bundled by year.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Letters from Pearl Craigie to Father Brown bequeathed by Miss Ines Brown, 1994; 2 albums of news cuttings, gift from Margaret Maison, 1997; Letters from Father Brown to Pearl Craigie, gift from Margaret F. Brown [great-niece], 2003

Other Finding Aids

No finding aids are available

Archivist's Note

This description was compiled by Gil Skidmore with references to various sources including Mildred Davis Harding, Craigie , Pearl (1867-1906), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 and J. D. Scanlan, Brown, William Francis (1862-1951), rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004