The themes Hall Caine wrote about


Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine CH, KBE, usually known as Hall Caine, was a Manx author. He is best known as a novelist and playwright of the late Victorian and the Edwardian eras. In his time, he was exceedingly popular, and, at the peak of his success, his novels outsold those of his contemporaries. Many of his novels were also made into films. His novels were primarily romances, involving love triangles, but also addressed some of the more serious political and social issues of the day.

Caine acted as secretary to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and at one time he aspired to become a man of letters. To this end he published a number of serious works, but these had little success. He was a lover of the Isle of Man and Manx culture, and purchased a large house, Greeba Castle, on the Island.

For a time he was a Member of the House of Keys, but he declined to become more deeply involved in Manx politics. A man of striking appearance, he travelled widely and used his travels to provide the settings for some of his novels to good effect. He came into contact with, and was influenced by, many of the leading personalities of the day, particularly those of a socialist leaning.

Caine's novels are considered outdated by creators of English literature curricula today, and despite his immense popularity during his life, he is now virtually unknown or forgotten. However, some of his more popular novels have been published as paperbacks in recent years, predominantly for the Manx market catering for tourists to the Isle of Man.

Hall Caine was born in Runcorn, Cheshire, England and christened Thomas Henry Hall Caine, but he disliked the name Thomas and never used it. His father came from the Isle of Man, but in the absence of work there he emigrated to Liverpool, where he trained as a ship's smith. At the time of Hall Caine's birth, he was working temporarily in Runcorn docks. Within a few months the family were back in Liverpool, where Caine spent his childhood and youth. He was educated at the Hope Street British Schools until he was 14. During this time he paid a number of visits to relatives on the Isle of Man where the foundations for a lifelong attachment to the island, to its language, its myths and its legends were built. After leaving school he was articled to John Murray, an architect and surveyor. He developed a passion for books and spent much time in Liverpool's Free Library, later maintaining that he was mainly self-taught. At the age of 15 he discovered the poetry of Coleridge, and this was to be his first important literary influence. He started writing at this time, and contributed articles to a trade paper The Builder, which also carried literary articles, and to local newspapers, particularly the Liverpool Mercury.

In 1870 his grandfather died, and later that year Caine had a type of nervous breakdown. He gave up his job and went to the Isle of Man. His uncle, James Teare, was a schoolmaster in Maughold but was ill at the time, and so Caine acted as an assistant teacher in his school. During this time he started to become influenced by the writings of John Ruskin, and he became 'an eager pupil and admirer'. He later became a frequent visitor to Ruskin's Coniston home, Brantwood and a keen member of the local Ruskin Society. In December 1871 James Teare died and Caine carved a headstone for his grave. John Murray persuaded him to return to his job, and in April 1872 he was back in Liverpool. There he wrote his first extended work of fiction, a play, but could not afford to have it produced. He continued to submit material frequently to the local press and he also acted as a freelance theatre critic.

He then left his employment with Murray and joined the building firm of Bromley & Son as a draughtsman. However he continued to spend much of his time in writing. With friends he formed the Notes and Queries Society, ostensibly to discuss the arts, but the Society was also used to discuss and spread political ideas. At this time Caine's political beliefs were in the area of communism, but this was a type of communism nearer to Christian socialism than to Marxism. In 1874 Caine, as theatre critic, went to see the Lyric Theatre's touring production of Hamlet with Henry Irving in the title role. Caine was very impressed by the performance and wrote an enthusiastic and favourable review which was well received. Caine and Irving subsequently became good friends. Caine continued to work, at least nominally, at Bromley's. Amongst his writings at this time was an attempted completion of Coleridge's poem Christabel. In 1877 Caine's younger brother, John James, died from tuberculosis, aged 21, and this had a deep effect on him. However by that year he was also gaining a reputation as a public lecturer, and many of his lectures had been published.

Around this time he also became interested in environmental and conservation issues. He joined the 'Save Thirlmere' movement, which unsuccessfully tried to prevent the lake from being turned into a reservoir. In 1878, having become acquainted with the work and ideas of William Morris, he joined the 'Anti-Scrape Society', the forerunner of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and remained a member for the rest of his life. In December 1878 Caine travelled to London to see Irving's first night at the Lyceum Theatre under his own management. Here he met Bram Stoker and they became good friends. Stoker was subsequently to dedicate his famous novel Dracula to Caine, under the nickname "Hommy-Beg".

Caine had come to be very impressed by the poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and he gave a series of three lectures on the poems of Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites. He sent a copy of one of his published lectures to Rossetti, who by that time had become a virtual recluse and was "ravaged by years of addiction to chloral and too much whisky". A frequent correspondence followed and they eventually met in September 1880 when Caine visited Rossetti in his home at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where he lived "in shabby splendour". The following year Caine left his employment in Liverpool and went to live with Rossetti and stayed there until Rossetti's death in April 1882. During that time he was "secretary, companion, housekeeper, general factotum and eventually nurse" to Rossetti. Caine had negotiated for Rossetti's painting Dante's Dream of the Death of Beatrice to be hung in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery and he represented the painter at its installation in November 1881. In January 1882 Caine's anthology Sonnets of Three Centuries was published.

After Rossetti's death, Caine gained an income by writing articles for the Liverpool Mercury, while at the same time preparing a book about his time with Rossetti. This was entitled Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; it appeared in October 1882 and sold reasonably well. In 1883 Cobwebs of Criticism was published, a book about reviewers and whether or not their criticisms had been valid. During this time he was maintaining old friendships and building new ones with people who included Ford Madox Brown, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Theodore Watts, R. D. Blackmore, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti. In consequence of his work as a theatre critic, Caine met the actor-manager Wilson Barrett.

It was at this time that Caine began to consider that his future might lie in writing fiction. After appearing as a serial in the Mercury, Caine's first novel Shadow of a Crime was published by Chatto & Windus in February 1885. Set in the Lake District and based on a love triangle, it sold well and was still in print in the 1900s. It "launched Caine on a career as a romantic novelist of huge popularity which was to span forty years and produce fifteen novels". The same year She's All The World To Me, another love triangle, was published in New York, a book which Watts and Chatto considered was not up to his previous standard — but Caine wanted the money from it, and also exposure in America. The following year Chatto and Windus published A Son of Hagar in three volumes. Again set in the Lake District, it dealt with the theme of illegitimacy. It received some good reviews, but not from George Bernard Shaw who "took a bilious view of the romantic novels of his day with their ridiculous plots". However in time Shaw and Caine were to become good friends.

Caine craved to be recognised as a man of letters, and to this end he wrote a biography, Life of Coleridge, which was published in 1887. It was a failure, and this confirmed to Caine that his future lay in fiction. Later that year his next novel The Deemster was published, again by Chatto & Windus. It was the first of Caine's novels to be set in the Isle of Man, where judges are called deemsters. It was set in the 18th century, and included the story of a fatal fight, with the body being taken out to sea only to float back to land the next day. It was a big success and the reviews were excellent. It ran to more than 50 editions and was translated into at least 9 languages. Wilson Barrett bought the stage rights and produced a stage version called Ben-my-Chree (Manx for 'Girl of my Heart') which was also successful, despite its changed ending.

In January 1890, the next novel was published after being serialised in the Isle of Man Times. This was The Bondman which was published by Heinemann rather than Chatto & Windus, because they offered better terms. It is set in the Isle of Man and in Iceland. Again it was a great success, despite its complicated story and its being "hopelessly sentimental and melodramatic". Later the same year, in September, the next novel, The Scapegoat, was published. This time the novel was set in Morocco and its main theme is the persecution of the Jews; Caine hated anti-Semitism. It had a pro-Jewish theme and although it was a critical success, it did not sell as well as The Bondman. The Scapegoat brought Caine a considerable correspondence, mainly because of its pro-Jewish stance.

Following this, Caine returned to non-fiction, publishing three lectures on the history of the Isle of Man as a book entitled The Little Manx Nation. His next fiction consisted of three novellas in one volume which were entitled Cap'n Davey's Honeymoon, The Last Confession, and The Blind Mother. This book was published in 1893 and was dedicated to Bram Stoker, but did not sell well. However his next book, The Manxman, published in 1894, was one of his greatest successes, eventually selling over half a million copies and being translated into 12 languages. This was again set in the Isle of Man and involved a love triangle.

During his career Caine travelled widely, and used his experiences abroad in his writings. Places visited included Iceland, Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Rome, Berlin, Austria, and the Russian frontier. For many years Caine had been concerned about matters relating to copyright, and in 1895 he travelled via the United States of America to Canada for the Society of Authors and successfully negotiated for the introduction of copyright protection there.

In 1897 came the most successful novel yet, The Christian. It was the first novel in Britain to sell over a million copies although once again it attracted much adverse publicity. As with most of his novels, it was first published in serial form, this time in the Windsor Magazine and then, dramatised by the author, produced as a play. The theme of the novel was the problems encountered by a young woman trying to live an independent life; it was the first time that Caine had taken up the Woman Question. The play was first performed at the Knickerbocker Theatre in New York in October 1898, and it was also a great success. Caine followed it by a lucrative lecture tour. However when The Christian was first produced in England at the Duke of York's Theatre in October 1899, its reception was only lukewarm.

It was to be four years before the appearance of Caine's next work, The Eternal City. This was set in Rome and was the only novel to be first conceived as a play. It appeared in serial form in The Lady's Magazine and finally in book form in August 1901. This proved to be Caine's most successful novel; it sold more than a million copies in English alone, and appeared in 13 other languages. It was another romance, with the hero being accused of plotting to murder the Italian king. The stage version opened at His Majesty's Theatre, London in October 1902. Once again the reviews were mixed, the literary critics tending to be scathing, while it was praised by many clergymen. Around this time, Caine tried to revive the literary magazine Household Words which had been founded by Charles Dickens.

In August 1902 King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited the Isle of Man. The Queen had enjoyed Caine's Manx novels and Caine was invited to join the royal couple on their yacht and to accompany them on their tour of the island the following day. The Eternal City opened as a play in October with incidental music by Mascagni. A few days after the London opening the Caines went to USA for the play's American opening in Washington, which was followed by a tour. In 1902 all of Caine's novels were still in print and towards the end of 1903 six companies were performing The Eternal City, in England, USA, Australia and South Africa. However that year Household Words ceased publication.

The Prodigal Son was published in November 1904, again by Heinemann, and in the same month it opened as a play at the Grand Theatre, Douglas. It was set mainly in Iceland, with scenes in London and the French Riviera, and is again based on the eternal triangle. The book was again an instant success and once again the criticisms were mixed; it was translated into 13 languages. The play opened in September 1905 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with Caine's sister, Lily, playing a main part but it had only a moderate run. In 1906 The Bondman appeared for the first time as a play, produced again at Drury Lane, with Caine's son Derwent aged 16, making a stage début. The setting had been changed from Iceland to Sicily, which gave an opportunity for an eruption of Mount Etna in the last act. Mrs Patrick Campbell took a leading role. Once again while the play was a huge popular success, it was panned by the critics. 1908 saw the publication of My Story, an autobiography which said more about others, particularly Rossetti, than about himself, and much of what was written was not entirely correct. It did not sell particularly well.

Caine's next major work of fiction was The White Prophet which was set in Egypt and which addressed the problems of colonial rule and attempted a synthesis of the world's religions. It appeared first in its stage version in Douglas in August 1908. On the first night one of the actors was ill and Caine himself took his part. It appeared as a book the following month. For the first time in a Caine novel, the strongest element was not romance, but rather adventure, with a degree of theological discussion. The book did not do as well as his previous ones.

The next major work was The Woman Thou Gavest Me, published in 1913, which "caused the biggest furore of any of his novels". Libraries objected to its morals, dealing as it did with the divorce laws of the time and attitudes towards illegitimacy. Once again it addressed the Woman Question. However it sold extremely well. It was reprinted five times before the end of the year when nearly half a million copies had been sold. Despite the storm of criticism, or maybe because of it, Caine's reputation as a novelist had been restored.

In previous years Caine had edited books to raise money for Queen Alexandra's charities in 1905 and 1908. In 1914, following the outbreak of the Great War, he decided to produce another charity book, this time in support of the exiled King Albert of Belgium. King Albert rewarded him by creating him an Officer of the Order of Leopold of Belgium.

Caine tried to involve America in the war by writing articles, mainly for The New York Times and in 1915 he gave a series of lectures in the USA but these were not well received. He wrote a series of articles for The Daily Telegraph about how the war was affecting "ordinary" people. These were published in 1915 as a book entitled The Drama of 365 Days: Scenes in the Great War. In 1916 he was invited to work with Lord Robert Cecil at the Foreign Office towards the creation of the League of Nations after the end of the war. The same year Caine produced a small book entitled Our Girls: Their Work for the War Effort to show that women were also playing an active part in the war. He was also involved in writing a propaganda film to assist the war effort but the war ended before the film could be completed.

Towards the end of 1917 Caine was offered a baronetcy but he declined it and instead he accepted a knighthood as a KBE, insisting on being called, not 'Sir Thomas Hall Caine' but 'Sir Hall Caine'.

Caine returned to writing novels and in 1921 Heinmann's published The Master of Man: The Story of a Sin. It was set in the Isle of Man and involves infanticide. Initially it sold well but sales soon dropped. It was considered to be old-fashioned; Caine was using old themes and had not kept up with the time. One reviewer referred to Caine as "this Victorian author". The following year Caine acquired the Sunday Illustrated newspaper which had been founded by Horatio Bottomley. In October of that year he was made a Companion of Honour. Caine's last novel The Woman of Knockaloe was brought out in 1923, this time published by Cassell's. It is another love story set on the Isle of Man but this time dealing with the harm caused by racial hatred. That year he sold the Sunday Illustrated and also made his first broadcast, an address on 'Peace'.

Caine's last published work in his lifetime was a revised version of Recollections of Rossetti with a shortened title to coincide with the centenary of Rossetti's birth in 1928. In 1929 Caine was given the Freedom of Douglas. For much of his life Caine worked on a book entitled Life of Christ but it was not published until some time after his death, in 1938 with a foreword by his two sons. It "aroused little or no interest and quickly disappeared".

In 1901 Caine was elected a Member of the House of Keys as a Liberal for the constituency of Ramsey at a by-election and was re-elected, with a smaller majority, in 1903. This had been helped by the success of his Manx novels benefiting the tourist trade of the island. He continued as a member until 1908, although due to the other pressures on his time he seldom spoke in the House. He also had little time to offer to politics on a larger scale. When he was invited by Lloyd George to stand for the English parliament he refused. He was, however, elected as the first president of the Manx National Reform League.

Some of Caine's novels were made into films, all of which were black-and-white and silent. Unauthorised versions of The Deemster and The Bondman were made by Fox Film Corporation. In 1914, Vitalograph filmed The Bondman, which was also unauthorised.

The first authorised film of a Caine novel was a version of The Christian, made by the London Film Company in 1915 and starred his son Derwent Hall Caine in one of the parts. In 1916, The Manxman, also produced by the London Film Company, was filmed on the Isle of Man and, when released in 1917, drew huge crowds in Britain and America. In 1918 Caine was recruited by the Prime Minister David Lloyd George to write the screenplay for the propaganda film Victory and Peace (1918). A film of The Deemster, also starring Derwent, was made by the Arrow Film Corporation and released in 1918. The Christian was also remade in 1923, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, and directed by the celebrated Maurice Tourneur.

In 1915, the first version of The Eternal City was produced by Paramount Pictures, and in 1923 the Samuel Goldwyn Company shot a remake in Italy. Caine was so unhappy with the latter film that he tried to withdraw his name from it, unsuccessfully.

More films were in progress, including Darby and Joan. This was based on an old novella, was produced by Master Films, and again starred Derwent. A film of The Woman Thou Gavest Me was made in 1919 by Famous Players and this drew good audiences and good reviews. The Woman of Knockaloe was filmed by Paramount Pictures in 1927 as Barbed Wire. Then Alfred Hitchcock arrived on the Isle of Man to film The Manxman (1929) but he and Caine did not get on well and the rest of the film was shot in Cornwall. The Manxman was Hitchcock's last silent film. Caine was not happy with it.

In appearance Caine was a short man who tended to dress in a striking fashion. His eyes were dark brown and slightly protuberant, giving him an intense stare. He had red-gold hair and a dark red beard which he trimmed to appear like the Stratford bust of Shakespeare; indeed if people did not notice the likeness he was inclined to point it out to them. He was also preoccupied throughout his life with the state of his health. This was often the result of overwork or other stresses in his life and he would sometimes use nervous exhaustion as an excuse to escape from his problems.

Caine's concern about his health led him in his Liverpool days into involvement with Francis Tumblety, an American herbalist of dubious reputation. Caine was attractive to women and attracted by them, and was also attractive to men, including Tumblety. During his time in Liverpool Caine had a number of love affairs but nothing came of them.

After Rossetti's death when he was living in rooms in Clement's Inn Caine came into contact with a girl named Mary Chandler. Following pressure from her stepfather, Mary came to live with Caine. She was aged 13 (which was at that time the age of consent) while Caine was aged 29. Their friends assumed they were married. Mary had had little schooling and so Caine arranged for her to have some more education at Sevenoaks where she stayed for six months being taught either at a private school or privately by a governess. She then returned to live with Caine and in 1884, at the age of 14, she was pregnant. Their son, to be named Ralph, was born in their rented house in Hampstead in August 1884. The following month they moved to live in Aberleigh Lodge, Bexley Heath, next door to William Morris' Red House. In 1886 they travelled to Scotland where they were married in Edinburgh under Scottish law by declaration before witnesses. After the publication of Caine's first novel, Mary kept a scrapbook of everything relating to him.

In 1888 after the success of The Deemster, the lease on Aberleigh House was nearing its end and Caine wanted to live in the Lake District. He bought a house called Hawthorns in Keswick and the family moved there while Caine rented part of a flat in Victoria Street, London, leaving Mary to supervise the move. She became a devoted wife, reading all his work, advising and criticising when appropriate and was his first secretary. Later Caine distanced himself from her which "nearly destroyed her".

Their second son, Derwent was born in 1891. Caine felt an urge to move to the Isle of Man and in 1893 they rented a castellated house which looked over the Douglas to Peel road called Greeba Castle for six months. Meanwhile their London home, which had been in Ashley Gardens, became a flat in Whitehall Court between Whitehall and the Victoria Embankment. They did not return to Greeba Castle at this time but took a house in Peel. Hawthorns, which in the meantime had been occupied by Thomas Telford, was sold. After years of haggling, Caine bought Greeba Castle in 1896. He lived there for the rest of his life and made extensive internal and external alterations to it. However Mary never liked the house. Following the production of The Christian in New York and the subsequent lecture tour, the marriage began to come under strain but it did survive.

In 1902 the Caines rented a large house on Wimbledon Common, The Hermitage, and Mary spent much time there while Caine was abroad or at Greeba Castle. Rumours spread that the marriage was in trouble and, as many of his visitors were male, that Caine was homosexual. However there was never any reliable substance to this. By 1906 the couple were leading increasingly separate lives but Mary remained loyal and faithful throughout.

In 1912, Derwent Hall Caine had an illegitimate daughter, Elin, and she was brought up as Caine and Mary's child. By 1914 Mary at last had her own London house — Heath Brow which overlooked Hampstead Heath. After the Great War this house had become too big and Mary moved into Heath End House, again overlooking Hampstead Heath. By 1922 they informally separated; Caine could not live with Mary, nor could he break with her completely. From that time, both suffered from various ailments.

In August 1931 at age 78 Caine slipped into a coma and died. On his death certificate was the diagnosis of "cardiac syncope". He was buried in Kirk Maughold churchyard and a slate obelisk was erected over his grave, designed by Archibald Knox. A memorial service was held in St Martin's-in-the-Fields. In March 1932, six months after her husband's death, Mary Hall Caine died from pneumonia. She was buried alongside her husband. A statue of Hall Caine stands in Douglas, financed by money from the estate of Derwent Hall Caine.

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