Intimate Friends: Frances Martin and Jane Benson

by Kiana Wong

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography refers to Frances Martin as an educationist and author who was dedicated to improving the education of women (Curthoys), and Jane Benson, Martin’s teaching colleague at Bedford College (Young 21) as “lifelong friend[s]” (Curthoys). The pair were indeed lifelong companions, moving from place to place and living together. However, language in Dinah Craik’s letters suggests that there was something more to their friendship. Craik refers to the pair using the same language of “settling” that she uses in describing heterosexual relationships. In a letter to her brother Benjamin Mulock dated January 8, 1860, Dinah Craik refers to Frances and Jane having “taken a house on Mornington Road, and are now busy “settling” – Living – for how long? – they seem never to stay long anywhere”. Using the word “settling” hints at a possible relationship that is more romantic, as Dinah Craik often uses “settling” in reference to marriage and settling into a house to have a family when addressing her brother’s eventual marrying in the same letter: “I should like to know what are your ‘divers reasons’ for coming to England – & whether you have any new hope about ‘settling’ – which of course you won’t tell me. – but will probably rush on your settling in a blind way – & more misery will come. – Now my boy – don’t! – Just do the thing quietly deliberately & perseveringly – make sure of your ground – your love is worth having – & many a girl would get desperately fond of you”. Furthermore, as both women remained unmarried, it seems increasingly possible that their relationship was intimate, as in Martha Vicinus’s monograph Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, she writes that

“[i]ntimate friendships often terminated when one woman married, and loyalty to her husband and his wishes became paramount” (xv-xvi).

However, due to social conventions, romantic relationships between women often had to be disguised as an “extreme form of friendship” (Vicinus 6) as women’s wages had an “unsteady nature” which “made it difficult to manage a more permanent relationship” (Vicinus xvi). However, it was no longer uncommon around the time of Frances Martin and Jane Benson, as many had come to recognize “the visible sign of a successful female marriage” (Vicinus 10). This successful female marriage is indicated by two women having “made vows of celibacy & of eternal attachment to each other – they live together, dress alike…” (qtd. in Vicinus 9), all of which Frances Martin and Jane Benson appear to have exhibited as they remain unmarried and lived with one another throughout their lives. Furthermore, as Frances Martin remained “unmarried, and of independent financial means” (Curthoys), the possibility for a more permanent romantic relationship between her and Jane Benson was viable as she had the economic stability to maintain a household without needing the security of a heterosexual marriage. Perhaps most tellingly, Frances Martin was even “buried at the Hampstead cemetery at the foot of Jane Benson’s grave” (Curthoys).

Works Cited:

Curthoys, M. C. “Martin, (Mary Anne) Frances (1829–1922), educationist and author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. May 24, 2007. Oxford University Press. Accessed 23 August 2020.

“Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Benjamin Mulock, 8 January 1860.” Mulock Family Papers, 846, Box 1, Folder 8, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California at Los Angeles.

Vicinus, Martha. Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928. University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Young, Ruth. The Life of an Education Worker (Henrietta Busk). Longmans, Green and Company, 1934.

Dinah Craik and “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple”

Holman Hunt's Painting of the child Jesus debating the interpretation of the scripture with learned rabbis
Figure 1: William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, Wikimedia Commons.

In 1860, the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt completed and exhibited his now-famous painting, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (Fig. 1). Hunt’s was one of the first attempts at a realistic, ethnographically and archaeologically accurate depiction of “The Finding in the Temple” from the Gospel of Luke. In the foreground, Mary and Joseph embrace the young Jesus Christ. They had lost him in Jerusalem and rediscovered him in a nearby temple discussing scripture with the Jewish Rabbis.

Dinah Craik and her friend Miss (Mary) Montgomery went to see The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple in London on Tuesday, April 10th, 1860. Dinah was immediately taken with it. She wrote to her brother that Sunday, that it was

“the grandest picture I ever saw – Beats all the old masters hollow – Real Art. – or rather it feels like Nature. Not like a picture – you seem actually there.”

At the viewing, Dinah also had the opportunity to speak with the artist, Holman Hunt, whom she refers to as

“such a nice, gentle, simple soul – as fine as his picture.”

Indeed, Dinah Craik was so struck by The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple that she felt compelled to write a poem to commemorate it. The poem, “Our Father’s Business: Holman Hunt’s Picture of ‘Christ in the Temple’,” is a devotional ode written in the first-person plural. It addresses and praises the young Jesus Christ—who is seen as wholly present and not simply reproduced in Holman Hunt’s painting. The speaker, who speaks on behalf of all Christians, glorifies the boy Christ and advocates for a renewed sense of Christian faith and duty. Craik had already written “Our Father’s Business” by the time she sent her brother his weekly mail on Sunday, April 15th, 1860, and it certainly did not spend much time on her desk after that. Sometime between April 10th and the end of the month, she sent it off to her friend and publisher, Alexander Macmillan.

“I don’t know whether this is good or not – or whether you would like it in the magazine. I felt it strongly – on seeing Hunt’s picture: one of the grandest, if not the grandest picture I ever saw in my life. – “

Macmillan must have thought it was a good poem because he published it the following month in Macmillan’s Magazine (May 1860). The painting could not be reproduced in the pages of Macmillan’s as it is here, but Craik’s poem is preceded by an anonymous introduction, elaborate description, and commentary on Hunt’s painting. This introduction concludes with a statement that seems to be written on behalf of Macmillan & Co.

It is now time to announce our conviction that Mr. Holman Hunt, who has ever been the steadfast centre of the Pre-Raffaelite movement, has in this noble work successfully laid down his idea of art; that by so doing he has put a crown on to his previous labours; and that the result is likely to be a great extension of those principles . . .

For ease of reference, I’ve copied Craik’s poem “Our Father’s Business” (1860) below. Enjoy!


O CHRIST-CHILD, Everlasting, Holy One,
Sufferer of all the sorrow of this world,
Redeemer of the sin of all this world,
Who by Thy death brought’st life into this world,—
O Christ, hear us!

This, this is Thou. No idle painter’s dream
Of aureoled, imaginary Christ,
Laden with attributes that make not God;
But Jesus, son of Mary; lowly, wise,
Obedient, subject unto parents, mild,
Meek—as the meek that shall inherit earth,
Pure—as the pure in heart that shall see God.

O infinitely human, yet divine!
Half clinging childlike to the mother found,
Yet half repelling—as the soft eyes say,
‘How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not
That I must be about my Father’s business?’
As in the Temple’s splendors mystical,
Earth’s wisdom hearkening to the all-wise One,
Earth’s closest love clasping the all-loving One,
He sees far off the vision of the cross,
The Christ-like glory and the Christ-like doom.

Messiah! Elder Brother, Priest and King,
The Son of God, and yet the woman’s seed;
Enterer within the veil; Victor of death,
And made to us first fruits of them that sleep;
Saviour and Intercessor, Judge and Lord,—
All that we know of Thee, or knowing not
Love only, waiting till the perfect time
When we shall know even as we are known—
O Thou Child Jesus, Thou dost seem to say
By the soft silence of these heavenly eyes
(That rose out of the depths of nothingness
Upon this limner’s reverent soul and hand)
We too should be about our father’s business—
O Christ, hear us!

Have mercy on us, Jesus Christ, our Lord!
The cross Thou borest still is hard to bear;
And awful even to humblest follower
The little that Thou givest each to do

Of this Thy Father’s business; whether it be
Temptation by the devil of the flesh,
Or long-linked years of lingering toil obscure,
Uncomforted, save by the solemn rests
On mountain-tops of solitary prayer;
Oft ending in the supreme sacrifice,
The putting off all garments of delight,
And taking sorrow’s kingly crown of thorn,
In crucifixion of all self to Thee,
Who offeredst up Thyself for all the world.
O Christ, hear us!

Our Father’s business:—unto us, as Thee,
The whole which this earth-life, this hand-breadth span
Out of our everlasting life that lies
Hidden with Thee in God, can ask or need.
Outweighing all that heap of petty woes—
To us a measure huge—which angels blow
Out of the balance of our total lot,
As zephyrs blow the winged dust away.

O Thou who wert the Child of Nazareth,
Make us see only this, and only Thee,
Who camest but to do thy Father’s will,
And didst delight to do it. Take Thou then
Our bitterness of loss,—aspirings vain,
And anguishes of unfulfilled desire,

Our joys imperfect, our sublimed despairs,
Our hopes, our dreams, our wills, our loves, our all,
And cast them into the great crucible
In which the whole earth, slowly purified,
Runs molten, and shall run—the Will of God.
O Christ, hear us!

Works Cited:
Craik, Dinah.“Our Father’s Business: Holman Hunt’s Picture of ‘Christ in the Temple’.” Macmillan’s Magazine, vol. II, no. VII (May 1860): 40–41, accessed 5 June 2017.
Landow, George P. “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple.” Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009, Victorian Web, accessed 5 June 2017.
“Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Benjamin Mulock, 15 April 1860.” Mulock Family Papers, 846, Box 1, Folder 8, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California at Los Angeles.*
Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Alexander Macmillan, April 1860,” Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, Folder 67B2875, New York Public Library, Digital Dinah Craik on TAPAS, accessed 5 June 2017.
Stephens, Frederic George. William Holman Hunt and His Works: A Memoir of the Artist’s Life with Descriptions of His Pictures. London: James Nisbet & Co, 1861, accessed 5 June 2017.

*Coming soon to Digital Dinah Craik on TAPAS

Women and the Craik Site Index

Prosopographical research is one of the most important and time-consuming aspects of our work on Digital Dinah Craik. As we transcribe and encode Dinah Craik’s letters in TEI, we tag and research all the people, places, organizations, and titles that Dinah mentions in an effort to better understand the networks she fostered as she built and sustained her long and successful career. Most encoded letters generate at least one new entry in our live prosopography, placeography, orgography, and bibliography that we call the Craik Site Index. Out of these, the entries for people usually take the longest. This is because many of Dinah’s acquaintances were not famous enough to be included in histories, biographies, and formal prosopographies, but also because our person entries have the highest level of granularity. For each person in the site index, we try our best to include their full name, sex, date of birth, date of death, occupation, and nationality, as well as a short biographical note that details who they were and how they were connected to Dinah Craik. Because of this, our TEI division for nineteenth-century people (and a few of Dinah’s pets!) makes up approximately 64% of our Craik Site Index, which is currently over 10, 500 lines of TEI.

As we often teach our new project members, our first go-to source for figuring out the identities of Dinah’s friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances is the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). The ODNB is remarkably useful for discovering the writers, artists, professors, and publishers that Dinah knew. However, owing partially to its scope, this source does not tell us much about the wives, daughters, and sisters of famous men. Dinah regularly socialized with these women, and they were important to both her personal life and her career. In fact, in her forthcoming biography of Dinah Craik, Karen Bourrier (our Project Director) writes that Dinah maintained strong relationships with Caroline, Frances Macmillan, and their children, often inviting them to stay at her house in Wildwood, as an alternate form of literary sociability (Bourrier 215). This allowed her to remain close with the Macmillans despite the fact that her gender excluded her from important networking opportunities such as Alexander Macmillan’s weekly “Tobacco Parliaments,” (Bourrier 215; Weedon 81).

To add to this dilemma, the ODNB also has far fewer entries about women than men on the whole. The online edition claims to have 60 302 biographies (it has grown since that count was recorded) but using the targeted search function, one finds a total of 6 748 notable women and 421 notable families to the 53, 632 notable men. Limiting that search to people who were alive during the long nineteenth century (1789 – 1914) limits the data to 4 600 women and 30 172 men (at this time, no families are turning up in my date-limited search.) Part of this gender disparity can be attributed to the ODNB‘s predecessor the DNB (est. 1885). The original DNB had an all-male editorial staff and they attempted, in their writing, to maintain a stark separation of public and private spheres (Baignet et al.  2–3).

Pie Chart. Shows entries in the ODNB as 88% male, 11% female, 1% families

Today, when we can’t find the women we’re looking for in either the ODNB or in other biographies and prosopographies, Ancestry is often our saviour. Using Ancestry, we are able to access millions of historical documents including censuses, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, and probates. These sources help us to provide the names and facts of all the Mrs. X’s and Mrs. Y’s in our Site Index. Usually, knowing these facts will help us to reformulate our previous searches, helping us to find more information about otherwise unknown women in nineteenth-century Google Books and newspaper databases such as the British Newspaper Archive. At the very least, we try to find women’s full names. If we can fill in dates of birth and death, occupations, and nationalities—even better!

Bearing all this in mind, we still have many unknown women populating our Craik Site Index. Part of our challenge is that Dinah rarely referred to people by their first name (unless they were servants, or sometimes family members) and many of her acquaintances had very common surnames. Even those whom we can identify by context or by way of their birth and marriage records often have little to no biographical information available. That being said, we are making a conscious effort to improve our records. As an example, Mrs. Laing’s person entry was once quite minimal. It included only an xml:id and a surname, and the biographical note read “Mrs. Laing was the wife of the Reverend David Laing” (and I take full responsibility for that one.) Now, it looks like this:

Screen Shot for Site Index Entry Mrs Mary Elizabeth (West) Laing

Of course, there are practical considerations that surface when doing this work. It takes much more time to research the many unnamed women like Mrs. Laing that show up in our Craik Site Index. We have a small research team with limited funding, and one could argue that our time could be better spent elsewhere. Moreover, some of these figures might not end up being very important to our larger research questions. Frances and Caroline Macmillan are one story but what about Miss Bathurst—a friend of a friend who died in Belgium in 1861? I tend to think that the extra time and energy is worthwhile. This research can lead to surprise discoveries about Dinah Craik’s many networks and fields of influence. But more importantly, filling in these gaps helps us to develop more robust and inclusive data, which I think should always be an objective of DH projects.

For those of you working on your own digital editions, what are your standards for choosing who to encode in your prosopography and in what level of detail? We are still fine-tuning our approaches and would appreciate any input!

Works Cited: 
Baigent, Elizabeth, Charlotte Brewer and Vivienne Larminie. “Gender in the archive: women in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Oxford English Dictionary.” Preprint version. Archives XXX (October 2005).
Bourrier, Karen. Victorian Bestseller: The Life of Dinah Craik. MS.
Weedon, Alexis.Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market, 1836-1916. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.

Dinah Craik Visualizations

In October 2015, our team delivered a research talk for the Department of English at the University of Calgary. In this talk, we introduced the English faculty and students to the research questions and developments in the Digital Dinah Craik project and gave a light introduction to our project’s TEI markup. To prepare for our presentation, I created three preliminary visualizations with Google Fusion Tables. Using data from our project’s excel spreadsheet—which details the locations, contexts, and contents of each manuscript letter—I created one network graph and two maps to accompany our oral presentation:

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.37.06 PM

  1. Archive Locations Map:

This map shows the archival institutions that currently house Dinah Craik’s manuscript letters. So far, our TAPAS page includes TEI letters from the Morgan Library in New York, the Princeton Parrish Collection, and the Mulock Family Papers at the University of California at Los Angeles. We also have material from European institutions such as Oxford University and the National Library of Scotland. Digital Dinah Craik is the first scholarly project in which Craik’s manuscript letters have been synthesized and studied together as a whole.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.36.50 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.51.57 PM

  1. Letter Locations Map:

This map roughly shows some of the locations where Dinah Craik’s letters were written and received. Craik spent most of her working life in London but she often travelled to visit family and friends across England, Scotland, and Ireland. As we gather more specific information about the place names mentioned in Dinah’s letters, this map will grow extensively. She frequently wrote to American publishing firms such as Harper’s and Ticknor & Fields, and she often exchanged letters with her brother Ben, who travelled to Australia, Brazil, and the Crimea during his lifetime.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 11.19.20 PM

  1. Network Graph:

To construct this network graph, I isolated all the manuscript letters that were sent by and received by Dinah Craik. The blue nodes represent senders and the yellow-orange nodes represent recipients. When a person is both sender and recipient of numerous letters, Good Fusion Tables groups that person together with the blue nodes. The yellow-orange nodes closest to the centre represent the people who Dinah Craik wrote to the most often (or rather, the most frequently occurring recipients in the archives). This graph shows that most of Dinah Craik’s surviving letters were addressed to British publishers such as William Isbister, Edward and Frederic Chapman, and Alexander Macmillan, and she exchanged many letters with her brother Ben Mulock.


Researching local and family history

*note: this was originally posted in May. Our Digital Dinah Craik team has since discovered countless other interesting facts and sources in our research. We’ll have to do another post!

The previous post about transcribing and encoding Dinah Craik’s letters to her daughter Dorothy ended by mentioning the usefulness of the details discovered by digging into local history and genealogical sources. Below are a few of the interesting facts found during my research and, when applicable, how they were useful to our project as a whole.

—The Ancestry website, which bills itself as “the world’s largest online family history resource—including historical records, photos, stories, family trees and a collaborative community of millions,” includes many essential historical public records that are particularly useful when researching a topic from the 19th and early 20th centuries. England and Scotland kept especially good Census and Birth, Death, and Marriage records.

Continue reading Researching local and family history

Transcribing Victorian handwriting

My introduction to the Digital Dinah Craik project was in the Winter 2015 Digitizing Victorian Women Writers class. Below are my early thoughts on the challenges — and fun — in transcribing and encoding the letters of Dinah Craik to her daughter Dorothy:

Our ENG607 class completed and submitted the TEI markups of our Dinah Craik letters a few days ago. It’s been a fascinating project. Some surprises and lessons learned in the process:

  • Most of us in the class found transcribing the letters to be much more challenging and time intensive than we have first thought it would be.
  • It was an enormous help to work with partners (and other classmates) to decipher the sometimes obscure, often challenging handwriting, words and names. This is definitely an instance where collaboration felt not just helpful, but necessary.
  • Working collaboratively was not only rewarding—it meant that we were all able to do a better job on our projects by doing better, more complete transcriptions—but also surprisingly fun.

Continue reading Transcribing Victorian handwriting