Hall Caine Essay - Critical Essays

Caine, Hall


Hall Caine 1853-1931

(Full name Thomas Henry Hall Caine) English novelist, autobiographer, critic, and playwright.

A prolific and commercially successful author in his time, Caine wrote melodramatic and moralistic novels. In his work his main purpose was to champion a strict sense of moral standards that he felt were lacking in early-twentieth-century England. Considered didactic, sensational, and pretentious, his work is virtually ignored today.

Biographical Information

Caine was born on May 14, 1853, in Runcorn, Cheshire, England. Several years of his childhood were spent on the Isle of Man, which became the primary setting of his later fiction. At the age of fourteen, he left home to study architecture in Liverpool. In 1878 he delivered a lecture at the Free Library in Liverpool on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which inspired a friendship with the poet. This relationship resulted in Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a memoir of Rossetti's final years. Caine worked as a journalist for the Liverpool Mercury, and the paper later serialized his first novel, A Shadow of a Crime, in 1885. After modest success with his first few works of fiction, he quit his job and returned to the Isle of Man to write full-time. In 1887 his novel The Deemster became his first bestseller. After several more commercially successful novels and dramatic interpretations of his fiction, he became a well-known cultural figure in early-twentieth-century England. From 1901 to 1908 he was a Liberal member of Parliament. During World War I he worked as a correspondent for the New York Times and wrote a series of articles urging America to join the war. For these patriotic efforts, he was knighted. On August 31, 1931, Caine died at Greeba Castle, his home on the Isle of Man.

Major Works

Caine's work is characterized by strident moralizing and sensational, often melodramatic, plots. Most of his fiction is set in the Isle of Man, his home for most of his life. In The Christian a stubborn young girl embraces religious fervor because of the charming attentions of a compelling clergyman. Set on the Isle of Man in the eighteenth century, The Deemster chronicles the fall and redemption of a young killer condemned to live in exile for many years to pay for his crime. Told over three volumes, its themes are often compared to those of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. The plot of his most ambitious novel, The Eternal City, spans seven decades. Set in Rome, the novel follows the parallel careers of two men: the political Rossi and the spiritual Roma. The Eternal City was the first million-selling novel in England and influenced early film makers such as D. W. Griffith.

Critical Reception

Although astoundingly popular with the reading public during his lifetime, in recent years Caine's work has been assessed as melodramatic, didactic, and dull. Critics often bemoan the lack of humor and perspective in his fiction and drama. Stylistically, his work is perceived as inferior for its crude plot devices, superficial characterizations, and heavy-handed approach. Some scholars, such as Max Beerbohm, blame Caine's self-centered nature and lust for publicity for his lackluster literary efforts. These negative assessments have done much to diminish Caine's reputation and his place amongst early-twentieth-century English authors.

Principal Works

Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (memoirs) 1882

Cobwebs of Criticism (criticism) 1883

The Shadow of a Crime (novel) 1885

She's All the World to Me (novel) 1885

The Deemster (novel) 1887

Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (criticism) 1887

A Son of Hagar (novel) 1887

The Bondman: A New Saga (novel) 1889

Yan, The Icelander; or, Home Sweet Home (drama) 1900

The Scapegoat (novel) 1891

The Bondman (drama) 1892

Capt'n Davey's Honeymoon, The Last Confession, The Blind Mother (short stories) 1892

The Manxman (novel) 1894

The Christian (novel) 1897

The Eternal City (novel) 1901

The Prodigal Son (novel) 1904

Drink: A Love Story on a Great Question (novel) 1906

The Fatal Error (drama) 1908

My Story (autobiography) 1909

The White Prophet (novel) 1909

The Woman Thou Gavest Me (novel) 1913

The Iron Hand (drama) 1916

The Prime Minister (drama) 1916

The Master of Man (novel) 1921

The Woman of Knockaloe: A Parable (novel) 1923


The Nation (essay date 1909)

SOURCE: A review of My Story, by Hall Caine, Vol. 88, No. 2280, 1909, pp. 256-57.

[In the following review, the critic offers a favorable assessment of Caine's autobiography.]

It is a curious commentary on the literary life that the one chapter of Hall Caine's memoirs [My Story] to rouse wide discussion in England was the account of his income at the beginning of his career. One would never guess, from this discussion of pounds and pence, that the heart of the book was an intimate story of Rossetti's life in that muffled house at No. 16 Cheyne Walk and of his two incursions into the country for health. These memoirs, in fact, are merely the outcome, as Mr. Caine states in his introduction, of a desire to enlarge the little volume of recollections of Rossetti published immediately after the poet's death. Mr. Caine was a young clerk in Liverpool when he first attracted Rossetti's attention by a printed lecture in support of the morals of Rossetti's verse—just then a tender point with the author. A brisk correspondence ensued, chiefly on literary topics, half of which we shall no doubt have in print some day. For Rossetti's letters are preserved and make a bulk of writing greater than all his published works. Then the younger man went to live with the elder and was at his side through all the trying months until Rossetti's death.

There is little that is new in the picture of Rossetti as we now get it. He was ailing in body, suffering from his chloral habit, convinced of a general conspiracy against him, a melancholy recluse, yet still showing on occasions those flashes of intellectual power that...

(The entire section is 688 words.)

William Morton Payne (essay date 1913)

A review of The Woman Thou Gavest Me in The Dial, Vol. LV, No. 657, November 1, 1913, pp. 358-61.

[In the excerpt below, Payne derides Caine's novels as “slimy emotionalism, spiced as it is with bits of description as salacious as he dares to make them.”]

Mr. Hall Caine requires nearly six hundred pages in which to tell the story of Mary O’Neill, the heroine of The Woman Thou Gavest Me. One hundred would have sufficed for all the story he has to tell, but the greater number permits him to slobber over his theme in the unrestrained and nauseating fashion that somehow seems to secure him a large following of readers. He draws his support from that subterranean or submerged public that is an eternal mystery to the critical intelligence, the public that is swayed by crude emotionalism, and upon which it seems possible to inflict any form of literary atrocity without incurring its resentment. Here is a book that will probably prove a “best seller,” along with the lucubrations of Miss Corelli, Mr. Wright, and Mr. Chambers, and yet a book so offensive to anyone having the rudiments of good literary taste that its popular acceptance presents a problem in psychology that would have baffled even the comprehensive sympathies of William James. In its essence, the story seems to be a plea for the sanctity of illicit love, a brief for adultery, and an argument against the salutary laws by which church and state protect the marriage...

(The entire section is 616 words.)

P. Morton Shand (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: “Sir Hall Caine and the Greatest Public,” in The London Mercury, Vol. XIV, No. 80, June, 1926, pp. 156-69.

[In the following essay, Shand discusses the defining characteristics of Caine's fiction.]

It is often one of the most baffling tasks for criticism to discover wherein lies the wider appeal of a book, and especially of those modern novels which, though they sell in hundreds of thousands, are usually considered rank outlaws from the province of fine literature. The problem, if not altogether new, is as recent as the coming of age of that vast body of potential readers enfranchised by the passing of the Education Acts. There have been many “popular”...

(The entire section is 7508 words.)

John Steuart (essay date 1931)

SOURCE: “Sir Hall Caine,” in The Bookman, Vol. LXXI, No. 483, December, 1931, pp. 166-67.

[In the following essay, Steuart reminisces about his relationship with Caine and assesses the author's place in contemporary English literature.]

When I first knew him Hall Caine was already in the full blaze of his remarkable popularity; that is to say, he was the most popular novelist-of the day. For a little while Miss Marie Corelli was a hot rival; but her rivalry, if exciting and spectacular, was brief. With readers in general Meredith was not in the running; nor was Hardy, at any rate until Tess unexpectedly boomed; and that was but a single success out of a series of...

(The entire section is 1292 words.)

Malcolm Elwin (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: “Chapter Nine Best Sellers: Hall Caine and Others,” in Old Gods Falling, The Macmillan Company, 1939, pp. 290-328.

[In the following excerpt, Elwin derides Caine's work for its “morbid gloom, sentimentality, and sanctimony.”]

Symons's definition of symbolism, “a representation which does not aim at being a reproduction,” could easily be distorted into Haggard's working axiom that impossibility does not matter, “provided it is made to appear possible.” George Moore's pro-Zola campaign in the ’eighties, and the trend of Hardy's work, suggested an imminent adoption of realism in fiction, but the banning of Zola placed realism definitely beyond...

(The entire section is 4836 words.)

N. N. Feltes (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “The Process of Literary Capital in the 1890's: Caine, Corelli, and Bennett,” in Literary Capital and the Late Victorian Novel, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1993, pp. 103-39.

[In the following essay, Feltes places Caine within the literary context of early twentieth-century English romance authors.]

[Despite the] empirical details of publishing history and literary ideology, the meanings of these materials clearly do not reside in them, there for the picking; their “meaning,” … is dialectical, symptomatic of determinate historical processes. From time to time, following Bourdieu, I have introduced “objectivist” generalizations,...

(The entire section is 16172 words.)

Further Reading


Allen, Vivien. Hall Caine: Portrait of a Victorian Romancer. Sheffield: Academic Press, 1997, 449 p.

Chronicles Caine's life and career.


MacCarthy, Desmond. “Rossetti and Hall Caine.” In Portraits, pp. 226-33. London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1949.

Describes the friendship of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Caine.

Additional coverage of Caine's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 122.

(The entire section is 64 words.)