Hall Caine Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.