I was invited to fill in an interview questionnaire for a blog. One of the questions I was asked, ‘What is your favourite book? I said I had many favourite books but went on to say that if they had asked what was my favourite book as a kid I would have answered this easily. It was ‘The Bondman’ by Hall Caine. The book was given to my father as a Sunday school prize when he was a youngster.
Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine CH, KBE, (although he did not receive his knighthood until 1917. He was offered a baronetcy but declined, Instead, he accepted a knighthood, insisting on being called Sir Hall Caine). He was born in Runcorn, Lancashire, UK, 14th May, 1853 and died 31st August, 1931. He usually was known as Hall Caine. He was best known as a novelist and playwright of the late Victorian and Edwardian era. In his time he was very popular and his novels outsold all of his contemporaries.
I have a 1901 book written by C. Fred Kenyon entitled ‘English Writers of Today, Hall Caine’, and after the written interview when I mentioned Hall Caine it whetted my appetite to re-read it.
‘The Bondman’ was begun in March 1889 and finished in October of the same year; (fast work considering he had handwritten the manuscript). Some of the book takes place in Iceland and some scenes in the Isle of Man. With his wife and child, Hall Caine spent two months in Iceland gathering material for the book. He, at the time, was settled in Keswick, Cumberland; it was not until a few years afterwards that he made his home in the Isle of Man (a picturesque little island off the coast off Britain for all my foreign colleagues).
I compared the book written by Kenyon with some of the comments made by Wikipedia about Hall Caine. Wikipedia says he acted as a secretary to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In the book written by C. Fred Kenyon, he tells it differently, and I quote:
‘In his fascinating ‘Recollections of Rossetti’ Mr Caine tells, with a certain amount of detail, the story of his friendship with the poet. Their friendship was an honourable affair to both of them.’
Kenyon goes on to say Caine looked after Rossetti until he died literally in Caine’s arms. For at the last moment, Caine had put his arm about Rossetti to raise him up, in order to relieve his pain.’ (Rossetti was a chloral addict).
‘People said that Caine had been Rossetti’s secretary, and some foolish gossips went so far as saying that he had been his valet. The only relationship which existed between them was one of friendship.’
Hall Caine had aspired to become a poet but Rossetti insisted that Caine’s vocation lay in writing impassioned novels.
Caine’s novels are considered outdated today, and despite his immense popularity during his life, he is now virtually unknown. However, some of his more popular novels have been published as paperbacks in recent years, mainly for the Manx market catering for tourists to the Isle of Man, as many of his books are set in the Isle of Man, and Hall Caine was known as the Manx author.
When I was in Beverley, Yorkshire, UK, in 1998, I called in a bookshop which dealt with old books and asked the proprietor whether he had heard of Hall Caine. To my surprise he said he had, and during our conversation he went on to say that he still had enquiries for the USA for Hall Caine’s books. Kenyon mentions in his 1901 book that Hall Caine was immensely popular in America, and treated like a king when he visited.
Have any authors/readers have read any of Sir Hall Caine’s books? If so I would love to hear from them.