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Alice Corkran
Born (1843-05-20)20 May 1843
Died 3 February 1916(1916-02-03) (aged 72)
Nationality Irish
Occupation Writer and editor
Years active 1876 – 1912
Known for Writing and editing children's fiction
Notable work
Down the Snow Steps

Alice Abigail Corkran was an Irish author of children's fiction and an editor of children's magazines. Born in France to Irish parents, she grew up in the stimulating environment of her mother's literary salon. She was a playmate of Robert Browning's ageing father, and still had his workbooks in her possession when she died. As well as writing a number of well received novels, she edited first the Bairn's Annual and then The Girl's Realm, being the founder of that magazine's Guild of Service and Good Fellowship, which maintained a cot at the Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, among other charitable works.

Early life

Alice Corkran was born in Paris, France to John Frazer Corkran (1808 – 1884) and Louisa Walsh (1823 – 1982). She was the second oldest of five children: three girls, and two boys. Her father began life as a dramatist and had a play, The Painter of Italy, well received at the Theatre Royal, Dublin on 9 March 1840, but by that time he was already in Paris. He was the Paris correspondent of the Morning Herald and the Evening Standard.

John was in Paris for all the excitement of the 1848 revolution and he wrote a book: History of the National Constituent Assembly from May, 1848 (1849) that was said to be still the standard text on the constituent assembly more than 30 years later.

Louisa Corkran married her husband in Dublin in June or July 1839. They were soon in Paris where their five children were born; the first, Henrietta, was born on 21 October 1841.

Louisa's salon in Paris was frequented by M. Vigny, and by the whole literary group that acknowledged him as the leader. The poet Robert Browning was a friend, and his wife travelled twice a year to Paris to visit Louisa.

Thackeray, then writing Vanity Fair, was also a friend of the family and almost acted as a fairy godfather to the children. When the family returned to London, her house in Bloomsbury became a rendezvous for many eminent men and women of letters.

Alice Corkran grew up in a stimulating environment. She was the playmate of Robert Browning's father, and she used to accompany the old man on his rambles along the quays in search of subjects to sketch. She was the old man's favourite. She published some of his sketches to illustrate an article about the Brownings in The Girl's Realm in 1905. She still had his old notebooks with their sketches when she died.

Corkran was educated at home and studied art in Paris until the family had to leave Paris following some reverses of fortune. They moved to Bloomsbury in London.


Longer works

Corkran's fame rested in particular on her first novel Bessie Lang as well as her other novel Down the Snow Stairs. These works were cited occasionally to reference the author. Both attracted very positive critical attention on first publication. Of Bessie Lang reviewers said:

  • "so sweet, so simple, and at the same time so strongly descriptive is the style in which this tale is told that it seems to have caught some feature of merit from each part in the telling." – The Examiner
  • "If Miss Corkran is a novice in fiction, as her title-page would seem to indicate, she is a writer who may well have a future before her, for the pretty and touching tale she here gives us is told with a simplicity and absence of straining after effect which bespeak a true feeling for her art, whilst the beauty and pathos of many touches in it are unquestionable." – The Graphic
  • "Indeed, so many the principal elements of a high-class work are undoubtedly to be found in " Bessie Lang," that the authoress may claim to have stepped at once into foremost place amongst contemporary writers of fiction. The reader will probably not have perused many pages without being agreeably reminded of such writings as those of Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Oliphant, Mrs. Craik, Miss Thackeray, whose works edify and interest by their purity and power rather than any perceptible straining after effect." – Birmingham Daily Gazette

Down the Snow Stairs also attracted a favourable critical response:

  • "It is quite as enthralling as "Alice in Wonderland," but much more human and real. At the same time, every page is bathed in the golden and undying light of romance, without which a child's story-book is as uninteresting to little folks as an auctioneer's catalogue." – Sheffield Independent
  • "We have rarely read anything better of its kind than "Down the Snow Stairs"." – The Scotsman
  • "one of the most charming children’s stories imaginable, and will assuredly be very popular" – John Bull
  • "We have to place this book alongside of Carrol's Alice in Wonderland...A better and brighter book we have not read for a long time." – Aberdeen Press and Journal

After 1890, all of Corkran's longer works were non-fiction. Her non-fiction works were also well received by critics, and one of her obituaries referred to her book on Leighton as an excellent critical biography.

The source for the following data is the British Library Catalogue (BL Cat.), supplemented and cross-checked against Kirk, Sutherland, Watson, Library Hub Discover, and the Circulating Library database, supplemented by searches of the used book trade. The year of publication has been corrected from the nominal year, where necessary, by checking for reviews of the books in newspaper archives.

Novels and non-fiction longer works by Corkran
No Year Title Illustrations Pages Publisher Cat. BL IA HT
1 1876 Bessie Lang 295 London: William Blackwood & Sons Yes Yes Yes Yes
2 1879 Latheby Towers. A novel 1,833 (v.1 275, v.2 292, v.3 266) London : Richard Bentley & Son Yes Yes Yes No
3 1882 The Adventures of Mrs. Wishing-to-be and other stories (3 f.p. colour illust.) 192 London : Blackie & Son Yes No Yes Yes
4 1883 The Wings of Courage and the Cloud Spinner (translated from George Sand 192 London : Blackie & Son Yes No No No
5 1886 Down the Snow Stairs Gordon Browne (60 illust. inc. 5 f.p.) 257 London : Blackie & Son Yes No Yes Yes
6 1887 Margery Merton's Girlhood Gordon Browne (6 f.p. illust.) 286 London : Blackie & Son Yes No No No
7 1888 Meg's Friend Robert Fowler (6 f.p. illust.) 288 London : Blackie & Son Yes No Yes No
8 1888 Joan's Adventures at the North Pole and elsewhere b/w f.piece by Horace Petherick 160 London : Blackie & Son Yes No No No
9 1889 The Fatal House No 143 London : Ward & Downey Yes Yes No No
10 1892 The Poets' Corner, or Haunts and homes of the poets Allan Barraud 66 London: Ernest Nister Yes Yes Yes Yes
11 1903 Miniatures (Little Books on Art) 52 b/w plates 206 London : Methuen & Co. No No No No
12 1904 Frederic Leighton (Little Books on Art) 3 b/w plates 221 London : Methuen & Co. Yes No No Yes
13 1905 The Romance of Woman's Influence Illustrated: f.piece and portraits 377 London : Blackie & Son Yes No No No
14 1908 The National Gallery 16 b/w plates 234 London : Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Yes No Yes No
15 1910 The Dawn of British History M. Lavars Harry (160+ illust. Inc. 16 f.p.) 246 London : George G. Harrap & Co. Yes No Yes No
16 1910 The Life of Queen Victoria for boys and girls Alan Wright (8 colour illust.) 150 London: T. C. & E. C. Jack Yes No No No

Legend for the column headings:

  • Cat.: Found in the Catalogue of the British Library
  • BL: Digital copy online at the British Library
  • IA: Digital copy online at the Internet Archive
  • HT: Digital copy online at Hathi Trust

One work stands out on the list as being very dissimilar from the others, The Fatal House. This is a cheaply-priced (one shilling) melodrama completely unlike Corkran's other output, and there are no references on the title page to her other works. As noted in the table above, it is available as an online text at the British Library. The Morning Post said of the book: "Miss Alice Corkran has written a tale sufficiently full of mystery and horror to satisfy the most voracious appetite. "The Fatal House" exercises a baneful influence on all who reside under its roof. The history of its owners is one of crime, vice, and debauchery ; nothing but evil survives within its sin-tainted walls. Such ample evidence of this is adduced, that the unhappy wife of the last owner, in a state bordering on delirium, burns the house and its contents to the ground, thus lifting the curse which she feels has been laid upon it. It is an un- canny story from beginning to end, and its tone is morbid and unpleasant."


Corkran published two anthologies of her stories:

  • Mischievous Jack and Other Stories contained "Mischievous Jack and the Old Fisherman", which had appeared in the first volume of The Bairn's Annual in 1885; "A Little King"; and "Boppy's Repentance".
  • The Young Philistine, and Other Stories included, among others, the title story "The Young Philistine", which had been published as a serial in Merry England in 1885; "How Pere Perrault Spent his Legacy", which had first appeared in the Belgravia in July 1882; and "The English Teacher at the Convent", which Sutherland said was notable among the short stories of Corkran, which "have some charm". The story seems to be a version of "Miss Martha's Bag", which appeared in the first edition of Merry England. The Athenaeum said of this collection that: "We find in Miss Corkran’s work a delicacy of touch, a fine humour, and a pathos which give to these little stories something of the charm and finish of a miniature."
Anthologies of stories by Alice Corkran
No Year Title Pages Publisher BL Cat.
1 1886 The Young Philistine: and other stories 232 London: Burns & Oates Yes
2 1888 Mischievous Jack, and other stories 64 London: Blackie & Son Yes

None of the anthologies are available online. Other anthologies that Corkran contributed to were:

  • The story "Pea Blossom" in Stories Jolly: Stories New: Stories Strange & Stories True. A Series of New and Original Tales For Boys and Girls, From Six to Fourteen Years Old (1889), edited by H. C. Adams, and published in London by Skeffington & Son
  • "The Adventures of a Would-Be King of the Giants" in The Children's Hour. A collection of stories & poems, (1896), edited by May Bateman and published in London by Simpkin & Marshall. This publication was sold in aid of the Princess May's Invalid Children's Aid Association.
  • An unnamed story in the anthology 52 Stories for the Little Ones (1902), published in London by Hutchinson & Co. as part of their "52" series

Later life and death

Corkran's mother, Louisa, died in 1882. She had been in declining health for some time and in her final years she depended largely on her daughter Alice's care. Corkran's father died in 1884 and her parents are buried together at Brompton Cemetery.

Corkran had a health scare in October 1892 when she was run over by a brougham in Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London. Her leg was badly injured and she suffered from shock, and recovered only slowly, so that it was the end of the year before she could resume literary work.

In 1901, Corkran was living in Mecklenberg Square with her sister Harriet and Richard Whiteing. She was still living with Whiteing (who had separated from his wife) at the time of the 1911 census where she described her position in the house as inmate, which the enumerator corrected to the approved term boarder.

Both her sisters died in 1911. Henrietta, who died on 17 March 1911, had never married. Her sister Mary had married Barclay V. Head of the British Museum and had one daughter, Alice Augusta Louisa, who was living with her father at the time of the 1911 census (immediately after her mother's death on 30 March 1911). The dates of the deaths of the two brothers is uncertain, but Whiteing says that Alice was the last remaining survivor of her branch of the family, and one death notice referred to her being the last surviving child of her late father.

Corkran was plagued by poverty in her later years and also suffered from declining health. She died suddenly, but not unexpectedly, on 2 February 1916. Her niece, Alice Augusta Louisa Head, was an executrix of her will.

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