Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Mysterious Death of Hubert Crackanthorpe

One way or another I have been plunged back into the 1890s this week included being reminded about young Mr Crackanthorpe by the passage across my desk of this wonderful 1893 piece of book production (above), Crackanthorpe's first book, Wreckage. It was very well received and Crackanthorpe began generating for himself quite the reputation as an extremely talented writer. Like many of the literary characters of the 1890s however, Crackanthorpe was living a fairly unconventional lifestyle. His marriage, at the age of 23, proved to be difficult and he separated from his wife and fled to Venice where he shacked up with Richard Le Gallienne's sister Sissie Welch. He was then reconciled briefly to his wife who had also taken a lover during their separation and all four began an uncomfortable life in Paris that was doomed to failure from the start. Crackanthorpe's wife eventually walked out and headed back to England leaving Crackanthorpe in Paris.

What happened next is not known. Crackanthorpe disappeared and a after a few weeks a notice appeared in the press which seemed to assume his death. In this short clipping that I found inside this copy of the book you will see that The Sketch gossip columnist wonder aloud why someone should be presumed dead with no real evidence but unfortunately for this writer who was fully expecting to meet Crackanthorpe again sometime, the young man's body was pulled from the waters of the Seine the day after this little note was published, on Christmas Eve 1896. It isn't known if he committed suicide or was the victim of violence.

It's easy to romanticise the short, beautiful life, particularly when that life is part of a narrative around a group like the decadents of the 1890s. In reality though this was, of course, just a human tragedy like any other leaving people bereft, confused and grieving.


Patrick Murtha said...

Very interesting! I had heard the name before, but knew nothing about Crackanthorpe otherwise. As a result of your drawing my attention to him, I just downloaded a PDF of "Wreckage" from the Internet Archive (Project Gutenberg doesn't have any HC volumes yet).

Lisar Mcnulty said...
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Self-effacing ghost said...

Evidently Hubert's father was the lawyer Montague Crackanthorpe who wrote a vivid eye-witness description of Wilde's collapse under Carson's cross-examination during his disastrous libel action, quoted in Neil McKenna's The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.

Incidentally McKenna calls Montague a solicitor, whereas the Sketch writer refers to him as a QC, i.e. a leading barrister. A search on "montague crackanthorpe qc" generates 348 hits, so it looks as if McKenna was mistaken here.

Callum said...


Thank you for your comments. The Wilde connection is a fascinating one. Hubert's Wikipedia page suggests some tension between Hubert and the rest of his family and cites an article I haven't yet been able to lay hands on but would like to see:

Jad Adams, "The drowning of Hubert Crackanthorpe and the persecution of Leila Macdonald" in English Literature in Transition 1880–1920, January 2009.


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