Crackanthorpe [formerly Cookson], Hubert Montague
, was born Hubert Montague Cookson on 12 May 1870 in London to , and his wife, Blanche Althea Elizabeth, née
. 1928). He changed his name to Crackanthorpe in 1888 in order to facilitate his father's legacy. The eldest of three sons, Crackanthorpe grew up in a financially comfortable household that cultivated his artistic and intellectual pursuits. Crackanthorpe's parents were both published writers. Montague Cookson enjoyed a celebrated legal career, and Crackanthorpe's mother pursued an ambitious social life at various gatherings at Rutland Gate and Newbiggin Hall, the ancestral home of the Crackanthorpes and the Cooksons. Crackanthorpe's education included five years at Eton College between 1883 and 1888. After spending a year in France, he returned to England in 1889 to study art with Selwyn Image, the tutor who introduced him to the works of decadent writers such as Walter Pater.
Crackanthorpe's initial foray into the literary world began with his contributions between January and September 1892 to The Albemarle
, a journal financed by his father. These included a review of Henry James's recent playwriting activities and an interview with Emile Zola, the doyen of naturalist fiction. Crackanthorpe also published his first works of fiction in The Albemarle
, including He Wins who Loses (March 1892). Remarkably Jamesian in their style and texture, the short stories produced by Crackanthorpe during his brief life demonstrate a Pre-Raphaelite influence. In addition to his own later attempts at writing plays, Crackanthorpe mined the depths of realism and decadence in his short stories, a tendency that has prompted critics to credit him as one of the progenitors of early modernism. His work is often grouped among the coterie of other talented writers from the 1890s who died young, a roster that includes such figures as Francis Adams, Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, and H. D. Lowry. On 14 February 1893, Crackanthorpe married Leila Macdonald, a writer from an immensely wealthy background. Their initially happy marriage proved to be the defining event of Crackanthorpe's life. The young couple soon relocated to France, where they lived in the Villa Baron near Sallespisse.
Crackanthorpe's literary corpus includes three volumes of short fiction and criticism, several critical essays, an uncollected story, and The Light Sovereign
, a play that he wrote with Henry Harland. In addition to The Albemarle
, Crackanthorpe's stories appeared in the Yellow Book
, and Heinemann published Wreckage: Seven Studies
, Crackanthorpe's first volume of short fiction, in 1893. The collection enjoyed praise from such esteemed critics as William Archer and Arthur Waugh, who both contended that Crackanthorpe's stories resonated with images derived from the works of Guy de Maupassant. Crackanthorpe's second collection of short fiction, Sentimental Studies and a Set of Village Tales
(1895), received a decidedly mixed critical response, although a number of reviewers lauded the writer's realist tendencies and innovative techniques of characterization. Reviewers also praised Crackanthorpe's efforts at crafting the dialogue story, a popular literary form during the 1890s practised by Anthony Hope, among others. Vignettes: a Miniature Journal of Whim and Sentiment
(1896), the final volume published by Crackanthorpe during his lifetime, collected the writer's non-fictional periodical essays which had originally appeared in such journals as The Speaker
and the Saturday Review
Crackanthorpe's marriage deteriorated rapidly after the publication of his last volume. In early 1896, Leila had a miscarriage because of a venereal infection, possibly contracted from Crackanthorpe, and she departed soon after for Italy. During her absence, Crackanthorpe began an affair with Sissie Welch, the sister of Richard Le Gallienne and the wife of James Welch, the English actor. In the autumn of 1896 Leila returned to Paris with a lover of her own, the Comte d'Artaux. For a brief period the two couples shared a hostile residence in Paris. On the advice of her solicitor Leila left Hubert on 4 November and returned to London. After visiting his mother that same evening, Crackanthorpe was never seen alive again. On 24 December Crackanthorpe's body was discovered in the Seine. Although the cause of his death has never been determined, his biographers believe that he either committed suicide or accidentally drowned in the river which was in a perilously high flood stage during the latter months of 1896. He was cremated at Woking on 1 January 1897.
Crackanthorpe's untimely and mysterious passing was the subject of a number of conspicuous obituary notices following the discovery of his body. Le Gallienne's obituary of 2 January 1897, for example, was featured on the front page of The Star
. We ask no longer why and how he died, Le Gallienne wrote.
That he has left us thus of his free will, without a word of adieu, without a wave of the hand, is hard to think … He loved life so well, and it was so good a sight to see him alive so eagerly, so passionately, and with so vast and sympathetic a humanity.
, which included three new short stories by Crackanthorpe, was published posthumously in late 1897.
E. J. O'Brien, ed., The great modern English stories: an anthology (1919) · D. Crackanthorpe, Hubert Crackanthorpe and English realism in the 1890s (1977) · W. Harris, Hubert Crackanthorpe as realist, English Literature in Transition, 18801920, 6 (1963), 7684 · R. Le Gallienne, Hubert Crackanthorpe: in memoriam, The Star (2 Jan 1897) · W. Peden, Hubert Crackanthorpe: forgotten pioneer, Studies in Short Fiction, 7 (1970), 53948 · W. Harris, A bibliography of writings about Hubert Crackanthorpe, English Literature in Transition, 18801920, 6 (1963), 8591 · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1897)
Bassano, photograph, c.1890, NPG [see illus.]
Wealth at death
£1131 18s. 0d.: administration, 29 April 1897, CGPLA Eng. & Wales