Francis Marion Crawford (August 2, 1854 - April 9, 1909) was an American writer noted for his many novels.
He was born at Bagni di Lucca, Italy, the son of the American sculptor Thomas Crawford and Louisa Cutler Ward, and the nephew of Julia Ward Howe, the American poet. He studied successively at St Pauls school, Concord, New Hampshire; Cambridge University; University of Heidelberg; and Rome.
In 1879 he went to India, where he studied Sanskrit and edited the Allahabad Indian Herald. Returning to America he continued to study Sanskrit at Harvard University for a year, contributed to various periodicals, and in 1882 produced his first novel, Mr Isaacs, a brilliant sketch of modern Anglo-Indian life mingled with a touch of Oriental mystery. This book had an immediate success, and its author's promise was confirmed by the publication of Dr Claudius (1883). After a brief residence in New York and Boston, in 1883 he returned to Italy, where he made his permanent home. This accounts perhaps for the fact that, in spite of his nationality, Marion Crawford's books stand apart from any distinctively American current in literature.
Year by year he published a number of successful novels:
Crawford also published the historical works, Ave Roma Immortalis (1898), Rulers of the South (1900) renamed Sicily, Calabria and Malta in 1904, and Gleanings from Venetian History (1905). In these his intimate knowledge of local Italian history combines with the romancists imaginative faculty to excellent effect.
After most of his fictional works had been published, most came to think he was a gifted narrator, and his books of fiction, full of historic vitality and dramatic characterization, became widely popular among readers to whom the realism of problems or the eccentricities of subjective analysis were repellent. In The Novel: What It Is (1893), he defended his literary approach, self-conceived as a combination of romanticism and realism, defining the art form in terms of its marketplace and audience. The novel, he wrote, is "a marketable commodity" and "intellectual artistic luxury" (8, 9) that "must amuse, indeed, but should amuse reasonably, from an intellectual point of view. . . . Its intention is to amuse and please, and certainly not to teach and preach; but in order to amuse well it must be a finely-balanced creation. . . ." (82).
The Saracinesca series is perhaps known to be his best work, with the third in the series, Don Orsino, set against the background of a real estate bubble, told with effective concision. A fourth book in the series, Corleone, was the first major treatment of the Mafia in literature, and used the now-familiar but then-original device of a priest unable to testify to a crime because of the Seal of the Confessional; the novel nevertheless failed to live up to the standard set by the books earlier in the series.
Crawford himself was fondest of Khaled: A Tale of Arabia, a story of a genie (genius is Crawford's word) who becomes human, which was reprinted in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of the early 1970s. A Cigarettemaker's Romance was dramatized, and had considerable popularity on the stage as well as in its novel form; and in 1902 an original play from his pen, Francesca da Rimini, was produced in Paris by Sarah Bernhardt. Several of his short stories, such as "The Upper Berth" (1894), "For the Blood Is the Life" (1911, a vampire tale) and "The Screaming Skull" (1911), are often-anthologized classics of the horror genre. An essay on Crawford's weird tales can be found in S. T. Joshi's The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).
Three distinct editions of his collected works -- each printing only his fiction -- appeared during his lifetime. Crawford died at Sorrento in 1909 of a heart attack.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopędia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
John Pilkington, Jr. (1964): Francis Marion Crawford, Twayne Publishers Inc. (Library of Congress Catalog Number: 64-20717)
Maud Howe Elliott (1934): My Cousin, F. Marion Crawford, The Macmillan Company
John C. Moran (1981): An F. Marion Crawford Companion, Greenwood Press (LC Catalog Num.: 80-1707)