Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

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Craik, Dinah Maria Mulock

Last Updated: Dec-04-2006
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


Like Jane Eyre, a novel to which it is often compared, Olive is a female bildungsroman: a young girl's coming of age story. In Craik's novel, however, the heroine is much more physically distinctive than the "plain" Jane Eyre. Olive Rothesay is born prematurely to a young, lovely mother who continues to entertain guests through her pregnancy in an effort to entertain herself during her husband's long absence. When the doctor pronounces the baby "deformed," the dismayed mother hides the truth from her husband until his return a few years later.

Combined with Colonel Rothesay's own secrets, Mrs. Rothesay's deception produces a permanent rift in the marriage. Upon her father's sudden death, Olive is both a moral and financial support to her frail mother, becoming a successful painter under the tutelage of a brilliant but misogynistic artist whose marriage proposal she rejects. When Mrs. Rothesay loses her eyesight, she and Olive develop a substantial bond that repairs the mother's early rejection of her disabled daughter.

After Mrs. Rothesay dies, Olive falls in love with Harold Gwynne, the widower of her best friend Sara. In a sensational subplot, Colonel Rothesay's illegitimate, mixed-race, emotionally troubled daughter briefly threatens Olive's happiness, but Olive finally marries Gwynne, helps him with his crisis of faith, and becomes the adoptive mother of his and Sara's child.

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