Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford

About Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford was born on December 25th, 1846, in Dublin, Ireland, and died on February 12th, 1887, in Toronto, Canada. She was an Irish Canadian poet and writer who is considered to be one of the first major Canadian poets. She is best known for her book, Malcolm's Katie, which is considered to be a classic of the 19th century Canadian poetry. She started writing and publishing poetry and stories when she moved to Peterborough with her family in 1869. Her first published poem, A Vesper Star, appeared in The Toronto Mail on Christmas Eve 1873. When her father died on July 3, 1875, the three surviving women of the family - Isabella, her mother and her sister Emma - became dependent on Isabella's literary income. After Emma's death from tuberculosis, Isabella and her mother moved in 1876 to Toronto, the center of the publishing world in Canada. She then contributed to several series of novels and short stories published in New York and Toronto, notably in the Mail, the Globe, the National and the Evening Telegram. In 1886 she became the first local writer to publish a novel in her name, A little Bacchante, serialized in the Evening Globe.
During her lifetime, Crawford published only one book, Old Spookses' Pass, Malcolm's Katie and Other Poems in 1884. It was printed privately and sold poorly. Crawford pays for the printing of 1,000 copies and presumably sent many copies for review; rave reviews are published in London magazines such as the Spectator, the Graphic, the Leisure Hour and the Saturday Review.
Crawford was a prolific writer. It's, however, to her poetry that she owes her posthumous fame. Two years after her death, WD Lighthall included passages from her book in her Songs of the Great Dominion anthology, bringing her to a wider audience.
In the 20th century, critics accorded the work increasing appreciation. In his 1916 Canadian Poets Anthology, Garvin, for example, declared Crawford to be one of the greatest female poets. Interest in Crawford resulted in the publication in the 1970s of several of her forgotten manuscripts. It is mainly Crawford's long narrative poems that hold the attention, in particular Old Spookses' Pass, The Helot or even Gisli the Chieftain, and above all Malcolm's Katie. Crawford died in relative poverty on February 12, 1887, at 57 John St in Toronto. She is buried in Little Lake Cemetery in Peterborough, along the Otonabee River. Her grave remained anonymous for a long time. A fundraising campaign was finally launched in 1899, and on November 2, 1900, a six-foot Celtic cross was raised above her grave, inscribed: "Isabella Valancy Crawford / Poet / By the Gift of God". She was designated a person of national historic significance in 1947.

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