‘Mark Rutherford’ was the pen name of William Hale White (1831–1913), who was born in Bedford, the son of William White a printer and bookseller. He is best known as the author of six novels published between 1881 and 1896: The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford (1881); Mark Rutherford’s Deliverance (1885); The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane (1887); Miriam’s Schooling (1890); Catharine Furze (1893); and Clara Hopgood (1896).
The Mark Rutherford novels share a power and style which are distinctive in the literary history of their time. George Orwell described Mark Rutherford’s Deliverance as ‘one of the best novels written in English’. D. H. Lawrence wrote: ‘I have always had a great respect for Mark Rutherford … so thorough, so sound, and so beautiful’. Arnold Bennett praised him as ‘a novelist whom one can deeply admire’. Claire Tomalin, the eminent biographer of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, writes that White’s novels ‘draw directly on a private store of memories and emotions, and you sense quite strongly that he took up a mask in order to be nakedly confessional in a way he could not otherwise have managed’.
Hale White was brought up as a member of the Bunyan Meeting in Bedford, and Nonconformist life and experience formed one of his main subjects as a novelist. For a couple of years he worked alongside Marian Evans, the future George Eliot, when she was an assistant editor on the radical journal, the Westminster Review. She figures (under the name Theresa) in his first novel, where she is portrayed as a vigorously independent woman, rich in ideas and intellect. In his final three novels, White took as his subject the stultifying constraints placed upon intelligent women in Victorian England, and he created and presented with great sympathy a series of female characters who defy these social, sexual, and political constraints.
For more information about William Hale White (‘Mark Rutherford’), and about the Mark Rutherford Society, visit ‘The Mark Rutherford Resource’ at: www.davidfrench.org.uk/markrutherford