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ROSA MULHOLLAND:
An Extract from the Introduction

by Richard Dalby, © March 2019



In the late-nineteenth century Rosa Mulholland achieved great popularity and acclaim for her many novels (written for both an adult audience and younger readers), several of which chronicled the lives of the Irish poor. These novels, notably The Wicked Woods of Tobereevil (1872), incorporated weird elements of Irish folklore. Earlier in her career, she became one of the select band of authors employed by Charles Dickens to write stories for his popular magazine All the Year Round, together with Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Hesba Stretton, and Amelia B. Edwards.

She was born in Belfast on 19 March 1841, the second daughter of a doctor (Joseph Stevenson Mulholland) whose family had become prosperous from textile manufacture. She was educated at home and studied art in South Kensington.

While living in London, Rosa published her first novel, Dunmara (1864), under the pseudonym “Ruth Murray”, and was personally encouraged by Dickens to begin contributing regularly to his bestselling weekly All the Year Round.

She wrote “Another Past Lodger Relates His Experience as a Poor Relation”, the third chapter of Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy, the 1864 Christmas Number (which also contained Amelia B. Edwards’ classic “The Phantom Coach”), followed by “Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” for the 1865 Christmas Number, Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions. This memorable Irish witchcraft horror tale became her best-known story following its appearance in The Supernatural Omnibus, edited by Montague Summers in 1931 and much reprinted.

“Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” was closely followed by two of Rosa Mulholland’s best ghost stories, “The Ghost at the Rath” (14 April 1866) and “The Haunted Organist of Hurly Burly” (19 November 1866).

Dickens serialised her novella “The Late Miss Hollingford” in All the Year Round from 4 April to 2 May 1868, and it was immediately reprinted in a Tauchnitz edition together with No Thoroughfare by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. As “The Late Miss Hollingford” was not credited to any specific author, it was wrongly assumed by many readers to be the work of Dickens and Collins until it was eventually published separately in book form under Rosa Mulholland’s name in 1886.

Her next novel, Hester’s History, was serialised in All the Year Round from 29 August to 28 November 1868, and published in book form (as by R.M.) in 1869.

After Dickens died in 1870, Rosa Mulholland continued to write many stories for All the Year Round, notably “The Signor John” (Christmas 1871), “A Will o’ the Wisp” (Christmas 1872), and “The Country Cousin” (16 and 23 May 1874).

During the 1870s she began a productive career as a children’s writer, and these books are her most collectable and sought after today: The Little Flower Seekers, being adventures of Troy and Daisy in a Wonderful Garden by Moonlight (1871), richly illustrated by W. H. Frith, W. French, and F. E. Hulme; The First Christmas for Our Dear Little Ones (1875), with fifteen colour wood-engravings painted by L. Diefenback “richly executed in xylography”, and verse texts by Rosa Mulholland telling the Nativity story beneath each picture; and Puck and Blossom (1875), one of the earliest books to be illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

Among Rosa Mulholland’s later stories for All the Year Round were three notable examples written for the special “Extra Summer Numbers”; “The Mystery of Ora” (1 July 1879), a memorable supernatural tale, not reprinted until 2013; “A Strange Love Story” (3 July 1882), featuring reincarnation; and “The Hungry Death” (1 July 1880), a graphic macabre tale set on a remote Irish island during the 1840s famine.

When Rosa Mulholland left London to settle permanently in Dublin in the 1870s, she befriended Father Matthew Russell, S. J., who edited the Irish Monthly, and whose brother Francis (later Lord Russell of Killowen) was married to her elder sister Ellen Clare Mulholland, author of a dozen children’s books from The Little Bogtrotten (1878) to Terence O’Neill’s Heiress (1909).

Read the rest of the Introduction in Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time & Other Strange Stories.


Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.



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