This week sees the anniversary of the death of Silas Hocking in 1935. Largely forgotten now, Silas was the first writer in the world to sell over a million copies of a novel. This was his second book, Her Benny, published in 1879. It was a sentimental tale of child poverty and rags to riches in Liverpool, an example of evangelical fiction aimed primarily at children. Silas, a United Methodist Free Church Minister, based this work on his experiences in the 1870s in Liverpool, where he had arrived from Cornwall, via south Wales and Lincolnshire.
Born in 1850 in the parish of St Stephen in Brannel, Silas went on to publish another 99 novels after Her Benny. This prodigious output was matched by his younger brother Joseph, who wrote an equal number of books, while his sister Salome added another nine to the family’s total.
Forget Jane Austen, Dickens or Hardy. In working class homes, the Hockings were the popular novelists of the Edwardian years. It was their books that were most likely to be found in Cornish homes in the early 1900s. Too overtly moralistic and sermonising for modern tastes, the siblings’ books rapidly fell out of fashion after the 1930s. While millions were printed, millions were later pulped.
For more on the lives of Silas, Joseph and Salome Hocking the book to read is Alan Kent’s Pulp Methodism (2002).