Crowe was educated at home, spending most her childhood in Kent. She married an army officer, Major John Crowe (1783–1860). They had a son, John William (born 1823), but the marriage was an unhappy one, and when she met Sydney Smith and his family at Clifton, Bristol in 1828, she asked them for their help. Little is known about the next few years, but by 1838 she was separated from her husband, living in Edinburgh, and had made the acquaintance of several writers, including the impecunious Thomas de Quincey, and in London Harriet Martineau and William Makepeace Thackeray. Smith was also an encouragement to her in her writing. Her success waned somewhat in the later 1850s and she sold her copyrights in 1861. After 1852, she lived mainly in London and abroad, but she moved to Folkestone in 1871, where she died the following year.
Crowe's two plays, the verse tragedy Aristodemus (1838) and the melodrama The Cruel Kindness (1853) both had historical themes paralleling her own family problems. Both were published and the second also had a short run in London in 1853.
The book that established Crowe as a novelist was The Adventures of Susan Hopley (1841). It was followed by Men and Women (1844), the well-received The Story of Lily Dawson (1847), The Adventures of a Beauty (1852), and Linny Lockwood (1854). Though set in middle-class life, they had complicated, sensational plots, while also commenting on the predicaments of Victorian women brought up in seclusion to be mistreated by men. This aspect of her writing was emphasised particularly by later women writers in an appreciation in Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign (1897). Susan Hopley was reprinted many times, and to her annoyance, dramatised crudely and turned into a penny serial. Her stories were also in demand from periodicals such as the weekly Chambers' Edinburgh Journal and Dickens's Household Words.
Crowe turned increasingly to supernatural subjects, inspired by German writers. Her collection The Night-side of Nature (1848) became her most popular work and was reprinted as recently as 2000. It was translated into German and French, and is said to have influenced the views of Charles Baudelaire. Her own involvement in such matters came to a bizarre culmination in February 1854, when she was discovered naked in Edinburgh one night, convinced that spirits had rendered her invisible. She was treated for mental illness and recovered. Two of her ghost stories reappeared in Victorian Ghost Stories (1936), edited by Montague Summers.
Crowe also wrote a number of books for children, including versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin for young readers, Pippie's Warning; or, Mind Your Temper (1848), The Story of Arthur Hunter and his First Shilling (1861) and The Adventures of a Monkey (1862).
- Joanne Wilkes: "Crowe, Catherine Ann..." In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004; online e., May 2008 Retrieved 22 September 2010. Subscription required.
- Ware: Wordsworth Editions with Folklore Society, 2000. ISBN 1-84022-502-5.
- Joanne Wilkes, ODNB entry; British Library Integrated Catalogue[dead link]
- The Hockliffe Collection: Retrieved 22 September 2010.[dead link]
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource