Evelyn Whitaker (1844–1929) was an English children's writer, whose work was described as charming, pure and wholesome. She displays strong sensitivity to poverty and to illness.
Whitaker was born in Herne Bay, Kent, the seventh child of Edward Whitaker (b. 1802, a solicitor originally from Bratton, Wiltshire and previously and later of London and Middlesex) and his wife Emily Ann Woolbert (d. before 1851). She attended the Ladies College in Bedford Square, which later developed into Bedford College, part of the University of London. She died in Hammersmith, London at the age of 84, having remained a spinster all her life, and often lived with one or more of her sisters.
All Whitaker's works were published anonymously and her identity was not revealed until 1903. Her 19 novels and several shorter stories were issued by multiple publishers in Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States between 1879 and 1915. Many of these editions were beautifully bound and illustrated. However, Whitaker's writing style was praised as "a study in English for its conciseness, simplicity, and elegance" and Tip Cat was adopted as a textbook for German students studying English. Her stories were described as "charming, pure, and wholesome," full of "humour and pathos."
For more than a decade after Evelyn Whitaker's death, her two most popular titles, Miss Toosey's Mission and Laddie, continued to be reissued as gift books. Such little novels with religious or moral themes were given as Sunday School prizes, often as attendance awards. Such books were generally inexpensively made with inferior paper, ink, and illustrations but with attractive bindings.
Evelyn Whitaker's novels demonstrate intimate knowledge of life both in a vicarage and in a doctor's household and these homes are frequently the settings of her novels. Her religious view was traditional Anglican and that perspective informs her writing. In Miss Toosey's Mission, Tip Cat, and Lil she comments on Puseyites, Dissenters, and Methodism. Her works display a fondness for the childhood nursery, dogs, and flowers. She makes frequent use of the Victorian language of flowers, relates the blessings and burdens of children, rich and poor, and knows well the streets of London and the rustic beauty of the countryside. She observes the plight of the urban poor, of rural workers displaced by industrialization, mill workers, and the late 19th-century women who might wish for a better education and greater economic opportunity.
Having spent her whole life in the service of the sick, Evelyn Whitaker was familiar with sick rooms, hospitals, and death and she often includes these settings and events in her novels. Tip Cat (scarlet fever), Gay (diphtheria), and Lassie (typhoid) present descriptions of fever epidemics and public health and hygiene education. Gay provides details of home nursing care, quarantines, and a visit to the London Fever Hospital at Homerton. Pen and Lassie include the effects of alcoholism on family life. Laddie and Lassie present a study in gender differences in the care of aging parents.
Although these were sometimes attributed to her, Evelyn Whitaker was not the author of Honor Bright, or the four leaved shamrock or Gilly Flower (1889). A number of books by Evelyn Whitaker have been digitized and are available on-line.
Most of Whitaker's works appeared anonymously until 1903 (e. g. "by the author of Tip-Cat etc.") The earliest found UK editions are given. Bibliographical data has been taken from the British Library Main Catalogue and from a specialist booksellers' catalogue.
- 1878 Miss Toosey's Mission. A Tale (Mozley & Smith)
- 1879 Laddie (Walter Smith)
- 1884 Tip Cat (Walter Smith)
- 1885 Our Little Ann (?Walter Smith)
- 1889 Lil (A. D. Innes & Co.)
- 1885 Our Little Ann (Walter Smith)
- 1888 Pen (W. Smith & Innes)
- 1890 Zoë (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1891 Rose and Lavender (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1892 Pris. A Tale (A. D. Innes & Co.)
- 1892 Dear (A. D. Innes & Co.)
- 1892 Baby John (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1893 For the Fourth Time of Asking (?W. & R. Chambers)
- 1893 Pomona (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1895 My Honey (London: A. D. Innes)
- 1895 Don (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1898 Belle (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1898 Rob (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1900 Tom's Boy (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1901 Lassie (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1902 Faithful Boston: Little, Brown
- 1903 Gay. A Story (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1908 Baby Bob (W. & R. Chambers)
- 1920 Peter's Adventure, etc. (T. Nelson & Sons)
- 1920 Bee, Paul, and Babs, etc. (T. Nelson & Sons)
- 1928 The Tidy Wood. A Tale (T. Nelson & Sons)
- Pomona, 8 illustrations, W. & R. Chambers. R. Barnes
- Zoë, W. & R. Chambers, 1890. R. Barnes
- Rose and Lavender, four illustrations, W&R Chambers, n.d. (c. 1910). Herbert A. Bone
- Laddie & Miss Toosey's Mission, frontis, Henry Altemus, n.d. Walter Cooper Bradley,
- Tip Cat, W. Smith, 1880. Randolph Caldecott. George Reiter Brill
- Tip Cat, (copper engraving)W. Smith,1880. J.D. Cooper
- My Honey, frontis, Ward Lock,1910. Sidney Cowell
- Laddie (the Editha Series,) H. M. Caldwell, 1905. Eliot Keen
- Don, frontis & 8 illus, W&R Chambers, 1895. J Finnemore
- Belle, 6 illus,W&R Chambers. G. Nicolet
- Laddie, frontis + 3 others plates B&W, E. P. Dutton, 1891. H. Winthrop Pierce
- Tom's Boy, 8 illustrations, W&R Chambers,1900. Percy Tarrant (Margaret Tarrant's brother: Margaret illustrator of Ward & Lock's Fairy Tales, 48 plates, 1919 but may be a reissue)
- Gay,6 illus., W&R Chambers Percy Tarrant (Margaret Tarrant's brother: Margaret illustrator of Ward & Lock's Fairy Tales, 48 plates, 1919 but may be a reissue)
- Gay: a story, Little, Brown, 1903 Percy Tarrant (Margaret Tarrant's brother: Margaret illustrator of Ward & Lock's Fairy Tales, 48 plates, 1919 but may be a reissue)
- Zoë, Henry Altemus, 1899. W H Listern
- Lassie, frontis, W&R Chambers, n.d. Jessie Wilson. W. Rainey
- Lassie, Little Brown, 1903. Jessie Wilson. W. Rainey
- Baby John, Zoë, For the Fourth Time of Asking, Little Brown, 1903. J. Harley
- Rob, Ward & Lock. J. Williamson