Francis Marion Crawford was born in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, in 1854. He was the son of Louisa Cutler Ward and American sculptor Thomas Crawford, who had immigrated to Rome — and who created the statue "Armed Freedom" that is on the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.
Crawford's father died when he was three years old, and his mother Louisa then married Luther Terry, an American painter. Crawford's early schooling was from private tutors. In 1866 he was sent to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1869 he returned to Rome and then traveled throughout Italy, England, and Germany. He was an accomplished linguist and knew twenty languages (including studying Sanskrit) at The University of Rome. When he traveled to India, he became a Roman Catholic.
Crawford came back to America in 1881, seeking employment. His first published novel, Mr. Isaacs: A Tale of Modern India (1882), was an instant success. It was extremely well received by readers, although less so by critics.
In 1884 he traveled to Constantinople, where he married Elizabeth Christophers Berdan, daughter of General Hiram Berdan. The couple lived in Rome with Crawford's mother and eventually had four children. By 1887 he was ready to settle down to a career in writing and bought a villa in Sant' Agnello di Sorrento (later named Crawford Villa), which was turned into a convent after his death. Sometimes writing several novels a year, Crawford's most prolific period was between 1885 and 1895. His “Saracinesca Trilogy” (of Don Giovanni when Rome was still the capitol of the Papal States) is considered one of his most impressive works. Written during the same period were A Tale of a Lonely Parish (1886), Marzio's Crucifix (1887), Paul Patoff (1887), Greifenstein (1889), and The Witch of Prague (1891).
Crawford saw fiction as solely for entertainment and never attempted to be true to life in his writing. This approach gained him remarkable success, fame, and fortune – and it was said that he was envied by many of his peers. By 1896 more than 600,000 of his books had been sold in the United States alone. These sales established him as a major American writer, outselling such literary contemporaries as William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Mark Twain — although Crawford chose to live abroad most of his life.
On 9 April 1909, a Good Friday, Crawford died in Sant' Agnello di Sorrento and was buried there. His sister, Baroness Ann von Rabe, was also an author of supernatural fiction. The F. Marion Crawford Memorial Society was founded in 1975.
His genre books include the following:
With the Immortals (1988) [a wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the protagonists buy an old castle and try to tap the earth's “gigantic reservoir of electricity” in order to attract ghosts to the castle]
Khaled: A Tale of Arabia (1891) [an oriental fantasy in which the eponymous hero is a genie made mortal/originally published in 2 volumes]
The Witch of Prague, A Fantastic Tale (1891) [an occult romance in which the protagonist awakens the interest of a sorceress/originally published in 3 volumes]
The Little City of Hope: A Christmas Story (1907) [sympathetic magic between an actual village and a miniature village laid out for the Christmas holidays]
Cecilia: A Story of Modern Rome (1902) [an occult romance involving strange dreams and the reincarnation of the Vestal Virgin]
Wandering Ghosts (1911) [seven weird stories/UK title: Uncanny Tales]