Monday, November 18, 2019

Guest Post: The Abomination of Desolation in Machen’s “Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” by Dale Nelson

In an earlier article, I proposed that part of Clarke’s dream in the first chapter of Machen’s “Great God Pan” recalled the eve of the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction in AD 70, as recounted by the historian Flavius Josephus in The Jewish War, a book formerly well-known in Whiston’s translation.

Machen’s character Clarke dreamed of a voice that cried, “Let us go hence!” and the tome of Josephus reported that the priests heard a multitude of voices calling “Let us remove hence!” before the triumphant forces of Titus overthrew the Temple.  Clarke’s dream foreshadowed the sacrilegious violation of a young girl’s spiritual integrity because of a successful brain experiment.

I will argue that an account of the violation of an earlier Temple illuminates Machen’s theme.  Here again, Machen is (I suspect) drawing on an old book – this time, the Bible – that is much less a part of education, the arts, etc. today than formerly.

“‘When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation (spoken of by Daniel the prophet), stand in the holy place’ – whoso readeth, let him understand – ‘then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains’” (St. Matthew 24).  These words of Christ refer, in context, to the prophesied destruction of the Temple of Jesus’ day, the Second Temple, the taking of which by Roman soldiers about 40 years afterwards was described by Josephus. 

But the words allude also to the Old Testament book of Daniel 9:27 and 11:31, which the interested reader may look up.

However obscure these texts may be now, they were familiar to many when Machen was young.  I won’t attempt to summarize the reasons why the Daniel passages have been taken to have a twofold fulfillment, first at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled 175-164 BC, and then in AD 70.

Under the Seleucid king, the Temple was defiled: the king’s forces set up in it an idol of a pagan god, prevented the Israelite sacrifices from being offered, and may have polluted the altar with the blood of pigs.  Under the Emperor Vespasian, over 200 years later, the Temple was, again, subject to outrage.  In a war of appalling carnage, Titus ended the Jewish sacrifices and thrust the Roman standards into the sanctuary.

That, basically, is the historical meaning of “the abomination of desolation” or the “abomination that makes desolate.”  The hallowed place, sacred to God, is broken into, something sacred is lost or departs from it, and something unholy takes its place.

Readers of Machen’s horror stories will see the parallel I’m proposing.

The orphan girl Mary is violated; “the soul seemed struggling and shuddering within the house of flesh”; she is left a ruin, an “idiot” who dies before a year has passed.  But something horrible took possession of her body so that nine months later she gave birth to Helen Vaughan, with whose deplorable activities much of “The Great God Pan” is concerned.  When Helen is forced to kill herself, a ghastly corruption is revealed.

Likewise, in “The Inmost Light,” Dr. Black experiments on his innocent, consenting wife.  Black wrote that “from some human being there must be drawn that essence which men call the soul, and in its place (for in the scheme of the world there is no vacant chamber) – in its place would enter in what the lips can hardly utter, what the mind cannot conceive without a horror more awful than the horror of death itself.”  Black’s experiment is successful, and a Poesque mass of bubbling black corruption results.

In each story, an “abomination of desolation” follows upon violation.

Please note: I don’t say Machen wrote these stories intending that they would be interpreted as religious allegories, and, so far as I know, by and large they haven’t been.  He wrote more as a poet than as a mystic, much more as a poet than as a theologian, and much, much more as a poet than as a parson; to say which is not to disparage mystic, theologian, or parson.

Machen wanted to write tales of suspense, wonder, awe, and horror, and, so far as I know, for decades many readers have found these stories first rate of their kind.  The literary allusions I’ve expounded – if they are there – are part of the man’s artistry, and have worked mostly as undertones.

Except that, as Ovid, Josephus, and even the Bible have ceased to indwell many readers’ imaginations today, such readers might hardly sense those tones.

Machen may now be faulted by critics who lack the imaginative formation he and many of his readers shared.  For some of these critics, it’s too late to become naturalized to that country, that spacious, and almost lost, realm of the Greek and Latin classics, the Bible and religious tradition, the standard English authors such as Milton and Browne and Wordsworth.  In new Machen reprints, footnotes may identify some of his references and allusions, but few or no associations with personal formative imaginative experiences will be evoked in readers, because that formation didn’t happen.  To be told that the allusions are there is not to feel them as undertones as one reads the stories --.

When Machen treats of the human being positively, as a divine creation, though threatened by evil, the victims are female.  In my next article, I’ll discuss Machen’s variation, in which his emphasis is on the corruption lurking within fallen human nature.  There, the sufferer will be male.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Guest Post: Phyllis Paul: A Few Glimpses of Her Meaning by Dale Nelson

Miss Paul maintains a pervasive sense of mystery, even though much in her books may be mysterious only in the conventional sense, that is, mysterious until more information is gathered, which then resolves some of the questions that have accumulated. 

In her work mystery remains; it is as if, when the earthly mysterious has been cleared up, something of unearthly mystery remains untouched.  Her imagination tends to the quasi-Gnostic.  References to the Cathars (in The Lion of Cooling Bay) and so on suggest Miss Paul may have studied heterodox religious history. 

However, her ideas and her beliefs may have changed over time.  And whatever she believed at a given point, she may have borrowed elements of some system that she herself did not believe for its imaginative, literary possibilities. 

Here are some observations about matters of the spirit in Miss Paul’s fiction.

In the seven novels that I’ve read so far, Miss Paul allows only a weak connection between English religion and the world of the spirit.  She doesn’t seem interested in a thoroughgoing satire of parish religion, but nor does she endorse it. 

Thus, in Twice Lost, Christine’s mother, Mrs. Gray, maintains a spiritual atmosphere with Scripture texts on the wall at home and with feelings of spiritual communion that she cultivates.  And she is no fool; when Keith Antequin intrudes upon this atmosphere, she knows he is a fake.  Unfortunately, when elderly Thomas Antequin brought himself forward as a suitor for Christine’s hand, he seemed to Mrs. Gray a convenient – perhaps, fatally, a providential – protector for her troubled young daughter. 

Rachel in A Cage for the Nightingale is an Anglican happy with the round of parish life, but she doesn’t understand the more spiritual Victoria.

For Roman Catholicism Miss Paul has a strong aversion, which, as I understand, she particularly indulges in Pulled Down, which I haven’t read yet.  In Cage, several of the worst characters are Catholics. In Twice Lost, Thomas Antequin’s historical play concerns the Inquisition and the theme is cruelty. 

Detail from Breugel's Triumph of Death
Ricky in The Lion of Cooling Bay is attracted to Romanism and to sexual perversity. In the same novel, the narrator refers to the “torture-wheels of the Spanish devils” as painted by Bruegel (see his Triumph of Death), and the Catholic boy Francis dreams of a ceremony in which “the crowd was surrounded by a circle of lofty poles, each of which had a wheel fixed horizontally on its summit; objects which he felt he had seen before, perhaps in some old picture, without understanding their significance.”  (There is a curious reference, in Twice Lost, to a “clubbed tree [that] was crowned with a huge wheel” in a Kensington square.) 

Miss Paul worked within the Gothic tradition, where portrayals of Roman Catholic cruelty have a long pedigree.  However, the anti-Catholic curate Treadworthy, in Rox Hall Illuminated, is rather creepy.

Miss Paul evinces some respect for certain 17th-century Protestant authors who had a keen sense of the reality of spiritual evil.  In A Cage for the Nightingale, Victoria’s imagination was “darkly stirred” when, as a child, she read Hall, Baxter, and Browne. 

Richard Baxter, the Puritan, quoted Bishop Joseph Hall about “Satan’s prevalency in this age” being evident from the numbers of witches.  (Hall is better known for his Anglican Neostoicism.)
Baxter may still be remembered for The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, which has a section on ghosts, and was also author of The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits.  And Consequently of the Immortality of Souls.  Of the Malice and Misery of the Devils, and the Damned.  And of the Blessedness of the Justified.  Fully Evinced by the Unquestionable Histories of Apparitions, Operations, Witchcrafts, Voices, &c.  Written as an Addition to Many Other Treatises, for the Conviction of Sadduces [sic] and Infidels (1691). 

Sir Thomas Browne is best known for Urn Burial and especially Religio Medici, wherein the point is made that it is not in the devil’s interest to reveal himself to those who profess disbelief in the devil and in God.

The devil is a dreadful presence – seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) -- in The Lion of Cooling Bay.  Anne described to William a drawing she saw in Julian’s room, with a great shadow on the landscape, and an inscription naming “The Lion – the King of beasts – God of this world – Ruler of the darkness of this world.”

With particular clarity, A Cage for the Nightingale exhibits a threefold Gnostic-type spirituality.

1.Most of the characters are examples of the sarkikos anthropos, the fleshly person.  They are concerned with this world, its silly or base pleasures, its bogus values.  Herve, Tonine, Janet, Pat, Maurice, and Constantine belong to this category. 

2.Rachel is an example of the psychikos anthropos, the soulish person.  She isn’t worldly like the fleshly characters.  She has some awareness of spiritual reality in sometimes detecting sinister atmosphere, and she is intrigued by Victoria, who is on a higher spiritual level than herself.  Miss Paul makes Rachel an artist who draws without genius.  She would like to go to a Christmas Eve service.  Gnostics would see Christians such as Rachel as satisfied by family life and a conventional religion inadequate for finer spirits.

3.Much-tormented Victoria is the exemplar of the pneumatic or spiritual person.  Though she has felt that she is “all light inside,” she is the imprisoned nightingale, fluttering against the bars of the cage – that is, the trammels of earthly embodiment.  Unlike Rachel’s drawings, Victoria’s artwork has an impressive, real quality.  Paul uses art as a symbol of spiritual life. 

In Gnosticism, God exists but is remote from this world.  As Victoria says, “‘The fall of a sparrow!  God sees it and lets it fall.’”

The phenomenal world hides the realm of spirit, which is associated with light, e.g. in The Lion of Cooling Bay with sunlight burning through leaves.

Christine in Twice Lost thinks of God as absent in one’s time of spiritual anguish – not nonexistent, but not concerned. 

Christine is a superb study, from a classic Lutheran point of view, of a person bowed down under the “curse of the Law.” The two great commandments are to love God with all one’s heart and mind and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself. 

Christine knows that she did fail the unattractive, unwinsome little girl Vivian Lambert, when she didn’t wait to make sure the child got inside her house late one evening, but left her on the doorstep.  She is haunted by part of this passage (St. Matthew 18:6): whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Vivian disappeared and was presumed to have been murdered.  Thereafter, Christine suffers, a prisoner of inner condemnation.  She deals with her guilt in two ways, by doing good works (she is a volunteer at a clinic for the poor, as I recall) and by hoping desperately that Vivian didn’t die, but only disappeared; if Vivian didn’t die, then she, Christine, is not guilty of her death.  There is no suggestion in the novel that she could have opened her tormented heart to a pastor and received the comfort of Gospel absolution, the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.

A severe spirituality – characterized by Glen Cavaliero as “steely puritanism” -- is integral to the atmosphere and meaning of the novels discussed here.  It deserves further exploration.
Note: I consulted Edwyn Bevan’s Symbolism and Belief for a discussion of Gnosticism’s threefold anthropology.  Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest is often issued in abridged form without the section on ghosts – which I know of but haven’t seen.

© 2019 Dale Nelson

Saturday, November 9, 2019

R.I.P. Glen Cavaliero 1927-2019

I'm saddened to report on the passing of poet and literary critic Glen Cavaliero at the age of 92. He is perhaps best-known for his scholarship on John Cowper Powys, and Charles Williams, though readers of Wormwoodiana will honor him for his championing of the neglected novelist Phyllis Paul.  I first learned of Phyllis Paul in Cavaliero's fine book, The Supernatural and English Fiction (Oxford University Press, 1995), in which he devoted part of a chapter to Paul's novels. Cavaliero also published two of his volumes of poetry with Tartarus Press, Steeple on the Hill (1997) and The Justice of the Night (2007), and contributed to Wormwood and wrote introductions for the Tartarus Press editions of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Three Miles Up (2003) and Robert Aickman's Dark Entries (2011). 

I've seen a few obituaries so far, one by his college here, and another a the The Powys Society webpage here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Montague Summers's Ghost Stories

After Montague Summers died in August 1948, a number of his manuscripts and personal papers disappeared, including (it was believed) the manuscript of Six Ghost Stories, which Summers had listed in a Who's Who entry for 1938 as having been published in 1937. Of course it hadn't been published in 1937, and the reference remained a tantalizing bibliographical ghost for the next several decades.

Tantalizing, especially because of Summers's clear knowledge of the whole ghost story field, as evidenced in his three anthologies of such stories, The Supernatural Omnibus (Gollancz, September 1931; the US edition from Doubleday, Doran, March 1932, has different contents)*, Victorian Ghost Stories (Fortune Press, October 1933; no US edition), and The Grimoire and Other Supernatural  Stories (Fortune Press, November 1936; no US edition). All three anthologies have extensive introductions by Summers. And the first anthology reportedly went through multiple printings in both England and America.  Yet in the third one, Summers also included, under his own name, a ghost story entitled "The Grimoire," as well as another he had written, "The Man on the Stairs," published anonymously.  "The Grimoire" is excellent, and "The Man on the Stairs" pretty good, so there would be considerable interest in a volume of Sunmmers's own ghost stories.

A bunch (but not all) of Summers's missing manuscripts and papers turned up about a decade ago in Canada. The whole story is told in an article "The Manuscripts of Montague Summers, Revisited" by Gerard O'Sullivan, published in The Antagonish Review, Fall 2009.  In brief, Summers had left the papers to his live-in companion, Hector Stuart-Forbes, who in turn died in 1950, and whose brother retrieved the papers and shipped them to Canada where he lived. And thus they passed out of public knowledge. The archive was later sold to Georgetown University.

Now, at last, Six Ghost Stories has ceased being a bibliographical ghost and become an actual book, published by Snuggly Books in trade paperback (Amazon UK listing here;  Amazon US listing here), with an introduction by Daniel Corrick. This edition is based on a hand-written manuscript in the Georgetown archive. It includes the two Summers stories mentioned above ("The Grimoire" and "The Man on the Stairs") and four more which have never been published before, and a short introduction by Summers. Being based on manuscript versions, the texts of the two previously published stories are thus slightly different.  (A "Note on the Text" rather confusingly circles around these facts, but I think I've got it sorted out correctly.  The Note reads, in part, "The current versions of those stories, therefore, presented in the current volume, have been significantly amended, comparing the previously published versions to the original hand-written version and, in the case of 'The Man on the Stairs', to an existing typescript as well.")

The four newly published stories have some fine moments, as well as some exasperating ones (e.g., some instances of run-on dialogue, like one passage stretching out over four pages in "The Governess") but none challenge "The Grimoire" in terms of quality.  It's good to have the chance to read this volume at last, though some modern readers might find the prose a bit too Victorian. Summers's own introduction notes his preference in stories against the beneficent ghost and for Spirits that are "no kindly commonplace apparitions but veritable powers of darkness, grisly evil things of terror and dread and doom."

The editorial introduction, however, is barely adequate. It give no account of the discovery of the Summers papers in Canada, deferring the reader to a forthcoming second volume of Summers's fiction, and then refers the reader to Gerard O'Sullivan's article without saying when or where it was published. (Fortunately, I already had a photocopy in my files.)  The title of the second forthcoming volume is given as The Bride of Christ and Other Fictions, and the title story is subsequently described as a "Catholic symbolist novella" without the additional information found in O'Sullivan's article that its sixty pages of holograph manuscript "appears to be unfinished because it lacks a signed and dated colophon page," something found in other Summers manuscripts. The introduction also notes that "Six Ghost Stories does not represent the entirety of Summers' ghost oeuvre." One wonder if some other organization of the two volumes of Summers's fiction might have been better.

Some curious statements are also made about the manuscript. We read that from "recently discovered correspondence, we learn that [M.R.] James himself read and commented favorably on the collection in draft form." M.R. James died in June 1936, so how does one square this with the statement that "addresses given on some of the manuscripts allow us to date its completion to the last part of the '30s, although the stories originated at the very least a few years earlier."  What addresses on the manuscripts?  Are they just submission addresses?  It seems likely that Summers had completed the stories by the time he submitted his Who's Who entry for the 1938 volume, which would have been published sometime in 1937. Summers likely had the already-named volume done by early 1937, if not at least a year earlier for it to be shown to M.R. James. (And certainly two of the stories appeared in the November 1936 publication of his third and final ghost story anthology.) Probably Summers expected Six Ghost Stories to be published by the Fortune Press, who had published his second and third ghost stories anthologies in 1933 and 1936. Summers first met R.A. Caton, the niggardly and eccentric owner of the Fortune Press, in February 1927, and through 1940 he published seven books with the Fortune Press, but he had planned or even completed other volumes for the press that never appeared (like Summers's edition of A Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft, by William Perkins, which Summers had similarly and optimistically listed as published in 1934 in his Who's Who entry for 1935.)  Presumably after his failure with getting the Fortune Press to publish Six Ghost Stories, Summers is known to have offered it in late March 1939 to the very short-lived firm Laidlaw and Laidlaw (initially Laidlaw and Butchart), an eccentric publisher of fantasy and modernism that managed to release eleven books in 1938 and early 1939 before dissolving. (My article on Laidlaw and Laidlaw is forthcoming.) After the Second World War began, Summers apparently kept the manuscript to himself.

Whatever the case, we can now read the former bibliographical ghost, Six Ghost Stories. And I look forward to the follow-up volume.


* The UK edition has 38 stories, the US edition 36. They have thirty stories in common, with eight appearing only in the UK edition, and six appearing only in the US edition.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Remembering T.M. Wright with Two New Books

T.M. Wright died four years ago, on Halloween morning of 2015, at the age of 68.  He was the author of thirty-some books, most of which were novels, some of which were novellas, and one was a grab-all collection of his short stories, poems and art, called Bone Soup (2010).

P.S. Publishing has just released two volumes of Wright's works edited by Steven Savile. One is a collection, The Best of T.M. Wright, and the other is a short novel based on a final project Wright attempted some years before his death, as his health gave way to Parkinson's Disease. This last project was called by Wright The Prison and has now appeared, retitled Mallam Cross, as a posthumous collaboration with Savile. I shall have more to say about it in a future post. Both new volumes are very attractively produced, with cover art by David Gentry.

Bone Soup consisted of some thirteen stories and twenty poems, Wright's fine late novel, Cold House (2003), slightly revised and with the original introduction by Jack Ketchum, plus some fifteen interior illustrations by Wright (one of which also served as the dust-wrapper art). Bone Soup was commissioned by the publisher Cemetery Dance around 2005, and first announced for publication in 2006. A galley was produced in 2007, but the finished book did not come out until October 2010, and then only in an edition limited to 750 signed copies.

The Best of T.M. Wright is basically a kind of revised edition of Bone Soup, but with some notable changes (including what appears to be a random reordering of the materials). First, all of the artwork is dropped. Second, nineteen of the twenty poems from Bone Soup reappear here, but they are inexplicably reformatted as short prose pieces. (Why the poem "I Ask" from Bone Soup was omitted I can't guess.) And the novel Cold House has been removed and replaced with Sally Pinup (2010), a novella originally published as a trade paperback limited to 150 numbered copies. This replacement is unfortunate, for while Cold House deserves a place in a collection entitled The Best of T.M. Wright, Sally Pinup probably does not. This points to the inapplicability  of the use of "Best of" in the title.  For the collection isn't really a "Best of" book--just a compilation of things by Wright that editor Savile seems to have known about.

All thirteen short stories from Bone Soup are reprinted in the new volume, with one welcome addition, a forty-three page story called "Otto's Conundrum," previously unpublished.  This was originally written circa 2006 or 2007 (Savile is not very clear about dates), for a shared-world anthology conceived by Savile that was to be titled Monster Noir, about a place "where all of those monsters we grew up loving were real, and had been hidden away in an enclosure in the Nevada desert, victims of the Monster Alienation Act passed by Nixon" (quoted from Savile's Introduction, p. viii). The anthology never sold, but it's very good to have this story as an addition to Wright's canon.

Savile also claims in his Introduction that "there are no more lost T.M. Wright stories waiting to be discovered. This is it, right here, in this collection, the rarest thing, the last original and previously unpublished T.M. Wright story" (p. viii). This is a bold-faced error. Wright was generous to his friends and family with his manuscripts. I myself know of two early unpublished short novels, The Crows and The Walking Stick, and a long short story "The Collage." Plus there is the original version of what became his first novel, Strange Seed, which was set in the late 1800s and titled Nursery Tale (a title which Wright later used on his third novel, the first sequel to Strange Seed), and additionally there is the screenplay of Strange Seed that Wright wrote in the late 1980s (the attempted revision of which in 2009-2010 was among his final projects). Wright also handmade small booklets of his writings for family members. Who knows what else might be out there?

Savile seems to have known Wright, mostly via email (with Savile living in Sweden and Wright in upstate New York), from around 2005 through 2012, when Wright's illnesses really took over. Savile, in the afterword to Mallam Cross, notes that at this time Wright was "too sick to write, blind now"--but this was not usual blindness but cataract problems.  Wright had each eye fixed, one in late 2012 the other in early 2013, and was able to see again.  But what the Parkinson's was doing to the rest of his body did not bring back the ability to write.

The "Story Credits" at the end of the book are unreliable, missing out on a number of first appearances. Savile also missed a number of published stories, so one wonders whether he didn't know about them, or whether he deliberately left them out. These include "After Dunkirk"  (2007), "The Blue-Faced Man" (2008), "Fog Boy" (2010), "The Lost Woman" (1997), "A Moment at the House" (2011), "Murder Victim"  (2007), "The Puzzle Maker" (2007), and "Welded" (a collaboration with Tom Piccirilli that was published in early 2014, though it reads much more like Piccirilli than Wright). Two of the above stories appeared in Postscripts, published by P.S. Publishing, so one would think that Savile would have had access to them.

Another notable omission from the book is Wright's essay "The Stuff of Horror, Or Gray Matter All over the Inside of Your Skull" (American Fantasy, Summer 1987), which is almost a personal manifesto for Wright's own approach to horror. It would have served as a great introduction (or even as an afterword) to balance the collection of his short fiction with Wright's own views on the making of his art.

All in all, it's great to see some of Wright's writings made available again in printed form. But sadly I think this collection could have been better curated. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Guest Post: Sacrilege: Machen’s Probable Allusion to Josephus in “The Great God Pan” by Dale Nelson

In an earlier article, I seemed to imply that Christian elements don’t appear in Machen’s “Great God Pan” until the second chapter. 

Some readers probably thought that the submission of Dr. Raymond’s virginal ward Mary gains pathos from her bearing the name of the Blessed Virgin and therefore from the way her submission to the scientist’s heartless wishes so tragically and so ironically suggests the Virgin’s gracious “Be it unto me according to thy word” in response to the angelic Annunciation.  Of course this is true.

But even before Mary’s entrance in “The Experiment,” the first chapter of “The Great God Pan,” there appears a passage that, for some of Machen’s early readers, may have sounded a Christian undertone and subtly enhanced their sense of the sacrilege about to occur.

Shortly before Mary steps into Dr. Raymond’s laboratory, his friend Clarke falls asleep.  In the earlier article, I quoted a portion of that dream, which described a dreadful “presence” that confronts the dream-Clarke, and I suggested that Machen is recalling a passage from Ovid about the peril of meeting Pan at noonday. 

Now I give the next sentence:  “And in that moment, the sacrament of body and soul was dissolved, and a voice seemed to cry, ‘Let us go hence,’ and then the darkness of darkness beyond the stars, the darkness of everlasting,” and Clarke awakens.

Well, “sacrament” sounds a Christian note, but it’s that cry of “Let us go hence” that I want to unpack, at least partially, in a moment.  I’m going to refer to an author whose two major books – Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War -- were once familiar presences in the homes of many English-speaking people and in church and school libraries.

I’ve asserted that, for the understanding of Machen -- upon whose knowledge of esoteric, rare books some of his admirers like to dwell -- it’s often helpful to consider what were once widely recognized, readily available books (but that now are probably known to few).

I’m certain that William Whiston’s 18th-century translation of the ancient historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37-ca. 100) is one of these now nearly forgotten works that were once common.

For example, Coleridge considered writing an epic poem on the siege and fall of Jerusalem (letter to Hugh Rose, 25 Sept. 1816), the great subject of Josephus’s The Jewish War.  Thomas de Quincey cites Josephus in “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” 

John Buchan mentioned Scott’s aunt alternating her reading of the Bible with Josephus.  Buchan called him “that portentous author from whom few Scottish children in older days escaped” (Sir Walter Scott, 1932, pp. 29-30). 

Overlapping with Machen’s time, G. A. Henty (1832-1902) produced an abundance of popular historical novels for youngsters, which included For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem (Blackie, 1888). 

The publisher’s advertisement said: “Few boys have failed to find the story of the revolt of the Jews of thrilling interest when once brought to their notice; but there has hitherto been little choice between sending them to books of history and supplying them with insipid fictional transcripts of the story.  Mr. Henty supplies a distinct want in this regard, weaving into the record of Josephus an admirable and attractive plot,” etc.  (This advertisement, which had no need to identify Josephus,  appeared at he back of an 1888 reprint of MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie.) 

Henty’s preface for his boy readers says, “the narrative of Josephus, an eye-witness of the events which he describes, has come down to us; and it is the storehouse from which all subsequent histories of the events have been drawn.”

I would be surprised if the rectory in which Machen grew up did not contain Josephus’s works.  Whiston’s Josephus was well known when “The Experiment” was published in The Whirlwind in 1890.

Josephus was prized for his detailed account of the Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 66) and the ensuing destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, prophesied by Christ in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). 

In The Jewish War, Josephus writes:
in the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence." 
Although Josephus was the son of a Temple priest, he had opposed the doomed Jewish revolt against Rome.  He probably took “Let us remove hence” as one of the supernatural warnings to the Jews to flee from Jerusalem before it was too late. 

That cry might also be taken as having signaled the departure of the divine Presence from the Temple.  That “us” could be an imperative in accordance with the royal second-person grammar.  Moreover, for Christian readers, the plural could suggest the Persons of the Trinity.  That the voice is divine is the interpretation that may have recommended itself to Machen, if his “Let us go hence” is, as I suspect, an echo of Josephus.

Like the weird aerial phenomena recorded by Josephus, Clarke’s dream certainly foreshadows an imminent violation, in this case the violation that Mary will suffer.  Clarke’s dreaming consciousness might be drawing upon his memory of Josephus’s narrative of the destruction of the Second Temple, that is, the “house of the Lord,” as the First Temple, that of Solomon, had been called (1 Kings 5-8).  Dr. Raymond confesses, in the novella’s final sentences, that, for Mary, the “house of life [had been] thrown open.” 

I have more to say about Machen and the Temple, but will conclude for now by asking the reader: if “Let us go hence” does not allude to Josephus’s account of the destruction of the Temple, what does it mean?  Is there any other explanation that so well conveys the sense of the profound violation of a human being made in the image of God (as Machen believed), of the sacrilege, that is about to occur? 

(c) Dale Nelson


Notes

The Josephus passage may be accessed here.

De Quincey’s “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” with the Josephus reference, is here.

In 1902, Rider Haggard’s romance Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem was published.  On the eve of the destruction of the Temple, the heroine, Miriam, feels that “in the midst of this unnatural quiet Jehovah was withdrawing Himself from the house where His Spirit dwelt,” and then the narrator refers to the Roman general Titus entering even “the Holy of Holies itself … nor, since God had departed His habitation, did any harm come to him” despite his looting of the golden candlesticks (Chapter 18).

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robert Aickman's Second Novel

Aickman, Robert. Go Back at Once (unpublished novel, 257 pp.)

According to a cataloguing entry of the Robert Aickman Archive at the British Library, this novel was written in 1975. Aickman's first novel, The Late Breakfasters, was written some years before it was published in 1964. Aickman wrote one other lengthy story near the end of his life (he died in 1981). The Model was published posthumously and is often erroneously called a novel, when more accurately it would be called a novella, due to its short length. Thus Go Back at Once occupies a middle place in Aickman's three pieces of extended prose fiction. All three are odd, but in different ways; yet Go Back at Once is perhaps the oddest work of Aickman's entire oeuvre.

It attempts to work as narrative on more than one level, yet any meaning, as well as the details of its time and setting, are rather murkily presented. Taking place some years after the war, it doesn't specify which war. Yet the accumulation of a number of minor details point decisively to about the year 1924. The setting begins in England, but moves on to a kind of autonomous Italian state called Trino. Yet it is not the known Trino that is in northwestern Italy, for this Trino is on the Adriatic Sea, and is reached via Trieste. In fact the fictional Trino is on the eastern side of the Adriatic, somewhere in one of the Balkan countries.

On the surface level, the novel centers on two young girls, Cressida Hazeborough and Vivien Poins. They are inseparable friends, and having just completed schooling at Riverdale House, they go to London to live with Vivien's aunt Agnes (Lady Luce). Cressida begins to work at a flower shop, while Vivien starts as a receptionist for a psychoanalyst. Their life is interrupted when Aunt Agnes receives a summons from an old acquaintance. And here the novel's oddness begins.

The acquaintance is known as Virgilio Vittore, a great poet, playwright, athlete, soldier, etc., who captured Trino and now governs it according to the laws of music (whatever that means). The two girls travel with Aunt Agnes to Trino, where they find a curious populace and an even stranger society, where everything is free for the taking (the government is funded by a wealthy newspaper magnate, along the lines of a patron of the arts). The second half of the novel takes place over a period of only three days, as the girls explore this new society and become increasingly disillusioned about it. The theatricality of everything is paramount, and the girls are often muttering to themselves quotations from Shakespeare's plays, or those of John Webster, or even Gilbert and Sullivan. Cressida is to work with the theatre, where all the plays performed are by Vittore. At a strange banquet the meal starts with a dish made up of lark's tongues, though the meal is interrupted by a huge number of birds in flight, which are quickly fired upon by the male diners with their small silver pistols, leaving the tables covered with feathers and dead birds. The girls meet a number of unusual people, and aspects of sexuality simmer in the narrative. What the point of all this is is anyone's guess. It doesn't seem to be satire, nor allegory, in any sense. Where it leads, over the three day span, is that Aunt Agnes and the girls are rescued in Adriatic, having left Trino as it collapsed, and they go back to England, and pretty much to the lives they had before their adventure. This is foreshadowed half-way through the book by the woman Cressida works for in Trino who suggests to her that perhaps she might prefer to go back at once, meaning only in that scene to retreat from her prospective employment. Yet in the end this is what the two girls and Aunt Agnes do.

We do not know if Aickman ever offered this novel for publication, but it would have been a hard sell to a publisher. Go Back at Once lacks the cohesiveness of Aickman's first novel, and seems an advance upon it only in terms of conceptual oddness. It also compares unfavorably with Aickman's well known “strange stories,” for the development of the novel is labored to the point of becoming, at times, rather boring.