Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Books of the Year - James Machin

James Machin, editor of Faunus, the journal of The Friends of Arthur Machen, writes:

Discovering John Gross’s The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969) was one of the high points of my reading this year. Gross’s lively account of ‘English literary life since 1800’ is almost endlessly enjoyable and enlightening. By turns perspicacious and gossipy, it is as impressive stylistically as it is for Gross’s exhaustive knowledge of his subject.

I’ve recently been dipping in to some of the less-celebrated contributions to Weird Tales and, intrigued by mention of it in Robert Weinberg’s The Weird Tales Story (1977), thoroughly enjoyed Allison V. Harding’s ‘The Damp Man’ (1947). It surpasses its pulp guilelessness to become rather more than the sum of its parts, mainly through the sheer peculiarity and relentlessness of the eponymous antagonist, and its stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere. There were two sequels, but it’s perhaps time for the Damp Man to rise again.

Image: Lesser Known Writers (Doug Anderson)


  1. I could not agree more about John Gross's book. Reading it certainly makes it understandable why The Spectator called him "the best read man in England." The chapter called "The Bookmen" I have re-read multiple times with delight and will appeal to anyone who reads this blog. A.N. Wilson called the book "his bible" and said reading it as a teenager led to his goal of becoming a writer. Gross's memoir, "A Double Thread" published in 2001 is also quite good.

  2. Gross issued a later edition a few years before he died, though I don't know that it added much to the original. I remember enjoying the book immensely when I first read it, but finding it less satisfying the second time, but that may only be because I'd followed up Gross's leads and read Saintsbury, Gosse, et al. I once thought of writing a similiar history of American bookmen.--md

  3. The work of Allison V. Harding is unjustly overlooked and a collection of her stories is long overdue. I think that the Damp Man stories were probably her best work, and they have maintained a certain reputation to this day. I seem to recall that someone used the Damp Man as a character in a role playing game not long ago. The stories have the sort of dingy, nightmarish paranoia atmosphere I have found in other stories written right after World War II. They have a real noir feel to them.
    Her entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Data Base shows that she had 36 published stories, all in Weird Tales between 1943 and 1951, and that she died in 2004.

    1. There is an entry on Harding at Lesser-Known Writers:

      And at Tellers of Weird Tales, Terence Hanley has suggested that Jean Milligan wasn't "Allison V. Harding" but that her husband Lamont Buchanan was. See: