Monday, May 22, 2017

E.H. Visiak, Detective!

The poet Kenneth Hopkins (1914-1988) was for many years a friend of E.H. Visiak (1878-1972). What is little known is that Hopkins published three detective novels featuring the elderly Dr. William Blow and his friend Professor Gideon Manciple.  In published order they are She Died Because . . .  (1957), Dead Against My Principles (1960) and Body Blow (1962).  In US editions, they were published out of order (Dead first, She second and Body third), between 1962 and 1965, and the blurbs get the ages of Blow and Manciple wrong. When She Died Because ... was first published in England, Blow's age is about 79.  Curiously, that's the same age as E.H. Visiak was at that time.  Coincidence?  No, for Hopkins dedicated the book "To E.H. Visiak, as dedicated a scholar as Dr. Blow, but luckier with his domestics."  And in inscribing a copy of Body Blow to John Arlott, Hopkins wrote: "No prizes for recognising the original of Dr. Blow."

She Died Because ... begins with Dr. Blow engaged in his fifteen-year task of editing the complete works of Samuel Butler, when he realizes he is hungry. He reasons through the facts to ascertain that his housekeeper must not have brought him food, and perhaps he had missed tea with his friend Manciple, who lives in the rooms underneath him. After observing the housekeeper's body lying on the floor of her room, Blow summons Manciple for help, not realizing it is three in the morning. Here's a paragraph of skillful and witty characterization, appearing in the one-sided conversation of Dr. Blow as he, at Manciple's urging, has telephoned the police:

E.H. Visiak in the mid-1960s
“Ah. Is that the police station? Just so. I am telephoning up about my housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull. Sollihull—certainly not, my name is Blow: BLOW, Blow, Dr. Blow.  I must explain that I am not, however, a Doctor of Medicine. I should, in that event, have known at once that she was dead; as it was, Manciple told me. Manciple. Dear me, he is internationally known, I assure you.  I must ask you not to interrupt. My housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull, when she didn’t bring my tea, you understand, as she always does, or rather did—at first I thought it was Wednesday, which would have explained it. Yes, you foolish fellow, I know it is Wednesday now, but it wasn’t yesterday. Really, the police are too stupid—he’s saying now, Manciple, that is is Wednesday. . . .  Policeman! You must please listen carefully or call one of your superiors, I am being very patient with you. My housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull, is lying dead in her room. I have a witness. Now I want you to come round here first thing in the morning and deal with it—what time do you open? There is the body and everything. I shall be obliged to go out to breakfast in the circumstances, but I shall return by ten o’clock. Oh, certainly, if you prefer it. The address is Ten Priory Place; it is the second turning on the left after you pass the junction of North Street with High Street; and we are at the lower end, overlooking the sea—number ten, the top flat. I shall be waiting for you. It is very early, but you know your own business best, Good-bye.”

This lampooning of Visiak as Dr. Blow is affectionate, witty and addictive. I zipped through all three Dr. Blow novels when I first discovered them in Perennial Library paperbacks in the mid-1980s. And I periodically re-read them, both for sheer pleasure and for the insight they give to the often inscrutable character of their model.

Hopkins wrote Visiak's obituary for the Royal Society of Literature, noting that Visiak "lived a secluded life, and in later years his health was indifferent, and he reserved his energies for his own work, and for entertaining a few friends who delighted in his learning and insight. How many evenings have I passed in that seaside flat high above Adelaide Crescent in Hove, with the dark room heavy with cigar smoke, and Visiak's deep voice elucidating some tricky point in the interpretation of the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, or a disputed reading in Of Prelatical Episcopacy: it all sounds pretty dull stuff, but Visiak had the gift of making it exciting, and that's a gift somewhat rare among scholars."

Besides the three Dr. Blow novels, Hopkins published five other mystery novels, four of which concern a newspaperman named Gerry Lee, including The Girl Who Died (1955), The Forty-First Passenger (1958), Pierce with a Pin (1960), and Campus Corpse (1963).  Hopkins's final mystery was Amateur Agent (1964), published under the pseudonym "Christopher Adams".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reissue of detective novel by R.A.V. Morris, the older brother of Kenneth Morris

First published in 1922, The Lyttleton Case by R.A.V. Morris went through some seven printings through 1930, before lapsing into obscurity, possibly because the author wrote no follow-ups of the detective adventures of Chief Inspector James Candlish. In 1971, in their Catalogue of Crime, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor called it "an early specimen of the well-written, slow, carefully plotted puzzle," and concluded "this is an acceptable tale of murder, impersonation, and abduction, withe entertaining asides about the contemporary scene."  

Ronald Arthur Vennor Morris (1877-1943) was the older brother of the classic fantasist Kenneth Morris (1879-1937). R.A.V. Morris published only this one book.

The Lyttleton Case is now republished (on May 18th) by HarperCollins in their Detective Story Club series about which I have written previously.  I wrote a short introduction for this reissue, which is a nicely done hardcover at the low price of £ 9.99 from Amazon in the UK. The cover of the new edition is above.  Below I'll post some of the early dust-wrappers from early editions.

1922 edition

Third Impression, 1923

1927 two shilling edition

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guest Post: A Note on the Location of a Machen Tavern by R B Russell


At the start of The London Adventure Arthur Machen is sitting in a tavern in St John’s Wood, London. In other places this establishment has been identified as The Knights of St John (7 Queen’s Terrace) and The Eyre Arms Tavern (1 Finchley Road), but I would like to suggest that the Princess Royal (11 Circus Road) is also a candidate. In Hair Under a Hat (Chaterson, 1949), J.P. Hogan claimed to know the exact location:

‘I wondered a long time about the whereabouts of this tavern. … The long and the short of it is that on a warm Sunday evening in early September I found myself in Clifton Hill, St. John’s Wood. I had had some correspondence with Mr Machen a year or two before his death; and he had assured me that this particular tavern (he gave no guarantee as to others) was not fabulous; he had even given me exact details as to its whereabouts. And it all fitted in, at least on the material level, with the description in his book.

But ... Here, in what Mr Machen’s spirit had made an oasis for his body, I found only confusion and decay, peeling stucco and peeling standards of inward living, the dreariness and drabness of a suburb that has ceased to hold the impulse that built it. St John’s Wood, it seemed to me as I hesitated outside the unobtrusive tavern, was all rats and flats: rats in the bombed houses and flats in the rest. I did not enter the tavern; I should have felt like Pascal at a bacchanal.

Thus one learns the lesson, so tersely set down for us in the Tao, that ‘without going out of the door one can see the whole world’. It would have been wiser, on that torpid Sunday evening, to have stayed in my garden and re-read The London Adventure. For then the ‘remote tavern’ would have remained a reality (and a satisfying one at that), whereas by rushing in where an angel would hesitate I had merely seen with my own eyes a chimaera.'

And so, annoyingly, Hogan does not reveal the location of the tavern.

In Morocco Bound (Farrar & Rinehart), 1929, Edwin Valentine Mitchell specifically mentions The Eyre Arms, but states that ‘Arthur Machen’s pub, the Princess Royal, is only a few streets away.’And in The Life of Arthur Machen (FoAM/Redonda/Tartarus, 2005) John Gawsworth writes of this period:

'… he had changed his tavern to the Princess Royal, where a new band gathered around him, Captain Kenneth Rivington of the family of publishers, Frederick Carter, who had deserted Liverpool for St John’s Wood to continue his studies in symbolism, Philip Sergeant, the historical biographer, secretary of the Jacobite Society, and several of the fraternity of arts and letters who owned studios and flats in the neighbourhood. Machen enjoyed six years of what for him was prosperity; an urban and urbane host, his hospitality is remembered by many who enjoyed it.'

Sadly, the buildings housing both The Eyre Arms and The Princess Royal have both been rebuilt, and The Knights of St John is now closed, so we cannot visit any of these establishments today in the hope of finding Machen’s ‘pleasant and retired spot’. But, as Hogan suggests, perhaps it would be wisest to simply re-read The London Adventure, and not chase chimeras.

(Pictures: The Eyre Arms (top), The Knights of St John (below))






Monday, May 8, 2017

Wormwood 28


In Wormwood 28, just published:

Robert Aickman’s vast unpublished philosophical work Panacea must certainly cast some light on his early thinking and attitude to life, and may possibly illuminate some of his strange stories. Doug Anderson is the first to attempt an analysis of it, starting with an estimate of when it was written, how much was written (rather more than Aickman thought) and broadly what it seems to achieve. In Part 1 of his study, he also provides a succinct summary of the first 27 chapters.

Philip Challinor meanwhile continues his close reading of Aickman’s stories with an essay discussing “Meeting Mr Millar”. The story contains some evident autobiographical details, Philip notes: and, unusually, Aickman provides not one explanation but two. This, however, should make us even more wary than where there are none.

Reggie Oliver’s reviews include a discussion of a recent biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard, and he notes that her impulsive character and intense emotional life were the essential qualities that made her writing so authentic: there was a symbiosis between the life and the literature.

Lionel Johnson might be seen as the last lost decadent – he has never had even the twilight esteem of Ernest Dowson, say, or John Gray. Nina Antonia sets out to put that right with the first part of an extensive study of his life and work. There emerges a figure, “Mystic & Cavalier”, whose dedication to poetry and to austere ideals, not always realised (which of us does?) deserves our respect.

‘Hibernian Hierophant, Chameleon of Identity, Sorcerous Scribbler’ says Adam Daly of his subject, Herbert Moore Pim, an author whose life seems to have been dedicated to provocation. But was there a secret purpose behind his changeable character? Adam suggests a surprising but plausible answer.

We might be equally surprised to find late-Victorian fairy stories linked to the women’s rights movement. But Mark Andresen, in his essay on ‘The Fairy Suffragettes’, explores how three women working in children’s fiction used their stories to provide new models for the independent and creative individual.

Rudyard Kipling, once lauded as the “poet of Empire” is now more often seen as the “relic of the Raj”, says Jacob Huntley. But he was a more complex figure than either the accolade or the dismissal. This essay discusses his abiding interest in the modern and in the realms of the spirit, neither of them obvious fits with his imperialist reputation.

The Italian empire in Libya is the subject of a book reviewed in John Howard’s Camera Obscura column, The Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina, which he suggests is a subtle exploration of contrasting loyalties, painted with “broad and deep strokes of sensual colour.”

David Lindsay was also the author of several vast works, one (The Witch) not yet fully published, the other, Devil’s Tor, published but often hard to find. Robert Eldridge and Thomas Kent Miller offer separate perspectives on the second of these, finding in it on the one hand a profound expression of the otherworldly and on the other a strong allegiance to the eternal feminine.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

RIP Richard Dalby (1949-2017)


We are very sorry to learn that the veteran ghost story editor, scholar and bookseller Richard Dalby has died aged 68 at his home in Scarborough. Richard was one of the most learned authorities on supernatural fiction of his time.

He edited a succession of well-chosen and pioneering anthologies, including the Virago volumes of women’s ghost stories, the Mammoth Books of ghost stories, the Jamesian collection Ghosts & Scholars (with Rosemary Pardoe) and several popular books of Christmas ghost stories and thrillers. Other noted volumes include The Sorceress in Stained-Glass (1971), Dracula’s Brood (1989) and Tales of Witchcraft (1991), all highly respected and now much sought-after.

He also introduced many editions of rare ghost story collections by little-known authors, taking a leading role in The Ghost Story Press (with David Tibet) and later working with Sarob Press, Tartarus Press and others. His most recent book was characteristic: an edition of previously uncollected antiquarian ghost stories, The Haunted Haven by A Erskine Ellis (Phantasm Press).

Richard’s work was not, however, simply retrospective: he also championed contemporary writers, often bringing them to a wider audience through his books. I can vouch for this personally: Richard was the first to publish one of my own stories professionally. In a manner typical of his wide reading, he had noticed the story in a small press booklet and I still remember the joy his unexpected and courteous request to reprint it brought me.

Nor was Richard’s work limited to the ghost story, though this was his abiding interest. He also acted as an unofficial deputy editor to the journal Book & Magazine Collector, checking the bibliographies and price guides, and contributing many articles throughout its history from 1984-2010. Again, Richard kindly introduced me to the journal, suggesting I write about Michael Arlen in his centenary year, and often putting forward ideas for other subjects. I know I was far from alone in receiving Richard's encouragement and advice.

Richard’s career began in bookshops in London, including Foyles, but he later became a bookseller in his own right, issuing catalogues from his home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. His Christmas ghost story catalogues were a delight for many readers. He had lived with diabetes since early childhood but undaunted pursued his determination to make a career in literature. He was unflagging in his scholarly zeal and did not let his condition hold him back.

There can have been few people with such a wide and deep knowledge of ghost stories and allied fiction as Richard. He was dedicated in his research into even the obscurest authors and books, often uncovering information that had eluded others. But he was also generous with his work, always willing to share what he had found, to help others, and to discuss ideas. His many friends will remember a shrewd, warm, enthusiastic gentleman, formidable in his learning but companionable and kindly in person.

Mark Valentine

Photo courtesy Tartarus Press

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Guest Post: Arthur Machen’s A Handy Dickens: The Frontispiece Fret, by Nick Wagstaff



It was a pleasure to see the frontispiece of Arthur Machen’s edited book A Handy Dickens of 1941 appearing in Dale Nelson’s guest post of 8 April. What a warm hearted depiction of Dickens’ characters is displayed in this coloured pen and ink sketch, featuring recognisable or generalised Dickensian characters in their glory. Surely the artist’s affectionate vignettes of Dickens’ imaginative world - with nods to nineteenth century illustrators - would be a delight for all to enjoy? The publishers, Constable loved it. But Arthur Machen, the editor of the book, had nothing good to say about this illustration by the famous artist Edward Ardizzone.

Machen complained in a letter of 2/11/1941 to Montgomery Evans, his friend from the USA and strong advocate of Machen’s writings, that the work “does not strike me as altogether admirable. But I gather from Constable, the publishers, that Ardizzone is it.” He developed his view in another letter (of unclear date) to the same recipient that “Ardizzone’s title page is rubbish, but it seems agreed that his silly scrawls and smears are magnificent.” The artist was asked by the publishers to select some episodes from the extracts chosen by Machen to produce a composite title page. Machen noted that Ardizzone “has carefully avoided using any one episode which appears in the selection.”

Machen goes on in a letter to John Gawsworth of 30/10/1941 to write that “Ardizzone has excelled himself. He has changed the title to ‘A Handy Dickens’. The designs are not original, they are what I should call rough recollections of Phiz, covered with a pale pink wash.”

Certainly the gothic arch in the centre of the illustration favours the use of the letter ‘A’ rather than the word ‘The’. Was it important that the ‘The Handy Dickens’ title ended up as ‘A Handy Dickens’, and can one accept Machen’s view that the illustrator acting alone had the power to do this?

Machen felt strongly about the frontispiece. He also felt strongly that the publishers missed a trick by bringing out the book three or four days before Christmas and in doing so failed to cash in on Christmas sales.

In defence of Machen one can see that the illustration did not meet his precise requirements in what would be his final book as a content editor and preface writer. Maybe an author is allowed to be tetchy about the presentation of his last book (Machen was 77 when this work was published).

Machen is very hard on Edward Ardizzone. One can imagine he was too busy undertaking his duties as War Artist in 1941 to fulfil the precise brief of producing an immaculate frontispiece to A Handy Dickens. He had much other business to attend to. Did it really matter that the frontispiece did not map on to the episodes selected by Machen? Taken as a whole, despite dark street corners and apparent prison gates, the sketches Ardizzone produced for the frontispiece to A Handy Dickens are serene in a time of global war. Perhaps some notion of serenity was what he wished to see, and also share with readers, at that time of conflict.

Nick Wagstaff

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Guest Post: Machen's Bookplate Rediscovered, by Boyd White


In his prefatory note to Nathan Van Patten’s The Lost Bookplate of Arthur Machen (Greenwood Press, 1949), Vincent Starrett refers to Machen’s bookplate as “one of the great rarities in its field.”  Starrett mentions a letter from August 15, 1922, in which Machen notes his bookplate “dates from the early nineties.  I think I have now only one book containing it, and the plate itself disappeared long ago.”  Van Patten asserts that the bookplate’s designer is G. P. Jacomb Hood, who produced the etching used as the frontispiece for Machen’s translation of The Fortunate Lovers, published by George Redway in 1887.  At the time when Van Patten’s booklet was published, only three copies of Machen’s  bookplate were known to exist: : 1) one in Machen’s copy of The Great God Pan, referred to by Machen in a letter to Starrett dated November 1, 1923, whereabouts unknown; 2) one in Machen’s copy of M. P. Shiel’s Shapes in the Fire, which was owned at the time by Adrian Goldstone; and a copy of the bookplate, presumably loose, cataloged by Thomas Thorp, a bookseller, in 1922, whereabouts also unknown.

A fourth example of Machen’s bookplate was reproduced in Steve Eng’s essay “M. P. Shiel and Arthur Machen: Parallels in Life and Literature” in Reynolds Morse’s M. P. Shiel in Diverse Hands: A Collection of Essays (Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1983).  This example of the bookplate is taken from Machen’s copy of the John Lane edition of Shiel’s Prince Zaleski, which at the time belonged to Shiel enthusiast John D. Squires.  Machen’s copy of Prince Zaleski was unknown until Squires acquired it from Massachusetts bookseller Harold M. Burnstein in March of 1980.  This copy of Prince Zaleksi is part of the Squires’ archive currently being cataloged by noted bookseller Lloyd Currey.

Years later, Squires correctly identified the designer of Machen’s bookplate as Herbert Jones, the chief librarian of Kensington from 1887 to 1924.  In email to Caermaen, the Friends of Arthur Machen, dated September 28, 2010, Squires discusses downloading  a copy of  Artists and Engravers of British and American Book Plates: A Book of Reference for Book Plate and Print Collectors by Henry Walter Fincham (Keagan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1897), a resource clearly not available to Van Patten in 1949.  Squires states, “At page 51 [the reference] lists various bookplates designed by Herbert Jones, London, including for Arthur Machen, ‘Two Varieties,’ signed on the plate ‘HJ.’”(Van Patten had mistakenly read the initials on the bookplate reversed as “JH.”) Squires also wonders, “Is anyone aware of any further examples of the bookplate?  Or what distinguishes the ‘Two Varieties,’ which Fincham noted?”

While recently helping Lloyd Currey identify some typscripts of Shiel stories that resemble screen treatments, I wrote Ray Russell at Tartarus Press to see what insights he might have, inadvertently forwarding him an email exchange between Lloyd and I about Machen’s bookplate and the fate of the books in Machen’s library.  This turned out to be entirely fortuitous.  While Ray didn’t know anything about the Shiel typescripts, he did have information regarding the whereabouts of Machen’s books: “Those books [Machen] owned at his death stayed in the family, and I remember seeing in Janet Machen’s library a number of such volumes.  I am sure these are still with the family.  However, he obviously disposed of books at various times in his life, some of which ended up in the hands of US collectors.”  More importantly, Ray disclosed the discovery of a fifth example of Machen’s bookplate: “The Friends of Arthur Machen recently received, as a gift, Machen’s own copy of Parker’s Gothic Architecture, which we have now donated to the British Library.  It was inscribed to Machen by his father, and had Machen’s bookplate, and was obviously very personal—but there was an entry from a bookdealer’s catalogued tipped in to show that it had been sold for 5s during Machen’s lifetime.”

Excited by the prospect of getting to see images of this example of Machen’s bookplate, which is still unknown to most Machen enthusiasts, I wrote Sharon Agar, a metadata specialist at the British Library, to see if she might be able to send me scans from the book.  Thanks to Sharon and her colleagues at the St. Pancras location, the images below have been made available for us to enjoy.  The book in question is John Henry Parker’s An Introduction to the Study of Gothic Architecture published in 1874 by James Parker and Company.  As his father’s inscription indicates, Machen received this book as a Christmas present in 1876 when he was just fourteen years old in the Lower Fourth at Hereford Cathedral. 



“Arthur Ll. Jones. Machen / (from his father) / 1st in Lower Fourth / Hereford Cathedral / School Xmas 1876.”


As Ray was reading over an initial draft of this post, he suddenly recalled that UK bookseller Neil Parry had acquired two copies of Machen’s bookplate, both loose, in either the late 1980s or early 1990s.  Neil and I are old friends, and I immediately sent him an inquiry to confirm Ray’s claim and learn if these bookplates were still in Neil’s possession.  Neil quickly confirmed that he did once own two copies of Machen’s bookplate.  On a whim many years ago, he had written a well-established UK dealer who specialized in bookplates and was amazed when the dealer responded to his inquiry by offering him two copies of Machen’s bookplate.  Although Neil sold these bookplates to collectors a while back, he recalled an interesting detail about them: “I can confirm that the two plates were slightly different, the colour of one was of light green and the other brown.”  Could this variation in color account for the “two varieties” of Machen’s bookplate listed in Fincham’s reference book?  Without seeing them or additional examples of Machen’s bookplate, we will probably never know for certain.

To bring things full circle, after hearing from Neil, I wrote my colleague, Jim Kuhn, associate director at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, to see if he could confirm John Squires’ assertion that Machen’s copy of Shapes in the Fire resides in the Center’s Adrian Goldstone collection.  Although the Ransom Center has five first editions of Shapes in the Fire, including a copy with Shiel’s own bookplate, Machen’s copy with his bookplate is not among their holdings.  Jim, however, did send scans of two additional previously unknown examples of Machen’s bookplate that are in the Adrian Goldstone Collection.  One is cataloged as a “proof” of the bookplate, and the other, seen in a black and white snapshot of book inscribed by Machen in 1923, is cataloged as an “unknown bookplate.”  (The images Jim shared cannot be reproduced, but the items are described in the list of the Center’s Adrian Goldstone holdings in container 19.5, along with the typed manuscript of Van Patten’s booklet.)

Are there even more extant copies of Machen’s bookplate floating around in the ether?  Almost assuredly there are, and ideally the collectors and curators who “rediscover” them will continue to share them with those of us who love Machen’s work and all things related to him.

Boyd White 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Arthur Machen and the Art of the Hieroglyph

A quick note here to call attention to a recent publication by Le Visage Vert:  a new single-author critical volume on Arthur Machen.  It is by Sophie Mantrant, an associate professor and lecturer at the University of Strasbourg.  It is called Arthur Machen et l'art due hiéroglyphe.  It has a lengthy introduction, followed by five sections of five chapters each (and each section also contains a short conclusion). The volume closes with a more general concluding chapter, an extensive bibliography, and an index.  The main thrust of the book's argument is that Machen's texts evoke a re-enchantment with the world in disenchanted times, and that Machen accomplishes this through the art of the hieroglyph, which give the mysteries of the universe in a symbolic language. A fine produced volume, as usual.  Order via this link (scroll down).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Guest Post: A Bust of Pitt in Dickens and Machen, by Dale Nelson



In “The Novel of the Black Seal,” an indication that something strange is happening in Professor Gregg’s rural residence “‘in the west of England, not far from Caermaen,’” is provided by the removal of a dusty bust of the English statesman William Pitt from its customary place atop a 15-foot cupboard and its placement on the scholar’s desk.   Miss Lally is puzzled by Gregg’s evasiveness about the matter.   We learn eventually that Gervase Cradock, horribly transformed, moved the bust by means of a “slimy, wavering tentacle” extruding from his supine body.  Gregg’s horrible surmises have been fulfilled.

Having read, sometimes reread, all of Dickens’s novels except Dombey and Son, I have been making up that deficiency just now.  I’ve discovered that, before being placed on Professor Gregg’s cupboard and then moved by Gervase, the bust of Pitt was an ornament in proud, mammon-worshipping Mr. Dombey’s house.   It is mentioned four times in Dickens’s novel, in Chapters 5 (twice), 8, and 51.  In Chapter 8 we read that it is “about ten feet from the ground” and “near the bookcase.”  In Chapter 51 it is “upon the bookcase.”  This suggests that it has been moved.

I don’t suppose that Machen derived the idea specifically of a moved bust of Pitt from Dickens’s novel, but I imagine that the Pitt-bust itself was placed in Machen’s mind by one or other of his readings – I imagine there were more than one – of Dombey and Son.  That Machen was a great reader of Dickens is well-known.  It’s his preface that begins A Handy Dickens.  Overt references to Dickens appear in other things by Machen, and perhaps further instances of (likely) unconscious allusions to Dickens will come to light.

A Handy Dickens (1941)

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Box of Disquiet


At the Bristol Artist Book Event over the weekend of 1-2 April 2017, the Bookartbookshop were displaying a fine press edition of selections from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Passages from the work had been hand-set and hand-printed on items of ephemera and presented in a box in an edition of 80, 50 of which were for sale.

The project was the work of Tim Hopkins at what he describes as his “back bedroom letterpress”, using a small, table-top Adana printer. It had been the work of many nights and days, sometimes using type so small that a magnifying glass was required in the setting of it. This is an inspired and extraordinary tribute to Pessoa's book, echoing the way his work was written on fragments of paper and kept in a chest. There will be an exhibition of the book's contents from 6- 20 April at the bookshop.

The edition has, not surprisingly, sold out before publication (mostly to libraries), but the bookshop also offered “relics” from the project – pieces that hadn’t made it in into the completed sets. It was a delight to sift through the box of these and select a few - well, all right, rather more than a few.

Here were Pessoa's words printed on a label from a bottle of port wine, a sheet from an old accounts ledger, the backs of maps and old photographs, filing cards, postage stamps, and other mysterious pieces of paper whose provenance and purpose was cryptic. The text, already strange and haunting, acquires a new lonely and bittersweet quality when it is read in this form. Each piece seems to carry within it hints of an untold story or a set of extra associations and possibilities.

There may possibly still be some relics left, though not, I suspect, for long. After that each of these Pessoan paper talismans will be leading its own life: and who knows where they may end?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Thrillers of "Glint Green"

Between 1931 and 1933, four novels appeared under the deliberately odd pseudonym "Glint Green." Hutchinson, the publisher of all four books, made no bones about the books being pseudonymous. In fact, they used it as a promotional gimmick.  The four novels are all detective thrillers featuring Inspector Fred Wield, and they are in sequence, Strands of Red ... Hair! (1931), Devil Spider (1932), BeautyA Snare (January 1933), and Poison Death (July 1933).  All four novels are very rare. The only one I have read is the second, Devil Spider, in which Inspector Wield searches for the clever murderer of Sir Arthur Andrews, whom Wield calls a "Devil Spider."  Printed on the cover of Devil Spider the pseudonym is given in quotation marks, with a parenthetical notice: "Pseudonym of a Famous Author Writing in a New Vein." On the half title, the publisher's blurb reads in part:

With Strands of Red ... Hair, the mysterious "Glint Green" achieved an initial success in his (or her) entry into the realms of detective fiction. It would be interesting to know if any of "Glint Green's" readers formed theories as to his (or her) real identity. So much we know, that he (or she) is a writer who, having achieved immense success in one field of fiction, has ventured into another and does not wish to confuse the two. Devil Spider is "Glint Green's" second thriller, and a very sprightly, entertaining affair it is. The web spread by the Devil Spider catches the butterfly wings of Penelope and very nearly entangles the whole of her life's happiness. 

I do not know when the real identity behind the pseudonym was revealed, but the British Museum Catalogue give the authoress as Margaret Peterson.  Peterson (1883-1933) was a very successful writer of popular novels for women, most of which are forgotten today. One of her later books, Moonflowers (1926) is set in central Africa and centers upon a murderess whom some firmly believe to be a vampire, while others equally firmly believe her murders are completely non-supernatural.  The authoress manages to maintain an ambivalence through the very end of the book, without a firm resolution to one side or the other (though their are hints...).  Devil Spider is an engaging and competent detective thriller of its time.  Margaret Peterson's authorship of the "Glint Green" books is not disclosed in her entry for Who's Was Who, nor were the books mentioned in her obituary in The Times (30 December 1933). The U.S. Copyright registers do give the authorship of the "Glint Green" novels as Margaret Fisher, "Fisher" being Margaret Peterson's married name.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

In Search of the Cockatrice


In the summer of that year I went in search of the cockatrice. For those not quite up in their fabulous beasts, I should explain that the cockatrice has the head and feet of a cock, but the body and forked tail of a small dragon…

'As Blank As The Days Yet To Be' started as an essay about a piece of folklore, turned into an autobiographical vignette about a visit to a lair of the fabulous beast, and then became a story about an encounter with the quietly singular.

The text by Mark Valentine is illuminated by beautiful images from the photography of Julian Hyde. Design and print is by Full Point Design.

This new booklet published by Voices in a Lane will accompany an exhibition of Julian Hyde’s images at St Oswald’s Church, Grasmere, Cumbria, from 4-7 April 2017. It is limited to 100 copies and is available for £10 including postage in the UK. Enquire for overseas orders.

To order, please contact julian[at]voicesinalane[dot]co[dot]uk

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The "Books for the Imagination" Series



I first learned of the Henry Holt and Company series of “Books for the Imagination” via an article by A. Langley Searles in his fanzine The Annex #7 (Winter 1989-1990).  Searles noted that the series began shortly before World War II, and encompassed books such as Past the End of the Pavement (1939) by Charles G. Finney, Windless Cabins (1940) by Mark Van Doren, The Survivor (1940) by Dennis Parry, and Lest Darkness Fall (1941) by L. Sprague de Camp. 

A little research shows that the situation with this series is rather more complicated.  The first book labeled as part of the series was in fact Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s The Incomplete Enchanter (1941).  The earlier titles are listed in the description of the series on the rear cover of the dust-wrapper, even though they pre-dated the series itself.  The series lasted for only one more book, Land of Unreason (1942), by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp, which has an advertisement of the series on the rear flap of the dust-wrapper. I give the full advertisement from The Incomplete Enchanter below, followed by an extract from the slightly re-written advertisement on Land of Unreason. Finally, I give details, chronologically, on the six books that make up the entire series.

From the rear cover of The Incomplete Enchanter
The publication of a book like The Incomplete Enchanter is a somewhat unusual experience. In theme, in plot, in treatment, it falls clean outside the ordinary patterns of contemporary fiction; this very fact is one of the reasons for putting Mr. Pratt’s and Mr. de Camp’s story between book covers. For we believe, as publishers, that there is a substantial body of readers today who welcome books which don’t “conform.” The rare and priceless quality of imagination is a sort of reading vitamin—without it no diet of books is really complete. Too much contemporary fiction seems to us to lack this very quality: the moribund products of historical research, the novels with plots as standardized as the appeals of mass advertising, the books of reportorial sociology dressed up as fiction crowd the booksellers’ tables. Only occasionally is there a story written which is alive with the vitality with a fresh imagination and impact for narrative.

We are on the constant lookout for such manuscripts, and it is part of our policy to publish them when they can be found. Already there have been several in our past lists. Mark Van Doren’s Windless Cabins, for one, Dennis Parry’s The Survivor for another. L. Sprague de Camp’s  Lest Darkness Fall was a third. The experiment has been a successful one. No project has brought in to our offices so many unsolicited letters—or so many manuscripts. One of the most interesting aspects of the publication of this group of books is the way in which people continue to buy and read them long after the usual life-span of a modern book of fiction. They have proved to be stories worth reading long after their initial publication.
 
The Incomplete Enchanter is, we believe, a book for the imagination, for what an earlier day would have called the “fancy.” It is not like any of its predecessors except in this one fact, for the imagination is not a stereotype. Our expectation is that some readers will be wildly enthusiastic, some entertained, and some, perhaps, uncomprehending. But it’s worth trying, just to see whether it doesn’t supply you with a form of reading pleasure you may have been missing . . . .
 An extract from the rear flap of Land of Unreason:

Books for the Imagination is the informal title we are giving to a series of books we have been publishing for several years. They represent a somewhat unusual enterprise; in theme, in plot, in treatment, they fall clean outside the patterns of contemporary fiction. That is why we publish them.

The Complete “Books for the Imagination” Series

Past the End of the Pavement, by Charles G. Finney. Published 16 November 1939.  It was retitled This is Past the End of the Pavement for the December 1942 reprinting, with a newly designed dust-wrapper.  This novel, though nonfantastic, is perhaps Finney’s best work. 

The 2014 reissue
Windless Cabins, by Mark Van Doren.  Published 20 February 1940.  Also a non-fantasy.

The Survivor, by Dennis Parry.  Published on 21 May 1940. First published in London on 17 April 1940. A supernatural novel, reissued in 2014 by Valancourt with anew introduction by Mark Valentine.

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 24 February 1941.

The Incomplete Enchanter, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 25 September 1941.

Land of Unreason, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp.  Published 15 June 1942. 

 
The December 1942 reissue