Saturday, July 14, 2018

Outgoing Tides - Mary Tyrwhitt Drake


Mary Tyrwhitt Drake’s Outgoing Tides (John Long, 1924) is sensationalist fiction pitched strong. An ex soldier, a VC, is now a starving artist, languishing in attic digs with an exiled Russian prince who makes a sort of living as a parlour pianist. The artist has been forced to sell his Scottish ancestral home — he is, of course, descended from French courtiers of Mary, Queen of Scots.

He bumps into the man he saved in Flanders, who feeds him and funds him for a bit. This chum has a sultry lover, who agrees to pose for the artist’s Gothic portrait of Persephone, ‘The Queen of Hell’. Complications ensue. Meanwhile, the woman in the neighbouring garret dies, leaving him the solemn charge of her 18 year old daughter, a working-glass girl of faultless morals. Complications ensue. Anthony, the artist, decides to abandon the high calling of his art in favour of pictures that will sell, and to marry his ward. The pianist prince is unconvinced. At this point, the new owner of the old Scottish chateau, a pleasant young woman of faultless, etc., devoted to good causes, appears upon the scene. Complications ensue.

This, note, is only the first third of the book and there is a lot more to come. An uncanny element is implied from the dark influence of the painting of Persephone and its effect on those who posses it, or are possessed by it. What I like about this book is its thoroughgoing melodrama. We have met such characters before – the down-and-out Great War veteran encountering a pal in the murk of London, the impoverished aristocratic White Russian, the sinuous femme fatale, the orphaned ward, but seldom all flung together at once and at such pace. There’s a sort of extravagant gusto about the whole shebang which fills the reader with bemused awe.

Sometimes we need such a bracing change from more cautious and considered literature: if only she could have met Henry James. We are in M P Shiel terrain, though without his rhodomontade, or perhaps perilously close to the extravagant plots of William Le Queux, but in prose more vivid and vivacious. Under the pen-name ‘M.A. Sylvestre’, the author had earlier published Valencia Varelst (S.C. Brown, Lanham & Co, 1903) and The Light-Bearers (John Long, 1912).

In an obscurely pleasing sort of way, the pale green boards of my copy (illustrated) have a series of salt-crust surges across them, as if indeed marked by outgoing tides.

Mark Valentine

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark: That light green binding, with black stamping on the spine, and the blind-stamped design on the spine, was something of a template used by the publisher John Long circa 1923-24. The first edition of David Lindsay's Sphinx (1923) is in this same format, and I think I've seen one other title like it too.

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