Monday, December 31, 2018

Catching Up with Le Visage Vert

The recent publication of issue 30 (a milestone!) of Le Visage Vert has reminded me that I need to cover it and their other recent publications.

Here's the new issue, which contains (among other things) two stories by Stefan Grabinski, and two studies of Grabinski, by Pierre van Cutsem (biographical and bibliographical, with nice color illustrations) and by Michel Meurger.  For the full contents see here. And for ordering information, see here.



Issue 29 came out about a year ago, and it has two pieces by Marcel Schwob, and two articles about him, along with the fourth installment of Michel Meurger's historical study  of werewolves (the third installment appeared in issue no. 27), among other intriguing items. For the full contents see here. And for ordering information, see here.


Recent publications in the Librairie du Visage Vert include the first of three planned volumes of stories by Maurice Level, Les Oiseaux de nuit [Night Birds], with a long Preface by Philippe Gontier and a long afterword and extensive bibliography by Jean Luc Buard. Such extensive coverage of Level is long overdue and very welcome. For ordering information, see here.



And there is a recent collection of essays on Lovecraft, edited by Christophe Gelly and Gilles Menegaldo, Lovecraft au prisme de l'image: Littérature, cinéma et arts graphiques [Lovecraft in the prism of the image: literature, cinema, and graphic arts]. For ordering information, see here



As usual, these LVV publications are elegantly and tastefully produced.  Have a look around at their main page here, and scroll down a bit to find their list of publications, with the most recent nearer to the top.  

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Atlantean Angel in Nightingale Lane


A Note on D Bridgman-Metchim

Atlantis, The Book of the Angels, “Interpreted” by D. Bridgman-Metchim, with illustrations by the author (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Col Ltd, 1900) is a historical fantasy presented as a visionary recreation of a pre-Flood civilisation. An introductory note says: “This Interpretation is the fullest account we have yet of the life ante-diluvium . . . This is the history of the zenith of the early Adamites.” It is explained that it is derived from “the root language of Shinar”, which lies beyond all languages, and has been interpreted in English.

The book, album size in Royal Octavo, extends to some 461 pages, has numerous footnotes citing learned authorities, and also includes an Appendix of explanatory notes. A cheap edition of the book was issued in 1903. Bindings have been noted in red and in blue cloth, and one, catalogued by Robert Temple Booksellers, in purple with gilt lettering on the spine (possibly an author’s or presentation copy?). My own copy once belonged to the Revd Edward W Lees of The Manse, Gillingham, Dorset and has his 1916 bookplate.

The author’s first name was Donald and his dates have been given in an index of wills (1) as 1871-1931, which if correct means he was only 29 when the Atlantis book was published, and even younger when it was written. Probate records show that he died on 8 November 1931 and at the time of death his address was given as 246 Coombe-lane Wimbledon, Surrey. Earlier he lived with his parents in a large house called Courtlands in Nightingale Lane, Clapham. There are records of a Metchim printing firm to which his family seem to be connected, although his Atlantis book was printed in Holland, possibly because of its rather vivid contents.

The prose is in that form of florid archaic-style expression (with liberal use of “thou”) which Victorian writers often adopted for historical epics. It is not dissimilar to that used later by William Hope Hodgson for The Night Land (1912) and may strike a modern reader as somewhat heavy-going. I probably ought to confess that I have not read every word in the book, especially in the footnotes, but certainly quite a lot of it.

The plot concerns the descent of an archangel to Earth to persuade its inhabitants to cease their cruel and sinful regime. He alights at the Atlantean capital of Zul, whose architecture, denizens, customs and ceremonies are richly described. There is a lot of lurid detail about the Atlanteans’ use of human sacrifices, torture, and Roman-style amphitheatre spectacles. However, the archangel falls in love with an Atlantean princess, and a main theme of the book is their passionate but forbidden love, often expressed in sensuous prose. Drama is also supplied by conspiracies and wars between rival factions. Thus, the book is a curious mixture of sultry, decadent, swooning scenes in the manner of Pierre Louys and brisker adventure yarn work in the way of Rider Haggard.

The artwork is also in two styles: some plates are very darkly inked and mysterious, so it is hard to discern the detail: they depict Atlantean citadels and aristocrats. There is a hint of similarities to the work of Simeon Solomon, and also a suggestion of the Art Nouveau style. The others are more like the typical story illustrations in periodicals of the day, as seen eg in the Strand or Pall Mall Magazine.

Although little is known of the biography of Bridgman-Metchim, there is a brief recollection of the author from an unexpected source. The poet Yann Lovelock’s grandfather was Bridgman-Metchim’s gardener for a while and told his son Ralph, Yann’s father, about his employer. Yann asked his father to write an account of what he remembered, and this has been published in a family newsletter (2):

“As the new century began, John Ernest Lovelock of the Wiltshire Lieflock line was employed by the artistically inclined Donald Bridgman-Metchim as head gardener at a large house in Nightingale Lane, Clapham. The two struck up a friendship of sorts and John’s son Ralph remembered sundry mementoes of that time in the family home—‘booklets, a plaster head of a young girl and a very large canvas’. According to Ralph, Bridgman-Metchim had once sculpted in marble the figures of a man and girl embracing which his narrow-minded family had smashed and sold for hard core. A similar fate nearly overcame his long novel titled Atlantis, the book of the angels, a reinterpretation of the biblical book of Genesis.

For the date of its publication in the closing years of the Victorian era, it was thought sexually explicit and the family are said to have had the bulk of the first edition destroyed. However, there exists a 1900 edition and another from 1903, an inscribed copy of which was presented to [John Ernest] ‘with the author’s sincere good wishes’.”

These artistic aspects are confirmed by other sources. A painting by Bridgman-Metchim called ‘The Fairies Hour’ sold at auction in 2001 (3) and the recollection of him as a sculptor is borne out by a record of his application to join the Royal Society of British Sculptors in February 1906 (4).

The British Library catalogue lists two other books by D. Bridgman-Metchim, both issued from A H Stockwell, the well-known subsidy publisher. The first was Our Own History of the War, from a South London view (1918), and the other, The Solution of All Life’s Riddles (1929), which certainly sounds a book worth getting. However, the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (5) notes that he also wrote, under the name B. Metchim, Wild West Poems (T. Fisher Unwin, 1891): if so, he was then only 20 years old.

His war book was, rather surprisingly, reviewed by Virginia Woolf, under the heading ‘The War from the Street’: “Mr Metchim here records the history of the war as it appeared to a gentleman living in South London so far as the body is concerned, but populating the whole of England spiritually, constituting, in fact, that anonymous monster, the Man in the Street . . . taking the reflection of the things that individuals do, and occasionally wobbling this way or that as some instinct of hate, revenge or admiration bubbles up beneath it.” (6)

Not the least of the mysteries surrounding D Bridgman-Metchim is this evocation of the Atlantean visionary as a barometer of the man in the street. My researches continue.

Mark Valentine

Note

With my grateful thanks to Yann Lovelock for permission to quote the passage about his father’s recollections, and for suggestions of further places to look.

Sources

(1) http://www.haine.org.uk/toms_wills/wills_combos.php?county=Surrey

(2) This account is given in Lovelock Lines, The Lovelock Family Newsletter New Series #11, March 2015, edited by Yann Lovelock, in an article entitled ‘Rubbing shoulders with the Lovelocks’, ‘the history of family members in service in past centuries’. http://lovelock.free.fr/l-lines/lovelock-lines-11th-ed.pdf.

(3) https://www.artprice.com/artist/118405/donald-bridgman-metchim/lots/search/1/estimate

(4) https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1220435439.

(5) http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/bridgman-metchim_d.
All accessed December 2018.

(6) Quoted in Christina Britzolakis, ‘War, Utopia and the Everyday in Woolf’s Fiction’, Utopian Spaces of Modernism: Literature and Culture, 1885-1945 edited by Rosalyn Gregory and Benjamin. Kohlmann (2011).

Image: Mystery Cove Book Shop

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Phantoms at the Phil


The Lit & Phil, Newcastle, is a historic private library of some distinction with an impressive collection and an active and friendly group of supporters. In recent years they have organised ghost story readings in Midsummer and Midwinter, under the title of Phantoms at the Phil: and the next of these takes place on Thursday January 3rd at 7pm. Here's their announcement:

"It’s that time of year again, when nightmares of turkey and sprouts are beginning to fade, inexplicable gifts have gone to the charity shop and the tinsel can be laid to rest. Don’t relax too soon, though – the nights are still dark and those icy tendrils on your window-pane could herald something more sinister than Jack Frost… Time for another evening of specially written spooky stories from Sean O’Brien and Gail-Nina Anderson along with our guest author Mark Valentine, master of the seriously strange tale."

If you're within reach of Newcastle early in the New Year, why not come along? Booking details are here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Forgotten Precursor of 'Watership Down'


In the mid 1960s, Richard Adams made up a story about rabbits for his daughters Rosamond and Juliet aged six and eight to while away a long car journey to the theatre from London to Stratford-upon-Avon (as recalled in “'True meaning' of Watership Down revealed ahead of TV revival”, Mark Brown, Arts Correspondent, The Guardian, 10 December 2018). They then persuaded him to write a book on the same lines, which became the bestselling, much-loved animal fantasy Watership Down (1972).

It recounts how a group of rabbits go on an epic journey across dangerous country to find a new home after their burrows are destroyed. A new animated version is to be broadcast by the BBC on 22-23 December 2018. But was there an earlier source for the story which up until now has remained unknown?

In 1946 a novel called The Wind Protect You (Collins) by Pat Murphy was published. In that year, Adams was demobbed from his wartime posting in the Army, had returned to England and had resumed his history studies at Oxford. ‘Pat Murphy’ seems to have been the pen-name of Edmund Patrick Joseph MacMorough Murphy, about whom very little information is to hand. He was born in 1897, according to one source, and, to judge by an inscribed copy of his book, lived at one point in St Mawes, Cornwall. This was his only book, at least under that name. And it is a remarkable precursor of Adams’ novel, with several distinct similarities.

“Rabbits are the characters in this story—rabbits as the centre of their own universe,” explains the dustwrapper. The treatment of the rabbits has the same unusual approach later adopted by Adams. They are not semi-humanised, as in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit stories or Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, but neither are they described as if by a human observer, as in Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter, a sort of fictionalised natural history book. The rabbits in Murphy’s book have the instincts and behaviours of real rabbits in the wild, clearly based on keen observation of, or reading about, how the creatures actually live, but they also have speech and imaginative thought. Watership Down has the same distinctive perspective.

There are other parallels. The earlier novel is a story of rabbits making a long, risky journey, seeking refuge: “the survivors set out again on their eternal cycle of pilgrimage”, we are told. This is the plot line also followed by Watership Down. In Adams’ book, there is an enthusiastic young rabbit, Hazel, tempered by an experienced old veteran, Bigwig: in Murphy’s there is a similar pairing of Lynx, a domesticated rabbit who escapes from his hutch, and Albert, who is “very old and very wise”.

Murphy’s book depicts hostilities between two rival sets of rabbits, as does Adams: and there are allusions to a terrible disease which wipes whole settlements out, as in Watership Down too. Another striking, and very specific, similarity is that in Murphy’s book the rabbits are assisted by deer, just as the doe Hyzthenlay helps the rabbits in Adams’ book. [Edit: but see the comments, where David Bratman notes that she is a doe rabbit, not a deer, so this parallel is not correct.]

And the final scene in Murphy’s book is a mystical vision of the dawn sun, while in Adams the rabbits worship the sun-god Frith.

It is of course perfectly possible that Adams knew nothing whatever of Murphy’s book and simply happened to alight on the same elements independently. Perhaps, it might be thought, there are only so many plot lines available when writing of the rabbit world. And it must be said that Adams' is in many ways the better book—more complex, more poetic, and with an original element in the hints of the rabbits' own language and more developed mythology.

But given the numerous similarities, it is reasonable at least to wonder whether Adams might have read it and drawn it vaguely to mind on that tiresome car journey twenty years later, perhaps even without being fully aware he was doing so. He may have forgotten the original source of his inspiration and was not conscious of this apparent debt when he then went on to create his own much richer and deeper version.

In any case, Pat Murphy’s The Wind Protect You, which has so far passed into almost-complete oblivion, surely ought to be better-known. At the very least it has some of the interesting ideas and appealing qualities which were to prove so perennially popular in the later book.

Mark Valentine

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Green Book 12 - Irish Writers of the Fantastic


Just out from The Swan River Press, Dublin, is The Green Book Issue 12 which is devoted to essays on Irish writers of the fantastic and supernatural, the first in several planned volumes on this theme. This covers not only the well-known leading luminaries in the field, but also neglected, obscure and overlooked figures.

The contents include: Albert Power on Jonathan Swift and Charles Maturin; Gavin Selerie on Brinsley Le Fanu; Reggie Chamberlain-King on Robert Cromie and Herbert Moore Pim; Mike Ashley on Clothilde Graves and Arabella Kenealy; Martin Anderssen on Lord Dunsany; Derek John on James Stephens; Darrell Schweitzer on Mervyn Wall; and my own notes on H de Vere Stacpoole and Vere Shortt.

Each piece provides a summary biography, a discussion of the author's work and notes on further reading. This is sure to be a fascinating survey and a useful guide to readers who would like to explore further in Ireland's rich literature of the strange and wondrous.

Mark Valentine