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 Go Back at Once (unpublished novel, 257 pp.)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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Guest Post: The Presence in the Wood: Machen’s “Great God Pan” and Ovid’s Festivals by Dale Nelson

sheltering under some blackened tree, I would pass the midday hours too dazed to eat or think, and waited for the flailing sun to cross the meridian.

Grant we meet not the Dryads nor Dian face to face
Nor Faunus, when at noon he walks abroad.

     Thus Ovid, on the “Weirdness of Noonday”, the hush and pause of nature feared by the ancients, and by remote peasants still. Then Pan walks abroad, and the nereids grow harmful. Even the cicadas cease to drill their dry, insistent nothingness. Time stops. The day is held breath.
--Colin Thubron, Journey into Cyprus (1975), p. 245

In some readers’ minds, Arthur Machen is so strongly associated with the rare and the esoteric that the importance, for him, of literature once widely known and readily available, may be missed.

In this and subsequent articles, I’ll show a few examples of how consulting such books may enhance our understanding of the meaning, and the horror, of several of Machen’s most famous stories.

The possible allusions I will point out may have been noticed by readers whose comments I haven’t seen. Much of what I’ll be saying was reported by me in an article published in 1991, in the Spring issue of Avallaunius, the journal of the Arthur Machen Society. I suppose that “Clarke’s Dream in ‘The Great God Pan’: Two Classical Allusions” is almost impossible to come by now, and that my article is unknown to some readers who would be interested in its content.

To proceed.

Just before Dr. Raymond operates on his ward, Mary, in the first chapter (“The Experiment”) of “The Great God Pan,” his friend Clarke dozes off and dreams of a hot day and walking on a path in a Mediterranean wood:
suddenly, in place of the hum and murmur of the summer, an infinite silence seemed to fall on all things, and the wood was hushed, and for a moment of time he stood face to face there with a presence, that was neither man nor beast, neither the living nor the dead, but all things mingled, the form of all things but devoid of all form.
The dream-Clarke has come into the presence of Pan. Perhaps Clarke had studied Ovid in school or at university, and read the following passage from the famous Latin poet, specifically from the Fasti, which concerns itself with the Roman festivals. From Book IV, lines 761-762:
nec Dryadas nec nos videamus labra Dianae,
nec Faunum, medio cum premit arva die
which Frazer, in the 1931 Loeb Classical Library edition, translates as “May we not see the Dryads, nor Diana’s baths, nor Faunus, when he lies in the fields at noon” (pp. 244-245). Frazer’s note adds, “It was dangerous to disturb Pan (Faunus) at midday.” The passage quoted is from a prayer to be offered to Pales, a deity of shepherds whose festival was in April, the subject of Ovid’s fourth book.

Machen’s reader will have understood that Clarke encountered Pan, whether or not the Ovid passage came to mind, but it seems likely that Machen expected his better-educated readers to perceive an allusion that underscores the heat, the breathlessness, and the dreadful peril of such a moment.

The passage is a prayer, a prudent supplication not to see that contrasts with the eagerness of the scientist that his hapless ward will “‘see the god Pan.’” Raymond lacks a proper fear of Pan and also lacks a due reverence for a human being; he regards Mary as his to do with as he pleases since he rescued her from the “gutter.” All the terrible things that happen after the “experiment” result from his unrestrained curiosity, ambition, and, above all, impiety.

“The Experiment” implies that one cannot derive ethics from the scientific method. This is true. One can only bring ethics to the laboratory – or not, as with Imperial Japan’s Unit 731.

The second chapter of “The Great God Pan,” called “Mr. Clarke’s Memoirs,” introduces Clarke’s private notebook. He calls it “Memoirs to prove the existence of the Devil.”

Machen thus introduces a specifically Christian element into the story, to which he returns at the end of the chapter. Having heard and recorded Phillips’s account of the tragic fates of two children who knew the fatal Helen Vaughan, Clarke added a Latin inscription that is an obvious parody of part of the Nicene Creed. It means, “And the devil was made flesh, and was made man.”

Depicting the devil as Pan isn’t biblical; in the Bible, the devil is associated with a serpent, a dragon, and a falling star, and is said to be able to appear as an “angel of light.”

But the “iconographic influence of Pan upon the Devil is enormous,” says Jeffrey Burton Russell. Early evidence for this seems, from his book, to date to several centuries after the writing of the New Testament documents. Russell reproduces a Coptic ivory carving, 6th century. The iconographies “of Pan and the Devil here coalesce: cloven hooves, goat’s legs, horns, beast’s ears, saturnine face, and goatee” (The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, pp. 125-126).

Machen worked with both in this novella. The novella might not cohere thematically.

“The Great God Pan” didn’t come to Machen as one whole. “The Experiment” was published by itself in The Whirlwind in 1890. Years later, in an introduction to the 1916 Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. edition of The Great God Pan, Machen confessed that “I had no notion that there would be anything to follow this first chapter.”

“The Experiment” recalls the brooding stories of Hawthorne, with his cold-hearted observers of humanity and the women who are their victims.* Poor Mary is a sacrificial victim shattered by a vision of sublimity. In Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, Psyche erred in listening to her sisters’ urgings to disobey the god and shine a candle on his divine beauty. Mary agreed to the “experiment” permitting her to see what her “father” could not see for himself, and her sufferings were worse, though briefer, than those of Psyche, and cost her her life.

With the rest of the novella, we leave myth for a melodrama about amateur detectives and the villainess Helen Vaughan, who arrives in London, drinks coffee, has one foot in the underworld and one in respectable society, finagles money and spends it, and leads several Londoners of good name into activities of which they feel so ashamed that they choose painful methods of suicide. At last Clarke, Villiers, and Dr. Matheson sternly give her a choice: either the police will be called (with the implication of inevitable public exposure), or she can kill herself with the rope they have brought. She chooses the latter. When Machen described the revolting metamorphosis of her body, he may have been trying to return to the more mythic level of the first pages. I don’t quite find it artistically convincing.

*I’m thinking of “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

(c) Dale Nelson

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Harold Bloom and A Voyage to Arcturus

The well-known literary critic Harold Bloom passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I will leave it to others to comment on the breadth of his career and on his qualities (or at times the lack thereof) as a critic, save to note that David Bratman has written about Bloom's failure to understand Tolkien in this post.  Here I'd like to explore Bloom's curious relation with David Lindsay's novel, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920).

In Bloom's Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (1982), there is a chapter on "Clinamen: Towards a Theory of Fantasy," in which Bloom  makes a number of surprising comments about Lindsay's book. In fact the whole chapter centers on Bloom's view of A Voyage to Arcturus, an eccentric view nonetheless.  Here are a few of Bloom's early comments (before he waxes into his main argument):
David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, first published in 1920 in England, is a very unevenly written book, varying in tone from preternatural eloquence to quite tedious bathos. Yet I will assert for it a greatness that few contemporary critics might grant, and part of that greatness is the book's near-perfection in a particular kind of romance invention, as once it would have been called--the kind we have agreed to call fantasy. (p. 200)
The deepest affinities of Lindsay's mad sport of a book are with Lewis Carroll's apocalyptic release of fantastic energies and desires, though what emerges as purified wonder in Carroll manifests itself as horror and torment in Lindsay.  Try to imagine Through the Looking Glass as it might have been written by Thomas Carlyle. and you will not be far from the verbal cosmos of David Lindsay. (p. 201)
But Bloom's most revealing comment comes several pages later:
In regard to Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, I have experienced a relationship marked by a wild fondness and an endless ambivalence, itself productive of my own first attempt at literary fantasy, published in 1979 as The Flight to Lucifer, a book very much in the Arcturan shadow. (p. 207)
The Flight to Lucifer was Bloom's only novel, and I believe his only published work of fiction. Indeed it was written very much in the shadow of A Voyage to Arcturus, for it is basically a dull and lifeless re-write (even to its title) of Lindsay's book along even more expressly and didactical Gnostic lines. After its 1979 hardcover publication and the subsequent 1980 trade paperback, the book has never been reprinted. Soon after this Bloom disavowed the book.  In an interview in 2015 he noted "I had to pay the publisher not to have a second printing of the paperback. If I could go around and get rid of all the surviving copies, I would."

Is the book as dire as all that suggests?  Sadly, it is. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Guest Post: The High History of the Holy Graal, Arthur Machen, and the Inklings, by Dale Nelson

In Arthur Machen’s 1915 wonder-tale “The Great Return” we hear of marvelous lights, odors, bell-sounds, Welsh saints, the Rich Fisherman, and healings, as the Holy Graal is manifest, briefly, in Wales in the 20th century. The story needs no detection of “sources” to be reasonably well understood and enjoyed. However, our enjoyment of it may be enhanced if we see it – or recognize it – as a “sequel” to one of the great medieval Arthurian works.

That work is the Old French prose romance Perlesvaus, from the early 13 century, which Machen knew in Sebastian Evans’s 1898 translation as The High History of the Holy Graal. The Perlesvaus is a century and a half or more older than Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Readers of Machen’s Hieroglyphics may remember the Morte as belonging to a dozen or so literary works cited as examples of “fine literature,” works of the highest literary art, capable of conveying “ecstasy,” wonder, beauty, the longing for the unknown.

Machen also appreciated Evans’s High History. In his controversial essay “The Secret of the Sangraal,” Machen referred to Sebastian Evans as “the accomplished and admirable, if somewhat archaistic translator of one of the Romances, to which he gave the title The High History of the Holy Graal.” Machen’s friend A. E. Waite wrote, similarly, of the Perlesvaus as having been “translated into English of an archaic kind, beautiful and stately, by Dr. Sebastian Evans, a gorgeous chronicle, full of richly painted pictures and pageants” (in The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal from 1910, page 11).

The “archaic” style to which Machen and Waite refer should pose no difficulties for readers who can enjoy William Morris’s prose romances, such as The Well at the World’s End and The Water of the Wondrous Isles. Perhaps the main thing that takes a little adjusting to is the use of “and” where modern English uses “if.” The Pre-Raphaelite quality is signaled before the story’s text commences by Edward Burne-Jones’s frontispieces.

The High History’s imagined era is the first Christian century (so that a mule that had belonged to one of Pilate’s soldiers is still alive when Lancelot and Perceval meet). The Graal is mostly in the background, and there is no official setting-out of the Round Table knights in quest of it. At the long book’s end, Perceval lays down his arms and devotes himself, with his widowed mother and his sister, to the religious life, and we learn that the Graal will be seen no more.

Before this happens, though, we have read of the “rich King Fisherman” and King Arthur has learned that it is God’s will that chalices for the Mass be of the pattern he is shown and that churches be provided with bells.

But Perceval’s mother and sister die, and the moment comes for Perceval’s departure.

Perceval heard one day a bell sound loud and high without the manor toward the sea. He came to the window of the hall and saw the ship come with the white sail and the Red Cross thereon, and within were the fairest folk that ever he might behold, and they were all robed in such a manner as though they should sing mass.” This sight is accompanied by a fragrance of supernal excellence; “no savour in the world smelleth so sweet.”

Perceval enters the boat and “never thereafter did no earthly man know what became of him.” In the years that follow, the chapel wherein he had resided falls into decay. However, one day, two young Welsh knights investigate the chapel; and they remain there for a long time as hermits. They have holy deaths and the people “of that land called them saints”; but they are not named.

Machen may well have found in such details a number of the germs of his story “The Great Return.” To them he added his devotion to the idea of the ancient Celtic Church.

By the way, Sebastian Evans’s book was there for the three famous Inklings, too.

Charles Williams, like Machen an associate of Waite, discusses it in his unfinished work The Figure of Arthur: “[Perlesvaus] was translated into English [prose] in the nineteenth century by Sebastian Evans. He was a poet of a certain power, though his medievalism is of the usual mannered and slightly picturesque kind common to that period; if not pre-Raphaelite it is at least kindred to that manner.”

Tolkien had a copy in his personal library, as we learn in Oronzo Cilli’s 2019 book.

And C. S. Lewis loved it for years. When he discovered it in his teens, he wrote to his best friend, “It is absolute heaven: it is more mystic & eerie than [Malory’s] ‘Morte’ & has [a] more connected plot.” Almost 30 years later, he wrote to a friend of E. R. Eddison that The High History of the Holy Grail [sic] was among his favorites, in company with Malory’s Morte, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and William Morris’s romances. It’s likely that his weird poem “Launcelot” is derived from the High History rather than Malory.

The High History is episodic and repetitive, and perhaps not a book I will read twice in its entirety, but it was exciting to read a little-known book that mattered to four of my favorite authors. And I wouldn’t have wanted to miss certain details. One is a passing reference to the castle of Joseus, the son of King Pelles. Joseus “‘slew his mother there. Never sithence hath the castle ceased of burning, and I tell you that of this castle and one other will be kindled the fire that shall burn up the world and put it to an end.’”


Machen’s essay “The Sangraal” is quoted here from The Glorious Mystery (US edition, 1924). The essay appears in the British volume The Shining Pyramid (1924) under the title "The Secret of the Sangraal."

Nigel Bryant translated the Perlesvaus for 1978 publication as The High Book of the Grail. A little spot-checking shows differences in some word-meanings, perhaps due to use of different texts. Evans’s style seemed to me to fit the matter better than Bryant’s relaxed, contemporary fashion – and I wanted to read the book known to Machen, Williams, Tolkien, and Lewis.

(c) 2019 Dale Nelson

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Philip N. Pullman, The Haunted Storm (1972)

The 1972 dust-wrapper, from Facsimile Dust Jackets, L.L.C.
Pullman, Philip N. The Haunted Storm (London: New English Library, 1972)

In 1971, a London publisher held a contest for the “New English Library's Young Writers' Award”, offering a prize of £2,500. Philip Pullman submitted as his entry The Haunted Storm (the second novel he had written, the first had been set aside unpublished), and it was named as a joint winner alongside of The Waiting Game, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Both were published in hardcover by New English Library in 1972, and the two writers split the prize money. Because of the timing of the contest, the published book lists its copyright date as 1971, which has caused considerable bibliographical confusion. A paperback edition, also bibliographically indeterminate, came out in April 1973; it is sometimes mistakenly credited as being the first edition. The author has since disowned the book (as “a terrible piece of rubbish” in a 1999 essay published in Talking Books, edited by James Carter) and it has never again been reprinted.

Lady Antonia Fraser was one of the judges of the contest, and her blurb published on the dust-wrapper states: “I liked The Haunted Storm for its honest and enterprising attempt to interweave the eternal—and immortal—longings of youth into the texture of a contemporary story. It is thus a serious book, and refreshingly free from triviality.” On his website Pullman himself notes that it was “my first book. I was only 25 at the time it was published by a publisher who didn't realise it wasn't a very good book.” He describes its plot as follows: “Unease and suspicion divide a small village following violence and death. Matthew Cortez is physically involved in the investigation, finding his spiritual problems have a greater depth of reality. Only in the final disastrous confrontation in a ruined Mithraic temple does he, at last, glimpse the possibility of peace.” This is an inadequate and misleading description of the book.

The Haunted Storm consists of eleven chapters. There are three main characters, and two significant ancillary ones (though the ancillary characters are given limited stage time). The primary character is Matthew Cortez, aged twenty-three, who encounters on the seashore a young woman with whom he finds both a metaphysical as well as sexual rapport (he fondles her genitalia but nothing more happens). This encounter is belabored and unrealistic, making the characters seem entirely like cyphers and playthings for the author's exploration of meaning. The woman claims that Matthew reminds her of her previous lover, and after lengthy speech on metaphysics and love, they part. Six months pass, during which time Matthew feels drained of all will and energy. He feels he is in some way in love with this young woman. He goes to stay with his “uncle” (actually his mother's uncle) Harry Locke, an evangelical preacher, who lives in the west country, in the imaginary town of Silminster. There Matthew talks theology with his uncle and also with the local vicar, Canon Cole, to whom he confides that while he does believe in God, he wonders why God seems to be dead. Canon Cole opens up about his own unorthodox Gnosticism, and his study of some ancient ruin he believes to be a Mithraic well. Canon Cole notes he has in this pursuit a competitive enemy, who was formerly his daughter's boyfriend. Of course his daughter, Elizabeth Cole, turns out to have been the young woman Matthew encountered on the seashore six months earlier.

Thus Matthew and Elizabeth are reunited, and despite feeling an almost otherworldly love, they decide to remain completely chaste, like brother and sister. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Matthew has a brother some nine years older, who was thrown out by their parents a dozen years previously and never seen again. His brother Alan of course turns out of have been Elizabeth's previous lover. And Alan shows up in town, and invites Matthew to meet him. Matthew finally learns why his brother had been kicked out of their home: Alan had had a homosexual relationship in school. He admits this to Matthew: “They [his parents] thought I was homosexual, because the headmaster thought I was. So did the boy I was sleeping with; so did I” (p. 160). Mathew finds his brother something of an enigma, particularly for his openly racists views, as well as for his politics, while Matthew acknowledges that his brother is more intelligent than himself, the first time he has felt this way about anyone. Of course all this happens at the same time as two murders in Silminster, at specific times when Matthew has blacked out from severe headaches, to the point that he wonders whether he himself might have been the murderer. At other times, he suspects the murderer might have been his brother. The plot crescendos to an encounter of the three main characters and Canon Cole at a midnight eclipse at the remote location of the Mithraic well.

I have given this lengthy summary because the book is so rare, and also to exemplify certain themes that are cruxes in this early work that will be familiar to readers of Pullman's later books. Some aspects—particularly how Gnosticism is used and described—feel like they descend right from David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, a novel known to be admired by Pullman. And there are also elements of fantasy in the book, though they are not developed very far. Matthew has some faculty of what he calls clairvoyance, and some particular odd mental connection with his brother. And the whole interest in the supposed Mithraic well borders on the fantastical, for supposedly “it makes you see the truth about things” (p. 189).

As a novel this book is a real mess. The set-up is long and labored. The prose is often clunky. The denouement is too hasty and the resolution unsatisfying, to say nothing of the nature of the characters as authorial mouthpieces. It is seriously flawed as a book, but it is also one that is not without interest, especially to readers of Pullman's far better subsequent books.

The 1973 paperback cover

Sunday, September 22, 2019

R.I.P. Charles M. Collins (1935-2019)

I recently learned that my friend Charlie Collins passed away at the end of August. I met him because his company of publisher's representatives, Como Sales, called on me at my Ithaca, New York, bookstore in the 1980s and early 1990s. Charlie didn't call on me himself, but his colleague Ken McConnell did, and Ken often said, in his thick Scots accent, that he must get Charlie and I together because of our shared interests. And eventually he did. He introduced us at a bookseller's convention, and for years afterwards I looked forward to catching up with Charlie at that annual event. We swapped books and a few letters.

Before I knew him, Charlie had been one of the founders (in 1970, with his old friend, Donald M. Grant) of Centaur Books. The first Centaur book was a reprint of The Pathless Trail, by Arthur O. Friel, a pulp adventure novel. It was mass-market sized but printed on much better paper, as were most of the Centaur publications. Between 1970 and 1976, Cantaur published over a dozen more such editions, including three by Robert E. Howard (The Moon of Skulls, The Hand of Kane, and Solomon Kane, each of which went through three printings), as well as another Friel, two Atlantis books by J. Allan Dunn, and other reprints, including Alfred H. Bill's werewolf novel, The Wolf in the Garden, City of Wonder by E. Charles Vivian, Caesar Dies by Talbot Mundy, Grey Maiden by Arthur D. Howden Smith, and Dr. Cyclops, originally a movie tie-in novel to the 1940 film of the same name, published under a house pseudonym "Will Garth." One original anthology, Swordsmen and Supermen edited by Donald M. Grant, came out in 1972. In 1976 there was a reprint of H. Warner Munn's The Werewolf of Ponkert, originally collected in a volume published in 1953. Of Centaur's final four titles, published in 1978 and 1980, two are trade paperback reprintings of volumes originally published in limited editions by Donald M. Grant. These include Galad Elflandsson's short novel The Black Wolf, and a collection of William Hope Hodgson stories, Out of the Storm, which omits the long introduction by Sam Moskowitz in the original 1975 Grant edition. There was also a Tolkien-related volume, The World of Tolkien Illustrated, by Lin Carter, with cover and illustrations by David Wenzel. Its first printing of 10,000 copies sold out before publication, and a second printing of the same number was made. The final Centaur book was in essence a showcase of the art of David Wenzel called Kingdom of the Dwarves, with text written by Robb Walsh. It has over one hundred illustrations, with twenty-five in color. It is a kind of pseudo-archeological book about dwarf artifacts supposedly found in northern England.

Even further back in time before I knew Charlie, he edited three mass market horror anthologies for Avon Books, and these are the main reason for attention here.  These books are Fright (1963), A Feast of Blood (1967), and A Walk with the Beast (1969).  Each went through multiple printings, and Fright was retitled Harvest of Fear in its 1975 printing.

Fright contains six tales, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, L.P. Hartley, Seabury Quinn, C. Hall Thompson, and H.P. Lovecraft. The Hoffmann tale, "The Forest Warden," is of the most lasting interest because it is presented as a lost early version of Hoffmann's more famous tale "Ignaz Denner." In the brief foreword to the story, Collins notes that the tale "received limited circulation in a Bamburg periodical in early 1814, and was later modified as 'Ignaz Denner.'" The story was translated by Haywood P. Norton.  But the history of this text, and of the translation as published, has problems.  First, no Hoffmann scholarship that I have seen gives any periodical appearance for the tale in 1814. In fact, "Der Revierjäger" (better translated as "The Gamekeeper") was  Hoffmann's intended title for the story when he wrote it (according to his diary) in late May and early June 1814 for inclusion in a volume of Fantasiestücke, but his publisher did not like it and it appeared, slightly revised (with an altered ending), in 1816 in Nachtstücke.* 

By the time I queried Charlie about this, his recollections were no longer clear. He said that the translator had brought him the text, and that the translation was quite messy and took a lot of work to get it into publishable shape.  The translator, Haywood P. Norton, was by then no longer around, having died in early 1977 at the age of thirty-four.  Norton is known to have contributed a piece ("The Caliph of Auburn") on Clark Ashton Smith to Pat and Dick Lupoff's fanzine, Xero, and is understood to have assisted (without credit) Calvin Beck in the compilation of The Frankenstein Reader (Ballantine, 1962). His translation of the Hoffmann tale must remain as questionable and unsourced unless some German original actually turns up. 

A Walk with the Beast contains nine stories, four in "supernatural" section, and five in a "human" section.  Some of the authors (Vernon Lee, Ambrose Bierce, David H. Keller, Nugent Barker) are fairly well-known, but others are uncommon (William Wood, Sir Frederick Treves Bart).
A Feast of Blood contains nine vampire stories, including classic stories like Polidori's "The Vampyre", "The Mysterious Stranger" (here unattributed, but by Karl von Wachtsman), "Wake Not the Dead" (here misattributed to Johan Ludwig Tieck, when it was by Ernst Raupach), and Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Guest." More recent tales are by Carl Jacobi, Clark Ashton Smith and Richard Matheson.

Though Charlie's three anthologies are no longer cutting-edge, they remain good basic anthologies for their time, with some occasional worthwhile obscurities.  Rest in Peace, Charlie. Here is a link to a more formal obituary.

* The one account I know of of the manuscript of "Der Revierjäger" is in an appendix to volume 3 (1909) of Carl Georg von Maassen's Sämtliche Werk by Hoffmann, pp. 386-408, which includes about twenty pages of readings of variants in the text of the manuscript from the printed story "Ignaz Denner" (as given in the same volume, pp. 43-103), the most significant being at the beginning and the end of the story. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Wild Tumultory Library

A Wild Tumultory Library
, just published by Tartarus Press, offers the following:

Three essays on figures of the Eighteen Nineties

Three essays on aspects of the Himalayas

Three essays on writers of peculiar thrillers

Three essays on writers of the haunted Forties

Three essays on forms of fortune-telling

Three notes on dandies of the Thirties

Three notes on forgotten avant-gardistes

Three essays on M R Jamesian themes

Three essays on other supernatural fiction

Three notes on associates of Arthur Machen

Three essays on aspects of the mystical in Britain

and Through the Three Choir Shires, on a book-collecting holiday

among other matters


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Count Stenbock in the TLS

It's nice when mainstream reviews like the TLS pay some attention to our small corner of the literary world, and nicer when they sincerely appreciate a landmark volume of the weird. This has happened in a recent issue of the TLS, with Kate Hext's review of Of Kings and Things by Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock. Published by Strange Attractor and magnificently edited by David Tibet, it collects the bulk of Stenbocks known literary output, comprising some fifteen stories and over thirty poems, and an essay and a play.  A number of these were available previously only in limited edition fine press volumes, so it is especially good to have an affordable assembly in one volume, with an introduction of about thirty pages (amply illustrated with photos and manuscript writings) by Tibet, and an afterword by Timothy d'Arch Smith.

The TLS review begins:
The life of Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock was short and enigmatic. Born into the European aristocracy in 1860, he spent his early life in England and Germany. By the mid-1880s he was an Oxford dropout: living off his vast inheritance while writing poems and stories, with a pet monkey in the crook of his arm and a snake draped about his neck. In the 1890s opium took hold; he died aged thirty-five in 1895, earning his place in the “Tragic Generation”.

Though now almost forgotten, Stenbock was arguably “the most decadent of the decadents”, as David Tibet suggests in his introduction to this new and most welcome volume of his work, Of Kings and Things. Actually, Stenbock’s seeming embodiment of the decadent as author belies his singularity. Almost always, as with Oscar Wilde, this image is a carefully cultivated sham: a languid pose masking industry and ambition, not to mention a want of capital. Whereas Stenbock seems to have been the genuine article, drinking only champagne and bruning bank notes if they became soiled. (23 & 30 August 2019, p. 5)

Of Kings and Things is available in both the UK (Amazon.co.uk link) and in the US (distributed by The MIT Press; Amazon.com link).  This is one of the most essential volumes of the year.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Philip Owens - Picture of Somebody?

In discussing Picture of Nobody, Philip Owens’ fantasy of Shakespeare transposed to the Nineteen Thirties, I explained that I could not find any trace of him after the end of the Second World War.

Indeed, it is also the case that there is very little other biographical information about him. The note at the head of his modernist poem ‘From “A Dream of Clouds”’ in The European Caravan, Part 1 (1931), edited by Samuel Putnam and others, gives no facts about him at all, other than to mention his previous writings. As well as those noticed in my earlier post, there is one other, “a play in verse, Marlowe”, which does not seem to be catalogued anywhere: it may have been published in a periodical.

His Hobohemians (1929) is dedicated to Peter Neagoe, a Romanian-born author who around this time was living in Paris and mingling with artistic circles there: this was presumably where Owens met him. The book is a detailed portrait of down-at-heel bohemian life in Berlin, Italy and Paris which suggests first-hand familiarity.

If the book is indeed autobiographical, there are sketchy comments about the protagonist that may suggest episodes in the author’s life. There is mention of rowing near Henley with a ‘backward’ pupil, suggesting a stint as a tutor or coach; a reference to marching with school cadets in Berkshire (presumably from Eton); and an allusion to sea-bathing near Rye. But of course these may be entirely fictional.

Picture of Nobody (1936) has no dedication and neither the dustwrapper nor L A G Strong’s foreword say a thing about the author, other than to describe or praise his work. The book’s depiction of struggling poets, literary coteries and artistic soirees are presumably also though drawn from the life.

As authors generally have some say over notes about them in their books, it is reasonable to surmise that this continued reticence was intentional on behalf of the author. As for why he published no more after 1945, there may be a sombre reason for that (as surmised by Michael Dirda in his comment on the previous post).

Author and Wormwood contributor Colin Insole has kindly shared his research into possible candidates for the author: “I thought there would be many of the same name - Owens being a common surname. But there were only nine Philip Owens born between 1890 and 1905 shown [online]. When I researched his name on the Commonwealth War Graves site, I came upon only one Philip Owens. He died on Sunday June 10th 1945, aged 44 and is buried at the Phaleron Cemetery in Greece. He was a sergeant in the intelligence corps. It could well be him - the age is right. How cruel though to die in action after the war had ended [VE Day was May 8th 1945] - perhaps caught up in intelligence matters during the Greek Civil War.”

The work that Philip Owens was able to publish is full of high spirits, confident handling and original imagination, and it seems a pity that it has largely disappeared from view: but perhaps the time has come for this "picture of nobody" to become a picture of somebody with a new set of readers.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Pale Illuminations

Sarob Press has just announced The Pale Illuminations, a book of four long stories by Peter Bell, Derek John, Reggie Oliver and Mark Valentine. It is due to be published by the end of September.

The stories comprise:

“Labyrinth” by Peter Bell ... set mostly in the 1960s this is a story of ancient well worship in the Peak District, and the cult of Proserpina in Roman Britain;

“Cropmarks” by Derek John ... an Irish setting for a modern tale of witchcraft, dark ceremonies, a centuries-old place of worship, strange discoveries and a malevolent curse;

“The Old Man of the Woods” by Reggie Oliver ... a new home in rural France, legends of the misty past, and a weird haunting story of the dark and deeply sinister woods.

“A Chess Game at Michaelmas” by Mark Valentine ... a tale set in south-west England, based on a genuine manorial custom in homage to an unknown king.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

R I P Richard Booth, The King of Hay

The local newspaper for Hay-on-Wye, the Brecon & Radnor Express, reports the sad news that Richard Booth, the man who founded the bookshop town, has surrendered his earthly throne. In the 1960s he had the genius to see the potential for a town full of bookshops, and the flair and determination to make it happen.

Hay is a border town between England and Wales – you can stray between the two without knowing it – and Mr Booth also saw the opportunity for some quirky publicity by declaring it independent and proclaiming himself King of Hay. Knighthoods, passports and sundry royal appointments soon followed. This ‘Passport to Pimlico’ style fun captured the imagination and added to the town’s attractions.

The genius of Richard Booth in coming up with the idea of a town of bookshops and making it work can be measured certainly enough. No other book town, created without his enthusiasm and inspiration, has had half the success of Hay. And if you visit other towns of similar size in mid Wales it is easy to see the decline that can set in unless there is a strong draw for visitors and a lively high street.

Although his own bookselling career had its vicissitudes, Hay is still a thriving and characterful place today. There are now curio shops, craft galleries, cafes and other relishable places too, but over twenty bookshops continue and new ones are still being opened. The prosperity of the town and the delight it gives thousands of visitors are all because of the original vision of Richard Booth.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Picture of Nobody - Philip Owens

In Picture of Nobody (1936) by Philip Owens, Shakespeare is recreated as an impoverished young poet in Nineteen Thirties London. It is not exactly a reincarnation or timeslip fantasy – the book simply takes the character, story and work of the 16th century playwright and reframes them in a setting over three hundred years later.

The novel imagines Shakespeare’s younger years as a struggling actor and writer in the capital but places him among the poetic coteries of the interwar years. Contemporaries such as Marlowe, Kyd and Greene are also depicted in various guises, as are some Shakespearean characters, including Falstaff and the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

Meanwhile, in a neat reversal, the leading 20th century playwright, here rendered as Shawe, is instead depicted as existing several centuries ago and is the subject of an authorship controversy, like those claiming the Tudor Shakespeare’s works were written by Bacon or Oxford. In this spoof, some theorists suggest Shawe’s plays were written by a certain Lord Beaverbrook . . .

This first novel is a lively jeu d’esprit, blithely done, and the conceit is sustained with great gusto and imagination. We relish both the picture of Thirties literary and bohemian life and the clever and picturesque Shakespearean resonances. In his foreword, L A G Strong says it demonstrates that even a Shakespeare would not fare well in the Grub Street of the day. The book soon takes a more sombre direction, however, and has a further dimension, in that it also becomes a future fantasy of riots, explosions and civil war in Britain, with a tragic outcome.

Owens also wrote Hobohemians, a Study of Luxurious Poverty (Mandrake Press, 1929), a short opuscule of artistic life in Berlin, and translated books from the German by Hans Fallada and others. He also wrote for Jack Lindsay's literary journal, The London Aphrodite, and edited an anthology of passages about landladies, Bed and Sometimes Breakfast (Sylvan Press, 1944).

More notably, he was included, with a long avant-garde poem, in an anthology of modernist poetry edited by Samuel Putnam, European Caravan (1930). Here, he was alongside Auden, Beckett and others, and was described as one of Britain’s most promising poets. It was a promise that apparently was not to be fulfilled. I have not been able to find a trace of him after the Second World War.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Guest Post: False Memory Syndrome in Arthur Machen’s “The Children of the Pool” by Dale Nelson

Published by Hutchinson in 1936, “The Children of the Pool” is the title story in Machen’s late six-tale collection.  Vacationing in Wales, the story’s narrator (hereafter “Machen”) unexpectedly finds himself the guest of an old friend, James Roberts, who is staying in a cottage somewhere “on the Welsh border.” 

Their first conversation is a cheerful one. However, when they meet again, “Machen” finds Roberts looking wretched and dismayed.  Roberts soon explains that he’d visited the “ugly” pool, and later had taken a walk in the woods, when he heard a nasty, accusing, though feminine voice call to him. 

It spoke to him of wickedness he’d committed many years before.  Roberts remembered his iniquitous conduct as something “‘done with very soon after it was begun.  It was no more than a bad dream.’”  But now “‘it all flashed back on me like deadly lightning,’” with plenty of circumstantial detail.  Moreover, that same night, after he went to bed, Roberts again heard the voice, which promised that Roberts would be compelled to confess his vile behavior to all his friends.  He heard the voice yet again the following night.  However, when “Machen” stays at the cottage with him, Roberts sleeps peacefully.  “Machen” convinces Roberts to continue his holiday in a resort at the other end of England, and Roberts is no longer troubled.

The narrator, in the story's penultimate paragraph, finds the key in something said by the psychologist Koffka (a real person, 1886-1941), as expressed by a reviewer of his Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935).  Kurt Koffka, the reviewer observed, insisted "that the 'sadness' which we attribute to a particular landscape is really and efficiently in the landscape and not merely in ourselves; and consequently that the landscape can affect us and produce results in us.” 

“Machen” adds that “Poe, who knew many secrets, knew this.”  One recalls Poe’s "Fall of the House of Usher."  In its long first paragraph, we read: "beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of...affecting us" -- although it's beyond us to analyze this power.

So it isn't that people project onto things some notions that they bring to the act of perception, but that the objects may project into us some influence that, combining with our memories and imaginations, produces emotional and imaginative effects.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Morgan, knows that other people have had some sort of bad experiences associated with the pool.  This underscores the reality of its malign influence.

“Machen” comes to believe that his old friend received from the unpleasant-looking pool and its immediate surroundings an "effect" that worked upon his memory of an entanglement that occurred many years ago, when Roberts was a naïve young man living in London for the first time.  He learns that Roberts was staying with a family named Watts, which included two sisters -- Justine, who was his own age (and evidently attracted to Roberts), and Helen, who was a few years older. 

Roberts was detected, by the younger sister, behaving with Helen in a way that got him into trouble with Helen's father when Justine told him about it.  I suppose Roberts was kissing and cuddling with Helen, or perhaps had proceeded to more intimate relations, and that he had been led on to this by Helen herself ("there were extenuating circumstances in his offence, and excuses for his wrongdoing").**   Whatever happened, Mr. Watts was enraged at first and expelled Roberts, but did not end up telling Roberts’s employer about it, apparently because his daughter was much at fault.

What Roberts suffered at the time was intense embarrassment, likely enough a sense that he had known better than to get involved with the older sister all along, and perhaps guilt, if he actually had had sexual relations with her – and expulsion from his lodgings. 

Many years later, then, after Roberts saw the unpleasant pool, its configuration of objects, of light and shadow, etc., evoked in him false memories -- i.e., real memories entangled with imagination – so that he felt a terrible sense of guilt over wicked acts that had, in fact, never occurred, but seemed to Roberts really to have happened – even “a sin before which the sun hid his face.”

The voice that seemed to speak to him was, presumably, that of Justine.  We are told that she had a voice like a peacock’s, and Roberts says that the accusing voice he heard was “‘shrill, piercing,’” a “‘scream,’” and certainly that of a girl.

The story’s narrator associates this bizarre experience with de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.  In that book, a favorite of Machen's, there are reflections on dreams, distorted memories, etc.  For example, under the influence of the drug, the "Eater" has dreadful impressions of crowding faces, which were derived from the daily encounter with London's multitudes, but made dreadful by the agency of the drug. 

The pool acts on Roberts somewhat as opium acted upon the Eater.  Consider the Eater's suffering abysmal guilt: "I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me: Seeva laid wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the crocodile trembled at” (my italics).  In both cases, we have someone's guilty hallucinations.

“Machen” thinks of an unnamed author who described how Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” came to be written, the poet “unconsciously” drawing on his “vast reading.”  This author is assuredly John Livingston Lowes, in The Road to Xanadu (1927).  Since Poe, de Quincey, Coleridge, Lowes, and Koffka worked together, with other elements, in Machen’s imagination, “The Children of the Pool” is akin to “The Rime” in Lowes’s account, as a literary work whose author is indebted to earlier writings, but who has made something new.
Unlike Coleridge, “Machen” says (or like the fantasist Machen himself), Roberts lacked poetic imagination and hadn’t made a poem or a story of his experience.  Instead, it had gone on living in his mind, getting uglier and uglier till it was brought suddenly into startling consciousness.  Like the “‘rank-looking [plant by the pool], covered with dull crimson blossoms, all bloated out and speckled like a toad,’” it grew and swelled “in the darkness” of his mind till it burst into light.

By the way, while I don't agree with all that Julia Shaw says in her recent book The Memory Illusion (indeed, I've read only parts of it), there are things in it pertinent for Machen's story of memory here.***  Julia Shaw argues that “there are hundreds of books, TV shows and movies that portray hypnosis as a key that can allow access to hidden memories.  Unfortunately, this is completely untrue” (The Memory Illusion, p. 128).  She finds that “if used during therapy, suggestive and probing questions combined with hypnosis have the potential to generate complex and vivid false memories of trauma” (p. 129).  As Machen's story suggests, "recovered memories" are likely to be false. 

Machen's story, I suppose, is not a story of the "supernatural" but of the preternatural -- and it can be, for us, a cautionary tale about the use of "memories" in legal contexts.  Machen's narrator acts basically as an attorney who gathers evidence to defend his client from the prosecution – only, in the story, it was Roberts's "memory," his response to the pool, and his conscience that together had become the prosecution!


*It seems that the name "Helen"  was still one that Machen's imagination associated with an attractive, dangerous woman -- cf. "The Great God Pan," written many years earlier.

**See the similar predicament of Johnny Eames, in Victorian author Anthony Trollope's popular novel The Small House at Allington.  Country-bred Eames gets entangled with Amelia Roper, who lives in the same London lodgings and leads him to compromise himself.

***Shaw is worth reading indeed given our culture's fascination over the past several decades with so-called "recovered memories."  If one remembers the "satanic ritual abuse" panic, or the fat book of "recovered memories" of UFO experiences by John Mack called Abduction, etc. – to say nothing of some more recent high-profile news stories -- one will find parts of her book intriguing. 

© Dale Nelson, 2019.  This article is based on a comment posted to the Eldritch Dark Forums on 12 August 2019.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Man in the Battered Silk Hat – A Prophet in Bronte Country

The mid-20th century novels of Howard Spring are I suppose not much read now, but they were once very popular. Perhaps his greatest success, Fame is the Spur (1940), will still be recognised, but few of his score or so other titles may jog memories. The present neglect seems to under-value his work, which has sound story-telling qualities and picturesque characters, and draws on his own varied experiences. He was born in unpromising circumstances, had little schooling, and made his way in writing the hard way through provincial journalism, book reviewing and slowly crafting his own fiction.

In the third volume of his memoirs, And Another Thing (1946), Spring recalls his days as a journalist in Bradford, Yorkshire, in his early twenties. One day, when he was in the neighbouring Pennine town of Keighley, he relates, he came upon ‘a knot of people surrounding a speaker in an open place. He was a cadaverous person, wearing a battered silk hat, calling himself Dr Nikola, and he made a habit of going from town to town belittling the Bible by reciting a garbled version of its folk-lore . . .’ (p.185). What the Pennine prophet preached was not just atheism but also republicanism and other firebrand beliefs, and after a while the authorities became so perturbed by the crowds he was gathering that they decided he must be made to desist. But on what charge could they arrest him?

Dowager duchesses who refused to pay National Insurance stamps for their servants, as required by new Liberal welfare legislation, did not face charges, Spring notes, yet a way was soon found to silence this eccentric character: “he was arrested soon after under the Blasphemy Acts and sent to prison”. Spring, himself a man of pious faith, adds that he pities “this trivial half-wit.” But if he was just that, simply deluded, why was it deemed so important to put a stop to his activities?

Now this episode struck me as somewhat singular. Dr Nikola was the hypnotic occult mastermind created by Guy Boothby in several late-Victorian thrillers, a sort of forerunner of Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu Manchu. The adventures started in A Bid for Fortune (1895), which is sometimes entitled Enter, Dr Nikola!, and continued just a year later in the next book in the series, Dr Nikola (1896), also known as Dr Nikola Returns. There were three further books in the series, all separate adventures: The Lust of Hate (1898), Dr Nikola’s Experiment (1899) and “Farewell, Nikola” (1901). His adventures were enormously popular, though by the time of the itinerant speaker that Spring recalls, circa 1911-12, they may have faded from view a little. What made Spring’s visionary choose this name?

Well, there are frequent hints throughout the books that Dr Nikola has subtle occult powers. He is a mesmerist, certainly, and can cause his victims to see visions. He pitches his heightened mind into unknown realms and undertakes astral journeys that allow him to see scenes distant in space and time. He has a strong sense of his own destiny, which forces him on in his remorseless quest for hidden knowledge. None of these powers are used to excess, however, for they evidently require great concentration and will.

There may be more to the visionary vagrant's chosen name than was obvious to his chronicler. Keighley is a valley town, but there rises from it on almost all sides the bare hills that are known to literary fame as ‘Wuthering Heights’: the Bronte village of Haworth is four miles away over these moors. Despite some fine Arts & Crafts public buildings, it is not a town that presently seems suggestive of the mystic. But this was not always so. As Kai Roberts recounts in an excellent essay on ‘The Victorian Occult Revival in West Yorkshire’, the West Riding settlement was once a thriving centre of esoteric thought.

Indeed, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was specifically founded in London in antipathy to rumours of a similar order in Keighley which was regarded with disfavour by the metropolitan mages. Further, the great Austrian occult writer Gustav Meyrink, author of The Golem, corresponded with an ancient sage who lived near Keighley, and his Vienna circle the Order of the Blue Star drew upon this savant’s teachings. The Yorkshire town was also among the first where Spiritualism took hold in Britain, and later Anthroposophy. So the itinerant Dr Nikola that Howard Spring encountered, as a young Edwardian journalist, must be seen in a much wider and unusual context.

But thereafter this ‘Dr Nikola’ seems to have vanished and I have found no other record of him, or what became of him after prison. And though he may not have fully grasped what The Man in the Battered Silk Hat was about, and nor can we quite grasp it all now either, we must be grateful at least that Howard Spring preserved some memory of him.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Margaret Enid Griffiths - Early Vaticination in Welsh

I was pleased to pick this up the other day, a study of medieval Welsh prophecies.  It was a favourite book when I was studying years ago and draws from a huge amount of manuscript material from Peniarth Manuscripts and Llanstephan Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales.  There is also a lot on Welsh folklore and, as you would expect, Geoffrey of Monmouth and the four ancient books of Wales, which are replete with prophetic material.  My interest was the later medieval period, particularly prophecies relating to the revolt of Owain Glyndwr, which Shakespeare had Hotspur joke about in Henry IV Part 1:

I cannot choose: sometime he angers me
With telling me of the mouldwarp and the ant,
Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies,
And of a dragon and a finless fish,
A clip-wing'd griffin and a moulten raven,
A couching lion and a ramping cat,
And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
As puts me from my faith.

This gets the flavour of Welsh prophecy quite right and must have been amusing to Shakespeare's audience.

The author of Early Vaticination in Welsh is Margaret Enid Griffiths about whom I knew nothing except the note in foreword that the book was based on her MA thesis and that she had died tragically aged 26.
Searching through digitised newspapers uncovers a few more facts about her life.  She was a gifted student at Aberystwyth (not surprising, then, the use of all that manuscript material at the National Library of Wales), who gained a double first and a MA.  A short notice in the Western Mail & South Wales News of 4 July 1930 provides more information:

"Miss M. Enid Griffiths, who died suddenly at the early age of 26 years at the residence of her parents, Mr John Griffiths, M.E., and Mrs Griffiths, Tremle, Treorchy, was a distinguished student at Aberystwyth University College, where she a achieved a "Double First" and later took her M.A. degree with distinction. A host of old college friends deplore her death.  For the last four years she was the English mistress at Porth County School and was exceedingly popular both with the staff and pupils.  Her dramatic ability was outstanding, and the Welsh drama movement has lost by her death one of its most promising devotees.

A representative gathering assembled for the funeral on Thursday, the burial being in Treorchy Cemetery.  The funeral was among the largest every seen in the district, and sympathisers lined the streets to pay a tribute of esteem."

One wonders what might have been.  

The book was edited by her thesis supervisor T. Gwynn Jones and published by the University of Wales Press in 1937.  It remains a landmark volume and is still cited today.

The book itself is a nice association copy as it is Gwynn Jones' own copy.

Thursday, August 1, 2019


First published in 1924, Dulcie Deamer's witchcraft novel, The Devil's Saint, has recently been reprinted by Ramble House with my 2014 Wormwood article about the author as the introduction.  Deamer was a writer, occultist and all-round Bohemian, a fixture in the Kings Cross literary scene in the 1920s, 30s and beyond.  Certainly her occult interests are highlighted in this book, which includes all sorts of magical lore from her wide reading on the subject.  It's also a racy love story that ends on an up-beat note.  A portion of it was reprinted as a short story in an Australian literary magazine illustrated by Norman Lindsay, and previously posted on Wormwoodiana.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Off Finisterre - Horton Giddy

Reading in old copies of The Listener, the BBC wireless magazine, from the 1930s, I found, in the issue for 11 November 1936 (Vol XVI, No 409), a half-page review by Grace Wyndham Goldie, a regular columnist, of a radio play by the splendidly-named Horton Giddy. The drama was entitled ‘Off Finisterre’: and it was a ghost story.

The review begins by praising previous plays by Giddy, entitled ‘In the Shadow’, ‘Congo Landing’, and ‘Mary at Lochleven’. Goldie describes him as ‘that rare and valuable phenomenon, a genuine radio dramatist’, presumably as distinct from stage dramatists or short-story writers who adapted their works for the wireless. Each of the plays listed is good, she says, but more impressive is that each is a vast improvement on the one before, the sign of an increasing ‘mastery of radio technique’. But he is not solemn or pompous: ‘He is an entertainer, a teller of stories which have some thrill or excitement in them’. The first of those listed was about ‘ships waiting for a declaration of war’, the second about ‘an aeroplane crash in the jungle’ and the third about the escape of Mary, Queen of Scots, from a castle.

‘Off Finisterre’, however, is about the spirit of a young bride who died aboard ship as it was in the coastal waters of the title. Each time the vessel passes the same point, a fog seems to descend (not unusual in those parts) and her ghost is seen. Some misfortune always follows. She is seen in the play by ‘an impressionable young poet’. The story, says the reviewer, was ‘gripping and exciting’, and she praises too the production, by Peter Cresswell, which conveyed an ‘atmosphere of eeriness’, with a ‘very skilful handling of background noises, particularly . . . [the] balance of fog-horns and silences’, with the passengers wandering about the fog-bound ship, and their hushed conversations, fading in and out. Also impressive, she says, was the sparing use of the spirit’s voice, and the scene when her husband, returning from the East on the same ship, goes to meet her.

I do not think many radio plays from that period have survived as recordings or even as scripts, so this description of the spectral drama may well be all we have to remember it. Sometimes they might find published form, adapted as plays for amateur theatrical groups, but this does not seem to be the case for ‘Off Finisterre’ or indeed any other play by Giddy. His only publication in The British Library catalogue is a novel, Interval Ashore (1936), about a young naval officer rescuing White Russians from Odessa after the collapse of the Tsarist cause in the Russian Civil War.

Giddy was writing about what he knew because as a young officer, aged 19, he had taken part, as the second-in-command of a motor boat, in a daring raid of August 1919 to sink a Bolshevik battleship and other vessels off the coast of Finland. He was at first presumed killed in action, but had in fact been taken prisoner and was eventually released some months later. Probably therefore he also took part in the Black Sea episode described in his novel, or else knew officers who had.

Osman Cyril Horton Giddy was born on 24 April 1900 to Osman Horton Giddy (1867-1938) and Ruby Margaret Giddy (1876-1921) of Long Ditton, Surrey. His father was a solicitor. He attended Shrewsbury House Preparatory School, Surbiton, until 1912 and went from there to navy colleges until 1916, when he joined HMS Minotaur as a midshipman, and saw action at the Battle of Jutland. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the 1919 action. He served in the navy in the Second World War too, and died on 7 January 1980, when he was living at The Esplanade, Worthing.

As well as his radio plays, Horton Giddy also wrote a few short stories and his stage play, Contraband, with a Ruritanian theme, was made into a 1934 Elstree Studios film, The Luck of A Sailor. Other radio plays, as well as those mentioned in the review, include a crime mystery, ‘My Life With Ernest Rule’, about a poisoner; and ‘Nobby Clark and the Parrot’ (1939), a nautical comedy. He was evidently a fairly prolific professional writer with a vivid imagination and a versatile pen.

‘Off Finisterre’ was first broadcast on 28 October 1936, with a cast of fifteen, and the programme note reads: ‘The entire action of the play takes place on board a liner crossing the Bay of Biscay, on the return voyage from the East.’ The characters include General Sir George Colley and his wife Lady Colley and son Derek, Dr Cameron, the ship’s doctor, a passenger called Ross (who may be the sensitive young poet mentioned), and various crew and stewards, plus a role simply described as ‘A Voice’, presumably the disembodied tones of the ghost. I‘m not sure how they got the sounds of fog-horns in the studio: they may have had recordings, but I like to think they rounded up a few itinerant tuba players to let loose at appropriate intervals.

There was a different performance of the play on Christmas Day 1948, in the Mystery Playhouse series, an interesting example of the association of ghost stories with the midwinter festival. Grace Wyndham Goldie’s keen description of the play and the production (she was not always so impressed by the radio dramas, and did not hesitate to say so) make it seem distinctly a loss if indeed nothing of the work has survived.


Photograph of Horton Giddy: Shrewsbury House Roll of Service.