Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Chat with Jon Eeds of Bruin Books

Bruin Books was founded by Jonathan Eeds in 2009, and has published some thirty-odd works in three main imprints, Bruin Crimeworks, Bruin Asylum, and Bruin Odysseys. The “Crimeworks” imprint focuses, obviously, on works of crime literature, and includes a number of titles by Fredric Brown. The “Odysseys” imprint encompasses “tales of adventure, travel and intrigue.” Presently there is only one title out, Prester John by John Buchan, but Bruin Books has announced for 2020 a major expansion of this imprint.

The “Asylum” imprint is the place where readers of Wormwoodiana will find the most titles of potential interest. I first discovered the imprint through the 2015 reissue of Dr. Mabuse by Norbert Jacques, originally published in German in 1920 and in English translation in 1923. (It was filmed by Fritz Lang in 1922.) There were other titles on the Bruin list that normally would have interested me, but I'd already read them, like G.S. Marlowe's I Am Your Brother from 1935, and the more recent A Garden Lost in Time (2004) by Jonathan Aycliffe, which had its first American edition via Bruin Books. The “Asylum” list now sports around a dozen books. The additional titles include The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Unholy Three by Tod Robbins, an omnibus of three novels by Hugh Walpole (Walpole's Fantastic Tales: Volume 1), and W. Somerset Maugham's The Magician and Other Strange Stories which includes the original 1908 text of Maugham's novel, plus eleven shorter stories. (See the various links at the bottom of this post.)

Give us some background on your publishing enterprise. Why did you get started? Tell us some highlight about each of your three main imprints. 

I’ve always been a book lover—since childhood, when we still had those bookmobiles rumbling through the neighborhood. For a shy kid, they were a place to hide and yet be in the middle of a wide wonderful place at the same time. When I was in the Navy, spending so much time at sea, they gave me a break from the tedium and provided comfort during the stressful times. Since my Navy days I’ve always enjoyed reading the most while traveling and set adrift from the work-a-day world. Starting Bruin Books was the natural extension of my love for books. My main motivation was to give something back for all the joy books have given me, and to experience more of what books had to offer in the terms of design and production.

Bruin Books started in late in 2009, while I was still fully occupied in a career in High-Tech. Print-On-Demand (POD) technology was just becoming widely available. I remember being very excited about discovering it. It’s not often that an opportunity lands in your front yard, but that’s exactly what it felt like. To learn the mechanics of book design, I first published my own short comic novel, Cardinal Bishop, Inc. I didn’t want to make a slew of mistakes on somebody else’s book. The three or four people who read the book really liked it, so I was encouraged to continue. I wanted to focus on crime fiction first. I was really impressed with Hard Case Crime and what they were doing with their retro-looking cover art. I wanted to do something like that. My first attempt at a crime book, and only my second book, was a new version of No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase. It was Chase’s first book, and it was a massive bestseller during the war years (WWII), but he felt the need to rewrite in in the early 60’s. The new version did make some significant improvements in character development, but it also dropped some of the best nasty bits from the original and so diminished its shock value. What I did was weave the two books together, while keeping the plot firmly rooted in 1939. My efforts were authorized by the JHC Literary Estate, and I think the results were really quite good. It remains one of the “must read” crime novels: very surreal and brutal in its reimagining of the tough American gangster. I hope to return to Chase’s crime fiction in the coming year.

After publishing a few crime novels, I started our second line: Bruin Asylum. Although I read a lot of science fiction growing up, I’ve been more drawn to the supernatural as an adult. Horror fiction is much more rooted in psychology and better explores the darker regions of the mind. Ever since starting Bruin Asylum I’ve been trying to better define it. Out of the gate, it’s been a bit of a scatter-shot. The books so far have ranged all over the place from classic (and highly respectable) literary tales of the macabre such as the The Magician and Other Strange Stories by Maugham to the really schlocky Bat Woman by Cromwell Gibbons. The first true Asylum novel actually appeared in the Crimeworks line. I hadn’t started Bruin Asylum yet. That book was Deliver Me From Eva—a supremely crazy novel about a legless mad scientist who tools around in a Dalek-like scooter and performs experimental surgery on family members by adjusting their cranium plates. I adorned that book with Renaissance-era anatomy plates by the likes of Albinus and Vesalius. It sounds weird but it works. Cheesy novels like Bat Woman and Eva are really fun to read, but going forward I’m going to swing the ship around to the more literary channel. That’s why Celestial Chess was so important to me. It was a compass-book that helped to reset our direction.
The “Asylum” imprint's most recent title is Celestial Chess by Thomas Bontly. It was originally published in 1979, and the book has been a favorite of Thomas Kent Miller (who provides the introduction to the new edition) for many years. Tell us about it:
Thomas Bontly’s Celestial Chess is a balancing act of sorts: it’s highly entertaining, humorous and humane, with well-drawn characters that resonate with the reader, but it also goes into some pretty scary and sometimes kinky places: satanic cults, ancient ghosts and medieval curses. The novel has an intriguing parallel story that takes place in the 12th century. The medieval narrative sets up the events that transpire in and around Cambridge University in 1962. A cursed manuscript—a poem written be a wicked, befallen monk—links the two timelines and leads anyone who pursues it to disaster. Chess, the game of kings, is of course a central motif of the book. The novel is a homage to the classic ghost stories of M. R. James, who was Chancellor of Kings Church at Cambridge, but it is also a serious nod to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, which Bontly greatly admired and extensively wrote about. Like Celestial Chess’ hero, David Fairchild, Thomas Bontly was an American Professor of Literature and had spent some professional time at Cambridge. No doubt it was a rich time for Bontly, for that first-hand experience gives Celestial Chess a feeling of authenticity and intimacy. It’s an Outsider’s Insider book, if that makes sense.

I consider it a gift that both you and Thomas Kent Miller recommended it to me. Until then it totally escaped my attention. Even though it was originally published forty years ago, not many people know of it. It fell into a hole somewhere. Tom picked up his copy in the early 80’s off a liquor store rack not far from the San Francisco State University campus, where he was attending classes. He bought the book on a lark but never let it go. Ever since then he has been recommending it to small publishers for a revival. Thank goodness it landed with Bruin Books. It was an absolute pleasure to work on. It also gave me a chance to correspond with the author’s wife, Marilyn, and his son Thomas. Tom followed in his father’s professorial footsteps and teaches Philosophy at the University of Connecticut.

Yes, Celestial Chess is a horror novel, but my favorite parts were the scenes of humor, romance and comradery. Fairchild is a supremely confident protagonist. You don’t often find that in a horror novel. The characters in a horror novel or movie are generally fried to a frazzle by the middle of the story, but Fairchild rises to the challenge with good cheer. He uses his wits, humor and scholarship to defend against the Dark Powers. I can’t think of any other horror novel that is so buoyant and life affirming.

Sadly, Thomas Bontly is no longer with us, but I take heart in knowing that we were able to bring his wonderful novel back into print so that others can discover it.
I wrote an entry on Bontly on my Lesser-Known Writers blog, which can be accessed here. What do you see for the future of Bruin Books?
We have a third genre line, Bruin Odysseys, that is just sort of dangling out there. I’ve shamefully neglected my original plan for many years by letting the Bruin Odysseys concept collect dust. It’s here that I want explore adventure and travel. Bruin Odysseys has the greatest potential from a decorative and design standpoint, plus adventure and travel books are such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. There are many grand old volumes that are works of art unto themselves due to their fine illustrations. I’m thinking of Verne and Dumas, but also of the real-life adventurers such as Mungo Park. When you pick up an early edition of Verne you find a very detailed steel engraving every few pages. I can’t imagine how long it took an artist to produce such a work of art. The amount of patience required and the need to “think like a mirror” in created the engraving is simply amazing. A Verne novel can contain eighty or ninety of these beautiful illustrations. The same is true of Dumas, and I am sure there are others. These old books are very expensive, but maybe we can do something to make them more available, published in a way that gives a least a hint of their past glory. It will be a challenge but it will give me a great deal of pleasure to pull it off.

I’m starting off small in early 2020 with a new version of J-H Rosny’s La Guerre Du Feu (better known as Quest for Fire). It a small book but we’re handling like a major project. There are many illustrated versions of the short novel in French, and German and even Russian, but only one available in English, plus the English version is very difficult to locate. Forget about finding the illustrated hardback published in 1967. Only the Penguin and Ballantine movie-tie-in versions are available at ridiculous prices—typically ratty copies at that. The quality of the paperbacks is poor due to the hasty effort to cash in on the film release. (Quest for Fire is one of my all-time favorite films, by the way.) I’m sure a newly illustrated version of Quest for Fire would make a quite few people happy, although renaming it Conquest of Fire might be an appropriate change to it. We are going do our best to make it the most beautiful paperback possible, one that is enriched with new illustrations and design values. I’m confident my team is up for the challenge.
What other titles are you interested in?
Actually, I could use a little help in this regard. Without help, I would never have discovered Celestial Chess. I only have so much time to plough through the books I’ve already collected. Chances are if you find something intriguing in somebody’s blog, the book has already been snagged by another publisher. It’s a rich time for readers who are hungry to explore for new discoveries, but it is also highly competitive for small publishers trying sort out people’s interests. Even the big guys, the New York publishers, have adopted Print-On-Demand strategies to keep their back-listed titles under their roof. I know POD still has a stigma with some collectors, but it is often the only way you can acquire a rare title, such as Tiger Girl by Gordon Casserly. So, I guess I am saying that I am very eager for suggestions. Are there some titles that the followers and contributors of Wormwoodiana would really like to see back in print, or see new and innovative versions of? For instance, would anyone be interested in an illustrated version of A Voyage to Arcturus? It’s a crazy thought—it’s such an esoteric book, but why not? What about a heavily illustrated version of the Ingoldsby Legends? So, please, hit me with your recommendations! Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing on a deserted island when it comes to project selection.
September 2020 will mark 100 years since the first publication of A Voyage to Arcturus, and I know of some planned centenary editions. I'm actually working with Centipede Press on a lavish edition of A Voyage to Arcturus, but not for the centenary. It is aimed for 2022.

The main constraint I've often seen about good out-of-print books that need to be reissued is the question of rights. When the book is still under copyright, chasing down the rights owner can entail a lot of detective work, and then the attitude of the rights owner is sometimes very unpredictable.

How would you summarize Bruin Books from a business standpoint?
Most of my professional life has been devoted to manufacturing and operations, environments where you have to continuously improve to succeed. Each new project must make an improvement over the last. You can never be satisfied. You have to be customer focused, to be absolutely devoted to the customer. These are the tenants I’ve brought to Bruin Books. Now that I am retired from High-Tech I can fully devote my attention to the continuous improvement of Bruin Books. Before 2019 it was only a part-time proposition and I could easily (and rightfully) be distracted by my career. I can tell you that Publishing is a lot more fun than the high-wire High-Tech act. I have a very talented team assembled. We are scattered all over the world and hardly ever have the chance to meet in person, be we all share a love of the creative process, and that bonds us. It’s probably better that they are not here with me in Oregon, or else they would expect me to bring in donuts. I’ll be making the rounds to their individual countries in the near future. They can have donuts then.
Thanks, Jon.  Readers of Wormwoodiana can check out the Bruin Books website here.

And here are some links to a number of the Asylum titles.

Amazon.com (US)
Jonathan Aycliffe, A Garden Lost in Time
Thomas Bontly, Celestial Chess
Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl 
Cromwell Gibbons, Bat Woman
Norbert Jacques, Dr. Mabuse
Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Undying Monster
G.S. Marlowe, I Am Your Brother
W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician and Other Strange Stories
Tod Robbins, The Unholy Three
Hugh Walpole, Walpole's Fantastic Tales

Amazon.co.uk (UK)
Jonathan Aycliffe, A Garden Lost in Time [US only]
Thomas Bontly, Celestial Chess
Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl 
Cromwell Gibbons, Bat Woman  [US only]
Norbert Jacques, Dr. Mabuse
Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Undying Monster
G.S. Marlowe, I Am Your Brother
W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician and Other Strange Stories
Tod Robbins, The Unholy Three
Hugh Walpole, Walpole's Fantastic Tales

Monday, December 23, 2019

Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl

Casserly, Gordon. Tiger Girl (London: Philip Allan, 1934)

Tiger Girl is one of the rarest of the eight novels by Gordon Casserly (1869-1947), four of which can be classified as having fantastical elements. These four novels include The Elephant God (1920), The Jungle Girl (1921), The Monkey God (1933), and the volume under review.

Tiger Girl centers on the Scotsman Alan Stuart, a British Army officer serving in northern India, and his blossoming romance with Margery Webb, the daughter of plantation owner, whose rival plantation owner, Mr. Morton, also surreptitiously seeks the hand of Margery in marriage. The courtship is interrupted by various tiger attacks, including sightings of the legendary Ghost Tiger which shows no wounds when shot with regular bullets. Morton employs gypsies and a yogi to work eastern magic to thwart Stuart's courtship of Margery. There are a number of attacks on Stuart and his friends, and in the end Stuart realizes the supernatural agency of the Ghost Tiger and fashions two handmade silver bullets, each etched with the sign of the cross, which enables him to kill it. Just why a silver bullet, or a bullet etched with the cross, is effective in dispatching the Ghost Tiger, the reader is never told. And there are other similar elements in the book which don't quite add up, like why the book is titled Tiger Girl (the Ghost Tiger turns out to have been male). Towards the end of the book, the character Carter reappears from Casserly's previous novel, The Monkey God, somewhat tying the two books together, but otherwise making little difference. Tiger Girl remains primarily a romance adventure novel, but with some supernatural elements.

NB: Tiger Girl has just been reissued in trade paperback by Bruin Books (Amazon US here; and Amazon UK here)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Thomas Malyn, The Romance of a Demon

Malyn, Thomas. The Romance of a Demon: A Story of the Occult and Superhuman (London: Digby, Long and Company, [September] 1892).
 

This short novel is comprised of an introduction and nine chapters. It concerns a wealthy bachelor, Duncan Derroll, who is visited by an ugly beggar at his rented house in Yorkshire. The beggar gives Duncan a dirty, handwritten book and disappears. Duncan soon meets up with his fiancée, Carrie Rimmon, from whom he learns of bad luck in her family after the disappearance ten years earlier of her older brother. Duncan is visited at night by a ghost who serves the devil, and who insists that Duncan read his manuscript diary. Later Duncan overhears the beggar berating Carrie's clergyman father for his failings and sins. The denouement is basically a Victorian clergyman's fantasy of admonition. The reverend had experimented in the occult in his past. Thus the beggar had brought about the death of the clergyman's wife, and the problems of their son, and now he seeks to ruin the daughter by wedding her. For the devil has a growing foothold in this world “which is as yet hidden from general view by its filthy drapery of Theosophy and Buddhism” (ch. 9). Duncan and the reverend recourse to prayer, whereby the son is saved, but the reverend dies. This is a silly and uninteresting story. The author Thomas Malyn published no other books.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Guest Post: The Balm of Consecration in Machen’s “The Terror” by Dale Nelson

“The Terror” (1917) stands out as Arthur Machen’s longest horror story, but its plot is simple.  During the cataclysm that was the Great War, a series of bizarre killings besets the “Northern District” and “Meirion” in west Wales.  It turns out that the perpetrators are not human beings, but animals, even moths, who attack people without warning, leaving no witnesses alive. 

First-person narrator Machen declines to state definitively why the animals made these dreadful attacks, but he offers as an “opinion” the hypothesis that they rose up against their natural lord, man, because he had denied his own spiritual nature and his sovereignty; for centuries, he has, as it were, been “wiping the balm of consecration from his breast.” 

American readers, and perhaps many British readers now, too, are likely to miss the significance of this phrase.

Start with this: when Elizabeth was crowned queen of Great Britain in 1953, the event was televised – except for a portion of the ceremony that was deemed especially sacred, and therefore not fit for broadcast by the mass media.  This was her anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This ceremony – the prayers and the anointing – set apart the monarch, not so much for special privileges vis-à-vis her subjects, but for unique responsibilities under God. 

The archbishop’s application of chrism to Elizabeth may have stirred the imaginations and memories of some of the witnesses.  They might have recalled the old story of how the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, Israel’s first king: “Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?” (1 Samuel 10:1). 

They may have recollected that the Hebrew priests were also anointed (Leviticus 21).  They were set apart as intermediaries between God and the Israelites. 

Many of those present in 1953 would have known a lot of Shakespeare.  The occasion being a happy, though solemn one, they probably didn’t think of the Bard’s black magic play.  In it, when Macduff learns that King Duncan has been murdered, he is appalled:
“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece:
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple and stole thence
The life o’ th’ building!”
(Macbeth Act II, Scene 3, lines 65-68)
Like “sacrilege,” that word “confusion” has come down in the world.  In Shakespeare, “confusion” may be the catastrophe that accompanies, or follows as the effect of, “ruin”:
"'Tis much when sceptres are in children’s hands,
But more when envy breed unkind [i.e. “unnatural”] division:
There comes the ruin, there begins confusion."
(Henry VI, Part One, Act IV, Scene 1, lines192-194)
I hope the 1953 coronation wasn’t spoiled for anyone by the thought of such passages in Shakespeare, though their gravity might have been salutary if anyone were inclined to be impatient with, or amused by, the pomp. 

But – a reader may object – how is any of this material relevant to “The Terror”?  There you have nobody killing a king.

The Shakespearean material deals with anointing and the concept of sacrilege.  What Machen’s narrator proposes is that the violence that happened was the result of what amounts to being auto-sacrilege

In his theory, the animals did not rise up because (as is often sadly the case) man had abused them.  They attacked him because of his offense against himself as the one consecrated for a unique role in nature.  “The king abdicated” – and he had no right to do that.  He became “self-deposed.”

The theory of man as mediator between God and the brute creation, of man’s viceroyalty, is something that was once familiar but is now hardly part of the cultural imagination.  Our understanding of Machen’s fiction, and our imaginative engagement with it, may be compromised.

Machen’s narrator leaves to the reader whether or not to accept his strange hypothesis about why the animals attacked people – and, since the story, after all, is fiction, the stakes are low.

Or rather, the stakes today are high – if not for us, for the animals.  Shall human beings consider ourselves responsible for the domestic and wild creatures that are, whether we like it or not, our subjects?   

Animals can’t be stewards of us; we can’t not be stewards of them.  We can only be good stewards or bad stewards. 

Notes

I referred to “The Terror” as Machen’s “longest horror story,” since I see The Three Impostors as a collection of linked stories rather than as a novel.

A good book about human sovereignty and stewardship is Matthew Scully’s Dominion: The Power of Man, theSuffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.

Admirers of The Lord of the Rings should read Evans and Dickerson’s Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien, which is a much better book than its cheesy main title would lead one to expect.

The present article is a sequel to my earlier Wormwoodiana posting, “Arthur Machen’s Secret HistoryTale ‘The Terror.’” That article expounded the traditional ontological hierarchy of “levels of being.”

It’s curious to note, by the way, that Machen’s story seems to have been written just before the abdication of the anointed Russian emperor, Tsar Nicholas II, in early 1917. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Guest Post: Machen and the Dark Specter by Dale Nelson

In three recent articles, I’ve argued that Arthur Machen probably drew upon the writings of Ovid, the historian Josephus, and the Bible to suggest, subtly rather than explicitly, the nature of the horror of violation that occurs in “The Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light.”

Here, I’ll comment on “Fragments of Paper” (also called “Psychology”), which is a sketch, and “The Novel of the White Powder.”  Where in “Pan” and “Light” the innocent sufferers were women, in these two pieces the sufferer is a man, and he is not innocent.

The “fragments of paper” are scraps that Mr. Dale wrote on during a sunny day at home, which was mostly busy with unspecified work.  “On them he had carefully registered all the secret thoughts of the day” without thinking about them, getting back to work till he jotted the next note and put it aside.  When he reviewed them, he was shocked by “the crazy lusts, the senseless furies, the foul monsters that his heart had borne” that the scraps recorded.

He has learned that “every day we lead two lives. … I say I am a man, but who is the other that hides in me?”

“Powder” is narrated by the sister of Francis Leicester, a diligent student of law.  Miss Leicester became anxious about the toll on her brother’s health of such long, sedentary hours, so he reluctantly consulted the family physician, Dr. Haberden. 

Francis had his prescription filled, despite his sister’s misgivings, at a neighborhood shop kept by an elderly pharmacist.  Francis perked up and exhibited a new taste for London night life, but eventually sequestered himself in his room.  There is a horrified glimpse of a monstrous face and paw at his window, some nasty black fluid drips from his room into the room below, his door is at last broken down, and a vile bubbling black pool of corruption is revealed, which is what Francis has become thanks to the drug.  It turns out to have been identical with the “wine” of the Witches’ Sabbath.

What may lift this shocker above the level of a pulp thriller are its superior generation of suspense, its narrative and descriptive craftsmanship (including a bit of Machen’s famous evocation of Strange London) -- and the final few pages.  A wrap-up that conveniently explains things is a familiar device in popular fiction, but uncommon is writing such as this:

“There [in some forest depth or remote cave], in the blackest hours of night, the Vinum Sabbati was prepared,” and the neophytes “partook of an evil sacrament. … And suddenly, each one that had drunk found himself attended by a companion” of alluring evil, which was, “awful as it is to express, the man himself. … the worm which never dies, that which lies sleeping within us all, was made tangible and an external thing, and clothed with a garment of flesh.  And then, in the hour of midnight, the primal fall was repeated.”

These sonorous lines were written to Dr. Haberden by the friend who analyzed the white powder and detected its real nature.  The friend comments, “for so terrible an act as [the partaking of the “wine”], in which the very inmost place of the temple was broken up and defiled, a terrible vengeance followed.  What began with corruption ended also with corruption.”

We’ve seen that imagery of the violated temple before, when the victims were women.  Exactly how to reconcile that imagery with the imagery of the inmost “worm” and the reference to the Fall is more than I will attempt here.

Mysteries of theology, unlike mysteries of detection, may be contemplated but not exhaustively explained.  Machen’s imagery points to a mystery of theological anthropology.  

To take one authority on it: the Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard – who was hardly likely to minimize sin – taught, on one hand, that “the very essence of the soul” was not lost at the Fall.  Sinful man does not require a new soul in order to be saved, nor does he acquire a new soul at Baptism. 

Yet, on the other hand, Gerhard added, man “from being righteous and holy became impious and unrighteous … Having lost the most beautiful image of God, man put on the dark specter of the devil.”  (That sounds Machenian, doesn’t it?)  Gerhard says, “we bear no longer the image of God and of the heavenly Adam, but the image of the earthly Adam. … we are by nature alienated from God,” although we possess “remnants of that original divine image,” etc.; hence the new birth in Christ is necessary.

Machen drew upon beliefs such as these for the purposes of literary art when he took pen in hand to write weird fiction; he was a poet more than a mystic, theologian, or parson; but he took those beliefs seriously, verbal signs of contradiction though they were in his time as they are in ours.

I think that Machen would have liked this statement:

“Only fools have clear conceptions of everything.  The most cherished ideas of the human mind are found in the depths and in twilight: around these [perplexing] ideas which we cannot [master] revolve clear thoughts, extending, developing, and becoming elevated.  If this deeper mental plane were to be taken away, there would remain but geometricians and intelligent animals; even the exact sciences should lose their present grandeur, which depends upon a hidden correlation with eternal truths, of which we can catch a glimpse only at rare moments.  Mystery is the most precious possession of mankind.  Not in vain did Plato teach that all below is but a weak image of the order reigning above.  It may be, indeed, that the grandest function of the loveliness we see is the awakening of desire for a higher loveliness we see not; and that the enchantment of great poets springs less from the pictures they paint than from the distant echoes they awaken from the invisible world.”

© Dale Nelson

Notes

Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) is quoted from pp. 61 and 63 of The Doctrine of Man in the Writings of Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard, edited by Preus and Smits (Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 61 and 63.

The long unattributed quotation (“Only fools”) is from the Russian reactionary and anti-Semite Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Ober-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod (1827-1907).  Curiously, it is possible that Machen saw the book, Reflections of a Russian Statesman, in which the quotation appears.  It was issued by Machen’s own eventual publisher, Grant Richards, in 1898, translated by Robert Crozier Long.  I quote from the Ann Arbor Paperback reprint, 1968, p. 188.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Horace B. Samuel, The Quisto Box

Samuel, Horace B. The Quisto-Box (London: A.M. Philpot, [February 1925]).

This is the only novel by Horace Barnett Samuel (1883-1950), a London barrister who translated books (including ones by Nietzsche and Strindberg) and who wrote some of his own, including the critical study Modernities (1913) and Unholy Memories of the Holy Land (1930), the latter published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

In The Quisto-Box, Professor Quist has just achieved his long ambition to create a Telepathoscope, a small aluminium box that allows its bearer to read other people's thoughts. Then the Professor conveniently dies, and his housemaid Lalage Marne, an intelligent young “heiress on a small scale” who had heard rumours of Quist's invention and obtained employment with him in order to investigate, ends up with his invention and the instructions on how to use it. Lalage Marne is pursued by a young journalist from the Daily Blare, Lucien Swope, who tries out the box in an interview with a high-ranking politician. The box reveals secrets about the government's association with an evolving revolution in a few (imaginary) countries in Europe, including Yunkaria. Swope and Marne become involved in the crisis. From this point, the novel shifts to concentrating on the tedious ins-and-outs of the revolution in Yunkaria. Then Lalage Marne and financier Gabriel Zaffrouli find a way to make money off the war. Next they decide to make even more money by producing and selling a thousand Quisto-Boxes designed to function for only six months. Their veiled advertisement attracts the attention of “the worst woman in Europe”, currently operating under the name of Miss Celia Jones, who is described as follows: “The white bloated face and the swollen supple body. The red flabby folds that purported to be lips. The lax sinuosity of what was supposed to be a mouth, The brutal and business-calculation that glared brazenly from out her green eyes. The thick, slimy creaminess of her voice, that would in case of necessity and with the utmost suddenness assume a crisp, businesslike click. Come now, don't you agree that she is the queen of the world sinister?” (p. 167). With the brief appearance of the character of Celia Jones the novel gains some interest.

Soon afterwards, however, cheaper and less-effective Quisto-Boxes are made and sold, and it is not long before everyone has them, and society around the world becomes impossible. Lalage determines to save humanity by becoming its redemptress, destroying the supply of new Quisto-Boxes as well as the instructions for making more. To achieve this end, she murders Zaffrouli, and as the Quisto-Boxes already in use expire, the world returns to normal. Overall, this rather stodgily-written novel is primarily an unsuccessful mix of satire and cynicism.

An advertisement by the publisher at the rear of the book notes that Samuel is “an author well-known as a shrewd critic and writer of trenchant short stories.” Only a few short stories have been located. “Final Solution of the Sphinx” is the longest, and it appeared in The English Review (January 1921). Shorter tales include “On the Intellectual Plane” (The Egoist, February 1918) and the vignette “An Interesting Man” (The New Age, 14 October 1920).

Friday, November 22, 2019

Guest Post: Uncle Silas (1968) Location, by Gavin Selerie

I recently watched the version of Uncle Silas directed by Alan Cooke for TV (Mystery & Imagination series, 1968). I thought I hadn't seen it before but recognized in particular the performance by Patience Collier as Madame de la Rougierre, who conveys a twisted humour within menace. I now think I did see this at the National Film Theatre (BFI) years ago. It's quite an impressive version, though not as detailed as the more famous TV one with Peter O'Toole and Jane Lapotaire. Cooke plays up the melodrama but the central performance by Robert Eddison is superb and the atmosphere is well sustained throughout. Lucy Fleming as Maud displays a convincing innocence and naivety turning into horrified awareness. I note that the IMDB entry lacks any information about the location where it was filmed. I think there can be little doubt that at least the exterior and some of the internal scenes were shot at Horsley Towers in Surrey. This was the home counties residence of Earl and Lady (Ada) Lovelace. The arch which the carriage drives through from the courtyard and the lake in front of the Italian tower (east side) are unmistakeable. The rows of gothic windows seem to be further evidence that the Lovelace dwelling is the base site. I think the main staircase was  also used, although some further decorative detail may have been added. Finally, use is made of the Great Hall, with balcony or gallery. Perhaps some of the architecture was recreated in the studio, although it may well have been cheaper to film the entire thing on location. Interestingly, Horsley Towers was also used as the exterior location for The Stone Tape, a landmark of TV drama with script by Nigel Kneale, although in that case much less of the site is evident.

I visited Horsley Towers earlier this year, so my memory of the building and grounds is fresh. A poem I wrote afterwards, simply called 'Horsley Towers', appears in my recently published Collected Sonnets (Shearsman Books), which also features two outtakes from Le Fanu's Ghost, 'Stalking Grove' and 'Peep into a Whiskey-shop'.

 Gavin Selerie