Monday, May 27, 2013

Le Visage Vert issue no. 21

My apologies for the late notice, but I do want to spread the news that issue number 21 of Le Visage Vert came out late last year. As always, it's a beautiful production. Writers represented range from the older John Bedoit (1829-1870), Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), Marcel Schwob (1867-1905), Richard Marsh (1857-1915), and Bodo Wildberg (1862-1942), to the contemporary Nicholas Royle (b. 1963). The Hearn story is from Kwaidan. The Schwob story is from The King in the Golden Mask.  Richard Marsh's tale, "The Mask", includes illustrations from its appearance in The Gentleman's Magazine, December 1892 (the story was later collected in Marvels and Mysteries). Nicholas Royle's story, "The Lure", is translated from it's appearance in The End of the Line: An Anthology of Underground Horror (2010), edited by Jonathan Oliver. Michel Meurger contributes a long essay "Le Secret du masque", setting up the major theme for the issue. To order, visit this website and scroll down to find the issues of Le Visage Vert. Recommended. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rex Ryan addendum

Further to the post below, Rex Ryan's granddaughter, Elspeth Caton, discovered the following fascinating newspaper article, probably from the Fleetwood Chronicle.  The date is uncertain, but judging from the evidence of other articles in the clipping, it appears to date to about May 1926.

The relevant section of the article reads: "Next week the company [The Fleetwood Palace Stock Co.] will present "David Garrick." The rare comedy of this famous play should endear it to every patron of "Our home of drama." The production will witness the return to Fleetwood of Rex Ryan, who will be remembered as a member of last year's dramatic company. Mr Ryan will be the David Garrick, as well as the producer of the play. He has had a unique experience in repertory of every kind, including all Shakespeare's plays. He is himself an author, not only of many successful plays, but of two or three novels of which the best known is "The Tyranny of Virtue," a best-seller in Australia and by no means unknown in this country."

So it appears there are still a couple of Rex Ryan novels to be found.  Kudos to the first person to discover these books!

A note of caution, though - I'm not sure that The Tyranny of Virtue was a bestseller in Australia - there are only two references to it in the NLA's digitised Australian newspapers - for the copies sent to The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Argus. And no copy exists at any library in the UK, which might suggest it is unknown in this country!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rex Ryan/ R.R. Ryan

A useful resource I wasn't aware of until today is The Stage Archive, with searchable digitised images of the long running theatrical advertiser, The Stage Directory.  Unfortunately it's not free to use, and the search engine isn't necessarily accurate in picking up names, however there is a wealth of material including some references to Rex Ryan, better known as the cult 1930s thriller writer, R.R. Ryan.  Using the Stage Archive it is possible to trace  the activities of Ryan and his wife, Anne, who used the stage name Pauline Duke.

The first reference I could track was an advertisement dated 29 October 1925: "Wanted to let, unproduced farce, small cast, simple scenery. One big scream. Suit St. Char. Com. - Ryan, 78, Clarendon Rd, C.-on-M., Manchester."

Next is an advertisement from 5 November 1925, which confirms their address in Manchester:
Unexpectedly disengaged and looking for work. Perhaps to save a few pennies they refer to themselves as R.R. and P.D. A similar advertisement with the same address appears in the next issue, dated 12 November 1925.

The next reference is dated 8 July 1926 and refers to a play of Mary Roberts Rinehart's, The Bat, put on by Stephen C. Venner's Venner Repertory Co. at the Rotherham Repertory. According to the reviewer "The audience liked, too, the acting of Mr Rex Ryan as Dr Wells." On 2 December 1926 at the same venue, the Venner Repertory Co opened with "If Winter Comes" and Rex Ryan was one of the principals.

The following year, Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke started their own company, the Imperial Players.  They were advertising for small-part actors and a stage carpenter in July 1927. (Interestingly,  in October 1930, The Stage describes the court case of a stage carpenter named William Lawrence Thompson. Amongst his other offences is the following: "For a short time in 1928 Thompson was employed as a stage carpenter by a Miss Pauline Duke, of Kidderminster. In August, 1928, he was given instructions by Miss Duke to take care of scenery, and was handed sums of money to pay for haulage and the company's railway fares to Rugby. He adsconded with both amounts, and also stole gramophone records valued at 7 pounds, the property of Miss Duke.")

On 8 December 1927 the Imperial Players presented "Lady Windermere's Fan" at the Royal at Castleford (which was managed by Ryan's former colleague at Venner's Repertory Co, Rex R. Stewart), with Rex Ryan playing Lord Windermere.  The review says that "The Mad Doctor" will be presented tonight."  One week later the Imperial Players presented "Ashes of Virtue" at the Royal.  The reviewer notes that "Rex Ryan gave an excellent characterisation of the Jew," and goes on to say that "Pauline Duke was charming as Peace Meredith." The review goes on to say that "The Black Triangle" will be presented during the week.  On 22 December, also at the Royal, the Imperial Players put on "The Mystery of Mrs Drew," with Pauline Duke in the title role.

Early in 1928 the Imperial Players are at the Royal in Worthing, near Brighton, where Ryan seems to have been manager.  He advertises for players in April, with rehearsals on 24 April. The address for prospective players is Manager, 28 Grafton Rd, Worthing.

On 12 July 1928 the Imperial Players presented "The Volga Boatman" at the Royal and Empire in Peterborough, with Rex Ryan as the Boatman and Pauline Duke as Princess Paula.  On 19 July they played at the Alexandra in Pontefract, with Ryan giving "an excellent representation of Carol, the boatman," and Pauline Duke playing Princess Paula "with dignity." On 9 August they were at the Kidderminster Opera House and on 30 August at the Royal at Bilston.

On 4 October 1928 they are advertising for players again, this time the contact is DUKE, 3 Willow Cottages, West St, Brighton. This was the address of Zoe Elsworthy (ie Mrs Adderley Howard), the mother of Pauline Duke (ie Anne Ryan), who passed away at that address on 18 March 1936.

However, on 2 May 1929 the follow advertisement appeared: "Wanted to sell.  All the successes of the recently disbanded Imperial Players. 'The Volga Boatman.' Refer Barnsley, Worthing, Percy B. Broadhead, Bognor, Peterborough, Lincoln, Doncaster, Rugby, Lidderminster, W.H. Glaze, Scunthorpe, S.C. Venner etc etc. An entire repertoire of real money-makers for a song: 'The Black Triangle,' 'A Cry in the Night,' 'The Demon,' 'Ashes of Virtue,' 'Mystery of Two-Gun Jules,' 'The Trap,' 'The Capital Change." Anyone interested is asked to write to the AUTHOR, 96 Victoria St., Fleetwood, Lancashire.

On 8 August 1929, Rex Ryan's own play, "The Mandarin Wong Koo" (licensed as "Yellow Vengeance") was presented at the Palace in Trent Bridge and reviewed in The Stage:

 The review goes on to say that "Mr Atholl-Douglas gave a fine impersonation of the Mandarin Wong Koo, observing throughout an impressive restraint. Mr J. Templar Ellis supplied a contrast with a telling embodiment of the frenzied Pearson, whose distraught state was graphically portrayed. Miss Maureen O'Mara sounded the emotional note with skill and judgment as Miriam, and Mr Noel Mackintosh supplied acceptable comic relief to the tension by his good-humoured rendering of the role of Dr James. Mr R. Clifford Holmes convincingly indicated the subtlety of Yen Ling with whom Miss Lesley Deane as Grace Lewis played her scene admirably. Miss Lily Adeson was a capital San Ming Lee, and Mr Harold Baker did well as the porter. The piece is crude, but its sensational theme and exciting situations invest it with appeal as an attraction for popular audiences. It had an unmistakably hearty reception."

On 31 October 1929 Rex Ryan is advertising the play, spruiking its obvious virtues:

Again, the contact address is Zoe Elsworthy's.  He must have had some success because The Burnley Times of 24 June 1931 advertises The Mandarin Wong Koo "by Rex Ryan", which is being staged at the Victoria Theatre by the Julian and Ward Players.

In 1930 Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke were in Ireland.  On 12 June the Empire Players present "Heart of a Thief" at the  Empire in Belfast with Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke acting in it. On 17 July the Empire Stock Company presents "Ignorance" at the same venue.  According to the reviewer, "Rex Ryan as the Rev. Frank Hastings is natural in all he does," and "Pauline Duke is a restrained and finished Mary Martin."  In 19 June the pair were performing in "Under Two Flags," the popular Harry Collingwood novel; on 31 July, "Beggers on Horseback," on 14 August, "A Sinner in Paradise," and on 4 September, "When the Man is Away."

By 13 November 1930 they are in Liverpool advertising for once again for work: "Pauline Duke and Rex Ryan. Dis. Leads. General Manmgt. 165, Islington, Liverpool."

From this point I haven't found Rex Ryan mentioned in The Stage, though there may well be references I've missed. Presumably Rex and Anne settled in Brighton and Rex started writing novels.

It's also worth noting a reference on 20 September 1928 to a play called "Stone the Woman!"  The reviewer calls it "a strong, outspoken play based on the novel, "Tyranny of Virtue" by Noel Despard. A good house on Monday greeted the play with enthusiasm."  Rex Ryan is known to have written "Tyranny of Virtue" under the name Noel Despard.

The British Newspaper Archive has a couple of references to "Stone the Woman!" - the Derby Daily Telegraph of 11 August 1926 says "Mr Alfred Denville has secured the rights to "Stone the Woman!" by Noel Despard from Mr Leonard Harrison who produced and toured the piece. Mr Harrison, I believe is part author of the play in addition."  It is worth noting that Harrison ran a repertory company with Stephen C. Venner from 1924 to January 1925 - as we have seen, in 1926 Rex Ryan was one of the principals in Venner's repertory company.

There is also an advertisement for the play, showing at the Grand Theatre, Plymouth, in The Western Morning and Mercury dated 14 April 1927, "by Noel Despard, author of the daring novel The Tyranny of Virtue."

Friday, May 10, 2013

R.I.P. - Roger Dobson, author and bookman

I am sorry to report the very sad news that Roger Alan Dobson, author, journalist and bookman of Oxford, has died. He was the co-editor, with me, of several booklets about Arthur Machen, of Aklo, the journal of the fantastic, and The Lost Club Journal (devoted to neglected writers). He also wrote radio plays, including a successful BBC Radio 4 production about the Kingdom of Redonda, the Caribbean literary realm associated with M.P. Shiel and John Gawsworth, which fascinated him: in recognition of his work here, Spanish novelist Javier Marias ennobled him in his Redondan court as the Duke of Bridaespuela .

Roger was proud of his Manchester upbringing, and wrote a study of Ann Lee, the Manchester Messiah, about a local prophetess. He was a regular contributor to the Antiquarian Book Monthly Review (ABMR) on recondite literary subjects, including one article which made out the case that Sherlock Holmes must have gone to a Manchester college. This exhibited the sense of mischief Roger often brought to bookish matters: he was also implicated, with his friend the bookseller Rupert Cook, in the letters and writings of the hoax poet (who showed signs of coming alive), C.W. Blubberhouse. He also contributed lively and learned material to Colin Langeveld's Doppelganger Broadsheet, sometimes as the querulous 'Professor Herbert Trufflehunter'.

I came to know Roger in the early Nineteen Eighties when I was told he was an enthusiast of Arthur Machen, whose work I discovered at the age of seventeen. This proved to be a considerable under-statement. Roger knew more about Machen than anyone else I ever met, and between us we started a modest campaign to revive interest in him, which was at a low ebb in the early Eighties. We met or corresponded with many who had known Machen, including his son Hilary and daughter Janet, and close friends such as Colin Summerford and Oliver Stonor: in time, we found others who were intent on celebrating him, leading to the Machen societies, journals and other publications since. Roger wrote the Machen entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, after rightly arguing for his inclusion: edited John Gawsworth's biography of Machen; co-edited Machen's Selected Letters (with Godfrey Brangham and R.A. Gilbert, 1988); and contributed to Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen, with illuminating essays on Machen mysteries. A checklist of his writings is in preparation.

But Machen was far from Roger’s only literary interest: he was immensely well-read, and talked charmingly and with infectious enthusiasm about many other, especially semi-forgotten, figures. For some years he and I would meet in Oxford, where Roger had a bedsit at 50, St John Street, a former home of Tolkien, and have long talks about books and authors who ought to be revived. Roger’s special passion after Machen was George Gissing, whom I then did not quite get (I suppose because he was insufficiently ‘like’ Machen): but he insisted on the wonder of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, and I have recently come to see why: how I wish I could tell him.

Roger had been a journalist in Manchester and Bristol, and still occasionally did freelance work, but (like Machen) he came to dislike this, and preferred to write on literary themes. However, he never lost the journalistic knack of knocking on doors to elicit information, when he wanted to pursue a writer’s homes and haunts, which included Machen’s house in the Chilterns (then owned, to Roger’s delight, by a gentleman with the Welsh kingly name of Cadwallader); and the grave of the alchemist Thomas Vaughan in an obscure Oxford village (“the graveyard plan is on the back of a cornflakes packet”, the sexton told us).

Roger was a very private man: though I was among his closest friends in those Machenstruck days, I never learnt very much about him, except his bookish enthusiasms. He was devoted to literature and, as with Machen and Gissing, it seldom rewarded him materially: but it gave him rarer things; the joys of scholarship, shared discoveries, and the stubborn integrity of a proud spirit.

Mark Valentine

Below: Roger Dobson (right), with other Machen friends, striding off down the old lane from Llanddewi Fach to Llanfrechfa, a favourite walk of Machen's (photographs: Iain Smith).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rain Instruments

“Quaint, but strangely beautiful…”
(Rosemary Pardoe, editor of Ghosts & Scholars, on Rain Instruments)

Rain Instruments is a book of found poems created by Mark Valentine from an Edwardian weather survey (British Rainfall 1910), recalling a lost time of country house amateurs in whimsical pursuit of a typically British preoccupation: rain measurement. Here is a selection of poignant, stoical, strange and surprising phrases selected and arranged to form a new work that readers have found “poetic,“intriguing”,“fascinating” and even “exciting”.

Jo Valentine’s design for this palm-of-the-hand volume features a mosaic of images taken from the original rainfall book, and it is made using a traditional long stitch binding. Each copy, in a limited hand-made edition of 25, comes with a bookmark showing an individual rain gauge reading from the survey: it might be from Miss Usborne at The House, Writtle; from Mrs Story Maskelyne at Basset Down House; from the gauge of Captain Ching, R.N. of Launceston; or from another of the keen individuals and institutions that sent in their records.

Note - Rain Instruments has previously been published in a limited electronic edition only. This is the first book publication, slightly revised.

Update - all copies have now been taken. A new title will be announced when ready.