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. 


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


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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Guest Post: The Abomination of Desolation in Machen’s “Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” by Dale Nelson

In an earlier article, I proposed that part of Clarke’s dream in the first chapter of Machen’s “Great God Pan” recalled the eve of the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction in AD 70, as recounted by the historian Flavius Josephus in The Jewish War, a book formerly well-known in Whiston’s translation.

Machen’s character Clarke dreamed of a voice that cried, “Let us go hence!” and the tome of Josephus reported that the priests heard a multitude of voices calling “Let us remove hence!” before the triumphant forces of Titus overthrew the Temple.  Clarke’s dream foreshadowed the sacrilegious violation of a young girl’s spiritual integrity because of a successful brain experiment.

I will argue that an account of the violation of an earlier Temple illuminates Machen’s theme.  Here again, Machen is (I suspect) drawing on an old book – this time, the Bible – that is much less a part of education, the arts, etc. today than formerly.

“‘When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation (spoken of by Daniel the prophet), stand in the holy place’ – whoso readeth, let him understand – ‘then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains’” (St. Matthew 24).  These words of Christ refer, in context, to the prophesied destruction of the Temple of Jesus’ day, the Second Temple, the taking of which by Roman soldiers about 40 years afterwards was described by Josephus. 

But the words allude also to the Old Testament book of Daniel 9:27 and 11:31, which the interested reader may look up.

However obscure these texts may be now, they were familiar to many when Machen was young.  I won’t attempt to summarize the reasons why the Daniel passages have been taken to have a twofold fulfillment, first at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled 175-164 BC, and then in AD 70.

Under the Seleucid king, the Temple was defiled: the king’s forces set up in it an idol of a pagan god, prevented the Israelite sacrifices from being offered, and may have polluted the altar with the blood of pigs.  Under the Emperor Vespasian, over 200 years later, the Temple was, again, subject to outrage.  In a war of appalling carnage, Titus ended the Jewish sacrifices and thrust the Roman standards into the sanctuary.

That, basically, is the historical meaning of “the abomination of desolation” or the “abomination that makes desolate.”  The hallowed place, sacred to God, is broken into, something sacred is lost or departs from it, and something unholy takes its place.

Readers of Machen’s horror stories will see the parallel I’m proposing.

The orphan girl Mary is violated; “the soul seemed struggling and shuddering within the house of flesh”; she is left a ruin, an “idiot” who dies before a year has passed.  But something horrible took possession of her body so that nine months later she gave birth to Helen Vaughan, with whose deplorable activities much of “The Great God Pan” is concerned.  When Helen is forced to kill herself, a ghastly corruption is revealed.

Likewise, in “The Inmost Light,” Dr. Black experiments on his innocent, consenting wife.  Black wrote that “from some human being there must be drawn that essence which men call the soul, and in its place (for in the scheme of the world there is no vacant chamber) – in its place would enter in what the lips can hardly utter, what the mind cannot conceive without a horror more awful than the horror of death itself.”  Black’s experiment is successful, and a Poesque mass of bubbling black corruption results.

In each story, an “abomination of desolation” follows upon violation.

Please note: I don’t say Machen wrote these stories intending that they would be interpreted as religious allegories, and, so far as I know, by and large they haven’t been.  He wrote more as a poet than as a mystic, much more as a poet than as a theologian, and much, much more as a poet than as a parson; to say which is not to disparage mystic, theologian, or parson.

Machen wanted to write tales of suspense, wonder, awe, and horror, and, so far as I know, for decades many readers have found these stories first rate of their kind.  The literary allusions I’ve expounded – if they are there – are part of the man’s artistry, and have worked mostly as undertones.

Except that, as Ovid, Josephus, and even the Bible have ceased to indwell many readers’ imaginations today, such readers might hardly sense those tones.

Machen may now be faulted by critics who lack the imaginative formation he and many of his readers shared.  For some of these critics, it’s too late to become naturalized to that country, that spacious, and almost lost, realm of the Greek and Latin classics, the Bible and religious tradition, the standard English authors such as Milton and Browne and Wordsworth.  In new Machen reprints, footnotes may identify some of his references and allusions, but few or no associations with personal formative imaginative experiences will be evoked in readers, because that formation didn’t happen.  To be told that the allusions are there is not to feel them as undertones as one reads the stories --.

When Machen treats of the human being positively, as a divine creation, though threatened by evil, the victims are female.  In my next article, I’ll discuss Machen’s variation, in which his emphasis is on the corruption lurking within fallen human nature.  There, the sufferer will be male.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Guest Post: Phyllis Paul: A Few Glimpses of Her Meaning by Dale Nelson

Miss Paul maintains a pervasive sense of mystery, even though much in her books may be mysterious only in the conventional sense, that is, mysterious until more information is gathered, which then resolves some of the questions that have accumulated. 

In her work mystery remains; it is as if, when the earthly mysterious has been cleared up, something of unearthly mystery remains untouched.  Her imagination tends to the quasi-Gnostic.  References to the Cathars (in The Lion of Cooling Bay) and so on suggest Miss Paul may have studied heterodox religious history. 

However, her ideas and her beliefs may have changed over time.  And whatever she believed at a given point, she may have borrowed elements of some system that she herself did not believe for its imaginative, literary possibilities. 

Here are some observations about matters of the spirit in Miss Paul’s fiction.

In the seven novels that I’ve read so far, Miss Paul allows only a weak connection between English religion and the world of the spirit.  She doesn’t seem interested in a thoroughgoing satire of parish religion, but nor does she endorse it. 

Thus, in Twice Lost, Christine’s mother, Mrs. Gray, maintains a spiritual atmosphere with Scripture texts on the wall at home and with feelings of spiritual communion that she cultivates.  And she is no fool; when Keith Antequin intrudes upon this atmosphere, she knows he is a fake.  Unfortunately, when elderly Thomas Antequin brought himself forward as a suitor for Christine’s hand, he seemed to Mrs. Gray a convenient – perhaps, fatally, a providential – protector for her troubled young daughter. 

Rachel in A Cage for the Nightingale is an Anglican happy with the round of parish life, but she doesn’t understand the more spiritual Victoria.

For Roman Catholicism Miss Paul has a strong aversion, which, as I understand, she particularly indulges in Pulled Down, which I haven’t read yet.  In Cage, several of the worst characters are Catholics. In Twice Lost, Thomas Antequin’s historical play concerns the Inquisition and the theme is cruelty. 

Detail from Breugel's Triumph of Death
Ricky in The Lion of Cooling Bay is attracted to Romanism and to sexual perversity. In the same novel, the narrator refers to the “torture-wheels of the Spanish devils” as painted by Bruegel (see his Triumph of Death), and the Catholic boy Francis dreams of a ceremony in which “the crowd was surrounded by a circle of lofty poles, each of which had a wheel fixed horizontally on its summit; objects which he felt he had seen before, perhaps in some old picture, without understanding their significance.”  (There is a curious reference, in Twice Lost, to a “clubbed tree [that] was crowned with a huge wheel” in a Kensington square.) 

Miss Paul worked within the Gothic tradition, where portrayals of Roman Catholic cruelty have a long pedigree.  However, the anti-Catholic curate Treadworthy, in Rox Hall Illuminated, is rather creepy.

Miss Paul evinces some respect for certain 17th-century Protestant authors who had a keen sense of the reality of spiritual evil.  In A Cage for the Nightingale, Victoria’s imagination was “darkly stirred” when, as a child, she read Hall, Baxter, and Browne. 

Richard Baxter, the Puritan, quoted Bishop Joseph Hall about “Satan’s prevalency in this age” being evident from the numbers of witches.  (Hall is better known for his Anglican Neostoicism.)
Baxter may still be remembered for The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, which has a section on ghosts, and was also author of The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits.  And Consequently of the Immortality of Souls.  Of the Malice and Misery of the Devils, and the Damned.  And of the Blessedness of the Justified.  Fully Evinced by the Unquestionable Histories of Apparitions, Operations, Witchcrafts, Voices, &c.  Written as an Addition to Many Other Treatises, for the Conviction of Sadduces [sic] and Infidels (1691). 

Sir Thomas Browne is best known for Urn Burial and especially Religio Medici, wherein the point is made that it is not in the devil’s interest to reveal himself to those who profess disbelief in the devil and in God.

The devil is a dreadful presence – seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) -- in The Lion of Cooling Bay.  Anne described to William a drawing she saw in Julian’s room, with a great shadow on the landscape, and an inscription naming “The Lion – the King of beasts – God of this world – Ruler of the darkness of this world.”

With particular clarity, A Cage for the Nightingale exhibits a threefold Gnostic-type spirituality.

1.Most of the characters are examples of the sarkikos anthropos, the fleshly person.  They are concerned with this world, its silly or base pleasures, its bogus values.  Herve, Tonine, Janet, Pat, Maurice, and Constantine belong to this category. 

2.Rachel is an example of the psychikos anthropos, the soulish person.  She isn’t worldly like the fleshly characters.  She has some awareness of spiritual reality in sometimes detecting sinister atmosphere, and she is intrigued by Victoria, who is on a higher spiritual level than herself.  Miss Paul makes Rachel an artist who draws without genius.  She would like to go to a Christmas Eve service.  Gnostics would see Christians such as Rachel as satisfied by family life and a conventional religion inadequate for finer spirits.

3.Much-tormented Victoria is the exemplar of the pneumatic or spiritual person.  Though she has felt that she is “all light inside,” she is the imprisoned nightingale, fluttering against the bars of the cage – that is, the trammels of earthly embodiment.  Unlike Rachel’s drawings, Victoria’s artwork has an impressive, real quality.  Paul uses art as a symbol of spiritual life. 

In Gnosticism, God exists but is remote from this world.  As Victoria says, “‘The fall of a sparrow!  God sees it and lets it fall.’”

The phenomenal world hides the realm of spirit, which is associated with light, e.g. in The Lion of Cooling Bay with sunlight burning through leaves.

Christine in Twice Lost thinks of God as absent in one’s time of spiritual anguish – not nonexistent, but not concerned. 

Christine is a superb study, from a classic Lutheran point of view, of a person bowed down under the “curse of the Law.” The two great commandments are to love God with all one’s heart and mind and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself. 

Christine knows that she did fail the unattractive, unwinsome little girl Vivian Lambert, when she didn’t wait to make sure the child got inside her house late one evening, but left her on the doorstep.  She is haunted by part of this passage (St. Matthew 18:6): whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Vivian disappeared and was presumed to have been murdered.  Thereafter, Christine suffers, a prisoner of inner condemnation.  She deals with her guilt in two ways, by doing good works (she is a volunteer at a clinic for the poor, as I recall) and by hoping desperately that Vivian didn’t die, but only disappeared; if Vivian didn’t die, then she, Christine, is not guilty of her death.  There is no suggestion in the novel that she could have opened her tormented heart to a pastor and received the comfort of Gospel absolution, the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.

A severe spirituality – characterized by Glen Cavaliero as “steely puritanism” -- is integral to the atmosphere and meaning of the novels discussed here.  It deserves further exploration.
Note: I consulted Edwyn Bevan’s Symbolism and Belief for a discussion of Gnosticism’s threefold anthropology.  Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest is often issued in abridged form without the section on ghosts – which I know of but haven’t seen.

© 2019 Dale Nelson

Saturday, November 9, 2019

R.I.P. Glen Cavaliero 1927-2019

I'm saddened to report on the passing of poet and literary critic Glen Cavaliero at the age of 92. He is perhaps best-known for his scholarship on John Cowper Powys, and Charles Williams, though readers of Wormwoodiana will honor him for his championing of the neglected novelist Phyllis Paul.  I first learned of Phyllis Paul in Cavaliero's fine book, The Supernatural and English Fiction (Oxford University Press, 1995), in which he devoted part of a chapter to Paul's novels. Cavaliero also published two of his volumes of poetry with Tartarus Press, Steeple on the Hill (1997) and The Justice of the Night (2007), and contributed to Wormwood and wrote introductions for the Tartarus Press editions of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Three Miles Up (2003) and Robert Aickman's Dark Entries (2011). 

I've seen a few obituaries so far, one by his college here, and another a the The Powys Society webpage here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Montague Summers's Ghost Stories

After Montague Summers died in August 1948, a number of his manuscripts and personal papers disappeared, including (it was believed) the manuscript of Six Ghost Stories, which Summers had listed in a Who's Who entry for 1938 as having been published in 1937. Of course it hadn't been published in 1937, and the reference remained a tantalizing bibliographical ghost for the next several decades.

Tantalizing, especially because of Summers's clear knowledge of the whole ghost story field, as evidenced in his three anthologies of such stories, The Supernatural Omnibus (Gollancz, September 1931; the US edition from Doubleday, Doran, March 1932, has different contents)*, Victorian Ghost Stories (Fortune Press, October 1933; no US edition), and The Grimoire and Other Supernatural  Stories (Fortune Press, November 1936; no US edition). All three anthologies have extensive introductions by Summers. And the first anthology reportedly went through multiple printings in both England and America.  Yet in the third one, Summers also included, under his own name, a ghost story entitled "The Grimoire," as well as another he had written, "The Man on the Stairs," published anonymously.  "The Grimoire" is excellent, and "The Man on the Stairs" pretty good, so there would be considerable interest in a volume of Sunmmers's own ghost stories.

A bunch (but not all) of Summers's missing manuscripts and papers turned up about a decade ago in Canada. The whole story is told in an article "The Manuscripts of Montague Summers, Revisited" by Gerard O'Sullivan, published in The Antagonish Review, Fall 2009.  In brief, Summers had left the papers to his live-in companion, Hector Stuart-Forbes, who in turn died in 1950, and whose brother retrieved the papers and shipped them to Canada where he lived. And thus they passed out of public knowledge. The archive was later sold to Georgetown University.

Now, at last, Six Ghost Stories has ceased being a bibliographical ghost and become an actual book, published by Snuggly Books in trade paperback (Amazon UK listing here;  Amazon US listing here), with an introduction by Daniel Corrick. This edition is based on a hand-written manuscript in the Georgetown archive. It includes the two Summers stories mentioned above ("The Grimoire" and "The Man on the Stairs") and four more which have never been published before, and a short introduction by Summers. Being based on manuscript versions, the texts of the two previously published stories are thus slightly different.  (A "Note on the Text" rather confusingly circles around these facts, but I think I've got it sorted out correctly.  The Note reads, in part, "The current versions of those stories, therefore, presented in the current volume, have been significantly amended, comparing the previously published versions to the original hand-written version and, in the case of 'The Man on the Stairs', to an existing typescript as well.")

The four newly published stories have some fine moments, as well as some exasperating ones (e.g., some instances of run-on dialogue, like one passage stretching out over four pages in "The Governess") but none challenge "The Grimoire" in terms of quality.  It's good to have the chance to read this volume at last, though some modern readers might find the prose a bit too Victorian. Summers's own introduction notes his preference in stories against the beneficent ghost and for Spirits that are "no kindly commonplace apparitions but veritable powers of darkness, grisly evil things of terror and dread and doom."

The editorial introduction, however, is barely adequate. It give no account of the discovery of the Summers papers in Canada, deferring the reader to a forthcoming second volume of Summers's fiction, and then refers the reader to Gerard O'Sullivan's article without saying when or where it was published. (Fortunately, I already had a photocopy in my files.)  The title of the second forthcoming volume is given as The Bride of Christ and Other Fictions, and the title story is subsequently described as a "Catholic symbolist novella" without the additional information found in O'Sullivan's article that its sixty pages of holograph manuscript "appears to be unfinished because it lacks a signed and dated colophon page," something found in other Summers manuscripts. The introduction also notes that "Six Ghost Stories does not represent the entirety of Summers' ghost oeuvre." One wonder if some other organization of the two volumes of Summers's fiction might have been better.

Some curious statements are also made about the manuscript. We read that from "recently discovered correspondence, we learn that [M.R.] James himself read and commented favorably on the collection in draft form." M.R. James died in June 1936, so how does one square this with the statement that "addresses given on some of the manuscripts allow us to date its completion to the last part of the '30s, although the stories originated at the very least a few years earlier."  What addresses on the manuscripts?  Are they just submission addresses?  It seems likely that Summers had completed the stories by the time he submitted his Who's Who entry for the 1938 volume, which would have been published sometime in 1937. Summers likely had the already-named volume done by early 1937, if not at least a year earlier for it to be shown to M.R. James. (And certainly two of the stories appeared in the November 1936 publication of his third and final ghost story anthology.) Probably Summers expected Six Ghost Stories to be published by the Fortune Press, who had published his second and third ghost stories anthologies in 1933 and 1936. Summers first met R.A. Caton, the niggardly and eccentric owner of the Fortune Press, in February 1927, and through 1940 he published seven books with the Fortune Press, but he had planned or even completed other volumes for the press that never appeared (like Summers's edition of A Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft, by William Perkins, which Summers had similarly and optimistically listed as published in 1934 in his Who's Who entry for 1935.)  Presumably after his failure with getting the Fortune Press to publish Six Ghost Stories, Summers is known to have offered it in late March 1939 to the very short-lived firm Laidlaw and Laidlaw (initially Laidlaw and Butchart), an eccentric publisher of fantasy and modernism that managed to release eleven books in 1938 and early 1939 before dissolving. (My article on Laidlaw and Laidlaw is forthcoming.) After the Second World War began, Summers apparently kept the manuscript to himself.

Whatever the case, we can now read the former bibliographical ghost, Six Ghost Stories. And I look forward to the follow-up volume.

* The UK edition has 38 stories, the US edition 36. They have thirty stories in common, with eight appearing only in the UK edition, and six appearing only in the US edition.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Remembering T.M. Wright with Two New Books

T.M. Wright died four years ago, on Halloween morning of 2015, at the age of 68.  He was the author of thirty-some books, most of which were novels, some of which were novellas, and one was a grab-all collection of his short stories, poems and art, called Bone Soup (2010).

P.S. Publishing has just released two volumes of Wright's works edited by Steven Savile. One is a collection, The Best of T.M. Wright, and the other is a short novel based on a final project Wright attempted some years before his death, as his health gave way to Parkinson's Disease. This last project was called by Wright The Prison and has now appeared, retitled Mallam Cross, as a posthumous collaboration with Savile. I shall have more to say about it in a future post. Both new volumes are very attractively produced, with cover art by David Gentry.

Bone Soup consisted of some thirteen stories and twenty poems, Wright's fine late novel, Cold House (2003), slightly revised and with the original introduction by Jack Ketchum, plus some fifteen interior illustrations by Wright (one of which also served as the dust-wrapper art). Bone Soup was commissioned by the publisher Cemetery Dance around 2005, and first announced for publication in 2006. A galley was produced in 2007, but the finished book did not come out until October 2010, and then only in an edition limited to 750 signed copies.

The Best of T.M. Wright is basically a kind of revised edition of Bone Soup, but with some notable changes (including what appears to be a random reordering of the materials). First, all of the artwork is dropped. Second, nineteen of the twenty poems from Bone Soup reappear here, but they are inexplicably reformatted as short prose pieces. (Why the poem "I Ask" from Bone Soup was omitted I can't guess.) And the novel Cold House has been removed and replaced with Sally Pinup (2010), a novella originally published as a trade paperback limited to 150 numbered copies. This replacement is unfortunate, for while Cold House deserves a place in a collection entitled The Best of T.M. Wright, Sally Pinup probably does not. This points to the inapplicability  of the use of "Best of" in the title.  For the collection isn't really a "Best of" book--just a compilation of things by Wright that editor Savile seems to have known about.

All thirteen short stories from Bone Soup are reprinted in the new volume, with one welcome addition, a forty-three page story called "Otto's Conundrum," previously unpublished.  This was originally written circa 2006 or 2007 (Savile is not very clear about dates), for a shared-world anthology conceived by Savile that was to be titled Monster Noir, about a place "where all of those monsters we grew up loving were real, and had been hidden away in an enclosure in the Nevada desert, victims of the Monster Alienation Act passed by Nixon" (quoted from Savile's Introduction, p. viii). The anthology never sold, but it's very good to have this story as an addition to Wright's canon.

Savile also claims in his Introduction that "there are no more lost T.M. Wright stories waiting to be discovered. This is it, right here, in this collection, the rarest thing, the last original and previously unpublished T.M. Wright story" (p. viii). This is a bold-faced error. Wright was generous to his friends and family with his manuscripts. I myself know of two early unpublished short novels, The Crows and The Walking Stick, and a long short story "The Collage." Plus there is the original version of what became his first novel, Strange Seed, which was set in the late 1800s and titled Nursery Tale (a title which Wright later used on his third novel, the first sequel to Strange Seed), and additionally there is the screenplay of Strange Seed that Wright wrote in the late 1980s (the attempted revision of which in 2009-2010 was among his final projects). Wright also handmade small booklets of his writings for family members. Who knows what else might be out there?

Savile seems to have known Wright, mostly via email (with Savile living in Sweden and Wright in upstate New York), from around 2005 through 2012, when Wright's illnesses really took over. Savile, in the afterword to Mallam Cross, notes that at this time Wright was "too sick to write, blind now"--but this was not usual blindness but cataract problems.  Wright had each eye fixed, one in late 2012 the other in early 2013, and was able to see again.  But what the Parkinson's was doing to the rest of his body did not bring back the ability to write.

The "Story Credits" at the end of the book are unreliable, missing out on a number of first appearances. Savile also missed a number of published stories, so one wonders whether he didn't know about them, or whether he deliberately left them out. These include "After Dunkirk"  (2007), "The Blue-Faced Man" (2008), "Fog Boy" (2010), "The Lost Woman" (1997), "A Moment at the House" (2011), "Murder Victim"  (2007), "The Puzzle Maker" (2007), and "Welded" (a collaboration with Tom Piccirilli that was published in early 2014, though it reads much more like Piccirilli than Wright). Two of the above stories appeared in Postscripts, published by P.S. Publishing, so one would think that Savile would have had access to them.

Another notable omission from the book is Wright's essay "The Stuff of Horror, Or Gray Matter All over the Inside of Your Skull" (American Fantasy, Summer 1987), which is almost a personal manifesto for Wright's own approach to horror. It would have served as a great introduction (or even as an afterword) to balance the collection of his short fiction with Wright's own views on the making of his art.

All in all, it's great to see some of Wright's writings made available again in printed form. But sadly I think this collection could have been better curated. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Guest Post: Sacrilege: Machen’s Probable Allusion to Josephus in “The Great God Pan” by Dale Nelson

In an earlier article, I seemed to imply that Christian elements don’t appear in Machen’s “Great God Pan” until the second chapter. 

Some readers probably thought that the submission of Dr. Raymond’s virginal ward Mary gains pathos from her bearing the name of the Blessed Virgin and therefore from the way her submission to the scientist’s heartless wishes so tragically and so ironically suggests the Virgin’s gracious “Be it unto me according to thy word” in response to the angelic Annunciation.  Of course this is true.

But even before Mary’s entrance in “The Experiment,” the first chapter of “The Great God Pan,” there appears a passage that, for some of Machen’s early readers, may have sounded a Christian undertone and subtly enhanced their sense of the sacrilege about to occur.

Shortly before Mary steps into Dr. Raymond’s laboratory, his friend Clarke falls asleep.  In the earlier article, I quoted a portion of that dream, which described a dreadful “presence” that confronts the dream-Clarke, and I suggested that Machen is recalling a passage from Ovid about the peril of meeting Pan at noonday. 

Now I give the next sentence:  “And in that moment, the sacrament of body and soul was dissolved, and a voice seemed to cry, ‘Let us go hence,’ and then the darkness of darkness beyond the stars, the darkness of everlasting,” and Clarke awakens.

Well, “sacrament” sounds a Christian note, but it’s that cry of “Let us go hence” that I want to unpack, at least partially, in a moment.  I’m going to refer to an author whose two major books – Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War -- were once familiar presences in the homes of many English-speaking people and in church and school libraries.

I’ve asserted that, for the understanding of Machen -- upon whose knowledge of esoteric, rare books some of his admirers like to dwell -- it’s often helpful to consider what were once widely recognized, readily available books (but that now are probably known to few).

I’m certain that William Whiston’s 18th-century translation of the ancient historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37-ca. 100) is one of these now nearly forgotten works that were once common.

For example, Coleridge considered writing an epic poem on the siege and fall of Jerusalem (letter to Hugh Rose, 25 Sept. 1816), the great subject of Josephus’s The Jewish War.  Thomas de Quincey cites Josephus in “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” 

John Buchan mentioned Scott’s aunt alternating her reading of the Bible with Josephus.  Buchan called him “that portentous author from whom few Scottish children in older days escaped” (Sir Walter Scott, 1932, pp. 29-30). 

Overlapping with Machen’s time, G. A. Henty (1832-1902) produced an abundance of popular historical novels for youngsters, which included For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem (Blackie, 1888). 

The publisher’s advertisement said: “Few boys have failed to find the story of the revolt of the Jews of thrilling interest when once brought to their notice; but there has hitherto been little choice between sending them to books of history and supplying them with insipid fictional transcripts of the story.  Mr. Henty supplies a distinct want in this regard, weaving into the record of Josephus an admirable and attractive plot,” etc.  (This advertisement, which had no need to identify Josephus,  appeared at he back of an 1888 reprint of MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie.) 

Henty’s preface for his boy readers says, “the narrative of Josephus, an eye-witness of the events which he describes, has come down to us; and it is the storehouse from which all subsequent histories of the events have been drawn.”

I would be surprised if the rectory in which Machen grew up did not contain Josephus’s works.  Whiston’s Josephus was well known when “The Experiment” was published in The Whirlwind in 1890.

Josephus was prized for his detailed account of the Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 66) and the ensuing destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, prophesied by Christ in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). 

In The Jewish War, Josephus writes:
in the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence." 
Although Josephus was the son of a Temple priest, he had opposed the doomed Jewish revolt against Rome.  He probably took “Let us remove hence” as one of the supernatural warnings to the Jews to flee from Jerusalem before it was too late. 

That cry might also be taken as having signaled the departure of the divine Presence from the Temple.  That “us” could be an imperative in accordance with the royal second-person grammar.  Moreover, for Christian readers, the plural could suggest the Persons of the Trinity.  That the voice is divine is the interpretation that may have recommended itself to Machen, if his “Let us go hence” is, as I suspect, an echo of Josephus.

Like the weird aerial phenomena recorded by Josephus, Clarke’s dream certainly foreshadows an imminent violation, in this case the violation that Mary will suffer.  Clarke’s dreaming consciousness might be drawing upon his memory of Josephus’s narrative of the destruction of the Second Temple, that is, the “house of the Lord,” as the First Temple, that of Solomon, had been called (1 Kings 5-8).  Dr. Raymond confesses, in the novella’s final sentences, that, for Mary, the “house of life [had been] thrown open.” 

I have more to say about Machen and the Temple, but will conclude for now by asking the reader: if “Let us go hence” does not allude to Josephus’s account of the destruction of the Temple, what does it mean?  Is there any other explanation that so well conveys the sense of the profound violation of a human being made in the image of God (as Machen believed), of the sacrilege, that is about to occur? 

(c) Dale Nelson


The Josephus passage may be accessed here.

De Quincey’s “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” with the Josephus reference, is here.

In 1902, Rider Haggard’s romance Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem was published.  On the eve of the destruction of the Temple, the heroine, Miriam, feels that “in the midst of this unnatural quiet Jehovah was withdrawing Himself from the house where His Spirit dwelt,” and then the narrator refers to the Roman general Titus entering even “the Holy of Holies itself … nor, since God had departed His habitation, did any harm come to him” despite his looting of the golden candlesticks (Chapter 18).

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