Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Famous Ghosts of Literature

I'd forgotten all about this ghostly article by legendary Melbourne book dealer and Penny Bloods collector, John P. Quaine. It also appeared in The Argus, in January 1938, and mentions Roy Bridges' A Mirror of Silver at the end.

Queer Tales of Witches, Vampires, Ghouls, Banshees, -and Doppel-gangers

"Like one that on a lonesome road doth
walk in fear and dread,
And, having once looked round, goes
on and turns no more his head,
Because he knows a frightful fiend
doth close behind him tread!"

It is no use any longer disguising the unwelcome truth that we are living in an age of terror. I am not alluding to any of the numerous political and social worries over which the world weeps at present, but to another and (from the bookman's point of view) more unwholesome development.

Leering at us from every bookstall to-day is a bewildering array of ephemera devoted solely to alleged tales of terror, horror, and associated frightfulness. In every case the coloured wrapper is garnished with the portrayal of a fear smitten maiden in the clutches of a ghoul-like creature busily engaged in putting her to death by some unimaginable method of maltreatment.
It is only just to mention that the terror goes no further than the wrapper. The "nerve-jolting tales" describe the menace of unearthly love-makers. Usually the heroine takes a midnight stroll through a lonely, forest, crosses a glade, and encounters a select company of the "undead dead" dancing merrily on the moon-kissed sward. She discovers, of course, that they are not nice people to know.

These tales, so unutterably wearying in their straining after thrills, add nothing to the world's ghost-lore, and they are merely conducive to profanity. Students of the uncanny in literature positively refuse to enthuse over the antics of corybantic cadavers.

No simple scribbler can write a readable ghost story. Like an effective painting, it has to be the work of an artist. Surrealism in the field of the phantom is out of place. The Rev. Montague Summers, the world's greatest authority on terrific literature, avers that only those who believe in ghosts can write about them properly.

This is a somewhat debatable point. H. G. Wells and other writers who scout the idea of supernaturalism have produced some excellent ghost stories. The authors of such narratives, like the ever increasing army of people who collect them, are men and women of all shades of belief - or none at all. The ghost story enthusiasts, whether they believe in veritable psychic phenomena and are familiar with the activities of the doppel-ganger, polter-geist, wraith, or revenant, or, on the other hand, laugh at such manifestations as subjective hallucination ("plain hooey," in modern American), are united in their appreciation of the story-as a story.

So we of the Bug and Goblin Brother-hood are not concerned with the truth or falsity of any of the choice items we prize. Allegedly true accounts like Dale Owen's "Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World," Mrs. Crowe's "Night Side of Nature" (a classic of legendary lore), or the scores of purely propagandist volumes issued from the era of the "Rochester Rappings" down to our own time find room on our shelves alongside such avowedly imaginary tales as Stevenson's "Body-snatcher" or Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

Now the collecting of ghost stories does not mean cramming our shelves with everything relating to the debatable land. Were it so, even the most modest collection would more than fill our Public Library. Only the very rare volumes or those produced by master hands are worth shelving, and the innumerable stereotyped tales of benignant or malignant phantoms gliding through dismal corridors may be classed with the modern ephemeral literature already alluded to.

The very air breathed by the specialist in supernatural lore is impregnated with warlocks, witches, vampires, ghouls, boggles, trolls, leprechauns, and banshees.

The orthodox spectre, with warning finger uplifted, plays only a small part in the great ghastly drama displayed before the mental optics of the occult student.

Of all the terrifying performers in these supernormal romances the vampire is universally regarded as first favourite. The vampire was rare in English literature before the beginning of the 19th century. On the Continent of Europe, of course, he was always a commonplace. Then Byron introduced us to one in his "Giaour"; Southey had another in his poem "Thalaba," but there was nothing in prose form until Byron's slight fragment, upon which Dr. Polidori based his gruesome story, so long attributed to Byron himself. This tale, it will be recalled, was, like Mrs. Shelley's much abused "Frankenstein," the result of that famous gathering at Geneva in 1816.

I am sure Coleridge's "Christabel" would have been a very fine vampire story, but just as we are beginning to appreciate the lovely Lady Geraldine the poet stops dead and refuses to finish the narration. It remained for the father of all modern phantastic stories, Le Fanu, to finish the adventures of the sprightly lady. His tale "Carmilla" seems built upon Coleridge's fragment, combining the dreadful terrors of Prest's "Varney the Vampire or the Banquet of Blood" with the eerie suggestiveness of "Christabel." The more modern "Dracula" is only an enlargement of "Carmilla," with sundry additional horrors thrown in.

Le Fanu, curiously enough, was neglected for many years; you will search the pages of encyclopaedias and bibliographical dictionaries in vain for any reference to him. With the exception of a memoir in the "Dictionary of National Biography" he was ignored until recently, but now at last he is coming into his own.

He is the great master in the field of fear. Just a century ago he began his "Purcell Papers" in the "Dublin University Magazine" (a periodical which seems to have specialised in fierce stories), entitling the first of them "The Ghost and the Bone-setter." He never relied on impressive titles for his pieces; neither did he open up with "a wild scream of horror," but in the old-fashioned manner of his era he led up gradually to the terrible denouement, investing the narrative with an atmosphere of dread. Even his long detailed accounts of adjacent scenery hinted at inevitable infernal atrocity; his forest foliage breathed anathema; like the mysterious tree in Thomas Hood's "Dream" there were

"A crouching satyr luring here, and there a
goblin grim,
As staring lull of demon life as Gothic
sculptor's whim."

Le Fanu admirers here and abroad are still engaged In identifying his unsigned fragments which appeared in various publications. The list is not complete, but we are hopeful that eventually some-thing like a collected edition of his works will be published.

Besides the many ghost stories which rely on sheer horror for their sensation there are the hundreds of humorous supernatural narratives which abounded in old-time periodicals. These, as long as they do not end with a natural explanation of the phenomena (which renders a ghost story null and void In the eyes of the cult), are added to the collector's bag. Thus Ingoldsby's "Spectre of Tapplington" (a prose piece apart from the "Legends"), Samuel Lover's "Stories and Legends of Ireland" (all pure burlesque), and other note-worthy works which have embodied tales of the supernatural, humorously illustrated, are allowable in a ghost collection.

Tales of witchcraft, of course, rank next in popularity to the vampire stories, and of these Harrison Ainsworth's "Lancashire Witches," with all the plates by Gilbert, is the rara avis.
Australia has contributed little to the literature of Ghostland. For years we had to be satisfied with "Fisher's Ghost," and that unfortunate spectre had to work overtime.

It is rather surprising that more has not been done in acclimatising the old world phantoms. It may be that we are lacking somewhat in tapestried chambers and baronial halls, which seem so necessary for a self-respecting spectre during his nocturnal perambulations. Still, there is ample scope for such work. Scenes of violence (more sordid, may-hap, than those which sent forth the oversea phantoms on their wanderings) were common enough in our early days, and the sin-expiating beneficiaries would be passable substitutes for the bewigged or beshackled wraiths of Europe.

Our own Roy Bridges, however, be-stowed a boon on the Brotherhood of the Bug and the Goblin when he wrote his "Mirror of Silver." It finds pride of place in many a ghost-lover's collection.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas and Ghosts

On a yuletide note, the following article, from the 12 December 1936 issue of the Melbourne newspaper The Argus, may be of interest - a rare insight into the history of these popular Victorian annuals. Roy Bridges was a Tasmanian author of popular novels and tales who lived for most of his life with his sister Hilda, herself a noted crime writer.


The copy of "Beeton's Christmas Annual" is faded and fingermarked. It is musty with the burial of years in a deal chest, dating from the Portsmouth lad who, in 1817, left his ship to settle in Van Diemen's Land. The book was a Christmas gift to a youngster of this Tasmanian farm in the eighteen-sixties. The title page bears his name; a stone in the Sorell Cemetery has borne the name for years.

Not all the fingermarks, of a Christmastide stickiness, could have been his. Possibly none was, for his youth was of a time when a new book was rare and precious in the farmhouse. Even a paper-covered book must have a brown paper wrapper put on to protect it. This book, like all the children's books of the farmhouse of his time, came down to other generations because of the care shown through the eighteen sixties. So the "Annual" survives, draggle tailed, disreputable, and dog-eared, but bearing, from its shred of paper cover to its last worm-eaten page, a record of the pleasure it has given to youngsters from one generation to another down 70 years.

Not that the "Annual" was a children's Christmas book and no more. The idea of the publisher was Dickensian - Christmas was an affair for family and friends, and for young and for old. The "Annual" was planned to amuse the adult as well as the juvenile. Clearly it succeeded, for this number - for 1865 - was the sixth of the series, edited and published by S. O. Beeton, of the Strand, London, and written, illustrated, and decorated by authors and artists who could conjure up the spirit of Christmas on sound old English lines.

So the "General Contents" range from "Beautiful Helen" - F. C. Burnand's parody of a Greek comedy, not of his best work, but meant only for performance in the "Theatre Royal, Back Drawing-room" - to "Amusing and Curious Card Tricks" - were card tricks ever amusing? Certainly the pages of funny pictures by Charles H. Ross are really funny - illustrating the sort of jokes folk at Christmas parties would see very easily when they were in a seasonable mood and were beginning to see double, before beginning not to see at all.

But the quality of the "Annual" for entertainment-and its real quality lies in the ghost stories, collected as "Hatch-ups," or "Tales Told in the Dark" - the chief section of the worthy old Christmas book.

The tales are told by youngsters in a dormitory at the Rev. Jabez Owlthorpe's school - the idea recalls David Copperfield’s telling his stories to Steerforth and his fellows at Salem House. Mr. Owlthorpe's young gentlemen listen and thrill to, or laugh at, the yarns spun by their fellow with a skill that suggests an early development of literary talent. The usher seems a distant relative of Mr. Mell. Regardless of discipline, he listens secretly in the darkness, and nobody suspects his presence till he is due to take the floor and to reveal a gift for the ghostly decidedly suggestive of J. S. le Fanu. A deep sigh is heard from the middle of the room –a low, wailing sigh: "Gentlemen," says a solemn voice, "pardon the intrusion, but I have been an undetected listener to your stories."

He has interrupted, not to do his duly to the Rev. Mr. Owlthorpe and the young gentlemen, but to reveal himself as an authority on the awful. Nobody is afraid of him. Matched with the ghostly, ghastly, and ghoulish creatures of imagination, the poor, shabby-genteel usher simply docs not matter.

"Since I am here," says the usher, “shall I tell you a ghost story? Shall I tell you of a ghost that sat upon a rail in Australia, with the moonbeams shining through him, till his murderer was brought lo justice?"

“No, please don't!" says the smallest boy. “We have all read it!”

"Well," says the usher, "will you have the story of some other ghost not yet introduced to the public?"

“Yes, if it’s jolly horrible!"

“I must be a poor hand,” says the usher, "if I can’t make you feel like fifty eels running all over your body, and if I don't set your hair on end, so straight and so stiff that it pulls you out of your boots. I'll permit you to call me a humbug!"

They tell him gleefully to go ahead.

“Well," he says, "I have seen so many horrible things in my life, boys that I scarcely know what particular horror I shall put forth for your benefit to-night. I have heard of ghosts who were torn cruelly from their fleshy tenement by murder, walking to and fro on the earth till the appointed day arrives, when, in the course of nature, they would have died, until which time they had no right to enter the abode of spirits. So they wandered restless through the world without a home, haunting houses, sitting on graves in churchyards, or walking in lonely places There was a soldier at Perran buried alive, and his spirit was often seen at night haunting the new-made graves, tearing at the earth, as though he thought any poor creature like himself was buried living."

The dismal usher is warming up - or freezing down - to his work. He wants to thrill his audience, and he succeeds. He preludes his story, told to him by his cousin Phoebe, of a ghostly face looking from a stone wall in an old chateau of the Ardennes with the declaration, “I can never relate the history without referring first to Phoebe’s death at sea and her bridegroom’s dream: I believe my poor cousin has laid a spell on me which forces me to call her up to tell herself the story of the old chateau!”

The moonlight suddenly streaming into the room discloses the melancholy usher, leaning his pale face on one hand, and holding up the other to impose silence while he fixes his large, prominent eyes on the darkest portion of the room. All eyes follow his, and for a moment several nervous youngsters take a long bolster lying on the floor for the corpse of the dead girl sewn up in her shroud, and floating in the sea. The ticking of a watch grows loud and ghostly “a very death-watch in sound,” and the low growl of the dog downstairs seems to warn the approach of a ghostly visitant.

First the usher tells that his cousin Phoebe died on her way to India to marry Captain Herbert. On the night of her death her lover dreamed that he saw a woman’s hand floating towards him, he was on the seashore, and the waves cast it up at his feet. On the fourth finger of the hand was the diamond ring which he had given to Phoebe. He took the ring and read within it: “Died at sea on 10th September 1845.” On the arrival of the ship the ring was sent to him at Calcutta by a fellow passenger with a letter stating she died on 10th September.

Now as a girl Phoebe was one of a wedding party at the old chateau which was haunted. A white face showed from the wall in the lumber room upstairs. First a little girl who had been sent up to the little room in the turret to look for an embroidery frame came rushing into the drawing room, white as death, and went off into violent hysterics. After the “usual amount of hartshorn and fuss,” she shrieked out, “Oh don t let me see that horrible face again!” Quietened and consoled she told that looking from the wall she had seen a woman’s face - a face white as snow with dark hollow eyes and an expression of unutterable horror.

The room was searched, nothing was found. Wedding guests crowded into the chateau. The room, brightened with a glowing stove, was allotted to Phoebe’s brother Jack. He was about to go to bed late that night when he saw in the wall- “a face, dead, white, and ghastly, staring at him in a fixed and awful manner.” He rushed from the room, and roused Captain Herbert; again search revealed nothing. The young man did not spend the night in the room.

Next day was the wedding day. Phoebe ran up to the room, thinking to find her brother. Not finding him, she turned to go – when, suddenly, she saw in the midst of the wall a ghastly face, whose eyes met hers with a look of such unutterable anguish that she fell on the floor in a swoon.

After that, thorough search was made. High up in the wall a deep hollow was found – a stone had been left out from the masonry. From it a skull grinned at the searchers. It was resting on an iron collar. Long black hair and bones had fallen in a heap into the deep hollow space of the wall. Far back in the Middle Ages a girl, in chains, had been built up in the wall, with an iron collar set around her neck.

“We never heard the story,” the usher tells. “Perhaps, in the old cruel days when she died, the peasants feared their feudal lord too much even to whisper it among themselves, and so the tale of her wrongs, her crime, and her death, was lost in the world forever.

But the usher rounds it off very neatly. “The three who had seen the face in the wall died young. Jack was drowned about a year afterwards in fording a river in Australia, and the little girl, Maggie, before the year was out, was thrown from her pony, and “never spoke again. It looks as if death took the ghost-seers in succession, just in the order in which they saw the apparition.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Temperamental Authors

I recently acquired an issue of the magazine supplement to the old New York World newspaper of the 1920s.  Specifically, I got this issue, dated 6 February 1927, because it has a journalistic story by Leonard Cline that is completely new to me, but there turned out to be bonus:  an illustrated article headed "Behind the Scenes in Temperamental Authors' Workshops" by Sarah Macdougall.  Basically, the authoress solicited comments from a bunch of authors of the day, ranging from the noted (Sinclair Lewis, Rebecca West, Ellen Glasgow) to the less-known and now forgotten (e.g., Homer Croy, and Lulu Vollmer, the author of "Sun Up" and "The Shame Woman", who "does all of her writing on an ironing-board which fits across the arms of a wing chair in her studio home"). Some of the authors who provided comments are remembered for their fantasy writings:

Irvin S. Cobb was the first to be interviewed, because his day starts at eight in the morning and because the only time to ask him questions is before he leaves his Park Avenue home. "I don't like to work at all," said Mr. Cobb. "I'd never work if I didn't have to. When I do work, which is every day, I sit wherever there is a place to sit, take a pen, a pencil or a typewriter--in the city, in the country, on a train, on a ship, and I work. I have no moods. I don't need to have the light over my left shoulder. The only thing I need is an idea. I am always at work early in the morning. I was raised on an afternoon paper and I do my best work before noon. I never work at night. I do not care who is around while I am working. Ordinary noises of the city do not bother me in the least."

Robert W. Chambers is another man who does not like to work. But few Wall Street men toil such long hours as this author whose fiction has brought him as much wealth as if he were a successful financier. Mr. Chambers does his year's work in the winter months so that he may be free to play all summer. He does most of his writing in New York because he finds fewer interruptions in the city than in the country, and fewer distractions for the author. He finds October and November the best time to work in the country, "because every one else is in town." Mr. Chambers never works at night, and he is always on hand for a dinner party.

Lord Dunsany's plays have been written with quill pens. In Ireland he shoots geese for recreation. He takes the quils to London, and on his desk in his home in Cadogan Square a dozen quills are crowded in a jar. 

 The illustration of Dunsany is reproduced above.  Either the artist was ignorant or misinformed, but no type of goose has a green head.  Presumably the artist was drawing a common mallard, but that's a duck, not a goose. And a duck feather would not be as handy to use as a writing instrument as a goose feather, which is significantly larger.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ghost Stories: stories of ghosts

In my reply to the good news that a two volume set by John Locke, entitled Ghost Stories, and devoted to the since long gone magazine Ghost Stories, was recently published, I was glad to mention a little booklet (it numbers 32 pages) that I bought a long time ago.

I think it is the first study in regards to Ghost Stories, and am happy to post its cover here.

The bibliographical elements are: James R. Seiger, Ghost Stories, stories of ghosts, 'Neglected Repository Of Supernatural Fiction', essay by Sam Moskowitz, index by James Seiger, 'The Apparition In The Prize Ring', story by Robert E. Howard, introduction by Glenn Lord, Opar Press, Evergreen, Colorado, May, 1973. 32 pages.

How did the magazine look like? See here for depictions of 21 full colour covers.

Friday, December 10, 2010

W. Compton Leith

For a long time I kept and would glance through a book by the essayist W. Compton Leith, Apologia Diffidentis (1908), which was dressed in vellum edges and marbled boards. I only lately learnt he was really Ormonde Maddock Dalton (1866-1945) – so a fairly close contemporary of Machen -, a British Museum antiquarian, co-chronicler of the bronzes of Benin, and also a byzantinist, who wrote a note on “The Byzantine Astrolabe at Brescia”, (Proceedings of the British Academy 12 (1926), pp 133-146), an instrument of 1062. I have his third volume, as by Leith, Sirenica (1913), which is a long meditation on the mythical riddle about “what Song the Sirens sang”, with many digressions and elaborations upon the theme. Somewhere still (though it is not readily to be found), I may have that first one: there was, it seems, a second, Domus Doloris (1909). He was compared to A.C. Benson, De Quincey, Sir Thomas Browne, and R.L. Stevenson, and (we might add) Machen in his discursive London Adventure style . Very fine, graceful, somewhat studied prose, with what used to be called “the smell of the lamp” about it, from overmuch burning of nocturnal oil. Not exactly fantasy, but certainly working upon its dim and misty margins.

Friday, December 3, 2010

GHOST STORIES: The Magazine and Its Makers

 John Locke, with his Off-Trail Publications, has quietly been producing some excellent books for anyone interested in the pulp magazines, and especially for those of us who, in particular, are also interested in the men and women behind the stories—the authors, editors, and artists. One recent release deserves special attention for the exemplary coverage of one particular pulp magazine, Ghost Stories.  It ran for a total of 64 issues, from July 1926 through the December 1931/January 1932 number.  There has been one previous anthology centered on this pulp: Phantom Perfumes and Other Shades: Memories of Ghost Stories Magazine (2000), edited by Mike Ashley.  It contains seventeen stories, along with a history of the magazine by Mike Ashley, a short Foreword by Hugh B. Cave (who contributed two stories to the magazine in 1931), and two appendices: the first a checklist of issues of the magazine, the second an index to the contributors.

John Locke’s new project brings us not one but two books:  twenty stories in volume one, and another fifteen in volume two, with no overlap of stories from Mike Ashley’s anthology and with plenty of extras.  These volumes are formatted the same size as the original pulp magazine, so you get some neat extras like a sprinkling of facsimile ads, a bunch of the original illustrations to the stories, and full page reproductions of all sixty-four covers to the magazine.

Ghost Stories: The Magazine and Its Makers, Volume 1 (9781935031093  $24.00 trade paperback) additionally includes a lengthy history of the magazine, putting it in the context of other magazines of the time, particularly those published by MacFadden Publications, who were responsible for nearly four years of the run of Ghost Stories before it was sold. Other lengthy sections give biographies of all of the editors, and all of the authors who are represented in volume one.  And these are not the usual short one-paragraph biographies, but often a couple of pages, giving the results of original research on these people.  There are also some statistical analyses of that magazine, showing that it paid 2 cents a word under MacFadden, but slipped to 1 cent (and up) under later owners.  Over its run, Ghost Stories published 517 short stories, 12 novelettes, 47 serials (of various installments), 148 nonfiction items, 44 editorials, and one poem.

Ghost Stories: The Magazine and Its Makers, Volume 2 (9781935031130  $24.00 trade paperback) continues on in the same comprehensive manner, with biographies of the authors who appear in volume two, a section on the artists, and the cover gallery of all sixty-four of the covers.  (Each volume also has an index.) 

To mention only a few of the stories reprinted in these two volumes, H.P. Lovecraft’s friend, Muriel Eddy, is represented with a short “True Ghost Experience” from the April 1926 issue.  Nictzin Dyalhis's single contribution to Ghost Stories, “He Refused to Stay Dead” (April 1927) which had been announced in the previous issue as “My Encounter with Osric, the Troll”, is also reprinted.  And Leonard Cline, author of God Head (1925) and The Dark Chamber (1927), is represented with his pseudonymous story “Sweetheart of the Snows” (August 1928), as by Alan Forsyth.  It’s is a tale reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Glamour of the Snow”.  Cline’s title for the story had been “The Lady of Frozen Death”, and his typescript version under that title can be found in the booklet The Lady of Frozen Death and Other Weird Tales (Necronomicon Press, 1992).  Comparing the texts, one can see that the editor at Ghost Stories made numerous minor changes and additions, ones which tend to lessen Cline’s distinctive style and to add more pulpish sentimentalities.

This two-volume history and anthology brings the pulp magazine Ghost Stories, defunct now for almost seventy years, vividly back to new life.  I recommend it highly.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weird Words

For some years, Dan Clore has been sharing, via a few e-groups of which we are both members, entries from his vast personal database of unusual words, and examples of their usage, from authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, E.R. Eddison, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and many others, ranging from James Branch Cabell and Leonard Cline to H.P. Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley.  This is quite fun, and I’ve always looked forward to his postings, covering words like:  bemerded (Cabell, Eddison, Crowley);  dwimmerlaik (Layamon, Tolkien); fray-bug (Eddison);  kadishtu (A. Merritt, Henry Kuttner); lingam (Cabell, Crowley, Smith); scîn-lâc, scin-læca (Bulwer-Lytton, Blavatsky, Machen, Crowley); Spintria (John Donne, Charles Maturin, Cabell, Compton Mackenzie, Montague Summers);  tripsarecopsem (Eddison); and yoni (Cabell, Smith).

Now comes a first volume based on Clore’s database:  Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon (trade paperback, $25.00)  It’s a fine selection, a hefty 568 pages, but it leaves out most of the words I mentioned above, concentrating instead on words that Lovecraft used, like: blasphemous, Cyclopean, dæmonic/demonic, eidolon, eldritch, fœtid/fetid, ichor, leprous, litten, meep, night-gaunt, noisome, shoggoth, squamous, Tekeli-li (originally from Poe’s “The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket”), and vigintillion.

Which doesn’t mean that all the really odd words are excluded.  I was glad to see glame stone (from Arthur Machen’s “The White People”) make an appearance, along with hippocephalic, maunder, and nyctalops.

One of the first entries I turned to was that for Nodens, which has Tolkien, Machen and Lovecraft associations.  Here is some of Clore’s entry:

    Nodens, Nodons, Nudens, pr.n. [see quotation from Puhvel] In Celtic mythology, a deity pertaining to healing, hunting, and the sea. Roman ruins found in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, dating from the fourth century CE, include a number of votive tablets bearing well-known inscriptions to this deity. Based on his appearance in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Strange High House in the Mist" and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, August Derleth made Nodens into the head of his pantheon of benignant Elder Gods.[Not in OED.]

    Titles: J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Name 'Nodens'" in Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Sites in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire (1932)

    Dr. McCaul quotes from a letter from Meyrick to Lysons that "Deus Nodens seems to be Romanised British, which correctly written in the original language would be Deus Noddyns, the 'God of the abyss,' or it may be 'God the preserver,' from the verb noddi, to preserve; both words being derived from nawdd, which signifies protection." Prof. Jarrett, a profound Celtic scholar, to whom I applied for a translation of "Deus Noddyns" without mentioning Meyrick's explanation, at once rendered it as "God of the deeps," a sense that every circumstance confirms.
                Roman Antiquities at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire: Being a Posthumous Work of the Rev. William Hiley Bathurst, M.A. (1879)

    The name of the god, as given in the inscriptions, varies between Nudons and Nodens, the cases actually occurring being the dative Nodonti, Nodenti, and Nudente, and the genitive Nodentis, so I should regard ō or ū as optional in the first syllable, and o as preferable, perhaps, to e in the second, for there is no room for reasonably doubting that we have here to do with the same name as Irish Nuadu, genitive Nuadat, conspicuous in the legendary history of Ireland.
                John Rhŷs, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (1901)

    Underlying the stories of Nūadu (genitive Nūadat) and Lug and that of Lludd and Lleuelys we may thus discern a Celtic myth of Lugus bringing relief to Nōdons; the latter is attested in dedications from Lydney (cf. Lludd!) in Gloucestershire bordering South Wales (Deo Nodonti) and seems to mean 'Fisher' (cf. Gothic nuta 'fisherman', from *nudōn[s]), the probable ancestor of the Arthurian "Fisher King" of the Grail legend, whose maiming resulted in the Waste Land.
                Jaan Puhvel, Comparative Mythology (1987)

    After I had seen most of the sculptured stones, the coffins, rings, coins, and fragments of tessellated pavement which the place contains, I was shown a small square pillar of white stone, which had been recently discovered in the wood of which I have been speaking, and, as I found on inquiry, in that open space where the Roman road broadens out. On one side of the pillar was an inscription, of which I took a note. Some of the letters have been defaced, but I do not think there can be any doubt as to those which I supply. The
    inscription is as follows:

"To the great god Nodens (the god of the Great Deep or Abyss) Flavius Senilis has erected this pillar on account of the marriage which he saw beneath the shade."
              Arthur Machen, "The Great God Pan" (1890)

    Down the valley in the distance was Caerleon-on-Usk; over the hill, somewhere in the lower slopes of the forest, Caerwent, also a Roman city, was buried in the earth, and gave up now and again strange relics -- fragments of the temple of "Nodens, god of the depths."
              Arthur Machen, Far Off Things (1922)

    "By Nodens," said Caswallon drily, "your prayer was granted. Tros --"
             Talbot Mundy, Tros of Samothrace: Lud of Lunden (1925)

    A sea-god of the Britons, later confused with Neptune by the  Romans.
              Talbot Mundy, note to Tros of Samothrace: Lud of Lunden (1925)

    Trident-bearing Neptune was there, and sportive tritons and fantastic nereids, and upon dolphins' backs was balanced a vast crenulate shell wherein rode the grey and awful form of primal Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss.
                H.P. Lovecraft, "The Strange High House in the Mist" (1926)

    He spoke, too, of the things he had learnt concerning night-gaunts from the frescoes in the windowless monastery of the high-priest not to be described; how even the Great Ones fear them, and how their ruler is not the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep at all, but hoary and immemorial Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss.
                H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927)

    And with his hideous escort he had half hoped to defy even the Other Gods if need were, knowing as he did that ghouls have no masters, and that night-gaunts own not Nyarlathotep but only archaick Nodens for their lord.
                H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927)

    Dear, shall I pray the gulf's great deity,
    Nodens, to bring once more for you and me
    Some love-relinquished hour we could not save
    That westered all too swiftly to the wave,
    Ebbing between the cypress and the grass?
                Clark Ashton Smith, "Sea Cycle"

All in all, some fine browsing and reading is to be found in this book.  I would have preferred that it have some kind of introduction, spelling out the methodology for inclusion and some history of the project, but I suppose that is my own particular bias. What is most clearly called for is a follow-up volume, of Weirder Words.  Removing the Lovecraft-centric emphasis on any further undertaking would make for a more wide-ranging and engaging volume. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lovecraft on Le Fanu

Many have wondered why H. P. Lovecraft held such a low opinion of the work of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, whose work merits barely a nod in Lovecraft’s seminal essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” [W. Paul Cook (ed.) The Recluse, 1927. Revised 1933-4]:

“The romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition here represented was carried far down the nineteenth century by such authors as Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Wilkie Collins, the late Sir H. Rider Haggard (whose She is really remarkably good), Sir A. Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson . . .”

How could one of the most influential writers of weird fiction in the 20th century fail to appreciate one of the masters of the prior century, an author whose work was extolled as exemplary by M. R. James, whose work received an entire chapter in the same essay?

We may ascribe part of the answer to Lovecraft’s atheism, which would have taken issue with the trappings of Christianity in Le Fanu’s work, though the view of Christianity displayed in Le Fanu’s fiction is considerably less orthodox than one finds in either James of Machen. An examination of Lovecraft’s correspondence with Donald Wandrei, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth suggests that the nature of the works to which Lovecraft had been exposed were probably equally to blame.

After reading a reference to “Le Fanu’s anthology 'A Stable for Nightmares' ” in a letter from Donald Wandrei dated 5 January 1927 [Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Ed. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. Night Shade Books, 2002, p. 11], Lovecraft remarked, “I wish I could get hold of Polidori’s ‘Vampyre’ & something by Le Fanu. The latter has long been a familiar name to me, yet I have seen absolutely nothing of his.” [Mysteries of Time and Spirit, p. 14]. By 13 March 1927, Lovecraft had received Wandrei’s copies of A Stable for Nightmares and one of Le Fanu’s novels:

“As soon as I have read 'All in the Dark' I’ll return that and 'A Stable for Nightmares'.” [Mysteries of Time and Spirit, p. 54]

These are unfortunate choices for several reasons. A Stable for Nightmares was a gathering of eleven anonymous and unremarkable supernatural stories published by Trusley Brothers of London for the Christmas market in 1867. Seven of those stories reappeared in an American edition in 1896, with “Le Fanu” stamped on the spine, “J. Sheridan Le Fanu . . . Sir Charles Young, Bart. and Others” on the full-title page, and no author’s names supplied for any of the stories within. One of the stories new to this edition is Le Fanu’s “Dickon the Devil”, the second is “What Was It?” by Fitz-James O’Brien, and the third, “A Debt of Honor”, is attributed to Sir Charles Young by default. No evidence has been put forward to establish that Le Fanu had anything to do with the first edition, and the author had been dead for 23 years by the time the American edition appeared, yet various anthologists and critics have assumed that at least some of these anonymous tales were written by Le Fanu ever since.

Lovecraft had some suspicions concerning the authorship of these stories from the beginning:

“I see that Le Fanu collection has Fitz-James O’Brien’s ‘What Was It?’—have you been able to identify others?” [Mysteries of Time and Spirit, p. 40].

Nonetheless, this first encounter with work he had first assumed to be by Le Fanu cannot have been an auspicious one.

Unfortunately, his second, more prolonged exposure was not much better. As a double-decker novel before a triple-decker demanding public, All in the Dark (1866) did not fare well with Le Fanu’s contemporaries, and in surviving notes for a lecture he delivered on Le Fanu on 16 March 1923, even the otherwise sympathetic M. R. James states, “Weakest of all the novels is All in the Dark—a domestic story with a sham ghost: an offence hard to forgive in any writer but much harder in Le Fanu’s case, seeing that he could deal so magnificently with realness without incurring any more expense.” [“The Novels and Stories of J. Sheridan Le Fanu”, in M. R. James, A Pleasing Terror. Ash-Tree Press, 2001, p. 494. The first printing of this article in Ghosts and Scholars 7 omits this passage.]

Lovecraft admitted to August Derleth that he was not impressed with the book when he first approached it on 26 March 1927— “I’ll tell you about Le Fanu when I’ve read 'All in the Dark'—but I don’t think he’ll prove anything marvelous.” [Essential Solitude: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Hippocampus Press, 2008, p. 75]—then went on to pan the book to the same correspondent in a letter dated 26 July 1927, even though he admits that he has perhaps not read the best examples of Le Fanu’s work: “What I have read of Sheridan Le Fanu was a great disappointment as compared with what I heard of him in advance—but it may be that I haven’t seen his best stuff. I don’t know 'Uncle Silas', but the thing I read (I can’t even recall the name) was abominably insipid and Victorian.” [Essential Solitude, p. 100]

A few years later, Lovecraft was given the opportunity to read one of Le Fanu’s best novels, but again it was a work almost guaranteed to frustrate him. Although long touted as a supernatural novel based on the two early chapters devoted to “Ghost Stories of the Tiled House”, Le Fanu’s The House by the Churchyard (1861-2) is a sprawling portrait of life across class levels in 18th century Dublin that more often resembles the darker specimens of Jacobean and Restoration comedy than it does the Gothic novel. Derleth must have belatedly realized this when he decided not to publish the edition he had announced during the early years of Arkham House.

That he was misled concerning the book’s content is made clear by Lovecraft’s letter to Derleth on 26 September 1929:

“Just now I am making a bold effort to keep awake over an old Victorian novel which some damn’d misguided oaf recommended to me as ‘weird’—J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 'House by the Churchyard'. I had been disillusioned before by Le Fanu specimens, & this one just about clinches my opinion that poor Sherry was a false alarm as a fear monger, & I shall cut him out of any possible 2nd edition of my historical sketch [i.e. “Supernatural Horror in Literature”].” [Essential Solitude, p. 216]

Lovecraft seems to have given up attempting to read Le Fanu’s novels, but continued to express a desire to read “Green Tea”, “though”, he confessed to August Derleth on 20 November 1931, “I can scarcely imagine a really weird tale by the author of 'The House by the Churchyard' & other Victorian products which I have seen.” [Essential Solitude, p. 415]. He finally received an anthology containing the story in January 1932— “Cook has just presented me with 'The Omnibus of Crime', & I think the first thing I shall read will be the much-discussed ‘Green Tea’ by Le Fanu.” [Essential Solitude, p. 435]—but was initially put off by its length— “Well—I guess I’m too sleepy tonight to read ‘Green Tea' after all! It’s longer than I anticipated.” [Essential Solitude, p. 438].

This is the point at which we can assume that a combination of repeated disappointments, expectations too exalted to fulfil, continued difficulty in locating the author's work, impatience with Victorian manners, and distaste for Christian mysticism finally took their toll. After reading sham Le Fanu in an anthology, sham supernaturalism in one of Le Fanu’s own novels, and genuine supernaturalism diluted by the hundreds of pages of societal melodrama in which they appear, “Green Tea” may have appeared to be too little too late. To Clark Ashton Smith on 16 January 1932, Lovecraft wrote, “I at last . . . have read ‘Green Tea.’ It is definitely better than anything else of Le Fanu’s that I have ever seen, though I’d hardly put it in the Poe-Blackwood-Machen class” [quoted in an annotation to Mysteries of Time and Spirit, p. 15].

When August Derleth sent Lovecraft an article on Le Fanu in April 1935, Lovecraft remembered not “Green Tea” but his disappointment in the novels, “Thanks abundantly for the article on Le Fanu. I have 'The House by the Churchyard'—thought it is an insufferably dull & Victorian specimen. In reading it, it was all I could do to keep awake!” [Essential Solitude, p. 693]

If only Lovecraft had gained access to a volume of Le Fanu in full supernatural regalia his assessment may have been different, or perhaps with the aid of the critical apparatus M. R. James supplied in Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery—published in 1923, a mere four years prior to Lovecraft's first surviving reference of Le Fanu to Donald Wandrei—he may have seen a kindred spirit beneath those ostensibly Christian trappings. On the other hand, Heaven and Hell may have remained parochial to the cosmic materialist in Lovecraft no matter how creatively they had been couched by Le Fanu.

Robert Aickman and Philip Challinor: Akin to Poetry

Philip Challinor. Akin to Poetry: Observations on Some Strange Tales of Robert Aickman. Baton Rouge: Gothic Press. 2010. 80 pp. $22.50 pb. ISBN 978-0-013045-19-0

The British author Robert Fordyce Aickman (1914-1981) was a man of varied interests and wide culture. Although he received a formal education focused on a career in architecture, his father's profession, he was, from a very early age, more interested in literature, music, and the theatre. He was theatre critic for The Nineteenth Century and After, chairman of the London Opera Society, active in multiple other operatic, ballet, and theatrical organizations, as well as cofounder—along with another writer of ghost stories, L.T.C. Rolt—of the Inland Waterways Association, a group dedicated to the preservation and restoration of England’s inner canal system. This last group consuming as it did a great deal of the author's time while he was most closely associated with it, is the focus of a great portion of his second autobiographical volume, The River Runs Uphill and is also the sole subject of two books Aickman wrote in the 1950s.

The first volume of Aickman’s autobiography, The Attempted Rescue goes into fascinating, excruciating, and often savagely funny detail about his parents’ dramatically dysfunctional marriage and the devastating effects this had on his own development. His Father moves about in the book like some kind of capricious, baffling, and frightening Olympian godling, too indifferent to the needs of others to be useful or understood by anyone else. His bitterly unhappy mother clings to her son as a surrogate for the love she felt she had lost elsewhere, laying the foundations for her son’s interest in the arts and his love for language, when not engaged in heated and nearly incessant battle with her husband. Her father, Aickman’s grandfather, was the charming swindler turned Victorian novelist Richard Marsh (1857-1915), author of The Beetle, a novel, whose popularity in its time, rivaled that of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was published the same year (1897).

Aickman is best known as the author of 48 “strange stories”, a title he used in what he felt was the absence of any really satisfactory equivalent for the German words “geistlich” or “unheimlich”, which he felt were the best terms serving the definition of the “ghost story” he established in the introductions and selections he made for the first eight celebrated volumes of Fontana’s Book[s] of Great Ghost Stories.

Aickman won the World Fantasy Award in 1975 for his story “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal” and the British Fantasy Award in 1981 for “The Stains”. He was a controversial figure in supernatural fiction during his lifetime and afterwards, earning accolades as “one of the most accomplished avatars of the English ghost story tradition” from such distinguished critics and authors of supernatural fiction as E. F. Bleiler, Ramsey Campbell, John Clute, Dennis Etchison, Michael Dirda, Neil Gaiman, Russell Kirk, Fritz Leiber, Peter Straub, Jack Sullivan, and others due to the high literary polish and ambiguity of his work, while at the same time eliciting baffled scorn from many others as a pretentious peddler of stories from which the conclusions had been lopped to give a false impression of profundity. His devoted but limited following has slowly, steadily increased thanks to a few significant reprint editions and wider critical acceptance. As late as Autumn 2005, a never-before published ghost story by the author appeared in the British journal Wormwood, edited by Mark Valentine.

I regret that two informal sources that mixed playful erudition with probing analysis of this author’s work are currently unavailable. No transcript seems to be available of the panel devoted to Aickman presented at the 2007 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, with participation by Kathryn Kramer, Lisa Tuttle, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Dirda, and others. Also, the variety of approaches and perspectives brought to bear on several Aickman stories by a variety of academics and amateur critics at the now moribund alt.books.ghost-fiction group, once collected (amongst a number of more formal essays, all highly recommended) at Barb Yanney’s sadly defunct website Robert Aickman: An Appreciation are currently only available to those willing to delve through reams of Google and Deja group archives. To those diligent enough to search these archives, I particularly recommend the remarks by Robert Suggs and the late lamented John Eatman, two talented amateur critics who had an uncanny knack for ferreting out the finest details of whatever they examined and doing so with such joy in discovery as to make all this concentrated effort entertaining rather than labored.

To date, criticism of his work has been rather limited and much of that tentative, with S.T. Joshi’s assessment of the author, “So Little Is Definite” in Studies in Weird Fiction 18 (Winter 1996. Reprinted in The Modern Weird Tale, McFarland, 2001) offering a few insights concerning the use of language and landscape, but otherwise remaining as baffled, if not as infuriated, by the author as Joanna Russ had been when reviewing the collection Painted Devils for the February 1980 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

More insightful have been John Clute’s essay in E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (Scribners, 1985. Reprinted in Clute’s Strokes: Essays and Reviews, 1966-1986, Serconia, 1988), Peter Straub’s introduction to the Aickman retrospective collection The Wine-Dark Sea (Arbor House, 1988), Michael Dirda’s. “Crossing into Darkness: Robert Aickman’s `Strange Stories’ ” in Washington Post Book World, 11 Dec. 1988: 9 (Reprinted in Dirda’s excellent, wide-ranging compilation of essays and reviews, Bound to Please, W. W. Norton, 2005), Gary William Crawford’s frustratingly brief yet informative Robert Aickman: An Introduction (Gothic Press, 2003), a smattering of essays and dissertations in a variety of venues (see Crawford’s online Aickman database at for publication information and short assessments of secondary literature devoted to Aickman), and at long last, the present collection of essays by Philip Challinor, some of which first appeared at the website mentioned above.

As already noted, Challinor’s essays are not the only valuable analyses available, but Challinor is unique, at this point in Aickman’s critical reception, in dealing with several individual stories in depth rather than attempting to infer as much as possible about all of Aickman’s work based on examination of themes common to several stories or choosing a single “characteristic” story upon which to base a key to all of the author’s works. Fritz Leiber’s description of Aickman’s impact, written upon the publication of Cold Hand in Mine in 1975, remains one of the best:

“Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”

Although many of Aickman’s stories may share common themes and employ similar techniques, they affect the reader almost entirely on a subconscious level, employing allusions, metaphors, and subtle shifts in characterization, atmosphere, and geography to trigger memories and emotional responses in readers that a more straightforward plot and development would overlay and overwhelm. Furthermore, his use of allusion is so refined and so elusive that the author he most closely resembles is not any of his illustrious predecessors in the art of supernatural fiction, but the extremely subtle net of allusions and wordplay employed by James Joyce in Dubliners. Every word counts: from the title to the epigraph, to the names of characters, to variances in the way objects or locations are described, to recurrences or variations in dialogue. All of these interact with each other in a manner that elicits a very individual response that varies not only from reader to reader, but is also capable of striking the same reader in different ways depending on his or her experience, a phenomenon that Aickman described in his introduction to the 3rd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (1966): “the successful ghost story is akin to poetry and seems to emerge from the same strata of the unconscious”.

In this remarkable collection of essays, Challinor has demonstrated that Aickman’s technique is equal to his intent by exploring eight stories from different stages in the author’s career as a writer of strange tales: one story from the 1964 collection Dark Entries (“Bind Your Hair”), three from the 1968 collection Sub Rosa (“The Unsettled Dust”, “No Stronger Than a Flower”, and “Ravissante”), three from the 1975 collection Cold Hand in Mine (“Niemandswasser”, “The Same Dog”, and “The Hospice”) and one from 1977’s Tales of Love and Death (“Le Miroir”).

Challinor’s identification of allusions and how these allusions contribute to the atmosphere and impact of the stories is apt and persuasive. Of “Niemandswasser”, he writes, “Aickman uses the English and German names interchangeably throughout the story, and there is a certain feline irony in his choice of a lake [Lake Constance] whose English name implies feminine fidelity” in a story that deals with broken engagements, gender-shifting doubles, and a pervasive sense of betrayal. His identification of a subtle reference to the German Romantic writer Annette Droste-Hülshoff is another nice touch, since, like the present Aickman story, Droste-Hülshoff’s famous novella “The Jew’s Beech Tree” is another exploration of the doppelgänger theme whose conclusion raises as many questions as it answers, and it serves to point out the delicate touch Aickman employs when delivering allusions and asides: “like many of Aickman’s seemingly casual asides, it both rounds off part of the tale and throws the reader slightly off-guard.” (Challinor, 16).

Joanna Russ in the review mentioned above, dismissed these subtleties, claiming, “Robert Aickman has left out the parts of his horror stories which explain what is happening and why, thus achieving a mystifying non-compossibility (i.e. you can’t put the damned thing together)”, but Challinor’s patient exploration of Aickman’s use of language and the precise methods the author uses to mis- and re-direct his readers proves otherwise. Challinor demonstrates that often it is not what Aickman has left out of his stories that threatens to confuse the reader, but what he has included:

“The presence of such a wealth of detail helps to emphasize the inexplicability of the weird phenomena; as though the narrator had difficulty deciding what was relevant and what was not, and so decided to put in everything. Relevant details are often so slyly inserted that their significance (at least in that conscious part of the reader’s mind to which Aickman so determined refused to truckle) only on repeated readings . . . ” (8)

“Aside from greatly enriching the texture of his stories, it is also a subtle kind of redirection; not imprecision so much as precision about the wrong things . . . the effect is both disorienting and richly allusive.” (19)

Time and again, Challinor points to the methods Aickman employs to reveal how much richer the world is than the one we normally see—the psychological and social decay that underlies the physical evidence in “The Unsettled Dust”, the ambiguities and seeming contradictions that counterpoint the male and female views of what occurs in “No Stronger Than a Flower”, the clash between private need and public myth in “Bind Your Hair”, the need to rationalize the unconventional “combination of sadness and carnal appetite [which] appears characteristic of the guests at The Hospice”, the “unsettling tangents” that allow settings and objects to shift out of recognition in nearly every one of the stories, and many more instances of the irrational erupting into and attempting to impose its individual will, upon the fabric of reality. In discussing “The Same Dog”, Challinor even manages to illuminate elements in the story by introducing passages from Aickman’s autobiography, a perilous enterprise that all too often results in readings that are either superficial or even smugly condescending. Curiously, Challinor’s exploration of “Le Miroir”, fascinating as it is, merely confirms my own estimation of the story as pretentious, self-pitying, and elitist with only a few flashes of wit to redeem it.

Look beneath the surface, Aickman tells us, and see a variegated realm whose patterns go beyond the obvious features of the world we think we all know, a world with hitherto unsuspected ties to our subconscious, containing truths we could not otherwise have recognized or grasped. Challinor has proven Aickman to be a worthy, if rather prankish, guide to these mysterious provinces, and has provided us with more of the signposts we will need to find our way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wormwood 15

Wormwood 15 will be available mid-November. It will contain Stefan Zechowski: A Pilgrim of the Infinite by Brian Banks & Marta Mazur; Wilfred Rowland Mary Childe by Jonathan Wood; Gerard de Nerval: Exotic Voyager, Hashish Dreamer, Accursed Suicidalist by Adam Daly; Arthur Johnson: Another Sense of the Past by Robert Eldridge; Threshold in the First Half of the Tenth Chapter of Lucius Shepard's Viator by Adam Golaski; Under Review by Reggie Oliver; Late Reviews by Douglas A. Anderson and Camera Obscura. Please note that Under Review by Reggie Oliver is a new, regular column for reviews of contemporary publications.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Colonial Edition of Dracula

On the topic of Dracula and colonial editions, a stir was created a few years ago when Robert Eighteen-Bisang published details of an unrecorded colonial edition of Dracula that had turned up in Australia and sold on ebay. The fact that it remained unrecorded for so long probably has more to do with the lack of serious bibliographical attention given to colonial editions than the actual rarity of the book. Here is a contemporary notice of the Hutchinson colonial edition of Dracula from the Adelaide Advertiser, Saturday 22 January 1898, page 8:

Hutchinson & Co's Publications
The latest additions to Messrs. Hutchinson's Colonial Library include stories grave and gay, sensational and domestic. Pre-eminently striking is Bram Stoker's "Dracula," notwithstanding that it is in great part a reversion to old-fashioned methods. Its plot is unfolded by letters and diaries in regular painstaking fashion, after the manner of Wilkie Collins. As for the plot itself, it is ghastly beyond belief. Not even Sheridan Lefanu in his wildest moments ever conceived anything to equal it for haunting horror. It is a story of human vampires and demoniacal possession, of midnight apparitions and life-in-death. The book must be carefully kept out of the way of anyone with weak nerves; but for those who can stand it there is a fearful joy in the gradual making clear of the tremendous mysteries involved. The art of the author is of quality high enough celare artem. There is no attempt at fine writing, and the simple details almost bring conviction. If they quite brought it, farewell to the reader's peace of mind!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Contemporary Review of Dracula

Following is a contemporary review of Dracula published in the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus on 6 November 1897. It's a fairly negative review, typically sceptical, that references Edmund Gosse's recently published article, "The abuse of the supernatural in fiction."

"In Mr Edmund Gosse’s suggestive article upon the abuse of the supernatural in fiction published by us last week, he laid down one canon which, he truly enough declared, is violated by half the present day writers who trench upon the domain of the mystic and the abnormal. This law is that the products of their imagination, however extravagant and monstrous, must be so presented as to command our temporary intellectual credence. Although perfectly aware that the story cannot be true, we should be carried captive for the time being by the notion that it is. The rule will be generally accepted as one which ought to govern this province of literary art, but we can understand individual opinions differing widely as to the writers who do and do not observe it. Mr Gosse, for example, confesses that his common sense can be momentarily conquered by Mr H.G. Wells or Mr Frank Stockton, and gives the highest possible testimonial to Lord Lytton’s “Strange Story.” Yet Mr Wells’s half-human monsters and his wild idea of travelling back along the grooves of time by a mere piece of mechanism – a thing of wheels and rods and cylinders – will strike many people as the most audacious demands upon credulity made by any modern writer. If Bulwer Lytton, again, had singular power to thrill in the telling of a narrative, what is to be said of the utter impotence of some of his conclusions – the absurdity, for instance, which gives us as the climax to an elaborate process of incantation the materialisation of a human foot?

In his strictures upon certain contemporary dealers in the supernatural, Mr Gosse is upon surer ground, and will command cordial assent. The method of some eminent novelists who have lately pressing into their service denizens of another world, and even the arch-fiend in human form, is matchless in its naivete. The pity is that Mr. Gosse’s article was penned before he had an opportunity of studying the latest essay in the abnormal launched upon the literary world. We have been reminded how easy it was in the ages of credulity to avoid over-stepping the boundaries of belief. But in Mr. Bram Stoker a writer has arisen who intrepidly assumes that medieval gullibility is in full survival. He appeals to his readers with the most horrid, yet in some respects the most ludicrous, romance of vampiredom to be found in literature. It is a bold attempt to concentrate the fables and superstitions which have existed in Eastern Europe especially for many centuries into a shape sufficiently like reality to cheat the imagination of the nineteenth century. Can the modern reader be induced to bestow a passing belief upon vampires any more than upon sylphs and salamanders? Where most men would answer no, Mr. Stoker says yes, and confidently tries the experiment. It may be argued that he does no more than imitate the hardihood of Sheridan Le Fanu, but that gifted author contented himself with au outline, and never ventured upon the elaboration of detail with which Mr. Stoker surrounds his vampire Count Dracula and the victims upon whom that monster preys in modern England.
There is an extensive literature upon the subject of vampires, which this author must have studied with a minuteness and assiduity just sufficient to wreck his purpose. For If he had not painted into his gruesome portrait all the habits and characteristics supplied by a wealth of tradition, we could have believed in it better. Vampires – the "living dead," whose corpses cannot decay, but who have the power of rising from their graves at night to batten upon the blood of human beings - are the Vroucolakas of the Greeks. They have been treated of by an old German writer, Michael Raufft, in his learned book "De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis," by the Frenchman Calmet, and by many another grave-faced sifter of medieval superstitions. All agree that these unpleasant nocturnal prowlers, who stalk abroad murdering and blood-sucking, are most common in certain countries, to wit, Silesia, Moravia, Hungary. Consequently to Hungary - or rather, well to the eastward of Transylvania - Mr. Stoker betakes himself in search of the home of his foul wanderer. He dwells, half man, half brute, in a gloomy castle in the deepest recesses of the Carpathians, surrounded by a bevy of lovely yet loathsome females, blood suckers like himself. The mistake is that as Mr. Stoker designs to transport his monster to England, there to feast upon the teeming population of the metropolis, he is tempted to introduce Dracula in too strong a light. The more intimately we regard a vampire and take stock of his proceedings, the more disposed we are to forgot horror in scepticism. Ancient records of vampiredom avoided this, partly because they were deliciously vague. Raufft tells mainly of swinish munchings in the grave by certain evil-disposed and voracious corpses, which is n violation of social proprieties, but little more. Colmet, in his dissertation on the vampires of Hungary, contents himself with concluding that there are numbers of "revenans" whose bodies the earth rejects, but he refrains from committing himself to the theory that they may be actually caught either entering or leaving their graves. And ho takes the highly sensible view that a pretension of the Greek Church, to the effect that the earth would not retain corpses which had come under orthodox excommunication, may be accountable for the prevalence of vampiredom in Slavonic countries.
But no difficulties daunt Mr. Bram Stoker. At close quarters we are shown the vampire endowed with nil the attributes which the amalgamated superstitious of the ignorant in all ages have woven about him. He is man insomuch that he must pass the daylight hours in his human form reclining upon a heap of foul-smelling earth, loads of which he convoys with him as personal luggage for this necessary purpose. He casts no shadow, gives back no reflection in any mirror; he can come and go through the merest crevice, can materialise out of moonlight mist, can change at sunrise or sunset to bat or wolf, can command certain of the lower brutes, cannot cross running water save at slack or ebb of tide, can transform into vampires all upon whose blood he feasts; and so forth. We are gravely invited by our romancist to contemplate a monster of this perplexing sort astir in busy London - to watch him being fought by energetic, intelligent men of the modern world with such weapons as garlic flowers, sacred water, and crucifixes. No more staggering demand upon what Mr Gosse terms “temporary credence” could well be made, for Mr Bram Stoker writes for a community mainly Protestant and for an age in which belief in the efficacy of relics and symbols has almost disappeared. It is true that the author does not lean over-confidently upon these agents. They can but alleviate the danger to be apprehended from the viciousness of a vampire out on business. The radical cure is effected as of old by knife and pointed stake. Mr Stoker, though he does presume immensely upon the capacity of modern readers to gape and swallow, concludes that their credulity will not stand a severer test than that of their medieval ancestors. An infallible corrective of vampiredom has always been to cause the suspected grave to be beaten with a hazel twig wielded by a virgin not less than twenty-five years old. Yet in practice the severed head and the stake driven through the heart were ever preferred. When the pinch comes, our latter-day author discards his theory of remedy by exorcism as gracelessly as his predecessors abandoned the hazel twig."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Stone Dragon - a colonial edition

An advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for 15 August 1898 lists a colonial edition of R. Murray Gilchrist's scarce collection of decadent tales, The Stone Dragon. Colonial editions are an interesting area of bibliography that is still a fertile ground for exploration. Copies of the Methuen first edition surface occasionally - John Eggeling at Todmorden recently had an ex-lib copy on offer for a couple of hundred quid - but I can't recall ever hearing of a colonial edition. Colonial editions usually have drab, uniform covers, so presumably a colonial edition of The Stone Dragon would lack the striking cover of the original (pictured here).

Bound in Red Cloth, and published at 3s 6d.
This Splendid Series of BOOKS, which were Selling Freely at ONE SHILLING EACH


Alderdene. Major Paul
Cumberern of the Ground. C. Smith
Children of this World. E. F. Pinnent
Cavalier Lady. Constance Macewan
Dumps and I. Mrs. Parr
Diogenes of London. J. [sic] B. Marriott-Watson
Double Knot. G. M. Fenn
Eli's Children. G. M. Fenn
Hovenden, V.C. F. M. Robinson
Hepsy Gipsy. L. T. Meade
In Tent and Bungalow. By author of "Indian Idylls"
Jaco Treloar. J. H. Pearce
Jack's Father. W. E. Norris
King's Favorite. U. A. Taylor
Jim B. F. S. Carew
A Lost Illusion. Leslie Keith
My Stewardship. E. M. Gray
My Land of Beulah. Mrs. Leith-Adams
Only a Guardroom Dog. E. E. Cuthell
The Poison of Asps. R. O. Prowse
Plann of Campaign. F. M. Robinson
Quiet Mrs. Fleming. R. Pryce
A Reverend Gentleman. J. M. Cobban
Secret of Madame de Moulac
The Gods Give My Donkey Wings. A. E. Abbott
The Stone Dragon. M. Gilchrist
This Man's Dominion. Deas Cromarty
Time and the Woman. R. Bryce
Toddleben's Hero. M. M. Blake.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guy Boothby interview

Fellow Wormwoodiana blogger, Mark Valentine, recently introduced Guy Boothby's Dr Nikola, Master Criminal for Wordsworth Editions. The book contains A Bid For Fortune, and Doctor Nikola, both of which are fast-paced thrillers that still hold up well today. Boothby (1867-1905) is a noteworthy author who grew up in South Australia and was secretary to the mayor of Adelaide before he took up writing full time. Tragically, his life was cut short by pneumonia and he died in 1905 aged 38 at his property in Boscombe, near Bournemouth. Here is an interview with him from the Windsor Magazine in 1896. The first page has gone walkabout, so I'll start part of the way through...

An Afternoon with Guy Boothby

"Are your methods of working a state secret, Mr. Boothby?"
"I don't think so. I believe that the morning hour has gold in its mouth. In summer I am at work by five o'clock. Just now I am later, but certainly not later than seven. My average day is the orthodox eight hours."
"It goes without saying, considering the immense amount you have written in these last two years, that your daily task must be very considerable?"
"I should say that on an average I accomplish at least six thousand words a day. Of course part of that is dictated to my wife, who not only helps me in this way, but type-writes the final copy of all my work. But her assistance is not merely mechanical. Her interest in the development of my characters is unbounded. From the moment a character is outlined, my wife watches its growth with a sympathy and insight that mean more to me than I can well express."
"Do you arrange everything beforehand? "
"Provisionally, yes; but the characters always get the better of me in the end. They marry and otherwise dispose of themselves, quite independently. I know no more what may happen than I know whether the work will win the public favour."
"You have many surprises, then? "
"Particularly in the latter case. The success of Nikola, f or example, astonish me. But really this talk about myself is too much. I'd far rather hear about your work. My friends say in conversation I am a creature of digressions and sudden flights, always neglectful of the point."
"At present however it is my duty to keep you to it."
"Ah, there now, you remind me I am being interviewed."
"Then it must be my business to make you forget it. Now you see I have outlined my work for you, so we'll return to our theme with a very momentous question: Who is Dr Nikola?"
"That I am afraid I may not tell you, in view of future developments of that character. The name however was suggested to me one day in the train by seeing the name of Nicolo Tesla, the Italian electrician, in a public print. By the way, the Doctor's cat has won curious admirers. The other day a lady, quite unknown to me, wrote imploring me to tell her the name of Dr. Nikola's cat in order that she might call her own, tabby after the 'dear creature.'"
The conversation drifted away pleasantly to the joys and sorrows of the author's post-bag, concerning which Mr. Boothby has many good tales to tell. Among its chief joys are kind remembrances from brothers of the pen. Many of these, in the shape of autographed portraits, adorn the walls of the study. Among the photographs are those of Walter Besant, Clark Russell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Stanley Weyman, Anthony Hope, Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling. "Talk of the jealousy of authors!" he cried. "There surely never was a greater fallacy."
Then our talk went further afield.
You must tell me something of your Australian life and travels," I suggested.
"My first book, 'On the Wallaby,' as you are doubtless aware, contained a record of my journey across Australia in '92. You will see my course marked on that map. The journey was made with one companion, and occupied thirteen months."
"What means of transport had you?"
"At first some pack‑horses, but these died off, then a rough bush buggy and a pair. They went blind latterly and we christened them Cyclops and Polyphemus. Once or twice we were at death's door, but somehow we pulled through. At the end of the journey we had a nine hundred mile row. Perhaps you'd like to see a relic of the expedition ‑ which I always keep by me for old acquaintance' sake ‑ my cooking pot," and from the corner Mr. Boothby produced the venerable utensil to which in a sense he no doubt owes his preservation.
Mr. Boothby's travels in the far East, New Guinea, and his sojourn in Thursday Island came next under review. Thursday Island is to him a place of many memories.
"Here," he continued, "are photographs of the pearl divers. There you see the huge oysters of these fisheries, valued not so much for pearls as for mother‑of‑pearl." Other photographs, too, Mr. Boothby showed me, photographs of places to which he has given a literary interest. "There," he remarked, "is the house where the scene of 'A Lost Endeavour' is laid, and this again is the scene of 'The Marriage of Esther.' Of the strange wild life of Thursday Island he has much to tell, but a novelist's incidental anecdote is sacred, for it is doubtless the germ of the future book.
With every phase of Australian life Mr. Boothby is acquainted. As he turns over his photographs with the visitor he is brimful of graphic comment on every picture.
"Here," he remarked, "is a capital picture of a Queensland sundowner." The picture represented a solitary figure standing in pathetic isolation on a boundless plain.
"A 'sundowner'?" I queried.
"Yes; the lowest class of nomad. For days they will tramp across the plains carrying, you see, their supply of water. They approach a station only at sunset, hence the name. At that hour they know they will not be turned away."
"Do they take a day's work?"
"Not they! There is an old bush saying that the sundowner's one request is for work, and his one prayer is that he may not find it."
The pathos of the Australian solitudes has entered into Mr. Boothby. He tells, as one who understands, how men who live apart - three hundred miles perhaps from the next neighbour ‑ are steeped in the poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon, whose verses they recite to lighten their solitary toil. The humour, too, of the life ‑ rough and ready pungent humour ‑ he has made his own. There is one grim joke of an arrest ‑ but no, my lips are sealed. "I’m putting that into a story one day," said Mr. Boothby.
So the conversation flourished until at last Mr. Boothby arranged the pleasantest of interludes. "Come now," he said, "and let me introduce you to my wife," and a few moments later, in the enjoyment of Mrs. Boothby's charming company, I quite forgot my part of interviewer.
As we chatted on a multitude of themes my host suddenly surprised me by remarking, "Now you must see Dr. Nikola." The situation was exciting. I waited breathless for the coming revelation. Was the house uncanny, I wondered? Could the novelist really compel spirits and materialise the creatures of his brain?
" Nik, Nik he called mysteriously. "Nik!"
There was a pattering in the hall, an in bounded nothing more phantasmal than a very hearty bull‑pup, of the friendliest disposition. He was clever too, for at his master's bidding he pretended to have a violent cold in his head, sneezed, said "wolf " with perfect articulation, and played endless other tricks.
Young Nik's great friend is old Nik, otherwise Beelzebub, an aged bull‑dog of wonderful sagacity, and the hero of "The Beautiful White Devil," who entered next at his master's bidding. To little Dr. Nikola, alone of dogs, old Bel is kind and even fatherly. "Once in Nik's earliest puppy days, " said Mr. Boothby, "Bel, the little one, had been playing with a bone in my wife's morning‑room and had left it behind him when he followed her to the drawing‑room. Presently he became very unhappy and began to whine, when the old dog rose from before the fire and went out of the room to return with the bone, which he placed before his little friend as if to comfort him." Then at the word of command Bel stood stock still while Nik jumped over him, backwards and forwards, not once but many times.
A visit to Mr. Boothby's aquariums followed, for my host is a collector not only of old books, but of rare and curious live fish, which he brings together from all quarters of the globe. One can only mention his rarest and most interesting specimens, the fish with rudimentary legs and hands from the deep lakes of Mexico city. One of these fish had a leg eaten off, but Nature repaired the damage, and now the new leg is in its place. "That other little fish," said Mr. Boothby, pointing to another tank, "I found one morning on his back, more dead than alive, but by way of experiment I gave him a good dose of brandy, and he soon was as lively as ever."
As we returned to the study. Mr. Boothby told me of his early home at Salisbury.
"I was born in Australia," he remarked, but at six years of age I came to England, where I was educated. I lived at Salisbury in a quaint house ‑hundreds, of years old. It was a strange old place, and the man who would have been impervious to its influence would not have been able to say much about his imagination. I used to weave wonderful stories about that house to myself then."
"The future novelist was making, I see."
"I have always been drawn to literature. I was always a scribbler. At sixteen I returned to Australia and began my real life."
"Of which your books are substantially the record?"
"More or less, yes. Some of my earlier short stories found their way into Australian papers. The very first I always keep by me as a salutary antidote to swelled head. When orders come in pretty freely one is sometimes tempted to feel a little elated, but a glance at that story conduces to plainer thinking."
"I should like very much to have a list of your principal works, if I may."
Mr. Boothby turned to consult a ponderous ledger.
"Well," he confessed with some reluctance, if it interests your readers I am agreeable. In 1893 I wrote 'On the Wallaby,' in 1894 'In Strange Company,' in 1895 'The Marriage of Esther,' 'A Lost Endeavour,' 'A Bid for Fortune ' and 'The Beautiful White Devil.' This year has brought forth ‘Dr. Nikola,' and many other serials and magazine stories both in this country and in America and Australia. 'The Fascination of the King' is running in Chambers's Journal. "
Thereafter, with no reluctance at all, Mr. Boothby produced another ponderous book, of which he seems fonder than he is of the ledger ‑ the record of his favourite bull‑dogs' pedigrees and performances, kept on a most ingenious system.
By the time we had exhausted that record the afternoon had slipped away, so after a word or two more on various subjects, a hearty laugh over a funny picture of the novelist and his illustrator, Mr. Stanley L. Wood (drawn by the latter), and an examination of the model stage on which my host is working out a new play, the moment of departure came, and I took cordial leave of Mr. and Mrs. Boothby.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fergus Hume interview

An interview with prolific crime, mystery and fantasy author Fergus Hume (1859-1932), best known for the The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), which opens in Melbourne. Hume famously sold the rights of the novel for 50 pounds and the book subsequently became a great bestseller, selling over half a million copies in England.

From The Maitland Mercury & Hunter General Advertiser, 19 January 1893.
A Talk with Mr. Fergus Hume.
Raymond Blathwayt, in the December number of "Great Thoughts," had an interesting interview with the author of "The Mystery of a hansom Cab," from which we quote some passages:
"The only allusion I care to make to the 'Hansom Cab,"' said Mr. Hume, with a shrug of his shoulders, "is this. I wanted to go in for dramatic writing more than for novel writing when I was in Melbourne. Of course, I couldn't get my play accepted because I wasn't known at all. So I thought if I could write a book to attract the attention of managers, even a small book, that I might get a chance of getting a play on. I must add that on this determination I went to several booksellers in Melbourne, and asked whose works were most popular with their customers. The unhesitating reply was Gaboriau's. I had never heard of him myself, but I read his books and I thought 'Well, I can do as good as this at all events' and so I wrote the 'Hansom Cab,' which was pure fiction, not a line of truth in it. It was published and made an instantaneous success."
"I thought," I observed, "that it was published in England by the 'Hansom Cab Co,' and not in Melbourne at all."
"Yes, it was published in Melbourne at my own risk and expense. It was brought home by Mr. Trischler here, who formed himself into what was called 'The Hansom Cab Co.', with which company, however, I had no financial connection whatever. My connection, however, with Mr Trischler himself, was not destined to be a long one, and now my books are in the hands of various well-known publishers in London. The 'Piccadilly Puzzle,' I might mention, which was published by F.V. White and Co., has the distinction of obtaining the highest price ever paid for any 1s book in England.
"To go back to the 'Hansom Cab,' of which I may say I am heartily sick now, I want you to understand that I am doing all I can to get away from it. Everywhere and with everyone it is the same. Zola is known by 'Nana' when he ought to live by 'La Rêve'; Sullivan's 'Golden Legend,' one of the finest pieces of the century, is condemned, at all events, on the continent, because of his 'Mikado.' I utterly object to a man being committed by the public to one line only. Because a man makes a fool of himself once, to put it strongly," cried Mr. Fergus Hume, with great energy, "he is not to go on making a fool of himself all his life. I will not be bound down by the Tradition of the Hansom Cab."
I laughed heartily. "Hear, hear," I said, "you remind me of Mark Twain, who said exactly the same to me last year. Well, now tell me what are your aims and ideas for the future, and how do you propose to get away from your traditions?"
"Well," he replied, "I want to drop the ordinary novel of commerce for what I may term the 'Romance of Fantasy,' of which the 'Island of Fantasy ' is the first."
"Now," said I, "how do you blend the fantastic and the real, the impossible and the possible, so as to make it palatable to the ordinary common sense English reader?"
"I try to manage so as to make the improbable seem possible. I am following up this 'Island of Fantasy' with 'Aladdin in London,' which will be a similar work; and the third of the series upon which I am now engaged is called 'The Harlequin Opal.' In 'The Island of Fantasy' I endeavour to reconstruct the old Greek civilisation and adapt it to the present day."
"Ah," said I, "much as Conan Doyle reconstructed the fourteenth century. He told me he read 150 works bearing on that century before he wrote that work."
"Precisely," replied Mr. Hume. "Reading up again all the old classics, I super-added the Greek poets of Addington Symonds; I recalled all I knew of the Tragedies; the great pathos and fatefulness of Greek life and history. I studied the whole matter almost as a science, and as a result, I feel I have got somehow into the heart of the old Grecian life. I am now going in for the fantastical novel as a speciality, for I really think that people are getting tired of realism. But for my own part I think that my real strength as a writer -- and I have the authority of the 'Spectator' for saying so -- lies in poetry. I am about to publish a book of poems. And as he spoke, Mr. Hume handed me a very dainty little lyric, "Venus Urania," and which ran as follows :

To rose-red sky, from rose-red sea,
At rose-red dawn she came,
A fiery rose of earth to be,
And light thee dark with flame;
Then earth and sky triumphantly
Rang loud with man's acclaim.

A rose art thou, O goddess fair,
To bloom as men aspire,
Red rose to those whom passions move,
White rose to chaste desire;
Yet red rose wanes with pale despair,
And white rose burns as fire.

"In the 'Island of Fantasy,'" continued Mr. Hume, in reply to a suggestion of mine as to the ethical intent of fantastic literature in general, "I endeavour to show how entirely possible it might be for an over-wealthy millionaire to carry out the Utopian project I suggest to a successful conclusion, and to do real and lasting good with his wealth; to show how a life such as that led by the ancient Greeks, and that nurtures the genius under every possible advantage, ought to be encouraged and not discouraged. It is, perhaps, treating genius rather as an exotic, but as my hero Justinian, who conceives and carries out the idea, says, 'Place a plant in the dark, and it grows not; give it plenty of air and sunlight, and first the green leaves appear, then the bud, lastly the flower. These Greek people in their island home, who are descendants of the ancient Hellenes, and in whom the spark of genius has been nearly trampled out by centuries of Turkish misrule, are my green leaves, which by means of my wealth I have placed in the light. I have allowed them to be tended and looked after, and now who knows but that a glorious flower may be produced?'
"There, that is my idea," said Mr. Hume. "I want to show what money can do and ought to do. Think what lies in the power of such a man as that young Mr. Astor, whose father died the other day, and left him £15,000,000. Now there is the ethic intent of the 'Island of Fantasy,' but the critics looked on it, kind as they were to me, too much in the light of a fairy story."
"Ah," said I, "but the critics haven't always been as kind to you, have they?"
"No," he replied, "they have been hostile for many years. They believed no good could come from the writer of 'The Hansom Cab.' But I am bound to say sometimes critics are very irritating. Look at Rider Haggard for instance, how they are always pitching into him for being too 'Bluggy,' as Toddie used to say. But battles can't be fought without blood. If you describe battles you must do it realistically -- the critics seem to expect you to do it in rose-water English.
"Here is an instance in my own case. In one of my books one of the characters improvises some wretched doggerel on the spur of the moment; it was only meant to be doggerel, and the critics with ridiculous unfairness actually quoted the doggrel as 'a specimen of Mr. Fergus Hume's poetry.' And again, they are so fond of asking why such and such a book was written. 'What is the object of it?' say they. Well, as De Quincey said: 'There is no moral, big nor little, in the "Iliad."' I don't know that books are written primarily, as a rule, with any other object but that of getting money for the authors of them. I have noticed, curiously enough, that the most spiteful reviews appear in women's papers."
"You are about to produce a volume of Fairy Tales, are you not, Mr. Hume?"
"Yes," said he; "and I trust the public will like them. Mr. Harold Boulton and myself are hard at work also upon the libretto of a comic opera -- a new departure -- and to which the music is being set by Mr. Charles Willeby, whose songs are already well-known in London."
"Well," I replied, with a laugh, "you are certainly drifting very far away, and in very many directions, from 'The Hansom Cab.'"
"Yes," said he. "That poor book! It was the very first book I ever wrote. It made a tremendous sensation, and I have been judged by it ever since. All my literary education I have had to pursue under the very eyes of the public. Was there ever a man since the world began so 'sair trodden down' -- as the Scotch say -- by his traditions. The 'Hansom Cab' is a regular Frankenstein's monster to me, and I am pursued through life by this monster, which, after all, is but the creation of an immature boy."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

J.P. Quaine - A Blood and Thunder Merchant

I've mentioned the Melbourne bookseller, John Patrick Quaine (1883-1957) a few times on this blog. He was a well-known identity in Melbourne and a keen collector of Penny Bloods and Dreadfuls. Following is a short article about him, published in November 1945, that appeared in Bohemia: the All-Australian Literary Magazine, a rather grand title for the official organ of the Melbourne Bread and Cheese Club, of which Quaine was a member for many years.
A Blood and Thunder Merchant
During the month the Worthy Scribe spent a bloodcurdling hour or two interviewing the Sanguinary-minded Fellow J. P. Quaine, the Bookaneer, and discovered it is just on 30 years since this gory Fellow burst into being as a bookseller like a bolt from the blue. Previous to that period his predatory performances had been confined to part-time prowling round secondhand bookshops, vainly seeking what the bookseller had already hunted for and failed to find ‑ a five pound book for four pence! He has since watched with a leaden eye similar optimists delving midst his own piles of dusty impedimenta. Though better known in recent years as a collector of "skulps," "Shilling Shockers" and "Penny Bloods," his collection of British First Editions was noteworthy. He specialised in this type of publication. His avaricious spirit often caused him to keep for himself the more desirable items; so he was never quite sure if he could be called a collector or salesman!

However, the probe of impecuniosity compelled him to part from many of these cherished volumes. Since 1917 he has been a thorn in editorial cushions. Whenever his constitutional laziness could be overcome, he contributed special articles to the magazine supplements of the Melbourne papers, as well as inflicting his outpourings on interstate and even oversea editors! Being a dyed-in-the-wool Dickensian, he (by request) gave lectures and papers under the Auspices of the Melbourne Fellowship. As an additional example of the enormities he was capable of he compiled, in 1942, 30 talks, entitled "Tales of Terror Tactfully Retold" for the ABC. He has two testimonials upon which he preens himself. One is from Public Librarian Pitt thanking him for his assistance and exhibits during the Saturnalia attendant upon the Picwick Celebration in 1936, the other is from the late C. J. Dennis written in reply to a query in connection with "Herald" articles. It concludes thus: "I have your 'Duke and the Dustman's Daughter' here, which I am going to use. I shall be pleased to accept articles by you written in your inimitable style." Fellow Quaine says he would frame this note only he fears the green ink signatures might fade.

Quaine admits that during the last few years his notoriety has waned somewhat; a new generation is rising that knoweth not Joseph. He has done everything but make money, and expects to finish up selling matches round the pubs!