Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Edgar Magnus Birnstingl

Edgar Magnus Birnstingl (b. Limpsfield, Surrey, 27 August 1898; d. Kensington, London, 24 February 1915)

Edgar Magnus Birnstingl was the youngest of three sons of Avigdor Lewis Birnstingl (1853-1924), a stock broker, and Cordelia (1865-1917), née Pyke, who were married in 1888. He grew up in Kensington, and entered St. Paul’s School in 1911.  After his death at the age of sixteen, some of the stories he had written in the previous two years were collected and privately issued as Destur Mobed and Other Stories ([Oxford]: Printed for Private Circulation, 1915). This slim volume contains fifteen stories and an appendix, a photographic portrait of the author as frontispiece, and a “Prefatory Note” signed “E.L.” [Elizabeth Lee].  Some of the stories are mere sketches, others are somewhat longer.  Many concern the author’s fascination with gemstones.  The “Destur Mobed” (translated as “Complete Master”) of the title story concerns a Babylonian brass statuette of a lion, which grants wishes along with curiously twisted side effects so that the ill-effects dwarf any good fortune. (A second story, “The Case of Galstone’s Eyes,” also concerns the Destur Mobed.)  The stories, mostly all imaginative fantasies dealing “with the marvellous, the mysterious, the unusual” (to quote the preface writer), are well-done and worth reading, bringing on the inevitable regret that the young writer didn’t live a long productive life.  The volume earned (and deserved) the trade edition of one thousand copies, published by Elkin Mathews in December 1916. 

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column "Late Reviews" in Wormwood, no. 1 (November 2003).

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