Monday, May 14, 2012

Francis C. Prevot

Francis C. Prevot (b. France 1887; d. Tottenham, London, 25 October 1967)

Not to be confused with his near namesake, the poet and fiction writer "Francis Prevost" (Henry Francis Prevost Battersby, 1862-1949), Francis Clare Prevot was born in France but lived in England for most of his life.  His education began at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, Devon. During the First World War, he was in the Royal Naval Air Service from 1914-15, in Censorship from 1915-17, and in the 15th London Regiment from 1917-18. He became a barrister, and was in January 1922 called to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. He married Tamo Kato in the summer of 1927.

Prevot published only two books, and was an assistant editor on a third, but he was a regular contributor to periodicals, including a stint from the mid-1920s through the early 1930s as a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (his reviewing expertise was delineated as “new books in French; art; Shakespeare; and China”).  He also contributed to Bookman’s Journal, the Daily Sketch, and the Encycopaedia Brittanica.  

His first book was slim volume of London history, The Adelphi (London: Chelsea Publishing Co., 1923), followed some months afterwards by a small collection of twenty-one short stories, Ghosties and Ghoulies (London:  Chelsea Publishing Co. 1923), with illustrations by A. Wyndham Payne. Most of the stories originally appeared in the weekly, Brighter London. The illustrations are rather primitive, and the stories are, for the most part, too short be anything other than vignettes. A similar malevolence is attributed to the supernatural in most of the tales.  In one story, a haunted shaving mirror inspires a young man to use his razor on himself; in another, an evil grimoire, bound in human skin, sweats blood before enacting its fatal curse upon its reader.  The Times Literary Supplement aptly described Prevot’s stories as “various in their circumstances but monotonous in their limited expression” (6 December 1923).

If he was merely a dabbler in the writing of ghost stories, a short article called “A Plea for the Ghost Story” in The Bookman’s Journal & Print Collector of 29 November 1919 shows Prevot to have had more refined tastes in the genre.  First, Prevot observes that the ghost story has been unpopular with the best writers of fiction, and he makes a distinction between stories of the occult and ghost stories, using two of Rudyard Kipling’s tales as examples, putting “The Mark of the Beast” in the first category, and “The Phantom Rickshaw” in the second—the latter being “one of the finest ghost stories ever written.” Prevot gives pre-eminence in the  field to M. R. James; his stories,“steeped full in horror, show what priceless material the despised ghost can be in the hands of a cultured, scholarly writer.”  Prevot also notes that “the late Monsignor Benson gave us some wonderful ghost stories, one of them the shortest that ever was told.  So short it is that it may be quoted here in full: ‘I stretched out in the dark for the matches, and they were put into my hand.’” Finally, Prevot calls attention to one volume by a writer who is now primarily remembered for his adventure stories dealing with life in the French Foreign Legion, and who isn’t usually listed among ghost story writers.  This is P.C. Wren (1885-1941).  According to Prevot, Wren’s early volume Dew and Mildew (1912; revised in 1927) entitles him to special consideration.

In 1949, Prevot was one of two assistant editors to H.T.D. Meredith on The New Universal Dictionary. Prevot died peacefully at the age of 80 in the Private Wing of the Wales Hospital, Tottenham. 

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

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