Friday, May 4, 2012

M. Humphreys

M. Humphreys  (fl. 1922-23)

Nothing is know of M. Humphreys, whose name is the byline on one effective horror story which appeared in the May 1923 issue Weird Tales magazine—“The Floor Above”, a story much admired by H.P. Lovecraft. Strangely, when the story was reprinted in the June 1933 issue of Weird Tales, as a classic reprint, the byline appears in the table of contents as “M.L. Humphreys” but not with the story itself, where it is still given as “M. Humphreys”.  In reprints of “The Floor Above”, as in Robert Weinberg’s anthology The Eighth Green Man and Other Strange Folk (1989) as well as in my own H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales (2005), the middle initial “L” appears as part of the byline.*  I now believe the inclusion of a middle initial to be a mistake, and the proper attribution should read simply “M. Humphreys”.

This is due to the discovery of a second story contemporary with “The Floor Above” also bylined “M. Humphreys”.  This story is entitled “The Baby”, and it appeared in the April 1922 issue of the New York version of Pearson’s Magazine, then edited by Frank Harris.  It is a decidedly unconventional story for its time, the narrative of a ten year old orphaned girl who lives with her unloving uncle, a preacher, who had married a much younger women a few years previously and who has an ecclesiastical future all mapped out for their young baby, Luther. The picture it paints of the dreary lives of the minister and his family would not have been welcomed at many publications in the early 1920s, so kudos to the iconoclast Frank Harris for publishing it. While the story itself is in no way fantastical, there is through it all an undercurrent of fear and horror. 

It still seems to me probable that “M. Humphreys” is a pseudonym.  Both Humphreys stories are well-executed, and therefore unlikely to be the only writings by this person. 

* I also wrote in the headnote to that story that in the June 1933 reprint the name is misspelled “Humphries”, but this assertion, based on information in Sheldon R. Jaffery and Fred Cook’s The Collector’s Index to Weird Tales (1985), is wrong.

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