Saturday, December 7, 2013

Alexander Townsend


Alexander Townsend (b. reg. Farnham, Surrey, July-September 1902; d. reg. Bridgwater, Somerset, January-March 1968)

Alexander Edward Townsend was the son of William Henry Townsend (1871-1963) and Margaret Ellen, née Benstead (1872-1961), who were married in Ireland in 1894.  He had two older brothers. He married Frances G. Jackman (1906-1992) in Newton Abbot, Devonshire, in late 1933, and they had one son.
The Heinemann dust-wrapper
            Very little is known of Townsend. In the probate report after his father’s death in 1963, his profession is given as “mechanical engineer.” His only known publication is the novel The Wooden Woman (London: William Heinemann, [June] 1930; New York:  Doubleday, Doran, [December] 1930).  It is a strange novel of retributive justice.  It concerns the last voyage of the ship Heaven Belle, when the descendents of the first crew come together in a reenactment of a tragedy of the first voyage forty years earlier. (The wooden woman of the title refers to the figurehead of the ship.) The plot is artificial and contrived, and the writing shows some flaws of the young first-time novelist, but the reviews of the original editions were fairly favorable, though tempered with some appropriate criticism.  The Times Literary Supplement noted that “Mr. Townsend writes with dramatic force, he can build up situations to a crescendo of terrific implications, but he is rather caught in the toils of his commitments. If Mr. Townsend does not quite succeed in an ingenious device, his talent can thrill the reader by horrific suggestion” (14 August 1930). L.A.G. Strong noted in The Spectator that “Mr. Townsend’s characters are crude, enormous symbols—like the Wooden Woman herself—not living men.  His story misses a universal quality because it is too violent, too fantastic, too full of deaths and ghostly voices. But it is a magnificent attempt” (12 July 1930).


One variant of the Doubleday, Doran dust-wrapper

The other variant of the Doubleday, Doran dust-wrapper

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