Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mark Channing

Mark Channing (b. Kentish Town, Middlesex, 30 March 1879; d. Amersham, Buckinghamshire, 19 December 1943)

"Mark Channing" was the pseudonym of Leopold Aloysius Matthew Jones, the first of four children of George Horatio Jones (1844-1920), a dental surgeon, and his wife, Blanche Louisa Lucas (1843-1908).  He had two younger brothers and one sister.

Little is known of his early life and education.  His father published, as George H. Jones, a book Dentistry: Its Use and Abuse (1872), and sought a patent in 1875 on a method of adapting artificial teeth by use of atmospheric pressure. A further book was on Painless and Perfect Dentistry (1885).

Leopold was a medial student at Guy's Hospital Medical School before he served in the Boer War, returning to England in 1902, after which he joined the Indian Army and started out at Fort St. George in Madras, though he was later stationed in Ceylon, Bangalore, and other places. Since boyhood he had aspired to be a poet, and in Madras he published a slim book Poems (1904), bylined Leopold Jones, with a larger follow-up of the same title the following year. He spent close to twenty years as an officer in the Indian army, retiring in October 1921. In the summer of 1910 he married Anna ("Nan") Maria Levy, with whom he had two daughters and one son.

After retiring from the army with the rank of Major, he worked for the British Hungarian Bank. From 1924-26, he served as editor of the Economic Supplements of Le Temps in Paris, and from 1929-31 held a similar position at The Morning Post in London. He began publishing short fiction and character sketches, first as "Major L.A.M. Jones." By the early 1930s he was using the byline "Mark Channing." His first novel was serialized in The Daily Mail from May 4 through June 21, 1933.  King Cobra (London: Hutchinson, [June] 1933; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [June 1934]) was the first of four novels Captain Colin Gray, of the English Secret Service in India.  The Colin Gray thrillers were similar to the novels of Talbot Mundy, and their mix of adventure and Indian mysticism was popular with readers, particularly in the United States.  The follow-up novels were White Python (London: Hutchinson, [April] 1934; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott,[October 1934]), The Poisoned Mountain (London: Hutchinson, [July 1935]; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [November 1935]), and Nine Lives (London: Hutchinson, [August 1937]; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [September 1937]).

Channing also published a nonfiction volume, Indian Mosaic (1936), which was retitled India Mosaic for its U.S. release (also in 1936), and one non-fantastic novel, Indian Village (1939), retitled The Sacred Falls: A Novel of India for its U.S. edition published three months later. At the time of his death at the age of 64, Channing was working on what was described to be his finest work, The White Bird, a book seeking to show a common foundation for all religions.

A collection of thirty-four short stories, The Breath of Genius (London: Hutchinson, [October 1944]), appeared posthumously, and only in England. It contains a short memoir of Channing by Sir John Pollock, who notes that Jones was familiarly called "Lamb" (from his initials, L.A.M.) and that he used a pseudonym when he turned to fiction because he was told that "Jones" was impossible for an author.  Pollock notes: "he was tall and massive, and held himself well; and on this big body was set a big, handsome head, with expressive features, and very fine, often laughing, dark blue eyes.  Habitually he dangled a gold-rimmed monocle slung on a broad silk ribbon which he used in his right eye for reading; and this, coupled with a certain easy, courteous manner that he had in all things, gave him somewhat the look of those grand Irish gentlemen of a century and over ago, from whom indeed he was doubtless descended."

Lippincott, 1934
Lippincott, 1934
Lippincott, 1935
Lippincott, 1937

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Nicholas Olde

Nicholas Olde (b. Hampstead, London, 8 October 1879; d. reg. Thorrington, near Colchester, Essex, July-Sep. 1951)

The pseudonymous "Nicholas Olde" is remembered primarily for one book, The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern (London: William Heinemann, [March] 1928). The copyright registration in the U.S. fortunately gives the author's real name, A.L. Champneys, thus allowing  us to find some biographical information on the author.

Amian Lister Champneys was the oldest of four children (two sons, two daughters) of Basil Champneys (1842-1935), a well-known architect of many collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings, and his wife Mary Theresa Ella Drummond (1858-1941), who were married in 1876. Basil's father and one of his brothers were clergyman (his father was very late in life made the Dean of Lichfield). Basil had been one of eight children of a hard-working old county family with only a modest income; at his death he left an estate valued at nearly fifty-thousand pounds. Amian's youngest sibling was Adelaide Mary Champneys (1888-1966), who published a number of books, some of which were fairly popular in England and America, including Miss Tiverton Goes Out (1925), which appeared anonymously. Adelaide also co-wrote a pseudonymous book with her other brother, the clergyman Michael Weldon Champneys (1884-1957). (I have written in more detail on Adelaide here.)

Amian attended the Charterhouse school in Godalming, Surrey, and in 1898 matriculated at New College, Oxford (B.A. 1902). He followed his father's footsteps and became an architect. Under his own name he published one book, Public Libraries: A Treatise on Their Design, Construction and Fittings (1907).

Under the pseudonym "Nicholas Olde" Amian published three books. The first was The Incredible Adventures of Rowland Hern. It collects fifteen episodes of crimes studied by Rowland Hern and his Watson-like unnamed narrator.  The cases themselves are tinged with humor and paradox in the manner of G.K. Chesterton.  Aside from the reprinting of one story ("A Collector of Curiosities") in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in July 1942, no other stories were reprinted until Jack Adrian selected "The Windmill" for his Twelve Tales of Murder (1998).  The whole collection was reprinted by Ramble House in October 2005.

In 1933 "Nicholas Olde" published Essex Verses and Others: In Tendring Hundred and the Pageant of Progress, a slim volume of poetry (39 pp.), which in 1934 was expanded to be (at 86 pp.) The Last Goddess (Essex Verses and Others).

Monday, March 11, 2019

Pat Root

Pat Root (b. Hailey, Idaho, 16 July 1917; d. Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 1965)

Pat Root published only two books, the first of which, from 1952, gives in a biographical note on the dust-wrapper most of what is known about her.  It reads:
Pat Root was born in Hailey, Idaho, but she didn't stay there long. Her father was a government employee and the family moved around a good bit. One of their longest stays was in the West Indies, for three years, before Miss Root came to New York where she studied art instead of going to college. Back in the islands for a year's visit, she tells us: "I wrote some children's stories which were too old for children, and painted some pictures which were not."  She is married and now makes her home in Connecticut. 
She was born Doris Patricia Root, the only child of Carl L. Root (1881-1956), who was born Charles Levi Rosengren in Minnesota, and his wife Mildred Eleanor Campling, née Hill (1893-1984), who was from England.  They were married in South Dakota on 10 April 1915.  Carl Root worked  for the Federal Government as an appraiser, and as a collector of customs in the Virgin Islands for twenty years, before he retired to Miami in 1952. 

Pat Root's husband was Charles Sherman Robinson (1911-1967).  It was his second marriage; he had a son and a daughter from his first marriage, which lasted from 1932 until he was divorced in 1939. He had studied at Yale, M.I.T., and the University of Berlin, but spent most of adult his life in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  At the time of his death he was working for the U.S. Navy on a research project at Yale.  He and his second wife lived in Sandy Hook. They had no children.

Her two books, both mysteries with gothic overtones published as part of the "Inner Sanctum Mystery" series, appeared under her maiden name, though she was married before the first one came out. Evil Became Them (New York:  Simon and Schuster, [February] 1952) also achieved a British edition (1953), a US paperback edition (Dell, 1954), and a translation into Spanish (Argentina, 1958).   It tells of the charming Vail siblings, a sister and two brothers, on Santa Gorda Island, who seek to inherit a fortune from their stepmother, who is wary enough of their plotting to warn a mysterious guest before she perishes. 

Her second book was less successful, The Devil of the Stairs (New York:  Simon and Schuster, [February] 1956). It concerns a beautiful opera singer who is quintessentially evil.

Pat Root died in 1965 (information from her gravestone; no obituaries have been found).

Pat Root's gravestone gets her birthyear incorrect (as 1918)
Both of her books were reprinted as mass market paperbacks in 1966 in the short-lived series of  Lancer Gilt-Edge Gothics, which also included two novels by Phyllis Paul. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth

Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (b. Athens, Alabama, 1830; d. Los Angeles, California, 8 January 1903)

Little is known of the early life of Alexander Pitts Bettersworth. Born in Alabama, he moved to Illinois in 1849.  He was awarded a Doctor of Medicine at Louisville Medical College in Kentucky on 2 March 1855.  His thesis, signed as by A. Pitts Bettersworth, was on "Plastic Fibrin."

In 1855 he settled in Carlinville, Illinois, where he worked as a practicing physician for the next thirty-five years.  He married Anna Jane Fishback (1839-1919) in Carlinville on 20 November 1856.  They had three children, two daughters, and a son also named Alexander Pitts Bettersworth (1860-1938).

Bettersworth retired in 1898 and moved to California, where he died of heart troubles.  His obituary notes that he had been "a regular contributor to newspapers and periodicals" and that he had published several works. Only two books are known. Both are novels, and both appear to have been subsidized by the author, as they were printed by H.W. Rokker of Springfield, Illinois.  Rokker also published the local newspaper The Springfield Star. The first novel is prosaically titled John Smith, Democrat: His Two Days' Canvass (Sunday Included) for the Office of Mayor in the City of Bunkumville (1877), published as by "Bettersworth."

His second novel, by far the more interesting, was The Strange MS. By —, M.D. (1883), published anonymously. The story purports to have been written in 1881 and concerns the prevision of events that might take place in 1883-1884, when a comet strikes the earth and the narrator retreats into Mammoth Cave with his black servant.  After the firestorm, they emerge into a destroyed world which has shifted on its axis. Humanity has nearly all perished, but the few survivors trek to upper Canada where it is now warm enough to live. Eventually the narrator awakens back in Mammoth Cave and finds a pile of manuscript pages he has written.  E.F. Bleiler summed up his valuation of the book "as a novel, amateurish, with period ethnic humor about blacks, but with some touches of imagination."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Thomas Bontly

Thomas Bontly (b. Madison, Wisconsin, 25 August 1939; d. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 29 June 2012)

Thomas John Bontly was the son of Thomas L. Bontly (1906-1968), a hotel cashier, and his wife, Mary Helen, née Hackett (1911-1971).  

Bontly got his B.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961, and in the following year he was a Rotary International Scholar at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England. Bontly married Marilyn Mackie in 1962.  They had one son.

Bontly got his Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1966. His dissertation was on Henry James (about whom he also published essays), and he also held a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship.  His first novel was published in 1966. Also in 1966, he began teaching literature and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he held many positions until his retirement in 2001.

The third of his four published novels was Celestial Chess (New York:  Harper & Row, 1979), his only work relative to the genre of the fantastic.  It follows an American academic in 1962 who is a visiting scholar at an imaginary college at Cambridge University. David Fairchild is there to study a particular medieval manuscript, long neglected, but which has an unsavory reputation and which Fairchild learns is haunted. Bontly's novel has a second narrative track following the twelfth-century author of the manuscript, Geoffrey Gervaise, a rogue priest. Thus as a novel Celestial Chess straddles  multiple sub-genres, historical, detective and supernatural, and it does so successfully while maintaining a high level of interest and suspense.

Bontly's other novels are The Competitor (1966), The Adventures of a Young Outlaw (1974), and The Giant's Shadow (1988). The first concerns a single day at a shoe-store. The second is a boy's coming of age novel set in the summer before high school.  The Giant's Shadow is a thriller set in West Germany about an American poet, who had defected to the Soviet Union years earlier, attempting to return to the West. Bontly also contributed stories, essays and reviews to many magazines. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Harrison Dale

Harrison Dale (b. London, 10 February 1898; d. County Mayo, Ireland, 19 March 1988)

from the cover of Bus by the Brook (1964)
Between 1926 and 1933 six books appeared in England under the byline "Harrison Dale." In several reference sources, these books have been erroneously attributed to an American author and academic, Harrison Clifford Dale (1885-1969). A directory of writers from the early 1930s notes that "Harrison Dale" was the pen name of an author and journalist born in London in February 1898.

The first of the six published books was autobiographical, Vanishing Trails: Ten Years of a Wanderers Life (1926), in which the author described being the wireless operator on a steamer ship sunk in May 1918 by a U-86 submarine, from which three men were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war.  From these details, research reveals that this was the British steamer Medora, sunk on 2 May 1918, and the radio operator who was captured was one Maurice James McGrath. Other sources have confirmed his identity as "Harrison Dale."

Maurice James McGrath was the second child of Patrick McGrath (1862-1918), who was Irish-born but worked in London as a Constable with the Metropolitan Police, and his wife (born in England of Irish immigrants) Mary Mulligan (1866-?). Their first child was a daughter, Mary Isabella McGrath (1894-1971), who emigrated to Australia at the age of eighteen.

Maurice was educated at Bishop Eton, Wavertree (near Liverpool), and at the Marconi Radio School. After he qualified as a Wireless Officer, he joined the Merchant Navy. His father was a great lover of books, and passed that love onto Maurice, often reading to him stories of the "creepy" variety. After a torpedo struck his steamer ship, he spent a month as a prisoner in a submarine before being interred in Brandenburg Camp. He gradually lost his hearing until he went completely deaf.  In 1924, facing his loss, he settled in London, having sailed on the seas for seven years.

In 1925, Maurice McGrath married Blanche Edith R. Axton (1900-1938); they had one daughter. His first autobiography Vanishing Trails appeared in March 1926.  This was followed by another work of nonfiction on Ireland, published in October 1927.  Next came four anthologies, Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [October] 1930), The Marryat Book: Scenes from the Works of Captain Marryat (1930), More Great Ghost Stories (London: Herbert Jenkins, [November] 1932), and Where Away? Famous Stories of the Sea: The Boys' Book of Sea Stories (1933). He also published stories and articles in newspapers and journals, like The Nineteenth Century and After, Fortnightly, T.P.'s Weekly, Irish Independent, Manchester Guardian, and various other periodicals. 

The two anthologies of ghost stories are McGrath's most significant contribution to the field of supernatural literature. The first book contains fifteen stories, the second twelve. The first contains a wide-ranging twenty-four page introduction on "The Art of the Ghost Story," while the second contains another eleven pages on "Anthologists and Other Ghouls." These introductions exhibit McGrath's particular knowledge of the genre, as he mentions familiar works along with some much lesser-known writings like Ferelith by Lord Kilmarnock. He calls Bulwer-Lytton and J. Sheridan Le Fanu "the two great masters of the ghost story during the Dickens period" and shows a familiarity with many stories published in periodicals. In his introduction to the second volume, McGrath admits that he doesn't believe in ghosts, and that he isn't much interested in the "true ghost story." He notes that for both anthologies he has selected a number of tales that have not been previously reprinted but he feels that all of the tales selected are worth reading.

Where Away? contains twelve stories (authors include A. Conan Doyle, Captain Marryat, and W. Clark Russell, among others) but has no introduction at all, and a surprising omission from the contents is anything by William Hope Hodgson, whose first-rate sea stories, often horrific, with a large number of them classics of weird fiction, would be likely to have been favorites of the editor if he knew them.

He reworked his autobiography into a new book, The Last Landfall as by Desmond Malone, published in 1936.  It was the first (and only) of his books to achieve an American edition.  In fact, it was more successful in the U.S. than in England, for there was a book club edition published by the Book League of America.

After the Second World War, McGrath moved to western Ireland to explore his family's roots. He married Gertrude [later known as "Jill"] O'Kane (1914-1977) in Mayo, Ireland, in 1949; they had three daughters.  His final book was a third autobiography, detailing his life after he came to Ireland.  It was published as Bus by the Brook (1964) under a pen name slightly altered from his real name, Morrow MacRath.  He died at the age of ninety.

*Thanks to Shirley Burns and Geraldine Gahan for their generous help.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Alan Hyder

Alan Hyder (b. reg. Croydon, Surrey, Jan-March 1895; d. The Lizard, Cornwall, 29 June 1952)

Alan Hyder was born Frederick Alan Hyder, the oldest of three children of Frederick Richard Edie Hyder (1863-1942), a railway clerk, and Ellen Frances Jackson (1864-1843), who were married in Deptford St. Paul on 20 December 1890.  He had two younger sisters. Before adulthood he switched the ordering of his names (presumably to avoid confusion with his father Frederick), and was thereafter known as Alan Frederick Hyder.

Hyder published four novels between 1932 and 1936, and two story collections in 1944 and 1950.  He appears to have kept a regular job in the architectural department of the Civil Service all the while he was publishing.  Biographical details on Hyder are scarce. The dust-wrapper of the U.S. edition of Hyder's fourth novel, Prelude to Blue Mountains (1936), has a photograph (reproduced at right) and some biographical data, worth recording here:
Age 39. Height 6' 3" Weight 14 stones (196 lbs). Fought as a boy throughout the War in France. Wounded 5 times. Survived to discard 3 medals with a lot of other old junk and to regard the unfortified frontier between America and Canada with ardent admiration. Been at various times: Civil Servant, black-and-white artist and short-story writer. Lived in Egypt, Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, and the West Indies. Have never yet visited U.S.A. but two main ambitions are (a) to spend a week on horse in the Grand Canyon; (b) to spend a day with a blonde—a real hard-boiled American Cinematic gum-chewing wise-cracking ganster's moll—is that correct?—at Coney Island. 
Hyder's narrative of an episode in his war service, "A Nightmare," was published in Everyman at War: Sixty Personal Narratives of the War (1930), edited by C.B. Purdom.

Hyder's four novels include Lofty (1932), the story of wild boy sent to a reformatory, who escapes and is taken to Cairo where he falls in love, only to end up in the trenches in France, after which his poverty and despair leads to tragic results. Black-Girl, White-Lady (1934) is the story of a "near-white" woman in Jamaica. It is filled with annoying dialect and today the book would doubtless be considered racist.

Hyder's third novel is his most significant, Vampires Overhead (London: Philip Allan, [April] 1935). It was published as part of the Creeps series, and is basically a pulp horror thriller, wherein London is invaded by hordes of vampires, devastating the city.  Three survivors escape to the countryside. While it has a fascinating set-up, the story quickly descends into a simplistic contest of jealousies and survival.  Vampires Overhead was championed by Karl Edward Wagner in one of the ecclectic lists he published in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine in 1983.  Wagner listed Vampires Overhead as one of "The Thirteen Best Science Fiction Horror Novels." 

Hyder's final novel Prelude to Blue Mountains is the only one of his books to achieve a contemporary American edition. It tells of Start Hansone, who murders his nagging wife, and falls in with a vagabond and his daughter, escapes execution and end up in Jamaica.

Jack Adrian, in an introduction to the 2002 Ash-Tree Press reprint of Vampires Overhead, notes that Hyder's novels all concern "doomed lives battling hopelessly against the inevitable," and that his four novels all come from publishers not known for quality literature. 

Between 1934 and 1950, Hyder published around 130 short stories in the London newspaper The Evening News. Many of these stories are about a ten-year old Jamaican boy named Matthias Nehemiah Martingue but called Matt, and twenty-six stories were collected in Matt (London: Quality Press, 1944).  A further fifty  stories were collected in The Magic of Matt (London: P.R. Gawthorn, 1950), which includes seventeen rather crude illustrations by the author.  The dust-wrapper blurb notes the ingredients of the stories are "humour and pathos, thrills and adventures, fantasy and romance, with a slight salting of horror." Jack Adrian characterized Matt as "lively, mischievous, and irrepressible" and his stories as "knockabout tales in which Matt either gets the better of fat constable Mermian, or gets whupped by his (equally fat) Mammy."

Hyder also published stories in The Star, Empire Youth Annual, Britannia and Eve, The Strand Magazine, and Pearson's Weekly.

Hyder married Winifred M. Lillington in Fulham, London, in the last quarter of 1924.  He died of cardio vascular degeneration. His death certificate notes he was a "retired author."

Friday, February 15, 2019

Clifford Ball

Clifford Ball (b. New York City, 24 January 1908; d. ?, 1947)

Clifford Nankivell Ball was the only child of Emma Vaughn Nankivell (1874-1965), and her first husband, whose first name is presently unknown.  By the 1910 US Census, Emma had been married for three years, but she and her son had moved in with her parents in Millerstown, Pennsylvania. Emma's parents were Thomas Nankivell (1844-1930), who had been born in England (the name Nankivell originated in Cornwall), and his wife Martha Ann Vaughn (1848-1918). Around 1921 Emma married Asel B. Porter (1876-1956).

Clifford graduated from the Millerstown High School in May 1925 and, according to his 1941 U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, completed one year of college.  Between 1937 and 1941 Ball contributed six short stories to Weird Tales magazine, the first three of which are sword and sorcery tales reminiscent of Robert E. Howard's barbarian tales. These feature Duar, a muscular barbarian, or Rald, a barbarian thief. The first, "Duar the Accursed" (May 1937) is fairly derivative of "The Tower of the Elephant" (Weird Tales, March 1933), a Conan story. The other two are "The Thief of Forthe" (July 1937); "The Goddess Awakes" (February 1938). Ball's last three stories are very different from the first three. These stories include "The Swine of Aeaea" (March 1939); "The Little Man" (August 1939); and "The Werewolf Howls" (November 1941). Ball's first four stories were accompanied by illustrations by Virgil Finlay. 

A biographical note on Ball, announcing two further stories forthcoming, appeared in October 1937 issue of Weird Tales, after two of his stories had already been published.  It reads:
This 29-year-old newest sensation of Weird Tales has led a life as adventurous as that of either of his two barbarian heroes. He went through high school in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, experiencing great difficulty with his mathematics and with a young and attractive school-teacher of whom he became enamored. After he had been graduated, he took a job in the license bureau of the State Highway Department. A few months later he began to hate the place, and left. The Miami catastrophe of 1927 occurred [actually a devastating hurricane which hit Miami in September 1926], and he and a friend trekked south to Florida, expecting to find heavy salaries waiting for eager workers. The state was "broke;" and tourists, alarmed by the tidal wave, were frightened away. Ball has slung hash, worked on dynamite crews as a capper, fry-cooked, run a dice table in a gambling-house, dug ditches, leveled auto springs, spread cloth in a shirt factory, and served beer in a Virginia tavern. This will always remain in Ball's memory, he says, as the best moments of his life (p. 510).
Ball also wrote three letters to Weird Tales that were published in the letter column, "The Eyrie."  The first was in appreciation of the late Robert E. Howard:
I have been a constant reader of your magazine since 1925, when some author's conception of weirdness was a gigantic ape dragging a half-naked female about a jungle, and I have watched it progress steadily upward to the zenith. I do not write criticisms; the main purpose of this letter is that I feel moved to offer my condolences upon the death of Mr. Howard. A hundred international Tarzans could never erase the memory of Conan the Cimmerian. Neither Northwest Smith nor Jirel of Jory—and in Moore you have an excellent author—can quite supplant his glory. When I read that "Red Nails" would be the last of Conan's exploits I felt as though some sort of income, or expected resource, had been suddenly severed. (January 1937, written from Astoria, New York) 
A letter in the January 1938, Ball praises stories by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, and Robert Bloch; and in a final letter in June 1938 Ball issue replies to some criticisms of Ball's third story "The Goddess Awakes."

He married twice, first, on 7 June 1933, to Hermine J. Mahle, of Woodside, Long Island.  The couple settled in New York City after their marriage, but were divorced before the 1940 Census.  Ball enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on 27 January 1941, and served in W.W. II as part of the 788th Bomb Squadron.  He married Jean E. Stewart in Boise, Idaho, on 12 January 1943.

Clifford Ball is buried alongside his mother's family in Millerstown, Pennsylvania. His date of death is given only as 1947.

Ball's first story "Duar the Accursed" was reprinted by Lin Carter in his anthology New Worlds for Old (1971), part of the acclaimed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. All six of Ball's stories were collected in The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories (2018).  None of Ball's stories are very original, and they do not aspire to be more than competent and entertaining pulp fiction.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rah Hoffman

Rah Hoffman (b. Muscatine, Iowa, 25 November 1920; d. Los Angeles, 25 February 2013)

Robert Arthur Hoffman was the son of Fred Harold Hoffman (1887-1933) and Hazel Miriam Becker (1894-1955),  He had an older sister, Miriam Hazel Hoffman (1912-1975), whose married name was Auld.

Hoffman was a 1937 graduate of Muscatine High School, and in the 1940 Census he is listed as a secretary at a real estate firm.  Sometime later in 1940, or soon after, Hoffman and his mother moved from Iowa to California.  Hoffman studied music at the University of Southern California, his education being interrupted by war service (he was drafted in 1943), after which he received his B.A.

Clark Ashton Smith, Francis T. Laney, and Rah Hoffman in 1943
Hoffman did not write much, and is primarily remembered as a friend and associate of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961). He became a leading figure behind the scenes in Smith scholarship. Hoffman read Smith's stories in Weird Tales when he was in high school, and visited Smith in Auburn first on 27 December 1941, and several times in 1943, after he was posted near Auburn for his war service. On 30 October 1943 he was accompanied on a visit to Smith by Francis T. Laney (1914-1958), the editor of the Lovecraftian fanzine The Acolyte. Hoffman had secured a number of Smith items for publication in Laney's fanzine, and the Spring 1944 issue of The Acolyte (volume 2 no. 2; whole number 3) contains an article "The Arkana of Arkham-Auburn" as by "R.A. Hoffman" (soon to acquire the nickname Rah), an account of his visits to Smith. (The uncredited co-author was Smith himself.)  The same issue includes a poem ("The Statues") by Hoffman in the manner of Smith, and drawings ("Lemitrons on Venus," the other untitled) by Hoffman, as well as a contribution by Smith ("Excerpts from The Black Book"). "The Arkana of Arkham-Auburn" was reprinted in the Clark Ashton Smith issue of Nyctalops, no. 8 (August 1972).

Hoffman was active for many years in the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, and professionally he was as a film editor in a number of Hollywood studios. Hoffman and Donald Sidney-Fryer met in May 1961, inaugurating a friendship that would last for over fifty years. Hoffman contributed a letter of Smith-related reminiscences to Sidney-Fryer's long-awaited Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography (1978).  The letter is reprinted, along with some of Hoffman's photographs of Smith, in the exquisite volume In the Realms of Mystery and Wonder: Collected Prose Poems and Artwork of Clark Ashton Smith (2017), edited by Scott Connors. The 1979 Arkham House volume The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith is based on a transcription by Hoffman and Donald Sidney-Fryer made of Smith's notebook in 1961-62.

Hoffman is credited with advice and help on the textual corrections to two of the three volumes of the stories of Clark Ashton Smith, as edited by Donald Sidney-Fryer and published as mass market paperbacks by Timescape:  The City of the Singing Flame (1981) and The Last Incantation (1982).  Hoffman assisted Steve Behrends on many of his Smith publications throughout the 1980s, most notably the grab-all volume Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith (1989), edited by Behrends, "with Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman."

In August 1998 Hoffman asked Donald Sidney-Fryer to share his house in Westchester on the west side of Los Angeles, and Sidney-Fryer, in his autobiography Hobgoblin Apollo (2016), called that fifteen year period beginning in 1998 the happiest and most productive of his life. Hoffman died at the age of 92, while recuperating from a broken hip sustained in a fall.

Monday, February 11, 2019

R.H. Wright

From The Imp
R.H. Wright (b. Belfast?, before 1880; d. New Zealand?, after 1920)

R.H. Wright is known to have published four books between 1904 and 1908, three novels and one work of nonfiction.  In order the books were A Plain Man's Tale (Belfast, 1904). The Surprising Adventures of My Friend, Patrick Dempsey (Dublin, 1906); The Outer Darkness (London:  Greening & Co., [December] 1906), and The Scout in War: What He Does and How to Do It (Dublin, 1908), as by R.H.W., one of "Rimington's Tigers."

A Plain Man's Tale is boys adventure story about a young Yorkshireman who sails for Ireland and lands in Antrim.  The Surprising Adventures of My Friend, Patrick Dempsey is a shorter book, comprising seven comedic tales told by the hero.

Wright's third novel, The Outer Darkness, is a significant fantasy novel.  Bookseller George Locke listed it, along with two other books, as forerunners "of the mystical but very imaginative interplanetary which was to culminate in David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus."

It is an afterlife fantasy, told in the method of a found manuscript. The set-up is that Wright has read in a Tasmanian newspaper about a sailor who has found a curious silver casket which contains a strange manuscript. The manuscript is the narrative of a cruel businessman who died in "189—", having  neglected his wife and children in his pursuit of wealth. He is taken bodily through space to be judged by the King before the Great White Throne. What makes The Outer Darkness interesting is that it is not a preachy tract but a series of strange episodes that gradually unfold the mystery of the story. It has sentimental touches, yet the ending is intriguingly left ambiguous. The book has no apparent relationship to A Voyage to Arcturus beyond the fact that both are early interplanetary fantasies. [Some of the above is extracted from my much longer review of the book in my Late Reviews (2018).]

A contemporary review of the book in The Evening Post for 29 June 1907 is quite dismissive:
The infernal regions are controlled by a she-fiend, a blend of Circe and "She," omnipotent and omniscient in her own domain. So long as her subjects do not displease her, they enjoy themselves to their heart's content in the indulgence of their desires; but for the slightest offence they are tortured to death or consigned to perpetual misery immured in the most loathsome hells.  Here again, there is no co-ordination between offence and penalty, all being at the absolute caprice of the Queen of Evil. The book strikes us as a mere "pot-boiler," something to meet the desire of jaded readers for a new sensation. But it is dull and lifeless, appealing neither  to the intellect not to the imagination. Its lurid horrors may commend it to depraved tastes; but it has no value, literary or otherwise.
It has been difficult to track down R.H. Wright, for nowhere have I been able to discover his full first and middle names. (He was not Robert Hamilton Wright, as one source has alleged.) I give here the relevant details from the two known sources of biographical information on Wright. I'll be grateful if any one can add to it.

From Ireland in Fiction (1919) by Stephen J. Brown:
A Belfast man who served with the Rimington Guides in the South African War and afterwards emigrated to New Zealand. He was wounded in the present war. . . . he has written . . . many short stories and articles.
From The Imp Supplement to December 1907, the house organ of Greening & Co., publisher of The Outer Darkness:
The earliest ambition of Mr. R.H. Wright, author of The Outer Darkness, was to be a locomotive driver. Although he has never attained to this ambition, he has had a fairly varied and interesting career. At the age of eighteen he emigrated to New Zealand, where he gained a vast amount of Colonial experience. When the South African War broke out he joined Rimington's Guides, or "tigers"  as they are called. During the war he had two horses shot under him, and gained a medal and five clasps. He is very keen on shooting and yachting, and is the honorary secretary of the Ballyholme Sailing Club. He is also a staunch Home Ruler and Socialist, but not a Little Englander. The Outer Darkness is a strange story, dealing with the life we are to live in after we die. It is distinctly powerful and original.
The records of the Rimington Guides do not give his full name (only "R.H. Wright"), and the New Zealand Army WWI Casualty Lists for 1914-1919 confirm that R.H. Wright of the New Zealand Engineers, was injured on 9 June 1915.  The minutes of the Ballyholme Sailing Club for 1907-1909, held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland,  confirm that R.H. Wright was a member but they do not spell out his full name. 

Of his "many" short stories and articles, only three are known: "The Training of a Rifle Shot" in The Imp, August 1907, "The Building of the 'Susan Jane'" in The Imp, November 1907, and "Heads or Tails?" in The Novel Magazine, July 1909.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Marie Coolidge Rask

Marie Coolidge Rask (b. Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, 15 August 1872; d. reg. New York, 20 November 1949)

Marie Aurilla Coolidge was the daughter of Charles S. Coolidge (1842-1922) and his wife Helen Mott Post (1840-1921).  She had one brother, John Milton Coolidge (1877-1916).

She apparently attended college, but details are unavailable.  On 8 January 1896, in Dunn county, Wisconsin, she married Olaf Harold Rask (1872-1902), who had been born in Minnesota of Norwegian parents. Olaf studied at Granville University in Granville, Ohio, and at the University of Minnesota, and became a journalist for Minnesota newspapers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. He was a major in the Minnesota militia, and during the Spanish-American war became a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. The couple had one child, Fredrik August Rask (1896-1963).  Olaf Rask died of cholera in the Philippines, and after 1904, Marie Rask received a widow's pension.

In 1904, she was studying for her novitiate (as Sister Harriet) at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Peekskill, New York, when she was transferred to Kenosha, Wisconsin, visiting with her parents in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, on the way there (The Wellsboro Agitator, 14 September 1904).  For unknown reasons, she soon left the order, and, began writing plays, stories, and articles, for newspapers as well as for magazines. Her first book was a short farce in one act, How the Shrew Was Tamed (1909), as by M.A. Rask, "with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare."  Around this time she settled in Brooklyn, while writing for papers such as The New York World.  She also wrote for The Motion Picture Story Magazine, and for Photoplay Magazine, serializing the stories of popular films. Some of her newspaper work was apparently syndicated, appearing regularly in other newspapers in cities including Pittsburgh.

By 1911 her byline changed to include her maiden name, which she sometimes hyphenated as "Coolidge-Rask." She was pleased to claim Calvin Coolidge as a distant relative (she believed that they shared Josiah Coolidge, a Revolutionary War hero and participant at the Boston Tea Party, as a great-great-grandfather) who rose in political prominence, as Lt. Governor and then Governor of Massachusetts, and then Vice President (1921-23) and President (1923-1929) of the United States. 

Mary Coolidge-Rask is remembered for her three photoplay books, all published by Grosset & Dunlap:  La Bohème, by Marie Coolidge-Rask, illustrated with scenes from the photoplay, King Voidor's production, [July] 1926; Sparrows, novelized by Marie Coolidge-Rask, original story by Winifred Dunn,  illustrated with scenes from the photoplay starring Mary Pickford, [October] 1926;  and London after Midnight, by Marie Coolidge-Rask, based on the scenario of the Tod Browning production, a Metro-Goldwin-Mayer picture, starring Lon Chaney, [February] 1928. 

London after Midnight is by far the most significant of these, for the last known print of the film was destroyed in a studio vault fire in May 1967, so Coolidge-Rask's novelization is one of a small number of sources from which the plot of the film can be reconstructed. The situation is complicated, and I refer anyone interested to two books by Thomas Mann, London After Midnight: A New Reconstruction Based on Contemporary Sources with a transcription of a newly-discovered magazine fictionization of the lost film (2016), and London After Midnight: An English Translation of the 1929 French Novelization of the Lost Lon Chaney Film (2018), edited with a preface and afterword by Thomas Mann; translation of Lucien Boisyvon's Londres Après Minuit by Kieran O'Driscoll.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Edith Birkhead

Edith Birkhead (b. Harrowgate, Yorkshire, 28 November 1888; d. Clifton, Bristol, 14 June 1951)

Edith Birkhead was the daughter of Robert Dax Birkhead (1836-1908), a commercial traveler, and his wife Mary Jemima Taylor (1848-1921), who were married in Barnsley, Yorkshire, in the summer of 1869.  She was the youngest of seven children, and had four sisters and two brothers.

She was educated at South Liverpool High School, Liverpool College, Huyton, and entered the University of Liverpool in October 1906 (B.A. 1910, Honours in English Literature; M.A. 1911), with further study of English Literature at Liverpool under the William Noble Fellowship for 1916-17 and 1917-18.*

Birkhead's first and most important book was the result of her research fellowship. The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (London:  Constable, [April] 1921) is one of the first extended works of scholarship covering the beginnings of the gothic romance in the late eighteenth century up to modern times.  (Dorothy Scarborough's The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction had come out in 1917.)  An undated American edition of The Tale of Terror came out from E.P. Dutton around July 1921, made up of sheets imported from England with a cancel title. Birkhead's preface is dated December 1920, which has resulted in bibliographical references erroneously stating that the book was published in 1920.

The review in The Times Literary Supplement, 5 May 1921,  was by Virginia Woolf. The New York Times Book Review gave the book a full-page review by noted critic Brander Matthews in the issue for 25 September 1921. Both reviews are positive about what Birkhead achieved, but both wished that she might have expanded her scope a bit. A few years later, H.P. Lovecraft, when writing his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1927), relied heavily on Birkhead's book, especially with regard to early gothic writers covered in its first five chapters. 

By 1920, Birkhead was Assistant Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Bristol. By 1930 her position had been elevated to Lecturer, and later, Senior Lecturer.

Birkhead did not publish much. Her first known work was an essay on "Imagery and Style in Shelley," published in Primitiæ: Essays in English Literature (1912) by students of the University of Liverpool. An essay on "Sentiment and Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century Novel" appeared in Essays and Studies by Member of the English Association (1925), and a second, small book was Christina Rosetti & Her Poetry (1930).

Birkhead never married, and her estate of over six thousand pounds was left to another "spinster," Anne Mackenzie Couper (c. 1888-1966).

One of her older sisters was Alice Birkhead (b. Heaton Moor, Lancashire, 22 June 1880; d. Golders Green, Middlesex, 22 September 1918), who was a teacher of art and painting at a girls' college.  Alice Birkhead also published several books, including two novels The Master Knot (1908) and Shifting Sands (1914), along with popular histories Tales of Irish History (1910), Stories of American History (1912), The Story of the French Revolution (1913), Heroes of Modern Europe (1913), Marie Antoinette (1914), and Peter the Great (1915).

*Information courtesy of the University Archivist, The University of Liverpool.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Elizabeth Whiteley

Elizabeth Whiteley (b. reg. Halifax, Yorkshire, Jan-Mar 1879; untraced after c.1906)

Elizabeth Whiteley was the second child of Thomas Whiteley (1847-1893), a house painter, and Dorothy Gratton (1847-1912), who were married in Derbyshire in early 1874. Their first child had been a son, John Henry Whiteley (1875-1880).

In 1894, after her husband's death, Dorothy Whiteley married James Hutchinson (1844-1919), a wool sorter who was a widower with one son, Henry Hutchinson (1871-1962).  The family made their home in central Halifax.  In the 1901 UK Census, Elizabeth is listed as a music teacher. She was also, according to a 1905 profile in Yorkshire Notes and Queries, a vocalist and  a solo violinist of considerable ability. She also apparently contributed many short stories to the local papers.

Her only book was the novel, The Devil's Throne (London:  Digby, Long, [October] 1903), one which George Locke listed as "a forerunner of the mystical but very imaginative type of interplanetary which was to culminate in David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus." Some reviews give some flavor of the book:
On the title-page we find the words "And lo! I beheld a serpent-throne, and a beauteous woman." On the vellum square, over which the two characters are poring as the story opens, was written in cabalistic letters a description of "The Devil's Throne," which was hidden behind the orb of the lambent moon. Thither they fare in the flying machine which is ready made for the purpose, and before long we are in a phantasmagoria in which we distinguish at intervals Circe, Marcus Aurelius, and the two investigators. For sheer extravagance this story surpasses anything we have met with in recent fiction.  The Academy and Literature, 21 November 1903

In The Devil's Throne, a father and daughter set out on a series of adventures in a wonderful airship, reaching all sorts of extraordinary countries in the clouds, encountering a tribe of feathered dwarfs and other marvellous creatures, and undergoing all sorts of strange hardships and transformations in the ethereal regions. The Bookseller, 6 November 1903

A singular and thrilling story. The story of a "she-devil" disguised as a beautiful and attractive woman who lures men to destruction.  The Bristol Mercury, from a Digby, Long catalogue
Presumably on the basis of her published novel, Elizabeth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature on 27 April 1904.  In the Royal Society of Literature "List of Fellows" for 1906 the following entry appears:
Mrs. Elizabeth Boyle (formerly Miss Elizabeth Whiteley), 9, Orange Street, Bloemfontein, O.E.C., South Africa. 
After this migration to southern Africa she disappears from public information. I can find no record of her marriage or death, and would welcome any knowledge of her later life.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Vincent McHugh

Vincent McHugh (b. Providence, Rhode Island, 23 December 1904; d. Sacramento, California, 23 January 1983)

Vincent Joseph McHugh was the eldest child  of Michael Joseph McHugh (1868-1946), a printer and an amateur painter, and his wife, Mary Esther, née Young (1874-1916), who were married on 5 August 1903. The family was of Irish- and Scotch-American stock. Vincent had two brothers and one sister.

Vincent was raised Roman Catholic and educated at La Salle Academy and Providence College, where he spent one year. He later noted that he was "forced out of the latter institution for reasons not unlike Shelley's in similar circumstances.  I had been very reluctant to bring up my non-religious views." He worked at odd jobs but felt that the four years he spent as a public library messenger had probably decided his taste.  From the age of seventeen, he wrote book reviews for the Double Dealer of New Orleans.  He began a first novel at age twenty.

He moved to New York City in 1928, and worked there writing for newspapers and magazines. Around 1929 he married a woman named Lillian (1910-2009); they had no children.  His first book was a novel, Touch Me Not (1930), followed by four other novels, including Sing Before Breakfast (1933), and The Victory (1947). A short story "Parish of Cockroaches" (Story, March 1934) appeared in The Best Short Stories 1935, edited by Edward J. O'Brien. The Blue Hen's Chickens (1947) is a collection of poetry. Alpha: The Mutabilities (1958) is a small press poetry booklet.

Two of McHugh's novels are fantastical in nature.  Caleb Catlum's America (New York:  Stackpole Sons, 1936) is a mix of tall tales and satire.  The eponymous folk hero Caleb Catlum, who was born in 1798, tells the story of his first one hundred years and his friendships with some well-known historical figures, like Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson, Huck Finn, Sam Clemens, Dan'l Boone, Buffalo Bill, and Uncle Remus. It was mostly well-received and quickly went into multiple printings.

I Am Thinking of My Darling (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1943) was a bestseller. In this novel a strange affliction has settled upon the inhabitants of New York City, a kind of epidemic that starts with a low-grade fever and brings with it the loss of all inhibitions, conventions, and hatred. The authorities try to suppress the outbreak, while the "victims" seek to share their new happiness.  The novel was filmed in 1968 as What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, starring George Peppard, Mary Tyler Moore, Susan St. John and Dom Deluise. 

Through the 1930s and 1950s McHugh had a large number of varied jobs. He was editor-in-chief of the Federal Writers' Project in New York City, and oversaw the New York Panorama and New York City Guide, both published in 1939. For some years he was a staff writer at the New Yorker. He taught a course on the "Technique of the Novel" at New York University, and worked as a writer-director of some propaganda films for the Office of War Information.  In 1944 he moved to California and became a contract writer for Paramount Pictures, leaving after the minimum ten weeks even though he was offered a renewal. He spent several months in the South Pacific as a merchant marine correspondent (this experience provided the basis for his novel The Victory, and the related 1953 paperback collection of short stories, Edge of the World), before returning to New York. From 1948 to 1952 he lectured and taught at various writer's conferences and colleges in New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri, and New Hampshire. His nonfiction book Primer of the Novel was published in 1950, and at this time he contributed a number of sea stories to Argosy. He moved to San Francisco in December 1952.

He had divorced his first wife in 1945, and thereafter married at least two more times. One marriage (c. 1948) was to Adeliza Sorenson (1912-2003), of St. George, Utah, an artist known familiarly as Addie. The marriage also ended in divorce, and McHugh was married again, on 5 February 1965, to Patricia A. Tool (b. 1927) in San Francisco. They settled in Sacramento.

McHugh's last three books were small press translations, with C.H. Kwock, from the Chinese: Why I Live on the Mountain: 30 Chinese Poems from the Great Dynasties (1958), The Lady and the Hermit: 30 Chinese Poems (1962), and Old Friend from Far Away: 150 Chinese Poems from the Great Dynasties (1980).

McHugh died of respiratory complications at a hospital in Sacramento.  His body was cremated.

Monday, January 28, 2019

J. Aubrey Tyson

J. Aubrey Tyson in 1903
J. Aubrey Tyson (b. Philadelphia, 6 March 1870; d. New York City, 16 October 1930)

John Aubrey Tyson was the son of Clifton Walter Tyson (1847-1931), a stenographer, and his first wife, Joanna Fannie Doyle (1847-c.1890).  John Aubrey Tyson had two younger brothers.

He became a journalist, and worked for various newspapers in the northeast over his career. He married Catherine Josephine Brophy, who had come from England, in Manhattan on 25 November 1896.  They had one daughter, and were later divorced around 1905. Tyson remarried. His second wife, fifteen years his junior, was named Violet; they also had one daughter.

Tyson's first known story appeared in a newspaper in October 1895.  It was quickly followed by "The Dexter Bells," which appeared in the December 1895 issue of the British magazine The Ludgate.  From then on through the late teens he contributed a large number of stories and serials to the popular fiction and pulp magazines, including Pearson's Magazine, Argosy, Munsey's Magazine, The All-Story Magazine, The Railroad Man's Magazine, The Scrap Book, Snappy Stories, and Top-Notch Magazine.

The 1922 Macmillan dust-wrapper
Tyson's first of four books was The Stirrup Cup (1903), a fictional story of the the courtship and marriage of Aaron Burr. His second book was The Scarlet Tanager (1922), a story of espionage and diplomatic intrigue set around the year 1930. It seems to have been moderately successful, so that the same publisher soon issued his third book The Barge of Haunted Lives (New York:  Macmillan, 1923; London: Mills and Boon, 1924). This was not in fact a new story, for it had been serialized in The All-Story Magazine from November 1908 through April 1909. It begins intriguingly, and the setting is a barge anchored off Long Island, where nine men and one woman, most of whom do not know each other, have been brought together by their host to tell their respective stories so that the haunted aspects of their lives become clear to all.  The guests are known to each other only by descriptive names such as the One-eyed Duck Hunter, the Veiled Aeronaut, the Sentimental Gargoyle, the Decapitated Man, the Fugitive Bridegroom, and others.

The book (likely inspired in form by the nested stories in Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Nights) begins promisingly, but as successive tales are told the implausibilities and sheer artificialities of the novel's construction become increasingly distracting to the reader. The whole scenario is complicated and convoluted well before it reaches the end. Many of the intertwined stories are tales of adventure, and though the book has a reputation for supernatural content, this is very much overstated.  For instance, to one teller, a certain woman appeared to be a vampire, but we quickly learn that was not the case.  Overall this is standard pulp-magazine fare, but it goes on far too long.

Tyson's final book was a detective novel, Rhododendron Man (1930).  The central mystery is that an unknown person stood in the rhododendron bushes outside a library window and shot and killed Lloyd Gasperson.  Dashiell Hammett reviewed the book in the New York Evening Post, citing faults and irrelevancies similar to those that mar the tales told in The Barge of Haunted Lives:
An unskillfully wrought affair that should not baffle you. The author overlooks one howling clue pointing straight at the guilty person. The story starts with a kidnapping that has not much to do with the rest of the plot and then passes on to the murder of Lloyd Gasperson, which has not anything to do with the kidnapping." (21 June 1930)
On 16 October 1930, Tyson's dead body was found at the foot of a tree in Central Park in New York City.  Beside him was a bottle which the police said had previously contained poison.  In his pockets were rejection slips from various magazine publishers. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Robert Baker Elder

Robert Baker Elder (b. Auburn, California, 7 July 1915; d. Auburn, California, 18 June 2008)

Robert Baker Elder was the younger of two sons of Joseph Lillard Elder (1869-1958), an Auburn Mayor, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth "Bessie" Baker (1874-1960).  He was a lifelong resident of Auburn, California, save for the time he spent in the military, from February 1942 through October 1945, during World War II.  His service was in the Pacific.

After graduating from high school in the early 1930s, he went to work for the local newspaper, The Auburn Journal.  He resumed this job after his war service.  He also contributed to the National Parks Magazine, and published four novels through vanity publishers.  These include The Sheriff of Sycamore Flat (published in July 1952), Whom the Gods Destroy (April 1953), Rattlesnake Dick (August 1954), and Banner House (August 2002). Rattlesnake Dick was reissued by a trade publisher, Dembner Books, in 1982.

The Sheriff of Sycamore Flat is a comedy set in a small western town, where a young woman, educated in Boston, returns with notions of new women's rights that cause turmoil.  Whom the Gods Destroy is a short novel about a misanthropic veteran named John Fielden Spencer, returned from the recent war, who wants only to live alone in the mountains away from people. The book has little plot, but is filled mainly with dialogue about concepts such as freedom and individuality, as Spencer argues with his well-meaning friends before removing himself from human society.  Rattlesnake Dick is about an Auburn historical figure who masterminded a 1856 robbery of a Wells Fargo mule train. Banner House is a novel of the Gold Rush era. 

Elder had long known of Auburn's other writer, poet and Weird Tales writer Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961), but he didn't become friends with Smith until after he covered Smith's November 1954 marriage to Carol Jones Dorman for the local newspaper.  Smith, he discovered, identified with the protagonist of Elder's novel Whom the Gods Destroy, and called the book his "soul biography." Significantly, in the late 1950s, Elder recorded Smith readings some of his own poems—these tapes are the only known surviving recordings of Smith's voice. The poems were chosen at random from Smith's recent collections, The Dark Chateau (1951) and Spells and Philtres (1958). In 1995 Necronomicon Press issued a selection of the recordings as a cassette titled Live from Auburn: The Elder Tapes, with a recorded introduction by Elder himself about his friendship with Smith. In his later years, Elder was known for welcoming Smith aficionados when they visited Auburn. He died a few week shy of his ninety-third birthday. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

H. Frankish

H. Frankish (b. Kirmington, Lincolnshire, England, 12 March 1873; d. Hampstead, London, 24 June 1918)

The byline "H. Frankish" appeared on only one book, and has long been thought to be a pseudonym, but an entry in The Literary Year-book for 1917 confirms that the author was indeed named H. Frankish.

Harold Frankish was the second son of William John Frankish (1840-1886), a gentleman farmer, and his wife Louisa Ann, née Raven (1849-1914), who were married in 1869 and who settled in Kirmington, Lancashire. He had three brothers and two sisters. 

Harold matriculated at Worcester College, Oxford, in October 1892 (B.A. 1896), and was further educated at Oxford (Bachelor of Medicine, 1900; Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, 1906). He also received the Diploma of Fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1906.  He married Ethel Beatrice Symons in Dunton-Cum-Doughton, Norfolk, on 18 April 1897.  His book was published in 1913, and he died at the North Western Hospital in Hampstead in 1918. His estate of over eight thousand pounds was probated to his youngest brother, Arthur Rupert Frankish (1884-1960).

His single book was Dr. Cunliffe, Investigator (London:  Heath, Cranton & Ouseley, [May 1913]).  It is a collection of seven stories about the titular Dr. Cunliffe, an egotistical Oxford-educated medical doctor who has developed extraordinary physical strength. Cunliffe investigates strange happenings, often assisting Scotland Yard.  The seven adventures are sensational, and mostly science fiction of some sort. In one, a scientist has invented a machine that disintegrates people. In another a strange creature has emerged out of a recently fallen meteorite, and the creature is killing local children. Another story tells of a partial brain transplant from a death-row criminal into an ape's cranium. A contemporary review of the book notes:
"The quality of imagination is not lacking in these rather blood-curdling detective stories, but the author has not troubled greatly about plausibility, and he generally discloses the plot too early. The investigator himself, who relates the adventures, is somewhat pretentious, and the writing is not improved by the frequent use of cliches." The Atheneum, 1913
The publisher Heath, Cranton & Ouseley is believed to have been a vanity press, so the print-run was probably very small, and Dr. Cunliffe, Investigator has been a legendary rarity for many years, particularly among detective fiction collectors.  The short-lived small press Thomas Loring announced in 2006 a forthcoming reprint, but it never appeared. And unfortunately none of the seven stories have ever been anthologized.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Mrs. Jack McLaren

Mrs. Jack McLaren (b. Sandhurst, Victoria, Australia, 1887; d. London, 3 April 1946)

Born Ada Elizabeth McKenzie, she was the daughter of William Kenneth McKenzie (1850-1920), a merchant, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, née Stoker (1854-1930).  She had six brothers and three sisters.

On 21 February 1912, she married Captain Edmund Fox Moore (1884-1917), the oldest son of Notley Moore (1858-1922), the Chief Police Magistrate of Melbourne.  Her husband was killed in battle in Flanders in World War I.  They had three sons.

On 19 August 1924, she married the Melbourne writer John McLaren (1887-1954), who published as Jack McLaren.  In 1925 the couple moved to London, which remained their base for the rest of their lives.

She published her one novel Which Hath Been (London: Cecil Palmer, 1926) bylined as by "Mrs. Jack McLaren."  It is, as it is subtitled, a novel of reincarnation. The young London artist Patricia Leigh meets some benefactors who tell her she is the reincarnation of a Syrian woman from two thousand years earlier.  She is given to read a manuscript of a tragic love story, titled "Karan the Syrian," and this text takes up about half of the novel, before the plot returns to modern times where Patricia is able to atone for the mistakes of her previous incarnation in her present situation. The metaphysical blather is overdone, and the romance aspect is paramount. A "second edition, new and revised" of Which Hath Been was published by Philip Allan in 1936, and the blurb on the front flap of the dust-wrapper signals the intended audience: "the book, with its emotional intensity, should strongly appeal to every woman."

Mrs. Jack McLaren died at the Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormand Street, London.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Viola Garvin (Viola Taylor; Mrs. J. L. Garvin)

Viola Garvin (b. Gilbraltar c.1883; d. reg. Oxford, Jul-Sep 1959)

Viola Lucy Taylor was the elder of two children, both daughters, of Captain Harry Ashworth Taylor (1855-1907), a royal Foreign Service Messenger, and his wife Minna Gordon Handcock (1861-1947). Viola's younger sister was Una Troubridge (1887-1963), whose lesbian relationship with the poet and novelist Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) was widely (and disapprovingly) publicized in the 1920s. Viola's paternal grandfather was the poet Sir Henry Taylor (1800-1886).

In late 1908, Viola married Maurice Henry Woods (1882-1929), a 1905 graduate of Oxford University who became private secretary to Lord Beaverbrook, and their sole child was Oliver Woods (1911-1972). Maurice Woods left Viola in 1918, and their divorce went through a few years later. On 21 August 1921, Viola married James Louis Garvin (1868-1947), the famous editor of the London newspaper The Observer.  J.L. Garvin had four surviving daughters from his first marriage, including the eldest, Viola, who was a poet and translator.  This fact of two writers named Viola Garvin has caused some problems in the attributions of their respective works.

Viola's first book was The Story of Amaryllis and Other Verses (1908), as by Viola Taylor.  Her second book was a collection of sketches and poems entitled As You See It (1922), signed as by "V" with "Mrs. J.L. Garvin" underneath "V" on the title page.  Another miscellany of stories and poems was Corn in Egypt (1926), as by Mrs. J.L. Garvin (an early page of acknowledgements is signed "Viola Garvin").  A final book, a novel, was Child of Light (1937), which was published as by Mrs. J.L. Garvin. 

A line from Viola's 1906 poem "The House of Cæsar" was famously used by Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) in a verse couplet found after his suicide. For more, see here.

Viola Gerard Garvin

Viola Gerard Garvin (b. Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1 January 1898; d. London, 26 January 1969)

Viola Garvin was the second child of James Louis Garvin (1868-1947), famous editor of the London newspaper The Observer, and his first wife Christina Ellen Wilson (1876-1918), who were married in Newcastle-on-Tyne late in 1894.  Viola had an older brother and three younger sisters.

Viola was educated at the South Hampstead School for Girls, and at Somerville College, Oxford (A.B. 1920).  After her brother's death in World War I in 1916, she took his middle name "Gerard" as her own middle name. She taught English for some year at the Putney High School for Girls, and then served as the Literary Editor of The Observer from 1926-1942, the newspaper at which her father was editor.  When her father left The Observer, she left too, and thereafter worked as a freelance journalist and translator. In the 1930s she was romantically associated with Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940), who was then married to someone else.

She published one volume of poetry, Dedication (1928), and many translations from the French, from The Life of Solomon (1929) by Edmond Fleg, to The Schooner (1959) by Freddy Drilhon. All volumes are signed as by either Viola Gerard Garvin or Viola G. Garvin. She assisted in the preparation for Alfred M. Gollin's The Observer and J.L. Garvin, 1908-1914: A Study in Great Editorship (1960).

Viola Gerard Garvin has sometimes been confused with her father's second wife (married in 1921), Viola [Taylor Woods] Garvin (1882-1959), also a writer under a number of names. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Henry Keen

Henry Keen (b. St. Pancras, London, 2 August 1899; d. Walberswick, Suffolk, 26 June 1935)

Henry Weston Keen was apparently the youngest of six children of Edwin Henry Keen (1853-1936), a merchant taylor and director of a manufacturing company (according to the 1911 UK Census) and Mary Elizabeth, nee Williams (1860-1923), who were married in 1880. Little is known of his life, though he served in W.W. I and he became a printmaker and lithographer, exhibiting lithographs at the Senefelder Club in London. He is remembered primarily for the four elegant books he illustrated, all published by John Lane / The Bodley Head in London, and Dodd, Mead of New York.  The four books are:

The Twilight of the Gods and Other Tales, by Richard Garnett, with an Introduction by T.E. Lawrence. [Published November 1924 at 21s.] Twenty-eight full-page illustrations by Henry Keen, plus various other illustrations including headpieces and tailpieces.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, with an Introduction by Osbert Burdett. [Published October 1925 at 16s.] Twelve full-page illustrations by Henry Keen, plus various other illustrations including headpieces and tailpieces.

Zadig and Other Romances by Voitaire. Translated by H.I. Woolf and Wilfred S. Jackson, with an Introduction and Notes by H.L. Woolf. [Published November 1926 at 16s.] Twelve full-page illustrations by Henry Keen, plus various other illustrations including headpieces and tailpieces. [Note: the 1931 edition Privately Printed for Rarity Press has very inferior reproductions of the illustrations.]

The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil: Two Plays by John Webster. [Published October 1930 at 21s.] Twelve full-page illustrations by Henry Keen, plus various other illustrations including headpieces and tailpieces.

A selection of illustrations are reproduced below. Some resources state that Keen died in Switzerland, but his brief will, made the day before he died of consumption, was made at Walberswick in Suffolk. The will was probated one month later to one of Keen's older brothers, Arnold Grey Keen (1890-1977). The valuation was just over £200. A memorial showing of his drawings and lithographs was held in London in October 1935 (the foreword to the catalogue was written by Edward Garnett).

Mark Valentine has written on Keen at Wormwoodiana—the link is here.  

The Twilight of the Gods

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Zadig and Other Romances

The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil