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.


  1. According to Wikipedia "Every man in Rimington's Corps of Guides was obliged to speak Afrikaans and at least one of the indigenous African languages, with many speaking both." If that's correct, it looks as if Wright must have spent some time in South Africa before the war began.

  2. Thanks. That adds a bit to the picture.