Thursday, March 28, 2019

Henry S. Wilcox

Henry S. Wilcox (b. Delhi, Iowa, 22 November 1855; d. Chicago, Illinois, 18 May 1924)

Henry S. Wilcox was the second of nine children (seven sons, two daughters)  of Erastus Wilcox, Jr.,  (1817-1914), a farmer, and his wife Matilda Casey (1818-1882).

Henry became a lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, and on 30 May 1878 he married Mary A. Boeye, about six years his junior, in Cerra Gordo, Iowa.  They had at least two children, one son and one daughter.  The family moved to Chicago in the 1890s. Henry self-published, or vanity-published, eight books between 1885 and 1909, including two novels, four books about aspects of the law, and one final collection of poems, Joys of Earth (1909), dedicated to his wife of thirty years.

His first book was a novel, Flaws (1885), as "By a Lawyer." It was republished as A Strange Flaw (1906), under the author's name.  It is a strange book concerned with frauds devised in connection with railroad building. An advertisement for the later version notes: "This novel shows by a thrilling story how small a flaw is likely, under our present system of government, to cause widespread distress and great injustice when used by skillful schemers for the purposes of exploitation. The thread of the narrative introduces scenes in the state legislature, U.S. Circuit Court, U.S. Supreme Court, and the president's mansion, and the interest of the reader is held to the last." But this description fails to show the rather heavy-handed satire (e.g., a newspaper editor is named "A. Lyer"). It exemplifies Wilcox's criticism of inequalities in American society.

His second novel is even stranger, and difficult to describe adequately.  It is called The Great Boo-Boo (Des Moines, Iowa: J.B. Swinburne,1892), described on the title page as "a tale of fun and fancy, replete with love, wit, sentiment and satire." It is one of a small genre of crackpot fantasies that came out in America (usually self-published) from around the 1880s through the early 1900s. Perhaps the most notable of such titles is Etidorpha (1895), by John Uri Lloyd. 

The Great Boo-Boo,  reprinted in 2019 by Ramble House with an introduction by Chris Mikul, has as set-up a ship-wrecked embezzler name Hogg stranded on the island of King Monop, who lives in a palace of crystalised human tears and blood.  The blurb describes the book as "a unique mixture of fantasy and science fiction, social satire and farce, with bonus scenes of torture, blood drinking, nudity, homoeroticism and lesbianism." One aspect this blurb omits is how smooth and readable the witty prose style is. 

Wilcox's other titles include:  The Trials of a Stump-Speaker (1906), about his thankless work in politics; and his four satiric considerations of the law,  Foibles of the Bench (1906), Foibles of the Bar (1906), Frailties of the Jury (1907) and Fallacies of the Law (1907).

Though I found no record of his wife Mary's death, Henry was married again on 27 March 1912, to Eugenie [sometimes spelt Eugenia] Beeman (1865-1941) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Both Henry and his second wife died in Chicago.

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 medical 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.