Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bernadine Bailey

Bernadine Bailey (b. Mattoon, Illinois, 12 November 1901; d. Illinois, 21 October 1995)

Bernadine Bailey (née Freeman) spent most of her life in the Chicago area, save for the time she was away at school (Wellesley College, B.A.; University of Chicago, M.A.; and Sorbonne, University of Paris, certificate), and a period she spent in Indianapolis after her marriage to hospital scientist John Hays Bailey. By the mid-1930s she was back in Chicago, where she worked for various publishers and as a free-lance writer.  For a time she was directing staff editor for Childcraft, a long popular educational series for children published first by W.F. Quarrie Co. and afterwards by Field Enterprises (later bought out by World Book). From the 1930s through the 1970s he published a huge number of nonfiction books for children (some by-lined Bernadine Freeman Bailey), one of the earliest being The Follett Picture-Story Book of Indians (1936). 

It was probably during her time in Indianapolis around 1930 that she became friends with Evangeline Ensley (1907-1996), who wrote as "Evangeline Walton". When Ensley was visiting Chicago in the summer of 1935, it was Bernadine Bailey who took her to meet Llewellyn Jones (1884-1961), then the literary editor at Willett, Clark and Company.  Jones was initially wary of the young woman and her manuscript (afterwards saying that he feared she was a schoolteacher, and he'd just read another schoolteacher's manuscript and hadn't liked it), but when he and others in the firm came to read the manuscript of The Virgin and the Swine (more familiarly known to modern readers as The Island of the Mighty as it was retitled when it was republished in 1970), they were impressed and brought out the first edition in November 1936.  Llewellyn Jones took a great interest in Miss Ensley, and planned to publish her novel Witch's House* in the fall of 1937, and was impressed with some of her short stories, a volume of which he thought would enhance her reputation as a writer. Alas, none of these plans came to pass, for relations with Willett, Clark soured very abruptly around May 1937, after Ensley made a visit to Chicago and stopped at her publishers, presumably to inquire why she had never been paid.  It was the first of her many disappointments with publishers. Llewellyn Jones also left Willett, Clark later that year. In 1946 Bernadine Bailey assisted Ensley in recovering the copyright of The Virgin and the Swine from Willett, Clark, two years before the remaining assets of the firm were sold off to Harpers.

Bernadine Bailey and Evangeline Ensley remained good friends.  The scans accompanying this entry are taken from items sent to Ensley by Bailey (courtesy of Louise Hammond).

*Published as Witch House by August Derleth's Arkham House in 1945.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Peter Penzoldt

Peter Penzoldt (b. Munich, Germany, 18 January 1925; d. Geneva, Switzerland, 21 August 1969)

Peter Penzoldt was the son of Fritz Penzoldt (1888-1959) and the famous Wagnerian contralto Sigrid Onégin (1889-1943), whose first husband had been the great Russian impressario Eugen Borisowitsch Onégin (1888-1919). Fritz Penzoldt was a medical doctor who also wrote novels and who published, in 1939, a biography of his wife. His brother was Ernst Penzoldt (1892-1955), an artist, sculptor and writer, well-known in Germany. As a young boy Peter often stayed with his uncle while his mother was on tour. His family settled in Switzerland in the early 1930s.
The dust-wrapper of the 1952 first edition.
Peter Penzoldt’s doctoral thesis at the University of Geneva, The Supernatural in Fiction was written when he was twenty-four and published three years later; it was the major professional publication of his life. After receiving his degree, he taught for a year in Geneva, and married Rachel Vallette, with whom he had one daughter, Silviane.  He came to America in 1950, and taught for two years at San Francisco State College. In 1951 he became a naturalized American citizen.  The following year his thesis appeared in book form, and he accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Classics and German at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.  In 1954 he moved to the Modern Language Department at Sweet Briar, where he remained for the rest of his life. After his father’s death, he donated a large collection of his mother’s songs, recordings, scores and books to the Sweet Briar College Library.  He became a full professor in 1962, and in 1965 The Supernatural in Fiction was reprinted by the Humanities Press of New York. Penzoldt died while visiting his wife’s family in Geneva in August 1969.
The Supernatural in Fiction was published by Peter Nevill of London on the recommendation of Algernon Blackwood, who had recently issued two books with Nevill, the omnibus Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural (in October 1949), and a new edition (adding photographs) of Blackwood’s autobiography, Episodes before Thirty (published March 1950).  The Supernatural in Fiction was dedicated to Blackwood, who had come to know Penzoldt in Switzerland in 1949, some months after they had begun corresponding. Sadly, Blackwood died in December 1951 before he could see the finished book, which appeared the following year.  A number of Blackwood’s letters to Penzoldt are quoted in the book, giving a valuable perspective and authority to the coverage of Blackwood’s writings. Penzoldt also gives credit for assistance to August Derleth, Edward Wagenknecht, and other noted anthologists, so he seems to have been particularly enterprising in his research, and the end-result is the better for his diligence. 
            Penzoldt’s approach to the genre was, for its time, unusually thorough, concentrating on English and American short stories.  His book is divided into two parts—the first covering the structure and motifs of supernatural stories, and the second devoted to specific practitioners, like Le Fanu, Kipling, M. R. James, and Walter de la Mare.  One chapter is devoted to Blackwood, whom Penzoldt called “the greatest of them all.” Machen and Lovecraft, among others, are covered in a chapter devoted to “The Pure Tale of Horror.”
Penzoldt’s book followed two other pioneering studies, The Supernatural in Modern Fiction (1917) by Dorothy Scarborough, and The Tale of Terror (1921) by Edith Birkhead.  All three books have flaws, but each contains material of value for the modern reader and critic of supernatural fiction.  Penzoldt has his own idiosyncrasies. He seems at times too technically analytic (though these details remain valuable), and seems at other times too Freudian, while his high-handed dismissal of stories containing descriptions of sadism, like Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast,” seems puritanical to the modern reader:  “How such tales can be constantly republished in the face of the laws against pornography is an unsolved mystery.”  Fortunately such critical lapses are not common, and Penzoldt closes with a more sensible affirmation:  “I wish most of all that this book should do something to affirm the dignity of the weird tale, that it should show that some of the best modern literature has appeared in this form” (p. 256).  These are sentiments with which most of Penzoldt’s readers will agree. 

Blanche Bloor Schleppey

Blanche Bloor Schleppey (b. near Edinburgh, Indiana, 8 August 1861; d. Indianapolis, Indiana, 13 February 1927)

A Hoosier writer of short stories and newspaper features, Blanche D. Bloor was born near Edinburgh, Indiana, on 8 August 1861, and educated at the Oldenburg Academy, a Catholic high school. She married John Hart Schleppey (1861-1946) in 1887, and moved to Crawfordsville, where she lived across the street from Lew Wallace, the Civil War general and author of Ben Hur (1880).  Moving to Indianapolis in 1893, Schleppey began to write illustrated feature articles for the Indianapolis Sentinel and other newspapers.  She was also active in women’s clubs in the city.   

Her only book was the now very rare short story collection, The Soul of a Mummy and Other Stories (1908).  Privately printed and self-published, it contains eleven stories, most of which, despite the book’s title, are only marginally weird. (The title story concerns a bachelor sent to Cairo to procure a mummy for a private collection.  A young woman escapes her father by hiding in the mummy case.  The bachelor helps her and they marry.)  Schleppey was ill with a tumor and confined to her home for the last ten years of her life.  She died in a hospital in Indianapolis in February 1927 at the age of sixty-five. She is buried at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. 

Her final publication, a “Sonnet to My Doctor”, appeared in Indiana Poetry (1925), compiled by Eletha Mae Taylor.  Her only child, son Bloor Schleppey (1888-1975), was a newspaper reporter for the Keith Syndicate, and later became nationally-known as a strike-breaker for newspaper publishers. In 1973 he self-published a small book, Plow Deep and Straight, a selection from his weekly newspaper column, “The Furrow”, which had appeared in The Zionsville Times of Zionsville, Indiana, from 1935-1971.  The columns are deeply conservative politically, a label of which Bloor Schleppey was quite proud.

Despite the dates of the columns being given on the cover as beginning in 1921, the columns range from 1935-1971

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column "Notes on Lost and Forgotten Writers" in All Hallows, no. 42 (October 2006). 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky

Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky (b. Wisconsin, 29 February 1916; d. Boynton Beach, Florida, 26 September 2002)

Dorothy Margaret Grobe was born of English parents who divorced before she was four. She grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Little is known of her life. Her sole published book is Derleth: Hawk . . . and Dove (Aurora, Colorado: The National Writers Press, dated 1997 but not published until mid-1998), a vanity-published biography of the Wisconsin author, editor, and publisher August Derleth (1909-1971). In the summer of 1964, Litersky was one of the four founders of the School of the Arts at Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin.  Derleth became a regular writer-in-residence at the Rhinelander program, and it was at this time that Litersky decided to write Derleth's biography, a task that would take her thirty years to complete.  According to her acknowledgements in the published book, she nearly died twice before completing it, and one must consider it remarkable that she, in her eighties and in poor health, did so. However, that cannot excuse the many problems of the work itself.  Much of it is based on the vast archive of Derleth's papers--itself incomplete--that was given to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin after his death, and so the story it presents is mostly Derleth's own view, warts and all.  Litersky says that Derleth "wanted a portrayal of the whole man, free of the closet of lies he had been forced to hide in throughout his lifetime" (p. ix). And while Litersky succeeds in presenting Derleth as a egotistical, conceited, manipulative, omnisexual and voracious cad, she fails on the other hand to show why anyone might have admired or even liked either the man himself or his writings, and Derleth's literary work in particular gets short shrift.  Litersky's own poor writing is no match for her subject, and she shows little understanding of nuance, which gives rise to a large number of slight misstatements of fact and outright errors. In presenting everything from Derleth's point of view she gives no context to frame or analyze his perspective.  Her method of footnoting and sourcing quotations is abominable.  Nevertheless one comes to feel that the basic, unattractive portrait of Derleth that emerges is at the least authentic to those sides of his character. Until such time as someone attempts a true scholarly biography, this may be all we have to weigh-in against simple and more common adulatory fan criticism.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sara Gerstle

Sara Gerstle (b. San Francisco, California, 16 November 1874; d. New York, New York, 17 August 1956)

Sara Hecht was the daughter of M. H. Hecht, a shoe merchant of German descent, and his wife Alice.  In October 1896 she married William Lewis Gerstle (1868-1947), the son of Lewis Gerstle (1824-1892), the Vice President of the Alaska Commercial Company.  The Gerstle family was very affluent, having a house on Washington Street in San Francisco, and a summer home in San Rafael. In the late 1920s, William L. Gerstle was the president of the San Francisco Art commission.

William and Sara Gerstle had one child, daughter Miriam Alice Gerstle (1898-1989), who became an artist and who married the British architect Grey Wornum (1888-1957), the designer of the Royal Institute of British Architects building in London, completed in 1934.

Late in life, while in the hospital, Sara Gerstle wrote some short stories while recuperating from an illness.  Two small books of these stories were printed in fine press editions limited to 150 copies.  Four Ghost Stories (San Francisco: Adrian Wilson, Printer at the Sign of the Interplayers, 1951) has a short introduction by the author’s daughter, signed M. W. [Miriam Wornum]. The follow-up booklet is Three Houses (San Francisco: Adrian Wilson, Printer at the Sign of the Interplayers, 1952). The blurb on the latter describes the contents as follows:  “Here is another small book by Sara Gerstle which leaves the ghosts not quite so much in possession. Last time they had it all their own way, slithering and sliding at their own pace through the pages. Here the three houses are of first importance, and though none of them are quite what they seem to be, it is a slow infiltration, a glance over one’s shoulder, and a thought after the light has been put out, that makes this not a book of ghosts, but a book of houses with a question mark. Two of the houses have been lived in by the author.”  The autobiographical element is apparent in the only story to have been reprinted from these rare volumes, “Death of a Good Cook,” which can be found in Haunted San Francisco (2004), edited by Rand Richards.  It reads very much like the usual tale of a personal encounter with the supernatural; it is matter-of-factly told, with little interest in atmosphere or effect. Thus, it is more a specimen of folk tale than of literary creation.