Monday, January 23, 2012

Swinburne Hale

Swinburne Hale (b. Ithaca, New York, 5 April 1884; d. Westport, Connecticut, 3 July 1937)

Swinburne Hale was the oldest of four children of William Gardner Hale (1849-1928), Harvard-educated professor of Latin at Cornell University (from 1880-1892) and afterwards (until retirement in 1920) at the newly founded University of Chicago, where he also served as head of the Latin department, and Harriet Swinburne Hale (1853-1928), a graduate of Vassar College. Swinburne’s siblings included Virginia Swinburne Hale (1887-1981), Margaret Hale (1891-1962) and Gardner Hale (1894-1931). Virginia and Gardner became artists, and Gardner’s wife Dorothy (1905-1938) became famous posthumously as the subject of Frida Kahlo’s painting “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” (1939).

Swinburne was educated at Philips Exeter Academy, and Harvard University, where he received his A.B. in 1905 and afterwards studied law. In the early years of law practice in New York, he lived in Greenwich Village, where he made many friends among writers, while he also became prominent in various liberal groups. In 1921, his partner Walter Nellis at the New York firm Hale, Nellis & Shorr, described Swinburne as “not a Socialist but interested in Socialism”.

In 1910 he married Beatrice Forbes-Robertson, an actress and niece of Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson. They had three daughters. During World War I he served in France in the Military Intelligence Division.  He was divorced from his first wife in 1920, and in the following year he married Mrs. Marie Tudor Garland Green. By 1924 he was enmeshed in an affair with another woman, Greta Hercz (1899-1989), but his second wife was unwilling at that time to give him a divorce.

Swinburne Hale published his only book in the summer of 1923: The Demon’s Notebook—Verse and Perverse (New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1923).  The book sports a marvelous frontispiece by Rose O’Neill (1874-1944), who is remembered today for work of an entirely different kind: as the creator of kewpie dolls, a singular example of American kitsch.  Hale’s book is divided into two parts, one labeled “Verse” (containing twenty-four poems), the other “Perverse” (containing thirteen poems).  His publisher, Nicholas L. Brown, had begun as a bookseller in Philadelphia before moving to New York in late 1918.  Between 1916 and 1932, Brown published thirty-some books of poetry and belles-lettres, often classical in nature, some of which bordered on what was considered erotic for the time, but which seemed always just on the safe side to avoid any prosecution for obscenity.

The Demon’s Notebook was reviewed favorably by Henry Longan Stuart in The New York Times. Stuart wrote:  “At his best and most serious, Mr. Hale is astonishingly good” (July 8, 1923).  What Stuart doesn’t say is that for much of the volume, Hale is not very serious at all.  The result is an unsatisfying book, which will be remembered by posterity more for the frontispiece than for any of the poems inside.  To give a few examples, the first poem in the book, “The Demon”, begins:  “Let the Demon work in you! / Do not cast him out! / He knows better than you do / What he is about!”.  In the final poem in the “Verse” section, “Dedication” (To Rose O’Neill), Hale writes:
But you, the Master-Mistress of my mind,
     Whose Demon sits high-throned above my stars—
But you, whose passionate pinions know no kind,
     Whose scars are burnt with scars—
You will divine my song in your far place,
    And call it with your wings, and hold it high;
And underneath the dark of that embrace
     Young songs shall cry.
In the “Perverse” section, Hale writes in the poem “The God in the House”:
God is moving round my house
     Setting things to rights.
I hear his step upon the stair,
But like a savant in my lair
Crouch and nurse my fine despair. . . . 
He wants to make of this my house
     A sanitary sight.
He thinks it has a curious smell—
But I should do so very well
If I could keep my funny hell.
Hale spent the summer of 1924 in Taos, New Mexico, where his sister Margaret lived with the writer Joseph O’Kane Foster (1898-1985), whom she would marry in 1927. There he hobnobbed with D.H. Lawrence, and flirted with Freida Lawrence, while continuing his affair Greta Hercz, all the time complaining that he felt he was going insane.  In 1972, Joseph Foster published an account of this time in an appallingly poor monograph, D.H. Lawrence in Taos. In this book Foster pretends to give accounts of the inner thoughts of the people involved, but instead he makes them all appear as vacuous and simple-minded.

Swinburne Hale soon left Taos and went back east, and his worries about his own mental state came true.  In 1925 he was committed to an asylum, the Westport Sanitorium, in Westport, Connecticut, and there he remained until his death in 1937 at the age of 53. Whether he ever divorced his second wife or not is unknown, but Greta Hercz claimed to be Mrs. Swinburne Hale and went by the name of Greta Hale until her own death many years later. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marion Fox

Marion Fox (b. Aldershot, Hampshire, 21 August 1885; d. reg. Richmond upon Thames, Oct.-Dec. 1973)

Between 1910 and 1928, Marion Fox published eight books, comprising seven novels and one collection of poetry.  After 1928 she virtually disappeared from the literary record.  Though her novels were fairly well-reviewed upon publication, they are all very rare today, and it is only with the 2006 reprint of Ape’s Face that any of her work has become readily available for re-assessment. 

Marion Inez Douglas Fox came from a distinguished family. Her parents were the army officer Malcolm Fox (1843-1918) and his second wife, Marion Jane Mills (1863-1957). Malcolm Fox’s first wife had died in childbirth in July 1882 after less than one year of marriage.  He married again on 23 July 1884, this time to a young heiress from Tolmers, Hertford. Their only child, named Marion after her mother, was born the following year.  

Malcolm Fox had been educated at Rossall School and Brighton College before joining the army.  He served with the 100th Royal Canadians from 1863-1875, becoming Lieutenant in 1865 and Captain in 1871. For some time he served in Malta. He had always been especially interested in physical conditioning, sports, and boxing, and he organized many competitions for the whole garrison.  Later he transferred to the 42nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) and was sent to Egypt, where in 1882 he was severely wounded at Tell al-Kebir.  (He was given the medal and clasp, Khedive’s star.) While in England on sick leave in 1883 he was appointed Assistant Inspector of the Army Gymnasia at Aldershot. He was soon promoted to Major, and, in 1888, to Lieutenant-Colonel.  In 1889 he was appointed Inspector of the Gymnasia, and (with the aid of his wife’s money) he expanded the army athletic grounds and Gymnasia in 1894.  As he had previously done in Malta, he organized many competitions.  He retired in 1900 as a Colonel, but ended his career, from 1903-1910, as Inspector of Physical Training to the Board of Education. In 1908 he designed the pattern sword, used by the British cavalry in the First World War. He was knighted in 1910, and died in 1918, after a series of strokes.  

His daughter Marion grew up in this military environment. She published her first book in early 1910, The Seven Nights: A Journey.  It is a historical novel, and it concerns the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, during the reign of Richard II.  The publication was likely subsidized by her family, for the publisher Elliot Stock was known for such business practices. But it also seems to have brought her work to the attention of the publisher John Lane (1854-1925), whose firm distributed Elliot Stock’s titles to the book trade.  Fox’s second novel, The Hand of the North, though dated 1911, was published by John Lane in October 1910. It is another historical novel, set in early 1601, concerning Queen Elizabeth and her last favorite, the Earl of Essex, who attempted to lead an uprising against the queen, an act for which he was beheaded. Fox’s third book, a small collection of poems entitled The Lost Vocation, was published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback by David Nutt in late December 1911.  Many of the twenty poems have supernatural content, a hint, perhaps, of things to come. 

Fox’s five remaining novels were all published by John Lane. She probably made little if any money off them, for Lane was hesitant when it came to paying his authors. And it seems likely that Fox wrote her novels with little thought of financial reward—similarly, she is not known to have pursued money by writing for periodicals. Her next book was The Bountiful Hour, published in September 1912. It is yet another historical romance, set this time in the eighteenth century, giving a personal narrative of a young girl from the age of six until her marriage. 

In July 1914, Marion Fox married Stephen Burman Ward (c.1887-1964). Fox’s fourth novel, Ape’s Face, followed her marriage by a few months, appearing in September. With this novel Fox moved decisively into the supernatural, and here her particularly special theme of the intrusive effect of the past upon the present comes to the fore.  Set in the lonely country of the Wiltshire downs, a well-known writer and antiquary has come to the Delane-Morton household to examine some ancestral documents. The writer finds a haunting Presence over the downs that seeks to bring about a periodic reenactment of a centuries-old curse. The novel is not entirely successful, but it has considerable merit.  Fox’s characters come to life only reluctantly, while her descriptions of the natural formations of the region, and the menacing Presence embodied therein, create a kind of haunted landscape that is in itself the most powerful character of the book. 

Fox’s next novel, The Mystery Keepers, appeared in early 1919, though it was apparently written in 1910 (for the dedication is so dated). Like Ape’s Face it deals with the periodic reenactment of a curse, here the curse having been placed on a family by a long dead abbess so that every direct male heir will die punctually on his twenty-first birthday. The main character is a psychic detective, and there are some effective descriptions of poltergeist activity in the Abbey. The Saturday Review for 3 May 1919 said of the book: “We have nothing but praise for the general conception and execution of this book.  It is full of sensitive writing and delicate description; its bores are life-like—too much so indeed.  It falls little short of being a masterpiece.” 

The Luck of the Town, published in May 1922, provides another example of Fox’s obsession with the intrusion of the past upon the present.  This story tells of a newly founded university in an industrial town that is built upon the site of a Roman encampment.  Through the unearthing of a skeleton and an inscribed tablet, a haunting influence from the past is revived, affecting the faculty and staff of the university.  

Fox’s final book, Aunt Isabel’s Lover, was published in January 1928. The Times Literary Supplement of 9 February 1928 described the book as follows:  “The crisis of the story is when Dion Arnicott does not turn up at the church to be wedded to Aunt Isabel. That and his queer behaviour when he called on Mrs. Flemington are about the only concrete things about Dion Arnicott. His valet was most of his substance. For the rest he was spirit—with a not unconnected body dying in Italy. But nothing is known until the valet dies in a weird struggle in Aunt Isabel’s house, and tells a long story . . .  It does decidedly touch the imagination, as well as please the romantic sense.  It is a slighter book than Miss Fox’s previous ones—Ape’s Face and The Mystery Keepers, etc.—but not unworthy of them.” 

For while, in the 1930s, Fox resided in Paris.  In the mid-1950s she was working on a biography of Jean Ingelow, but it was never published. Marion Fox died at the age of 88 in Richmond upon Thames in late 1973.

Fox and her husband had two children, a daughter Persephone Marion Ward (1916-2011) and a son Stephen George Peregrine Ward (1917-2008).  The daughter, as “Marion Ward”, published two books, The Du Barry Inheritance (1967), a biography of Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse Du Barry (1743-1793), a mistress of Louis XV of France; and Forth (1982), a life of Nathaniel Parker Forth (1744-1809), a British diplomat in France. Marion Ward was on the staff of The Historical Manuscripts Commission (which in 2003 merged with the Public Record Office to form The National Archives).  Writing as “S.G.P. Ward”, the son’s books include Wellington’s Headquarters: A Study of the Administrative Problems in the Peninsula, 1809-1914 (1957); Wellington (1963);  and Faithful:  the Story of the Durham Light Infantry (1963). More recently he wrote the entry on his maternal grandfather for The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).  

Among Fox’s other relatives, there were a few more writers.  In 1888 her mother’s sister, Florence Sophia Mills (1865-1932), had married Reginald Cholmondeley (1857-1941), a brother of novelist Mary Cholmondeley (1859-1925).  Fox’s novel The Mystery Keepers is dedicated “To Uncle Regie and Aunt Florie.”  Reginald and Mary’s younger sister Caroline Essex Cholmondeley (1861-1934) was the mother of the novelist and travel writer Stella Benson (1892-1933).  

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Lost and Forgotten Writers”, All Hallows no. 43 (Summer 2007). 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alan Miller

Alan Miller  (b. reg. Epsom, Surrey, Oct-Dec 1888;d . reg. Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Jul-Sep 1965)

**updated December 2015**

Alan Lawrence Miller was the son of Walter Miller (1857-1938) and his wife Maud Lawrence (1863-1928), who were married in Arlesford, Hampshire, in 1887.  He had one sister five years younger than himself.  Miller was educated at St. John's College (now Hustpierpoint College) in West Sussex, and he studied dentistry at Birmingham University. During his time in Birmingham he had at least three single-act plays licensed and produced, "Ninepence for Fourpence" (licensed February 1913), "The Pilgrim's Progress" (licensed November 1913), and "Cut That Nerve" (licensed February 1914). Miller went on to practice dentistry in Birkenhead, where he had three more plays licensed and (possibly) produced, "The Ray" (licensed May 1924),  "Vallingdale Hall" (licensed May 1924), and "A Lace Handkerchief" (licensed November 1924). He married Doris Smith in Birkenhead on 7 December 1933.

According to the British Museum Catalogue, he authored four books, the first being a small volume of poetry called Random Rhymes (Birkenhead: Wilmer Brothers & Co., 1920).  This was followed over a decade later by his first novel, The King of Men (London: Nash & Grayson, 1931), which is a curious mix of everyday romance with an M.P. Shiel-like plot about a scientist who unleashes upon the world a disease that takes away all natural desires, thereby threatening the end of humankind.  The scientist who invented the disease is found dead, but his assistant eventually (though reluctantly) works out the cure.  The title of the book refers to Time.  The Times Literary Supplement of 14 May 1931 noted that “the main idea, the disease, is a good one, but it is wasted in this rather shapeless, superficial book.”

Miller’s next, The Phantoms of a Physician (London: Grayson & Grayson, 1934), is an episodic novel narrating fifteen stories of personal experience by Dr. J. W. Vivian, a doctor who finds himself frequently in communication with the dead, and investigates supernatural occurrences.  These experiences gradually grow more harrowing, and lead up to a final terrifying ordeal in which Vivian nearly loses his life as well as his reason. The Times Literary Supplement of 6 September 1934 summed up the book as follows:  “Although none of the incidents described is strikingly original, the series as a whole is very effective, and will appeal to all with a liking for the occult or the macabre.”

Miller’s final book was Close of Play (London: St. Hugh’s Press, 1949), which is basically a short story printed with wide spacing and illustrations (done by Bip Pares) to make it into a small book.  It is a sentimental fantasy about cricket, in which the elderly Reverend Septimus Jones is called upon to play for his country in an important Test match, fulfilling a lifelong dream.  Of course Jones has died, but whether the events of the story are a dream fantasy while Jones is dying, or an afterlife fantasy, is left ambiguous.  R. C. Robertson-Glasgow contributed a short appreciative foreword, noting that “even those who have never crossed a street or lane to watch a cricket-match will surely recognize that Close of Play is in its kind a masterpiece.”

Not listed in the British Museum Catalogue is another poetry collection, Mixed Grill (Birkenhead:  Willmer Brothers & Co., 1932); this seems certainly to have been by the same Alan Miller. 

NB: I'm grateful to Andrew Parry for supplying biographical information presented here. An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dora Owen

Dora Owen (b.  Anwick, Lincolnshire, Dec. 1865; d. Wakefield, 19 July 1938)

Rose Dora Ashington was the youngest child of the Reverend Henry Ashington (1803-1875) and Frances Denton Ashington, née Osborne (1826-1915).  She had five older sisters and three older brothers. Her father was an alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. Classical Tripos, 1826; M.A. 1829), and was ordained a deacon in London in 1831. He became a priest the following year, and served at various places in Lincolnshire, including as rector of Quarrington (1844), rector of Kirby-le-Thorp with Asgarsby (1845-1854), and rector of Brauncewell and vicar of Anwick (1854-1874). Henry Ashington published a few small books, including The English Clergyman: His Commission, Conduct, and Doctrine (1846), and Two Sermons (1848), with one sermon by Ashington and the other by C.E. Kennaway.

Little is known of Dora’s upbringing and education. In 1881 she was living with her widowed mother, and several unmarried siblings, in Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire.  In the summer of 1887, in Ormskirk, Lancashire, she married Edward Charles Everard Owen (1860-1949), a Balliol College, Oxford, graduate (B.A. Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores, 1883; M.A. 1886). He had been elected to a Fellowship at New College, Oxford, in 1884, and was a lecturer in classics for two years before being appointed to the teaching staff at Harrow, where he would remain for twenty-four years.  He was also ordained in 1884, and when he gave up teaching, he served as rector at Bucknell for two years, and subsequently at other places.  As “E.C.E. Owen” or “E.C. Everard Owen”, he published several books, including Latin Syntax for the Use of Upper Forms (1888), A Synopsis of the Chief Events of Ancient History (1898), and A Brief History of Greece and Rome (1913). He also translated Some Authentic Acts of the Early Martyrs (1927), and edited some volumes of poetry, including Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1897) by Lord Byron, Selections from the Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson (1899), The Odyssey of Homer (1901), and Selections from the Poems of H. W. Longfellow (1911).  Finally, he published one slim booklet of his own poetry, Three Hills and Other Poems (1916). He and Dora Owen had six sons and two daughters.  These Owens were apparently unrelated to the poet Wilfred Owen, as has sometimes mistakenly been reported.  

Dora Owen shared with her husband a great interest in poetry, and her only book was an anthology, The Book of Fairy Poetry (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920), to which she contributed one poem (it begins:  “Children, children, don’t forget / There are elves and fairies yet.”). It is a lavish volume (priced at 21 shillings on publication in October 1920), with sixteen colored plates by British artist Warwick Goble (1862-1943), pasted onto inserted heavy pasteboard pages, as well as fifteen further black-and-white drawings. Goble’s works are well-collected today, and he is perhaps best remembered for watercolor illustrations to gift books, particularly to Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales (1910). 

The Book of Fairy Poetry is divided into three main sections: Fairy Stories; Fairy Songs, Dances and Talk; and Fairyland and Fairy Lore; with the poems in each section presented in chronological order.  In addition to traditional ballads and stories in verse, there are selections from many classic authors of fairy literature, including Michael Drayton, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Sir Walter Scott, and John Keats, as well as work by more recent poets such as Christina Rossetti, Andrew Lang, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Fiona Macleod, Walter de la Mare, William Butler Yeats, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Tolkien’s poem “Goblin Feet”, the third poem from the end, earned a colored illustration by Warwick Goble, representing the line from Tolkien’s poem: “And the padding feet of many gnomes a-coming!” 

Dora Owen compiled the book over several years.  It was in January 1916, just one month after the first publication of “Goblin Feet” in Oxford  Poetry 1915,  that she wrote to ask for Tolkien’s permission to include it in her book.  Tolkien responded by offering her some additional poems, which she declined to use.  “Goblin Feet” was Tolkien’s first significant publication, and the reprint in The Book of Fairy Poetry one of his most lavish.  In later years Tolkien came to feel that “Goblin Feet” represented much of what he had come to dislike about modern conceptions of fairies, and complained that the poem was given an illustration “as bad as it deserved”.  Certainly one cannot fault Goble too much for the illustration, which is of a type consistent with the rest in the volume, and which includes specific details (with some absurdities added, particularly in the facial expressions of the gnomes) from Tolkien’s poem. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Vivian Meik

Vivian Meik (b. at sea, registered at Calcutta, 21 July 1894; d. San Clemente, California, 22 December 1955)

Vivian Bernard Meik was the son of Lorenzo Meik (1847-1918), a maritime inspector based in India, and his wife Alice Gertrude Thomas (1856-1918). Meik’s family were originally from Scotland, but his father and grandfather had mostly lived in India. He was the oldest surviving child of five (an older brother and an older sister had died in infancy); he had two younger brothers. 

Details of his early life are sketchy, and by his own account (which often seems exaggerated) he claimed to have circled the globe three times before he was eighteen.  In 1913 he was working on a rice plantation in Borneo, and after the outbreak of war he was commissioned in Calcutta and served with the British Sixth Division, being wounded a number of times. He claimed to have earned the Croix de Guerre for acts of bravery. In Calcutta, on 14 October 1916, he married a woman named Bernadette Marie (1898-1981), whose original surname was possibly Desperadza (after her divorce from Meik, probably in the late 1920s, she used the surname Cooke, before changing it officially in 1946 to D’Esperance; it became Nightingale after her 1961 marriage to Peter Nightingale).  They had two children, a son Colvin Bernard Peter Meik (1917-1996) and daughter Valerie (1924-2003).

After demobilization in 1919, Meik joined the staff of the Bengali-Nagpur Railway, based out of Calcutta, as an assistant traffic superintendent. For this (and other) railway-associated work, he traveled extensively, and was eventually transferred to Central Africa. In 1928, bothered by war wounds, Meik left the tropics and soon settled in London, where he took up writing. Probably in the late 1920s he was also divorced from his first wife, and married Elsie May Howard (1903-1997), known familiarly as “Eve”.

His first book was a type of sensational nonfiction, The People of the Leaves (1931), in which Meik claimed to have discovered a race of primitive aborigines in a little-known section of India. It was fairly successful, and also had an American edition, published by Henry Holt. Zambezi Interlude (1932) is a kind of follow-up, covering Meik’s experiences in central Africa. Lacking the narrative hook of the first volume, it is more personal and, perhaps as a consequence, more interesting, but it did not sell nearly as well.

With Devils’ Drums (London: Philip Allan, 1933), Meik turned to fiction. A collection of ten short stories with recurring characters, most of the tales concern central African voodoo, witch doctors, and curses. These stories are well-executed and are a refreshing change from the typical British horror stories of the 1930s.  One story, “The Doll of Death”, was filmed in 1973 as an episode of Rod Serling’s Night GalleryDevils’ Drums was published as part of the famous “Creeps” series, edited by Charles L. Birkin.  Meik contributed one related story to one of the “Creep” anthologies, Monsters (1934). 

A follow-up novel, focusing on new figures but with brief appearances by some of the characters from Devils’ Drums, was The Veils of Fear (London: Philip Allan, 1934).  In it a small group travels to the Near East, to the Himalayas, and on to Hong Kong in order to challenge two figures of supernatural evil. As a novel it is unsuccessful, with long dream sequences that backtrack the plot, and a terrible ending in which one of the major point-of-view characters realizes in the final line that he is dead.

Philip Allan edition
Hillman-Curl editoin
Meik’s next novel, The Curse of Shiva (London:  Philip Allan, 1936; New York:  Hillman-Curl, 1938), was also his last, but it shows considerable improvement in pacing, and in the narrative handling of a long story.  It is a non-fantasy thriller based on the enactment of a centuries-old Indian curse in modern London. The Saturday Review described the book as a "blood and thunder yarn of slinking Eurasians, renegade whites, stranglings, etc., with reasonably good detective trimmings" (23 July 1938). 

In late 1935, Meik turned to journalism, and this seems to have put an end to his fiction writing.  Owing to his expertise in Africa, he was hired to cover the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Around the start of WW II, Meik joined the staff of The People, a weekly, then the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world.  He also worked for other similar weeklies, like The Illustrated and John Bull. He was in London during the Blitz, and lost his left eye during the intense bombing. 

His final book was the small polemic, Nemesis over Hitler (1941), which is a sensationalist attack on Hitler, claiming to cover supposed inside meetings of Hitler’s inner circle in Berlin. Towards the end of the war, Meik began to investigate Mormonism, and he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in April 1946.  The following year, he moved with his family to Salt Lake City, where the Church has its headquarters, and where his uncle resided. Meik joined the staff of the church-owned Deseret News, where he was given a column entitled “Interpreting the News”.

Medusa Press edition
In 1953 Meik moved with his family to San Clemente, California. In early 1955, owing to ill health, he gave up his column. He suffered a fatal heart attack while driving his car during the afternoon of 22 December 1955. 

Vivian Meik published six books: two novels, one short story collection, and three works of nonfiction. His best work is to be found in his short stories.  A long-overdue expanded edition of Devil’s Drums, adding two stray tales and an excerpt from Zambezi Interlude, appeared in 2011 from Medusa Press. This edition is limited to 300 copies. For ordering information, see the Medusa Press website HERE.  

NB: This entry updates and is based on part of my more detailed “Introduction” to the 2011 expanded edition of Devils’ Drums, published by Medusa Press. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stratford D. Jolly

Stratford D. Jolly (b. Scotland, 7 September 1881; d. Mombasa, Kenya, 2 March 1948)

Stratford Dowker Aird Jolly was the only child of Benjamin Stratford Robert Jolly (1856-1915) and Beatrice Jolly, née Williamson (1853-1911), who were married in 1880.  He was educated at the Glengarth Boys School in Cheltenham, and at the Westminster School in central London.  In autumn 1908 he married Maud Lyndon Bateman (c.1868-1940), and served in the Royal Air Force in France from September 1917 through January 1919.  The Soul of the Moor:  A Romance of the Occult (London:  William Rider & Son, [1911]) was his first book and only novel. His two other books include The Treasure Trail (1934), which recounts Jolly’s treasure hunting in Central and South America, and South American Adventures (1938), which is a condensation of the earlier book.  After he returned to England, Jolly married a second time in the spring of 1933, settling around Liverpool, where with his second wife Eileen Margaret Stead (1901-1984) he raised two children. He died at the European Hospital in Mombasa, Kenya, at the age of 66.

 The Soul of the Moor, issued by the early twentieth-century’s foremost British publisher of books on esoteric philosophy, mysticism, psychical research, and the occult, is unfortunately not a very good as a specimen of occult romance.  The recently wed narrator (whose name is belatedly revealed to be Harvey Langford) is devoted to his wife Lucy, who is oddly afflicted by a debilitating weakness. Langford uses occult hypnotism to put his wife in a deep sleep and to impart to her his vitality.  In this deep sleep Lucy’s more knowledgeable soul is able to explain to as well as assist her husband in his various endeavors on her behalf, for she is much higher than her husband on the spiritual ladder of knowledge that everyone must climb.  Lucy is haunted by a Moor, who according to Lucy is her “other self” who worships her.  There follows various adventures and abductions and chases, after which Lucy is perilously close to death. The Moor suddenly transforms from enemy to loyal friend, and by his superior psychic strength he is able to restore Lucy’s health and sanity, working this miracle even after his death.  The novel has some narrative drive but so much of its content is sheer silliness, when it isn’t overfilled with pompous occult explanations, that the reader is left smirking at the spectacle instead of enjoying the show as presented.

NB:  A portion of this entry originally appeared in my column “Late Reviews” in Wormwood, no. 14 (May 2010).