Wednesday, October 31, 2012

E.F.A. Geach

E. F. A. Geach (b. Essen, Germany, 24 May 1896; d. Cardiff, 10 August 1951)

Eleonora Frederika Adolphina Sgonina (her forenames were sometimes spelled as Eleonore, Frederyka, or Adolfina) was the oldest of four children of Adolf (sometimes Adolph) Sgonina (1870-1954) and his wife Eleonore (1874-1949), who were German-Polish and who were married in 1895.  Eleanora had three younger brothers.  Her father was a civil engineer, and just before the turn of the century the family settled in Cardiff, where Adolf became Managing Director of an Iron Works. At least two of his son would follow him in his profession.

Eleanora was educated at the City of Cardiff High School for Girls, and she apparently attended Cambridge University in 1914-15, before she registered as a Home Student at Oxford for the Hilary Term 1917. She kept terms at Oxford for three years, concluding with the Michaelmas Term 1919.  Her tutors included Miss C.A.E. Moberly (one of the two pseudonymous authors of the famous slim 1911 book An Adventure, recounting their apparently ghostly encounter during a summer 1901 visit at the Petit Trianon in Versailles) and Miss Dorothy Sayers. 

In between her time at Cambridge and Oxford, she married George Hender Geach (1884-1941), who (though he was born and died in Cardiff) worked in the Indian Education Service as a professor of philosophy at Lahore (later, he was principal of a teacher’s training college in Peshwar). After a short period of time in India, Eleanora returned to England for the birth of their one child, Peter (born in Lower Chelsea in London in March 1916), who became a distinguished philosopher. The marriage was unhappy and was quickly broken up. Up until around the age of eight, Peter lived with his maternal grandparents in Cardiff, after which time he was sent off to school by his father and raised by a guardian. Peter Geach never saw his mother again after childhood.

As E.F.A. Geach, Eleonora began publishing poetry while at Oxford. She collaborated on a small book of poems with a fellow student, D.E.A Wallace, better known as Doreen Wallace (1897-1989), who became a prolific novelist in the 1930s.  The book was entitled –Esques, and was published by B. H. Blackwell in May 1918.  It includes eight poems by Geach, nine by Wallace, and one collaboration. The poems are divided into six sections headed Arabesques, Burlesques, Fresques, Grotesques, Humoresques, and A Picturesque, thus explaining the book’s odd title.  One poem, “Episode”, in the Humoresques section seems to refer to Geach’s marriage:  “I loved you for a year, / perhaps a little more . . ./ And now it’s all over / And I feel as though I had never known you – / I feel no gaps, no longing. / Your passage through my life / was like the flight of a bird through the sky.”  T.S. Eliot reviewed –Esques (very briefly) in The Egoist, noting wryly:

“The authors of –Esques trickle down a fine broad page in a pantoum, a roundel, a villanelle, occasionally pagan, mode of thirty years ago:
Why then, O foolish Christ
Didst thou keep tryst
With maudlin harlots wan
With glad things gone?
 To which the obvious answer is. Why did you?  Young poets ought to be made to be cheaply printed; such sumptuous pages deceive many innocent critics.”  (August 1918,  p. 99)
from Fifty New Poems for Children (1922)

Geach, along with Dorothy Sayers and T.W. Earp edited Oxford Poetry 1918, also published by Blackwell. Earp co-edited the annual volume for the years 1915 through 1919; Sayers joined him for three years, 1917-1919. Geach was involved only for the one year. In the 1918 volume there are two poems by Geach and a third in collaboration with D.E.A. Wallace.  One of these poems, consisting of eight lines and titled “Romance”, seems to have been an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Road Goes Ever On”, the first expression of which appears in the final chapter of The Hobbit, though its better-known versions appear in The Lord of the Rings.  That Tolkien would have known the poem comes from the fact (first noticed, I believe, by John D. Rateliff) that it was reprinted immediately after Tolkien’s own poem “Goblin Feet” in Fifty New Poems for Children, a slim volume published by Blackwell in 1922 (p. 28). The poem reads:


Round the next corner and in the next street
Adventure lies in wait for  you.
Oh, who can tell what you may meet
Round the next corner and in the next street!
Could life be anything but sweet
When all is hazardous and new
Round the next corner and in the next street?
Adventure lies in wait for you.

Geach published one further booklet, Twenty Poems, which Blackwell released in March 1931. The poems were all new to the booklet save for one, which was reprinted from The Poetry Review.  These small volumes contain all of Geach’s known writings.  After her time in Oxford, she returned to her family in Cardiff, where she died in 1951. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Laverne Gay

Laverne Gay (b. Lodi, California, 1 December 1914; d. Sacramento, California, 5 August 1997)

In an online essay on the updating of the entry for the word ruel-bone in the Oxford English Dictionary, the lexicographers (and Tolkien scholars) Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner, have noted that, besides Tolkien, there is another modern writer who re-used the obsolete Middle English word ruel-bone in the twentieth century.  The word appears in a line from Chaucer’s “Sir Thopas”: his sadel was of rewel-boon (2068). The word is related to Old French rohal (or rochal) which meant “walrus-ivory”.  Gilliver, Marshall and Weiner wrote:

Intriguingly, during the OED revision process evidence came to light of another modern writer using ruel-bone in a text which was published significantly before any of Tolkien’s uses could have come to public attention. The entry now includes a quotation from the historical novel Wine of Satan (1949)—subtitled “A Tale of Bohemond Prince of Antioch”—by the little-known Californian writer Laverne Gay. Her research in medieval sources was evidently sufficient to equip her with a fine array of unusual vocabulary with which to enrich her rather highly-coloured narrative: other examples from Wine of Satan include baselard, a kind of dagger, and nasal used as a noun to mean the nosepiece of a helmet. In the quoted passage, the crusading Robert of Normandy is described as sitting ‘erect in his rewel-bone saddle’. The author could have acquired rewel-bone (her chosen spelling) from various sources—perhaps Chaucer, or even the original OED entry—but her use of the word evidently did not catch on.

This was enough to make me want to find out more of the little-known Californian writer. She was born Mary Laverne Kels, the daughter of Alexander Andrew Kels (1884-1924) and Anna Theresa Handlin (1886-1977). Andrew Kels was a butcher, an immigrant from Germany, and his wife was of Irish descent.  Besides their daughter, called by her second name Laverne, they also had one son, John Michael Kels (1923-1958). Andrew Kels had been previously married, and had a son from his first marriage. He was hanged for murder on 4 January 1924. 

Laverne was educated by the Domincan Sisters, first at Lodi (St. Anne’s) and later at Stockton (St. Mary’s). Her interest in poetry and journalism was encouraged, and in 1932, her final year, she edited the convent newspaper and yearbook.  At the University of California, she majored in Latin and history, and was junior editor of the Daily Californian. Her interest in medieval history was awakened by attending the lectures of Professor James Westfall Thompson (1869-1941).  She once reminisced that “it was during his new graduate lectures on ‘The Irish Element in Medieval Culture’ that I came upon St. Columban’s royal friend Theudelinda of the Lombards, whom he later characterized to me as neglected by history and a ‘natural’ for me to do. So she became the subject, first of the original research and later of a first novel.”  Laverne Kels graduated from the University of California in 1936, and after taking a teacher’s degree she taught high school for two years in the Oakland School System. 
On 28 January 1939, she married Arthur Joseph Gay (1913-1986), an optometrist.  After the outbreak of World War II, her husband’s work with the Navy sent the couple to Texas and then to Idaho, before they returned to California. They had two children, Stephen (b. 1942) and Janis (b. 1947).

Gay’s first novel, The Unspeakables: A Tale of Lombardy (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945) was set in the sixth century. It centers on Theudelinda, princess of Bavaria, who marries the Lombard king Authari, and after his death, marries the Duke of Turin who is later crowned the king of all Italy.  Reviews were mixed.  Kirkus called it “good history—good biography—good reading, though slow-moving in spots” (1 September 1945), while the New Yorker noted that “the tale would have been better in a style less pretentious than Mrs. Gay’s determinedly literary one.  Brocade is all right to a point, but four hundred pages of ‘Her light laughter broke on the morning air like shards of finest porphyry’ . . . gets to be rather wearing” (13 October 1945).  The Weekly Review added: “there are so many characters in the book, so many battles and so much description of feasting and pageantry and kissing that you may be confused. The opulence of the style will not diminish your mental fog” (21 October 1945). 

Her second and only other published novel was Wine of Satan: A Tale of Bohemond, Prince of Antioch (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948). The author noted:  Wine of Satan was on Bohemond, leader of the First Crusade, with a more serious attempt at original creation, especially in character, with the same intention of soundness in historical content and interpretation.” Again Kirkus wrote well of Gay’s work:  “Up to par as an historical novel, for which there is always an audience” (1 November 1948).  But The Catholic World criticized it for just the quality that has attracted the attention of  Oxford lexicographers: “her devotion to archaic words develops into a mannerism” (February 1949). The New York Times gave it more praise, stating that “Wine of Satan is colorful and learned but it is considerably more than a tour de force of archaic spectacle. Miss Gay understands people, and she has contrived, amid all the cluttered wealth of her period detail and the great events of the time, to tell a love story whose characters emerge as human beings” (16 January 1949).

Of the obscure words in the novel noted by Gilliver, Marshall and Weiner, nasal appears only once, in the prologue: 

But now his face was a strange and savage-looking mask, with the dank red, ear-length hair dishevelled over it, the ragged beard upon it, and the white streak left on his nose and forehead by the nasal upon the helm. (p. 4)

Rewel-bone also occurs only once:

Godfrey, his noble face alight, his great brown charger restivem stomping for the fray; Robert of Normandy, his high stirrups making his mount grotesquely tall, looking almost child-like at this distance, erect in his rewel-bone saddle. (p. 231)

Baselard occurs at least six times by my count, but I will quote only the first appearance:

As he dismounted, she leaped from her horse, and was backed against a tree, her riding whip in one and a sharp-pointed deadly-looking baselard in the other. (p. 12)

One can see from these short extracts that Gay’s prose has a descriptive vividness to it. Wine of Satan was selected as a Book Club title, and was considerably more successful than Gay’s first novel.

In the early 1950s, Gay worked on a contemporary novel, but it was never published.  She did occasionally review books for the magazine Books on Trial, but mostly she seems to have ceased publishing.  From 1951 through 1964 she worked on the board of the Mercy Children’s Hospital Guild.  Laverne Gay died in Sacramento at the age of eighty-two.

NB: Some details in the above sketch, including Laverne Gay’s reminiscences, are taken from an entry in Catholic Authors (1952).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Andrew James

Andrew James (b. Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland, c. January 1858; d. reg. Kensington, London, Jan.-March 1930, age 72)

“Andrew James” was the pen-name, used only on a small amount of fiction, of James Andrew Strahan, the son of John Strahan of Belfast. He was educated at Queen’s College, Belfast (later Queen’s University), receiving a B.A., M.A. and L.L.B.  He was called to the English bar in 1883.  By the mid-1880s he seems to have settled in the London area, and on 29 December 1888, in Lewisham, he married Alexandra Theresa Clarissa Caroline Emma Pergler von Perglas (1860-1950), who was known familiarly as Emma.  She had been born in Stuttgart, Germany, where her father Friedrich Wilhelm Emelius Pergler von Perglas (1830-1901), called later in life Baron von Perglas,  had been a Lieutenant in the service of the Royal Württemburg Infantry.  Emma’s mother was British, Elizabeth Mathilda Dryden (1820-1909), the daughter of the Reverend Sir Henry Dryden (1787-1837), the 3rd Baronet of Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire. 

James Andrew Strahan and Emma Strahan had only one child, daughter Norah Mary Strahan (1890-1950). In the 1890s they settled in Kensington in London.  Strahan worked in law, and from 1897 through 1929 was Reader of Equity, Inns of Court, London. In 1909 he was made Professor of Jurisprudence and Roman Law at Queens University, Belfast, a position he held through 1926.    

Strahan published many books related to his profession, some signed with his full name, some as “J. Andrew Strahan” or “J. A. Strahan”.  These include The Law of the Press (1891), co-written with Joseph R. Fisher, and A Digest of Equity (1905), co-written with G. H. B. Kendrick.  The latter book appeared in its fifth edition in 1928. A General View of the Law of Property (1895) went through seven editions through 1926, and The Principles of the General Law of Mortgages (1909) reached its third edition in 1925.  The Law of Partnership (1914), co-written with Norman H. Oldham, appeared in its fifth edition in 1927. The Bench and Bar of England (1919) collects sketches that originally appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine. 

It was also in Blackwood’s Magazine that some of Strahan’s fiction first appeared.  “Nabob Castle: A Legend of Ulster” appeared in February 1907, and “The Last O’Hara” followed in May.  Both were signed “Andrew James”, and both were collected in Ninety-Eight, and Sixty Years After (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1911).  This volume includes two connected story sets, each comprised of four stories, “Ninety-Eight” (which includes both of the 1907 Blackwood’s Magazine tales, one retitled), and “Sixty Years After”.  The section “Ninety-Eight” is historical fiction, though including folk legends, telling of the short-lived 1798 Irish uprising against British rule as occurred in County Antrim.  The “Nabob” is one of the nicknames of Galloper Starkie (soon to be known also as Hangman Starkie), who had recently returned from India with a fortune acquired by dubious means. Starkie is mercilessly cruel in dealing with the rebels. This story-section is mostly valued for its stark depiction of both sides of the conflict, though the dialect in which the tale is written makes for less-than-easy reading. (In a short Preface, the author states that the dialect is Lowland Scots, which was “the ordinary language of County Antrim famers, especially in such Scottish districts as those of the Braid and Clough Water”.) “Sixty Years After” is the far more interesting of the two story-sets, and it is explicitly a ghost story, told in modern style, of a descendent of an owner of Nabob Castle returning there a few generations later and finding he must attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the death of the Nabob’s young son, thereby putting to rest the ghosts of the Nabob and his wife. In a very brief review, The Times Literary Supplement referred to “Sixty Years After” as “a capital ghost story of the ancient house of Dundonell in the Glens of Antrim” (6 March 1911). 

Order via Amazon  or Amazon UK

Ninety-Eight, and Sixty Years After was reissued in a small edition by the Mid-Antrim Historical Group in 1998, the year of the two-hundredth anniversary of the uprising. More recently it was retitled and reissued with notes (including a short and helpful glossary of dialectal words) and an informative afterword by John Wilson Foster as The Nabob: A Tale of Ninety-Eight (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006). 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Harriet Works Corley

Harriet Works Corley (b. Fitchburg, Massachusetts, 24 May 1889; d. New York, New York, 9 February 1954)

newlywed Mrs. Donald Corley
Harriet Evelyn Works was the oldest of four children of Frank Hamilton Works (1861-1905), a contractor and bridge builder, and Bessie Elder Morris (1864-1926), who were married in Biddeford, Maine, on 10 August 1888.  Harriet’s birth in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, was soon followed by that of two sisters, and, in 1897, a brother. By 1900, Bessie Works was institutionalized at the Worcester State Hospital, a lunatic asylum, where she remained for the rest of her life. Harriet and her siblings grew up in Fitchburg, though they were split up after the death of their father from Bright’s Disease in August 1905.

Harriet gravitated to New York, and began contributing to magazines. In November 1912 and January 1914 she contributed poems to Harper’s Magazine.  By 1916 she was known as a writer of children’s stories, and at a dinner party in New York on Thursday, 20 July 1916, she met the architect, artist and writer, Donald Corley (1886-1955). The next day he proposed to her and she accepted, and two days later, on Sunday, 23 July 1916, they were married.  Their hasty courtship and marriage served as fodder for various newspapers.

The marriage apparently did not last long. By June 1917, Donald Corley’s draft registration lists him as unemployed, with a wife and one child, Sheila Brooke Corley (1917-1985). By the time of the 1920 Census, Donald was living in a boarding house, his marital status given as single. Harriet continued writing, now using the byline “Harriet Works Corley”.  The first appearance I have found dates from November 1918, on an article for the New York newspaper The Evening Telegram.  Her writings would appear in various magazines throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including stories in Flynn’s Weekly Detective Fiction (and in its retitled form as Detective Fiction Weekly), Mystery (published by Tower Magazines and sold only in Woolworth stores), and Street and Smith’s Detective Story Magazine; and nonfiction in Photoplay, Everybody’s Magazine, and Good Housekeeping.  Her final story that I have traced appeared in Double Detective in May 1940.  
Her two novels were both bylined “H. W. Corley”, and the first, For Love or Money (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1932), concerns an impetuous marriage—here a young woman is asked by a lawyer to marry one of his rich clients, and to give the marriage one year before deciding whether it should be permanent. For Love or Money was published in October 1932; her second and final novel, Spotlight (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1933) appeared only six months later, in April. In the late 1930s, she was working for the Federal Writers’ Project as a district supervisor in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

*updated 10 September 2021