Thursday, September 26, 2019

David Jarrett

David Jarrett (b. Llantarnam, Monmouth, 1 March 1943; d. Porlock, Somerset, 26 August 2010)

David William Jarrett was the son of Mervyn Spencer Jarrett (1906-1986), a works engineer, and  his wife Olive Elizabeth Jenkins (1907-1997), who were married in the summer of 1940.  He had one older brother.

David grew up in Llantarnam, but was educated from 1953 at the Cathedral School in Wells.  He matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford, in October 1961 (B.A. 1964; M.A. 1969; B.Litt. 1968; and D.Phil. 1977).*

He began a long academic career in 1977 at King Alfred's College, Winchester, and in 1980 moved on to teach at the North London Polytechnic. Afterwards he taught in Poland, Saudi Arabia, and France. He settled in Porlock on his retirement.

His first book was The English Landscape Garden (1978), which was followed in 1979 by a short novel (discussed below), and then by an interesting booklet, The Gothic Form in Fiction and Its Relation to History (1980), on Gothic novels from Horace Walpole on to Faulkner, Kafka, and Iris Murdoch.

His other books include Geometry, Winding Paths, and the Mansions of Spirit: Aesthetics of Gardening in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1997) by David Jarrett, Tadeusz Rachwał, and Tadeusz Sławek;  and with the same two co-authors he co-edited The Most Sublime Act: Essays on the Sublime (1996), and Writing Places and Mapping Words: Readings in British Cultural Studies (1996). A final book was Packing and Unpacking Culture: Changing Models of British Studies (2001), edited and with an introduction by David Jarrett, Tomasz Kowalewski, Geoff Ridden. 

Sphere, 1979
Jarrett's novel was Witherwing (London: Sphere, 1979: New York: Warner, 1979). It begins as a kind of heroic fantasy novel in which Witherwing, the youngest of six princes of Tum-Barlum (the name clearly modeled on Twm Barlwm, the name of a hill in south Wales, but that has no significance to the story). Owing to the botched end-result of some long-ago spell cast by his stepmother, the Queen of Dread, Witherwing has a swan wing instead of a left arm (this plot point echoes The Seventh Swan by Nicholas Stuart Gray, published in 1962). This short novel traces Witherwing's quest of self discovery while searching for some mysterious glowing stones used by his step-mother to perform magic. With this beginning, the book sounds almost commonplace, but it is not. Jarrett seems to be setting up a standard story of sword-and-sorcery only to undermine it.  Witherwing is aided on his quest by strange and ineffectual companions, like the mute albino boy called Hutt, and the unadventurous bald wizard Kryll who burns his books for warmth ("Literature breeds distress. Thirst for learning is thirst for power, and power is death" p. 44). The tone alternates between some wild imagery and some often amusing snarkiness. But there are also long stretches of prose that are simply uninteresting. The denouement turns the book into trite science fiction, for Witherwing meets his long-lost step-mother only to find that she is one of a bunch of magisters who for ages have played games with Witherwing's world. Some of the magisters (like Kryll the wizard, or Hrasp the marauder and murderer) enter the world to play the game. The Queen of Dread did so too, and became entirely bored in the process. Witherwing, learning this, grows angry:  "But this makes a mockery of life!" (p. 126). It does, and snark only works for so long as a literary methodology. So far as I know, Jarrett never published any further fiction.  

The US edition of Witherwing features cover art by Frank Frazetta.  Readers of the time lured in by Frazetta's cover were led to expect standard genre fair, and were doubtless disappointed. 
Warner, 1979. Art by Frank Frazetta.
Thanks to Dr. Robin Darwall-Smith, Archivist of Jesus College, Oxford, for details of David Jarrett's academic career.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Robert Clay

Robert Clay (b. Killiney, Ireland, 19 September 1884; d. Lautoka, Fiji, 21 July 1965)

Details of Robert Clay's genealogy and life are not easy to discern, but he was born Robert Henry Keating Clay, the son of Robert Keating Clay (1835-1904), a Dublin solicitor (in turn the son of another Dublin solicitor, William Keating Clay, who died in 1894), and his wife, Florence Elizabeth Casey (d. 1897; her middle name appears in some records as Bessy or Bridget), who were married in Monkstown in south Dublin on 29 July 1862. Robert Clay was probably the youngest child of the marriage (he had six older sisters and one older brother). The recipient at probate of his father's estate on his death in 1904 was Robert's (eldest?) sister Dorothy May (Clay) Gordon; she was married to John Gordon (1849-1922), an Irish lawyer and politician who was the Member of Parliament for South Londonderry (a Parliamentary constituency that was abolished in 1922) from 1900-1916.

Little is certain about Robert Clay's education and life, but in censuses and in various government documents he listed himself as a lawyer or a writer.  By 1911 he was married to Alice Louise Clay (whose occupation was sometimes given as physician), and living in Dublin.  He and Alice apparently did not have any children, and Alice, who was very close in age to Robert, may have lived into the 1950s.

Robert served in the Royal Army Service Corps in World War I. After the war, he and his wife were based for a short time in Stroud, Gloucestershire, though they traveled to New York and to western Canada.  By the early-1920s they had settled in West Vancouver, British Columbia, and later in Sooke, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, where Robert and Alice were known to be living as late as in 1949.  The next reference point for Robert is his death in Fiji in 1965.

Robert Clay's writing career seems confined to the 1920s. As a byline he seems always to have used "Robert Clay," but in personal life he and his wife often used the surname "Keating-Clay."  His first known story. "The Man Who Hated Worms," appeared in The Black Mask for April 1, 1923. Three other short stories are known:  "The Voice and Simon Eld" appeared in Young's Realistic Stories Magazine, September 1923; "The House without a Mirror" in Hutchinson's Magazine, June 1924; and "Ordeal" in Hutchinson's Adventure-Story Magazine, January 1927.

His first novel, A Chequer-Board, was serialized in seven parts in Blackwood's Magazine from November 1925 through May 1926. It is a romance of pirates, in the manner of Rafael Sabatini.  It appeared in book-form from William Blackwood and Sons (Edinburgh) in November 1926; with a US edition from J.B. Lippincott in 1927. An undated reprint by A.L. Burt, retitled The Romance of a Pirate, probably came out in 1928.
The Lippincott 1927 dust-wrapper

Clay's second novel, By Night (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, [March] 1927; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [August] 1927), is sometimes describes as a horror thriller, but it is not supernatural. Here Neil Gascoigne inherits from his uncle the home where he grew up. His ownership is complicated in that he is forced to keep employing the mysterious Japanese gardener Kito, and he must keep residence for a fixed period.  The latter isn't a problem, for renting a house on the estate is the family he was close with as a youth.  It includes sensible Jean Raeburn, who provides the love interest of the story. But there are hints of a haunting, and a motorcylist is found dead, possibly murdered, and soon afterwards a tramp is definitely murdered. Some guests see a horrific monster and are convinced of its supernatural nature.  The story plods on—it is only moderately engaging—until in a fell swoop the solution is revealed. The mad uncle had faked his death and made (literally) a horrific black rubber suit for no other purpose than to randomly kill and terrorize. Thus the denouement is preposterously silly and unsatisfying. Yet the book is collectible for its very attractive dust-wrapper illustration.

Clay's third and final novel, Carmen Sheila, came out from the same publishers in the UK (October 1928) and the US (January 1929). It is set in a small South American republic where Carmen Shiela, along with some close friends, have gone to search for her beloved brother.