Sunday, April 25, 2021

Sidney Stanley: A Query

My Lesser-Known Writers entry (from 2013) on the artist Sidney Stanley (1890-1956), linked here, has attracted a good amount of attention over the years.  Recently I got a query from a person who owns four original watercolour works by Sidney Stanley. The four pictures are related, and may perhaps have been done as illustrations to a book, or to some story in some periodical. But we don't know, really, and it's entirely possible the art was never published. With permission of the owner, I am presenting one of the four here. (Click on the illustration to make it larger.)  It is titled "The Gunpowder Factory"--a related image is titled "The Firework Factory."  The other two pictures are similarly associated,  "Teapot Factory" and "The Tea Ceremony." The strange-looking figures, with long faces and long noses and a single high curl to their black hair, are common to all four illustrations. Are these supposed to be elves of some sort (even their shoes come to curled points)?  Do these ring a bell for anyone?  Comments welcomed! 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Regina Miriam Bloch

Regina Miriam Bloch (b. Sondershausen, Thuringia, November 1888; d. London, 1 March 1938)

Regina Miriam Bloch was the youngest of three children of Jacob Bloch, a schoolmaster in Birmingham, and Henrietta Davis, a schoolmistress, who were married in Birmingham in the summer of 1875. Henrietta Davis had been born in Thuringia, where Regina was also born, though Henrietta's two previous children, a daughter and a son, were both born in Warwickshire. 

Regina was educated in Germany and in London. She started appearing in print around 1906, and she published frequently in periodicals for the next few decades, including The Academy, The IdlerThe Spectator, The Saturday Review, The Contemporary Review, The Fortnightly Review, Nash's Magazine, The Celtic Monthly, and B'Nai B'rith Magazine. She contributed to a number of anthologies, from New Songs (1907), edited by Fred G. Bowles, and The Book of the Poets' Club (1909), which includes early poetry by Ezra Pound, to The Real Jew (1925), edited by H. Newman; and some of her poetry appeared in small editions, like The Vision of the King: A Coronation Souvenir (1911).

dust-wrapper, 1917

She contributed book reviews (mostly of non-fiction) to The Occult Review from around 1914 through 1926. For a time she was the Honorary President of the Jewish Society for Psychical Research.

Her most significant books were The Confessions of Inayat Khan (1915), a study of the Indian philosopher and musician, and two volumes of short stories, most of which are mystical and decadent, and some but not all are eastern. The first collection, The Swine-Gods and Other Visions (London: John Richmond, 1917), is a slim volume containing seven stories, the most substantial of which is the title story. All appear in print for the first time save for the third tale, "The New Creation," an exemplary vision that previously appeared in The Occult Review (January 1915). There is also a Foreword by Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), a friend of Bloch's. The dust-wrapper is gorgeously designed by W. Gordon Mein (1866-1939), and the illustration on the binding derives from Mein's dust-wrapper art. It gives the feel that the book may resemble something by William Hope Hodgson, but that is not the case. The Swine-Gods was reprinted; marked as "Second impression" without a date given.

binding, 1917
Bloch's second collection is much more substantial, The Book of Strange Loves (London: John Richmond, 1918). It contains twelve main items, nine of which are stories, the other three being dramatic episodes ("not to be regarded as plays" Bloch states in her Author's Note). They are mostly romantic tales, but they range from oriental and medieval to a Breton tale, "The Leper of Vannes; An Early French Romance," to an Arthurian one, "The Garden of Meliograunce: An Early Welsh Romance." Others tell of "Samson and Delilah" and of an ancient Amazon. The Scotsman noted that "all have the same imaginative richness and unforced exaltation of feeling, and some have neat snatches of lyrical poetry in them, both graceful in itself and  in harmony with the emotional effect of the prose" (22 July 1918). The Book of Strange Loves was reprinted in 1919. 

Bloch achieved some short-lived notoriety beginning in October 1918  when an editor of the Egoist erroneously implied that Rebecca West and Regina Miriam Bloch were the same person. This mistake proliferated in the U.S. magazine Current Opinion, in September 1921, where is stated that "Rebecca West's real name is Regina Miriam Bloch, which she rejected, according to her own confession, because it 'suggested a lovely blond in a white muslin frock with a blue sash,'--and she 'recognized her limitations'!" Eventually the mistake was corrected.

For much of the last decade of her life Bloch was devoted to the Children's Museum in London, which she conceived in 1929 and founded soon after. It was designed to be a national and international centre, "to educate and inspire the children of all Races." According to the prospectus, lectures and exhibits were planned, a Children's Orchestra and Chorus, a Children's Theatre, Dance and Concert Hall, a Children's Cinema, Folk-lore and Fairy Tale room, etc. She had a large list of supporters from society and the arts. 

Regina Miriam Bloch died in Hammersmith, London, at the age of 49.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Stanley McNail

Stanley McNail (b. Centralia, Illinois, 14 March 1918; d. Alameda, California, 4 April 1995)

The 1965 Arkham House edition
Stanley Duane McNail was the only child of Karl (sometimes Carl) Hicks McNail (1897-1991), a railway switchman (per his 1918 Draft Registration and the 1930 US Census), and his wife Constance Kathleen, nee Poyner (1898-1978), who were married around 1914. The family  lived mostly in Illinois, though the 1930 Census locates them in Evansville, Indiana. 

Stanley moved to the San Francisco area around 1953. He contributed to many small press poetry magazines, and served as editor and publisher for some literary journals, including The Galley Sail Review (founded 1958), and Nightshade (founded 1965). He also served as poetry editor at other publications such as Renaissance and The Bay Guardian. Many of McNail's poems are macabre in nature.

His first publication was a genealogical booklet, Notes on the Family History of William B. McNail (1782-1868), as by Stanley D. McNail, published in 1957. It details his family history. His first of four poetry collections was the slim booklet Footsteps in the Attic (1958). His second collection, also small, was The Black Hawk Country (1960, second edition 1967). McNail contributed five poems to August Derleth's Arkham House anthology, Fire and Sleet and Candlelight (1961).

The 1987 Embassy Hall edition
His third collection is certainly his most famous work. Something Breathing contains thirty-two poems and was published by Arkham House in 1965. Only forty-four pages, it was printed in an edition of 500 hardcover copies for Arkham House by Villiers Publications in England. The cover art is by Frank Utpatel. McNail issued an expanded edition of this title, containing forty-six poems, in trade paperback, under the Embassy Hall Editions imprint, of Berkeley, California, in 1987. It includes Utpatel's original cover illustration (printed interiorly), as well as a new cover and three illustrations by Christopher Chavez. There is also a brief prefatory note by Steve Eng, who describes McNail's poems as "admirably brief" and "energetically wry." 

McNail edited a chapbook Sorcerer's Samplecase: Selected Poems in a Jugular Vein (1986), with all poems reprinted from either The Galley Sail Review or Nightshade. It includes works by nineteen poets, including four by McNail, and one by Paul Zimmer.

His final collection was At Tea in the Mortuary: Poems and Tales (1991), with an introduction by Alan Warren and illustrations by Christopher Chavez. 

McNail died of a heart attack at his apartment at the age of 77. An obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that he had worked for Greyhound for fifteen years, retiring in 1983.