Saturday, May 1, 2021

John Angus

John Angus (b. Forfar, Angus, Scotland, 9 June 1873; d. Sheffield, England, 24 June 1950)

“John Angus” was the pseudonym, on three novels,  of George Kydd Cuthbert, who was the fifth child (of eight) of William Cuthbert and his wife Betty Kydd, who were married in Forfar, Scotland, on 16 September 1864.

Little is known of his life.  He became a clergyman, and was known as G. Kydd Cuthbert. In biographical dictionary he noted that he was educated at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, and the Yorkshire Theological College. He married Sarah Helena Brown (1870-1941) in Settle, Yorkshire, in  late 1900. They had two daughters.

By 1906, he was settled in Paisley, Renfewshire, Scotland, but information about him afterwards is spotty. Later he was posted to New Whittington, near Chesterfield. In 1912 he became the vicar of St. Chad’s Church, Woodseats, Sheffield, a position he held until 1928, when, due to indifferent health, he was posted Warmsworth, near Doncaster, in South Yorkshire.

His first book was a collaboration, The Scorpions’ Nest (1929), as by John Angus and Fielding Hope.  It is set in India, and is a romance with thriller elements.  “Fielding Hope” was one of several pseudonyms of Graham Montague Jeffries (1900-1982), a prolific writer of crime novels who also published two solo novels as Fielding Hope,  The Mystery of the House of Commons: A Novel of Thrills (1929) and The Guinea Pig’s Tail (1934). Writing as “Bruce Graeme,” his series of ten books about the popular crime writer Richard Verrill who is secretly the gentleman crook known as Blackshirt, were very popular, spawning a another series of four books (as by “David Graeme”) about an ancestral Blackshirt, followed by yet another series about Blackshirt’s son, before the author turned the series over to his actual son (Roderic Jeffries) in the 1950s who carried it on for two decades writing as “Roderic Graeme.”

Cuthbert’s two solo novels bylined “John Angus” are most interesting, and both are fantasies. The Sheltering Pine (London: Hutchinson, [April] 1934) was published as no. 20 in “Hutchinson’s First Novel Library.” Hutchinson’s blurbed the book very strangely, as if expecting it to fail because it is a fantasy: “None but the most ambitious of writers adopt fantasy as the motif in their first novel, and few achieve success with it. Mr. Angus, however, has succeeded with brilliance in this strange, haunting story which deals with a man who lived under the protection and guidance of the ancient spirits of a pine tree.”  Here the fairies of a remote Highland glen seem to have more life than the central human characters upon whom they effect the curse and blessing of the titular pine tree.  The Times Literary Supplement noted: "The descriptive passages have charm and a certain power of evocation, the action of the book is rapid, there is suspense, excitement and several minor characters who give the impression of truth. The book is least successful in creating interest in the chief characters" (23 August 1934). 

The book had at least a small success. It was quickly followed by The Homecoming: A Tale of Two Ages (London:  Hutchinson, [June] 1935). Again Hutchinson's blurbed it strangely: 

It is customary in this modern age to deride fantasy, to ridicule the faerie element in life and to concentrate on what are known as "hard facts". When John Angus published The Sheltering Pine and courageously told his strange story of the deathless "Little Folk" of Celtic legend, few expected for it the success it finally achieved.  

Now, in his second novel, Mr. Angus, with the same brilliance of imagination, in the same quiet style so well suited to the mysticism of his subject, tells a story in which the past and present are inextricable involved, and of a warlock who cheated death five hundred years ago, played havoc down the centuries, and met his final defeat in out present century.

The Homecoming is even more steeped in Scottish history than its predecessor. Angus invents a character James Ogilvie and places him in the middle of a fifteenth-century conflict between the Ogilvies and the Lindsays, and sets up a mystery to do with the comfit box given to him by his wife. He is killed by the evil Anthony Sinclair, who is in turn killed by his master, Earl Beardie. Sinclair's spirit then passes from with to witch until the present time when the comfit box is discovered and the story plays out. The Times Literary Supplement said: "Mr. Angus's touch is not so sure when he is writing of the present day as it is when he deals with the exciting scenes of 1444, but if his pen seems to flag and his modern characters are not completely successful, his fantasy nevertheless holds its interest to the end" (27 June 1935).

Both of the John Angus novels are rare today. 

Cuthbert died in 1950 and is buried in Hutcliffe Wood Cemetery, nearby to his former parish at St. Chad’s.

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