Saturday, November 20, 2021

Arthur MacArthur

Arthur MacArthur (b. New Orleans, 19 May 1896; d. New Orleans, 24 October 1970)

Arthur MacArthur (the surname in his family sometimes appears as McArthur) was the son of Arthur MacArthur (1866-1908)--himself the son of another Arthur MacArthur (1838-1916)--and Celena Delphina Kemp (1874-1951), who were married in New Orleans on 3 April 1895.  After his father's death, his mother remarried in 1909. He did not attend college but studied music and singing. MacArthur did some military service in the Field Artillery towards the end of W.W. I. 

In the early 1920s MacArthur served as the Assistant Manager and Secretary to the (openly gay) concert pianist George Copeland (1882-1971), and toured with him around Europe. He lived at times in England, France, Germany, and Italy. After returning to America, he went to Hollywood for a while, but returned to New Orleans.

He published very little. One short story is known, "Told in the Mid-Watch," in Sea Stories Magazine, 20 December 1922. (He claimed he gave up short story writing because it was too restrictive.) And he published only one novel, After the Afternoon (New York: D. Appleton-Century, [October] 1941), though  it was retitled Aphrodite's Lover  and given a racy cover when it was reprinted in paperback in 1953. 

After the Afternoon tells the story of the faun Lykos in Crete, who, after a tryst with Aphrodite, becomes a human being, endowed with immortality and able to enter the human body, male or female, of his choice. He passes through various incarnations, one at the bizarre court of an Egyptian king. The "Books" section of The New York Herld-Tribune noted: "Arthur MacArthur displays an inventive capacity, a skill in writing credibly of the absurd and the impossible, that is reminiscent of Thorne Smith. But actually he is less interested in humor than in invention, while his taste for the macabre and the brutal leads him to scenes that read like effective illustrations of Krafft-Ebing. Within his own mythos his characters are strong, rounded and real, once he leaves Greece for Egypt and, fortunately for his story, this happens very early" (review by Lorine Pruette, 21 December 1941). The New York Times Book Review said: "Mr. MacArthur's first novel is provocative enough to call for a trilogy, and as our friend Lykos, since that fatal hour on Olympus, can become who and what he will with each death I suggest that an evening or two could be profitably spent in America at the turn of the last century, and for the present day I give him his choice of London or Berlin" (review by Francoise du Moulin, 9 November 1941).

In the 1930s and 1940s he lived in New Orleans with his paternal aunt and her husband, Edward Alexander Parsons (1978-1962), a lawyer and noted bibliophile. At the time his novel was published, he worked for the Federal Art Project of Louisiana. Little is known of his later life. He never married, and died in 1970. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Robert Husted Chambers / Robert E. S. Chambers

Robert Husted Chambers in 1922
Robert Husted Chambers (b. Broadalbin, New York, 3 October 1899; d. Washington, D.C., 1 January 1955)

Robert Husted Chambers was the only child of the famous popular novelist, Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933), and his wife Elsa Vaughn Moller (1878?-1939), who were married in Washington, D.C., on 12 July 1898.

There is some confusion in many sources about his name. Early records (censuses, draft registration, passports, publications) all give his name as Robert Husted Chambers, but after a divorce in 1926 he apparently started using the name of Robert E. S. Chambers or Robert Edward Stuart Chambers, which from then on appeared as his byline and in official records and newspaper accounts. The sole exception I have encountered is on his gravestone, which reverts to Robert Husted Chambers.

The Chambers family lived in Brooklyn but spent long summers each year at their family estate in Broadalbin, northwest of Albany and in the Adirondack region. Elsie Chambers had many relatives--uncles, aunt and cousins--in the Washington D.C. area, where most were members of society, and many of the males were officers in various branches of the armed services. 

Robert Husted Chambers matriculated at Harvard University in 1917. After his eighteenth birthday, he reportedly went to serve in a machine gun corps. He was about to receive a commission when the Armistice was signed. In November 1920, in his junior year at Harvard, his engagement to Miss Grace Talbot (1901-1971), who became a noted sculptress, was announced in New York newspapers, but the betrothal was broken by mutual consent several months later. 

At Harvard, Chambers was on the editorial staff of The Harvard Magazine, and planned to follow his father as an author. His first short story, "The Throwback," appeared in McClure's Magazine for December 1920; a second, "A Matter of Medicine," appeared in the same magazine in June-July 1921. Chambers finished his education in 1924 after two years at Christ Church College at Oxford, England (though his degree came from Harvard). He had another story,"Captain Sebastian," in Everybody's Magazine for December 1922, and "Snows of Yesteryear" appeared in The English Review for October 1923. 

Chambers returned from England with a bride, Olive Irene Victoria Gain (1900-1967), whom he had married in the summer of 1924. Chamber's parents were not happy, and apparently made his young wife so miserable that she by mid-September she had returned to London, a trip paid for by the parents. She told newspapers that she intended to sue his father for $500,000 for the alienation of her husband's affections, and that the parents were insistent that their son marry a wealthy society girl after divorcing her. Chambers spent part of 1925 in Algiers, and filed for a divorce in late 1925 based on his wife's desertion; it was granted in May 1926. 

Whatever happened seems to have created real family tensions between Chambers and his parents. Around this time, Chambers began using Robert Edward Stuart Chambers (or Robert E.S. Chambers) as his full name. He would use it as his name for the rest of his life.

On 29 June 1932, in Washington D.C., he married Barendina Gardener (1903-1961), the daughter of late Colonel Cornelius Gardener of the United States Army. This marriage was evidently approved of by Chambers's parents, who attended the wedding. It produced at least one child, an unnamed son buried in the family plot at Broadalbin in 1938, and possibly also a short-lived daughter (the family plot has a gravestone for an otherwise unknown Margery Gale Chambers who died in 1941). 

The novelist Robert W. Chambers died in 1933, and after that Robert E.S. Chambers based himself in Broadalbin. He ran for the New York State legislature in the election of 1934, and again in 1937, but was unsuccessful both times. In 1936 he arranged a local Chamber of Commerce and was elected its president, though his resignation was soon demanded by businessmen who objected to his environmental concerns. 

His first and only book, a collection of twelve short stories (four of which are known to have appeared in magazines), was John Tom Alligator and Others (New York:  E.P. Dutton, [May] 1937). A few stories concern the title character who takes as a wife in Florida the daughter of a Seminole medicine man. Other stories concern the Arabs of northern Africa. Many of the tales are slightly macabre. One review noted that "the collection is pervaded with an artificial flavor of Kismet, and there is too much reliance on irony to turn the trick and make a story out of an incident" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 30 May 1937). Howard Baker noted that "Chambers' work is immature and much marred by class-room acrobatics" (Sewanee Review, 1938). It was evidently quite apparent, as George Currie noted in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, his short stories had "little in common with the work associated with his famous father" (20 May 1937). And modern sensibilities find the tales very dated, with many regrettable attitudes from the past.

His mother, Elsie Chambers, died in November 1939, and Robert E.S. Chambers was the only heir to the large estate. Chambers rejoined the U.S. military for World War II, and after that details of his life become uncertain, with prevailing amount of poorly-documented gossip. Evidently his wife took control of the estate because of her husband was discharged from the Army for being a "psychopathic personality." The marriage broke up, and by 1946 his wife had moved away (reportedly taking truckloads of furniture with her, which she sold at auction). The couple is reported to have divorced (though her obituary in the 14 August 1961 Lexington Herald, calls her the "widow of Robert Edward Stuart Chambers" and notes she had lived in Lexington, Kentucky, for the past fifteen years). 

Chambers evidently next sold the estate to an antique dealer, who auctioned off its remaining contents and then defaulted on payment, after which the ownership reverted back to Chambers. What remained in the house was vandalized or stolen (his father's books, manuscripts, and paintings had all disappeared). Chambers litigated to get the Army to reverse his discharge, and after various appeals he was successful. In 1954 Chambers sold the estate to the Albany Catholic Diocese. Chambers died in Washington, D.C., on 1 January 1955. His will was contested by his nearest relatives, three cousins (all sons of his father's only sibling, a brother), who accepted a settlement. (Apparently his cousins were responsible for burying him.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Boyne Grainger / Boine Grainger

 Boyne Grainger, circa 1938
Boyne Grainger / Boine Grainger (b.  Maine, 17 December 1877; d. New York City, 13 October 1962) 

Bonita Rosita Ginger was known familiarly as "Bonnie." She was the daughter of Lewis (sometimes "Louis") Ginger (1846-1933), reportedly a former colonel in the U.S. Army, and his English wife, Grace Elizabeth Clayton (1839-1909). Bonnie had one older brother, Francis ["Frank"] Joseph Ginger (1871-1961). The family evidently moved often.

Bonnie came to adulthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and later settled in New York City. As Bonnie R. Ginger, she was a prolific contributor of short stories to popular fiction magazines, like Ainslee's, The Century Magazine, The Delineator, Lippincott's, and Everybody's, from 1912 through 1923.  

By the 1920s she was a resident of Patchin Place in Greenwich Village, a cul-de-sac where a number of prominent writers and artists lived, including e.e. cummings, and two of the Powys brothers, John Cowper Powys, and Llewellyn Powys. 

 The 1938 NY edition
Ginger published only two novels, a number of others never achieved publication. The first was The Hussy, published by Boni and Liveright in New York in 1923, as by Boine Grainger. It concerns a young woman disappointed in her quest for love and happiness. The epigraph notes the theme of the book:  "When a man goes  here, there and everywhere looking for love he is called an idealist, but when a woman does it she is called a hussy." It quickly went into a second printing. An abridged version was published in 1950 by St. John Publishing of New York as a paperback, as no. 22 of the Readers Choice Library.

Her second published novel was The Jester's Reign (New York:  Carrick and Evans, [January] 1938), with the spelling of her first name changed to "Boyne," the spelling she used for the rest of her life. It is a fantasy novel of the month during which strange phenomena manifest at the same time all over the whole world. The first event is a peculiar laughing sound that is heard round the globe. How these events influence a small group of mixed people living in a city court much like Patchin Place is the basis of the novel. The central character is one Roger Ergo.   

 The 1939 UK edition

The Jester's Reign was published in England in 1939 by the short-lived publisher of fantasy and modernism, Laidlaw Books, under their Laidlaw and Butchart imprint. Both editions are rare today. John Cowper Powys reportedly blurbed the book, but Powys scholars have noted that no Powys blurb appears on the dust-wrapper of either edition.  In fact, Powys's blurb, along with blurbs by two other people, appeared on a wraparound promotional band put onto some copies of the American edition. Powys's comment reads: "The book is written with such a warm glow and with such swift narration that it is like being carried in an old-fashioned coach, full of good company and mellow quips, and yet with the rapidity of the latest modern machine!"

Five Poems (1942) were published in England by Kenneth Hopkins as no.6 in his Grasshopper broadsheets series. It was likely through her connections with the Powyses that this publication came about. 

A late, brief memoir, We Lived at Patchin Place (2002), was published by Cecil Woolf, mostly because of Grainger's association with the Powys brothers. 

Grainger spent some of her final years in New Mexico, but moved back to New York before she died in late 1962.


Thursday, November 4, 2021

Hannen Swaffer

Hannen Swaffer (b. Lindfield, Sussex, 1 November 1879; d. London, 16 January 1962) 

Charles Frederick Hannen Swaffer was the oldest of nine children (one died as an infant) of Henry Joseph Swaffer (1858-1932), a draper, and Eugenie Katherine Hannen (1858-1947), who were married in 1879.  He was educated at Stroud Green grammar school in Kent. 

He quickly turned reporter and critic, and joined The Daily Mail in 1902, The Daily Sketch in 1913, and after a few other stints he became the drama critic at The Daily Express in 1926, and in 1931 joined The Daily Herald. His journalism was witty, gossipy and very popular. He was also very prolific and became a well-known colorful personality (with a wide-brimmed hat, and often a cigarette dangling from his lips) and author of several books. In 1904 he had married Helen Hannah Sitton (1877-1956). The marriage survived several infidelities, but there were no children.  

When Men Talk Truth (London: Rich & Cowan, 1934) was his first book of fiction. It collects thirteen stories commissioned by Britannia & Eve, published in 1933 and 1934. The stories are simply and vividly written, and range from the tale of a dog who sees ghosts to that of a rationalist using a planchette, who thereby encounters an infinite being.  Another concerns a supernatural resolution of an eternal triangle: here a child enacts the revenge of his dead biological father upon his dead-mother's lover, who reared the boy. The best and most intriguing story in the book is the title story, in which a prison chaplain has a quite revealing and unexpected discussion with a prisoner on the night before his execution: the chaplain confesses his own deep doubts, and the prisoner notes that in such a position he should hang himself. 

My Greatest Story (1945) tells of Swaffer's involvement with spiritualism and various mediums. A later volume Stranger than Truth (1947) purports to collect Swaffer's "best short stories." 

Swaffer died in University College Hospital, London, at the age of 82. A serious biography of him appeared as "Swaff": The Life and Times of Hannen Swaffer (1974), by Tom Driberg.