"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A few Poe notes


....He who has but a moment to live has no longer anything to dissemble.


"....some things are so completely ludicrous that a man must laugh or die. To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths! Sir Thomas More—a very fine man was Sir Thomas More—Sir Thomas More died laughing, you remember. Also in the Absurdities of Ravisius Textor, there is a long list of characters who came to the same magnificent end. Do you know, however," continued he musingly, "that at Sparta (which is now Palaeochori,) at Sparta, I say, to the west of the citadel, among a chaos of scarcely visible ruins, is a kind of socle, upon which are still legible the letters 'LASM'. They are undoubtedly part of 'GELASMA'. Now at Sparta were a thousand temples and shrines to a thousand different divinities. How exceedingly strange that the altar of Laughter should have survived all the others!...."


....my own disease—for I have been told that I should call it by no other appell a tion—my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form—hourly and m o ment ly gaining vigour—and at length obtaining over me the most incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive . It is more than probable that I am not understood; but I fear, i n deed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and bu r ied them selves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe.

     To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some friv o lous device on the margin, or in the typography of a book; to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer's day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; to lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind....


THE MACABRE TALES of Edgar Allan Poe

Illustrated by Harry Clarke

Published by Tartarus Press, 2018

Friday, September 27, 2019

Celebrating William Fryer Harvey

The Double Eye by William Fryer Harvey [Tartarus Press, 2009] 

In retrospect, some short stories seem like manifestoes of their author's aesthetic and thematic preoccupations. 

This thought struck me while reading William Fryer Harvey's tale "The Double Eye" in the collection of the same name (Tartarus, 2009). Harvey, whom I have never read before, seems to fit in with no "school" or "gang" of horror writers. Like the strongest work of Wakefield, Metcalfe, Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell, his is sui generis.

Elements of folk, fey, and antiquarian horror appear in many stories; others rely on psychological probing. All are beautifully balanced and acutely expressed. 

Among these, "The Double Eye" most acutely expresses concerns over sensory perceptions of reality.

The narrator visits an old school friend, Dan Hartigan, and his aunt, at their isolated coastal house. Hartigan is an illustrator and a tyro story writer. (He suffered "shell shock" in World War One).

'....I'm very much attached to my aunt,' he said as he filled his pipe, 'but she is just a little too bright for me at times. When my spirits get dull and tarnished she is convinced that it is her duty to rub them up. I hate being rubbed up.

'You said something at dinner,' he went on after a pause, 'about humour being a recognition of incongruity. I forget your actual words, but you were thinking of an outward incongruity. There's more to it than that. It depends on an inward incongruity as well. The single-minded man may laugh and be cheerful but it's not often that he has a sense of humour. He lacks stereoscopic vision. Both eyes see from the same angle instead of from a slightly different angle. Probably the first time that Adam laughed was when he sat munching the apple and was conscious of good and evil at the same time.

'Now I'm not wasting your time talking like this. I know very well why my aunt urged you to come down. She is rather alarmed about me and wants an unprejudiced opinion. She is quite right. I am alarmed about myself. There is something radically wrong with my left eye.'

He looked at me half furtively as he spoke and then quickly turned away his head.

'You don't mean to say that you are losing your sight?' I asked.

'I almost wish I were. No, the trouble is that my left eye sees too much, or rather what it sees is different from what the right eye sees. I have literally bad-sight in my left eye...."

Which eye, Hartigan wants to know, sees the world as it is? Which "side" of his perceptions is accurate?

At bedtime, Hartigan gives the narrator a sheaf of his fiction.

....I had a virgin candle to burn and in my hand was the typescript of Dan's stories. They were, as he had given me to understand, a mixed lot. One or two might have found their way into the pages of a magazine, but I fancied that most would be difficult to place. They were too elusive for the ordinary reader—left too much to his imagination—and for the others their form was against them; they had no affinity to the fashionable conte. Nor did I see any chance of a publisher taking them up in volume form unless Dan illustrated them. They lacked the same unity that their author lacked. Yet reading them I realised that the tales had some things in common. There was a curious obsession with the idea of death. In some it was no more than a vague background—the gathering of dark clouds at sunset. In others the clouds were banked high and hung menacing. In more than one or two the lightning broke and struck with a sudden and blinding flash. Then again the stories were alike in showing little interest in women. Dan was obviously not at home with them unless they were over fifty. I thought he showed an understanding of elderly people and strangely enough of little children. There was more than a streak of Hartigan's cynical humour, and he sometimes succeeded in conveying the old impression of being able to look round corners....

Harvey's stories share a certain allusive power with Hartigan's tales. Protagonists often confront a pivotal realization that they have grossly misunderstood the situations they are in. At the start of stories the reader may assume they are in a right-eye narrative, but we assume it at our peril.

And that is what makes William Fryer Harvey an irreplaceable figure. 

Some excerpts from the collection:

Introduction (The Double Eye) • essay by Richard Dalby

....After 1910 Harvey became keenly interested in the adult education movement and went to Selly Oak, Birmingham, to assist Tom Bryan with the Working Men's College at Fircroft. At the outbreak of World War One he was one of the first to join the Quaker training camp at Jordans, and went with the first detachment of the Friends' Ambulance Unit to Flanders. Later he undertook much vital work as surgeon-lieutenant in the navy.

Shortly before the end of the war, Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal for Gallantry by King George V. The official account of his heroism (recorded in The Times on 30th October 1918) runs as follows:

'On 28th June 1918, two of His Majesty's torpedo-boat destroyers were in collision, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey was sent to board the more seriously damaged destroyer in order to render assistance to the injured. On hearing that a stoker petty officer was pinned by the arm in a damaged compartment, Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey immediately went down and amputated the arm, this being the only means of freeing the petty officer. The boiler room at the time was flooded, and full of fumes from the escaping oil. This alone constituted a great danger to anyone in the compartment, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey collapsed from this cause after performing the operation, and had to be hauled out of the compartment. . . . Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey displayed the greatest gallantry and disregard of his personal safety in descending into the damaged compartment, and continuing to work there amidst the oil fumes at a time when the ship was liable to sink.'

Only when Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal did his family and friends learn how he had risked his life to save the engineer. His lungs were badly damaged by the poisonous oil fumes, and he never fully recovered from the experience.

Midnight House • (1910)

....It would be hard to picture a more desolate scene—bare hills rising on every side to the dull, lead sky above; at one's feet heather, burnt black after last spring's firing, broken in places by patches of vivid emerald that marked the bogs.

The Star • (1910) 

....He wanted to confirm one or two facts about the star on which Mortimer had reported in the Review. It would be a splendid thing if he could explode yet another of his rival's theories; and he chuckled as he remembered the comet of last June.

Across the Moors • (1910)

....'Well, miss,' said the cook, when Miss Craig went into the kitchen to get her boots, which had been drying by the fire; 'of course she knows best, but I don't think it's right after all that's happened for the mistress to send you across the moors on a night like this. It's not as if the doctor could do anything for Miss Margaret if you do bring him. Every child is like that once in a while. He'll only say put her to bed, and she's there already.'

August Heat • (1910)

     'And it was only the day before yesterday,' he said, 'that I told Maria there were no such things as ghosts!'

     Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.

Sambo • (1910)

....Janey was disappointed, and I do not wonder at it. She had been looking forward to the arrival of this new member of her family, all the more eagerly because Cicely White had been unbearably conceited about a doll her godmother had sent from Paris. The little African, instead of having a neatly painted trunk containing an elaborate wardrobe, appeared on the removal of his paper covering in a state of absolute nudity. I think Janey could have forgiven his lack of clothes if he had been less ugly. Without doubt he was hideous. His nose was a shapeless, protruding lump; his lips were thick, and his hair was represented by a collection of knobs. The one redeeming feature was his size; he measured just two feet and a half, and could stand unsupported in the bath of Condy's fluid to which he was subjected. But I thought my sister wrong in punishing Janey for her tears; the contrast between Sambo and Cicely White's gay Parisienne was too great.

Unwinding • (1910)

....' "It's useless," I remember him saying, "to think that violence can suppress violence. In most cases I think that even the compulsory detention of criminals in prisons and reformatories defeats its own object. A man's conscience, though it may permit a crime, may be trusted to cause him more discomfort than all your dark cells and strait waistcoats. But, of course, I may be prejudiced."

Sarah Bennet's Possession • (1910) 

      Suddenly Frank started up.

     'Who in the world is that?' he said.

     He held in his hand the piece of paper that had been in Mrs Bennet's lap. On it was a drawing, as cleverly executed a sketch as I have ever seen of a man, a young man, dressed in an officer's uniform of half a century ago. He was kneeling with his hands clasped in the attitude of supplication. His features, coarse and ugly as they were, were cast into an expression that seemed to demand pity. It was not entirely a black-and-white drawing; for on the side of his coat was a little patch of red, put in with coloured chalk. There was a little pool of red on the ground on which he knelt.

     Frank looked puzzled. 'I never dreamed you could draw as well as that, auntie. But it was to be someone present in the room!'

     Mrs Bennet was still gazing out into the night.

The Tortoise • (1910) 

....'Do you remember Oppenheim's Forensic Medicine, and how we used to laugh over the way they always bungled these jobs? There was no bungling here, and consequently no use for the luck that attended the hero. (I still think of him as hero, you see; each man is a hero to himself.)

The Beast with Five Fingers 

....Adrian was an authority on the fertilisation of orchids. He had held at one time the family living at Borlsover Conyers, until a congenital weakness of the lungs obliged him to seek a less rigorous climate in the sunny south coast watering-place where I had seen him. Occasionally he would relieve one or other of the local clergy. My father described him as a fine preacher, who gave long and inspiring sermons from what many men would have considered unprofitable texts. 'An excellent proof,' he would add, 'of the truth of the doctrine of direct verbal inspiration.'

Six to Six-Thirty • (1928) 

'....What's that you say? A telephone message has been sent on to you from your surgery in Dunswick to Carnaby Vicarage? The original message came from me? I said I was dying —had been shot, two men, one tall and the other—But I'm speaking! Yes, Leslie Gideon. I've only just come in from a stroll. Fit as a fiddle. Only got down here yesterday with Mrs Gideon. You were asked to come immediately? Well, come, by all means. You'll be here in a quarter of an hour, if you are speaking from the Vicarage. I suppose it's some confounded hoax.....'

Blinds • (1932)

....It was not a case of love at first sight, for Lizzie Scott was not a particularly attractive girl. Tall and angular, with plain features, she had little to recommend her except a good-natured smile, that seemed the quiet echo of Tom's hearty laugh. But Tom was not looking for pretty girls. He wanted a wife who could cook and sew, who would find enough in the little shanty by the beach to keep herself and him from getting lonely, and who would lend him a hand in looking after Phil, the wild young fellow of seventeen, fast earning for himself the dubious reputation of being a hard case.

Miss Cornelius • (1928)

....The manifestations had been going on over a period of three weeks. They consisted apparently of rappings, noises like those made by the dropping of very heavy weights, unaccountable movements of tables and articles of furniture, the mysterious locking and unlocking of doors, and, perhaps strangest of all, the throwing about, apart from any observed human agency, of all sorts of miscellaneous objects, ranging from chessmen and gramophone needles to lumps of coal and metal candlesticks.

The Heart of the Fire • (1928)

While on this hearthe of stone a fire you see, 

Kinde Fortune smiles upone ye house of Aislabie.

Peter Levisham • (1928)

....' "I don't know your name," I said, "but I have met you twice before, once in the traffic of Bishopsgate, and once on a winter night when I spoke to you at the Driffield cross-roads. I beseech you to listen to this warning before it is too late and see to your ways."

The Clock • (1928)

....The clock had no business to be ticking. The house had been shut up for twelve days. No one had come in to air it or to light fires. I remembered how Mrs Caleb had told my aunt that if she left the keys with a neighbour, she was never sure who might get hold of them. And yet the clock was going.

Ghosts and Jossers • (1928)

....'The jossers are the ones who are still alive. They forfeit a life each time they speak to a ghost, since it is unlawful to hold communion with the dead. I think that's about all. Proper names are allowed. You'll soon get into the game, once we have started.'

The Sleeping Major • (1932)

....He held a key position, and not only had he to maintain his ground, he had to make plans for a possible evacuation under cover of night. 'Foolish fellow,' said the German opposite, 'how perfectly absurd you are! What can you expect to do when you are keyed to such a pitch? Sit down and think over the position quietly.' In a fit of anger he fired at the face again, and again missed. The German removed his eyeglasses from his fat, white face and wiped them carefully. 'How absurdly obstinate you are!' said his enemy. 'As obstinate as a mule! Don't you remember how you had to ship those mules on the transport at the last moment, and the trouble they gave you on the quay?'

The Ankardyne Pew • (1928) 

....I have been inside the church. Anything less like dear old Garvington it would be impossible to find. Architecturally, it has its points, but the unity of design, on which everything here depends, is broken by the Ankardyne pew. Its privacy is an abomination. Even from the pulpit it is impossible to see inside, and I can well believe the stories of the dicing squires and their Sunday play. Miss Ankardyne refuses to use it. The glass is crude and uninteresting; but there is an uncommon chancel screen of Spanish workmanship, which somehow seems in keeping with the place. I wish it didn't.

The Tool • (1928) 

....Every man has experienced at some period of his life that strange intuition of danger which compels us, if only it be strong enough, to alter some course of action, substituting for a reasonable motive the blind force of fear. I was walking straight towards the mound, when I came to a standstill. Something seemed to repel me from the spot, while at the same time I became conscious of my intense isolation, alone on the moor miles away from any fellow creature. I stopped for half a minute, half in doubt as to whether to proceed. Then I told myself that fear is always strongest when in pursuit and, smiling at my folly, I went on.

The Devil's Bridge • (1928)

'Half green or not,' said his father, 'what good can come of an unblessed bridge? The Devil might have built it for all you cared.'

     'And he should have my thanks for one,' the charcoal-burner declared with an oath. 'He is a cunning craftsman, whatever men may say. In my mother's parish was a field with five of the Devil's arrows planted in the centre, each as big as a man. I never saw prettier target practice. Then there is the Devil's Wine Bowl over at La Roche. He placed it on the top of the highest hill, where his thirst would be likely to be the greatest. It is deep enough to hold a dozen churches. Your bishops and curés, once they fell in, would be no better than drowning flies, and if I were the Devil, no little finger of mine should help them to crawl out. Here's to the honest gentleman!' and he raised his glass.

Two and a Third • (1928)

....On the following Tuesday, Mrs Hobson, Mary Shepherd and I met at the little Camden Town studio. The séance was held in the back sitting-room. The windows were closed to shut out the noise, but through them filtered the deadened rhythm of street traffic and the golden haze of a still August afternoon. I suppose that both sound and light were of just sufficient intensity to create the right environment, for in a surprisingly short time the planchette began to write. At first the words were meaningless and scarcely decipherable, but gradually the character of the script changed. 'Helford River! Helford River!' wrote the planchette. 'Who's that a-calling so sweet?' Now the Helford River was the mine-sweeper in which Jim Hobson had served in the Mediterranean. Mrs Hobson began to ask questions. There was something incongruous, something pathetic, in the way in which this shrewd, commonplace woman believed without doubt that she was speaking to her dead or rather to her living son. But stranger still were the light-hearted gaiety of the replies. They were characteristic of one side of Jim's nature, but it was not the side that his mother had known. Her familiar landscape was of a dark-shouldered hill that faced the north, its hard outline softened only by rainstorm and cloud. She had never travelled far enough from home to watch the sunlight resting on the southern slopes. 'Jim,' she said at last, 'tell me that you love me, that you've forgiven me!'

Miss Avenal • (1928

....'I think of the church,' said Miss Avenal, 'as the last outpost of the new religion, standing sentinel over the passes that lead to the hills. And the stream I picture as the friend of the old spirits that were driven by the priests into the fastnesses of the moor. It carries their secrets still; but lest the old sentry should discover them, it has made for itself a way underground.'

The Double Eye • (1933) 

...At dinner that night the conversation more than once showed signs of flagging. Dan, I thought, resented Miss Hartigan's assumption that I was to be made to feel at home. After all there was no ice to break, no soundings to be taken. The channels were old and familiar, at least to him. But in the drawing-room as we sat round the fire—it was burning apple-wood logs, I remember—he came out of his curmudgeon's shell. He twitted his aunt who had been busy arranging stamps in an immense volume, on her hobby. He told her of a monarch who from innocent philandering with philately developed such a passion for Papal states and West Indian colonies that he imperilled both the Protestant succession and the peace of Europe. He sketched ribald designs for stamps of the Irish Free State. He defended their sanction of the lottery and parried Miss Hartigan's attacks by an ingenious argument in which he invoked the doctrine of Grace—the supreme gifts of life coming unearned to the unworthy. I forget how he worked out his ingenious theory, but it was obvious that Dan enjoyed teasing the little old lady and just as obvious that she appreciated the gentle shocks he gave her.

The Dabblers • (1928) 

A fascinating story with a pleasant patina of lore and antiquarianism. A 'school story.'

     ' "We were all of us frightened, horribly frightened. It was quite different from the ordinary schoolboy escapade. And yet there was fascination, too, in the fear. It was rather like," and here he laughed, "dragging a deep pool for the body of someone who had been drowned. You didn't know who it was, and you wondered what would turn up."

Mrs. Ormerod • (1933)

I have a theory of my own that good attracts evil. It shows it up of course and draws attention to it. The Inchpens always convinced me of selfishness—but it goes beyond that. Really good people, saint-like people, act as magnets to those who have more than a streak of the devil in them. That's why they have adventures and meet with folk that you or I seldom see. That's why Mrs Ormerod stays on with them, horrible parasite that she is.

The Follower • (1933)

....He drew up his chair to the fire and filled his pipe. If only he could hit on the idea for the story, something uncanny, something sinister. It was not yet ten o'clock on an April morning, but he was just in the mood to submit himself to an unknown fear. The story was in him or around him, in the air. He knew the effect he wanted to get, but what was the story itself? Why wouldn't it take shape, come out into the open so that he could see at least the dim outline, the skeleton rather, which later he could clothe at will?

The Man Who Hated Aspidistras • (1933)

....One, he slowly did to death with weed-killer; into another, following the example of the Good Samaritan, he would pour in oil and wine. A third he garrotted with rubber bands; a fourth, slowly succumbing to a solution of bath salts, filled his room for weeks with the faint perfume of lavender. A horticultural detective would, of course, have quickly got on the track of the Bloomsbury murders, but no suspicion ever fell upon Ferdinand. 

     He was so inoffensive, so subtle, so respectable, and in his own way so quietly ornamental. His requirements were so few and he needed little looking after. His landladies were always sorry when he went. The aspidistras never got over his departure.

Double Demon • (1933) 

....Very carefully he put out the cards and began his game of Double Demon. It would be a good omen if luck were with him tonight. Eleven o'clock struck, twelve o'clock. The cards would not come out. Half an hour after midnight he went to bed, and when the clock struck one he was sound asleep.

The Arm of Mrs. Egan • (1935)

....Mrs Egan was a wealthy widow with an only child on whom she doted. Ten days before she had rung Gilbert up about an eruption she had noticed on the nurse's hands. When he came over to see her he found a strapping wench who complained of nothing. She said she had a sensitive skin and had been using a new brand of soap. Two days later the little boy was violently sick. He had eaten several slices of a rich cake, and Gilbert, who was rushed off his feet with an influenza epidemic, assured the anxious Mrs Egan that it was nothing more than a slight digestive upset. The sickness, however, continued. Mrs Egan, unable to get in touch with Gilbert, called in another doctor who found that the boy had scarlet fever contracted from his nurse, an ambulant case, and that she had most likely picked up the infection at the home of the young man with whom she was walking out. 

     The boy died. Gilbert never saw him again, for the case was taken out of his hands, but on the day after the funeral Mrs Egan sent for him. It was then that she cursed him. She called him a licensed murderer, and said that as long as she lived Gilbert could count on one enemy who would not rest until she had got even with him.

Account Rendered • (1951)

'You took the anaesthetic splendidly. The only thing that surprised us was when an old man came up the stairs a little after twelve and looked into the room without knocking. I think he, too, was surprised to see us and said something about seeing you another time.' 

     Mr Tolson glanced at me in a curious way. I saw fear, dismay, and a suggestion of something else, of wily satisfaction that gave one the impression that he was well pleased to have escaped from a tiresome visitor.

The Flying Out of Mrs. Barnard Hollis • (1951)

....The Grange had been a house of refuge to many. In the early days of the war Mrs Barnard Hollis had offered hospitality to two families of Belgian refugees for a week. They had stayed for four years. There was a constant succession of guests, over-worked parsons and their wives from the East End, lonely deaconesses, governesses waiting for a job, decayed gentlefolk—how I loathe the expression!—who nobody wanted to entertain because they were so unentertaining.

The Habeas Corpus Club • (1951) 

....even the ordinary lay student of Pocock and those authors who laboriously follow his footsteps in the dark must have been struck by the fact that less than justice is done to the characters they murder at the end of the first or second chapter. A corpse has to be discovered in startling circumstances—on the farther side of the bunker that guards the thirteenth green, in a reserved sleeping berth on the Orient Express, in Sir Marmaduke's family pew at Widdecombe Basset, in a pantechnicon outside Number 10 Downing Street. The corpse is the important thing. It is the spring-board that projects frail clues and dark suspicions.


27 September 2019

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Postludes of a connoisseur: A Wild Tumultory Library by Mark Valentine (Tartarus, 2019)

A Wild Tumultory Library

by Mark Valentine

(Tartarus, 2019)

It's such a pleasure to spend a few days in Mr. Valentine's company in these essays. Connections and associations rise quickly to the surface, reinforcing mental alertness and the big, broad view of the reading life.

One story, one author, one book leads to another. Pretty soon organized habits of study are replaced by instinct. How else could the reader lay hands upon the strange, esoteric, unusual, and outre? Valentine demonstrates again and again in these pages that the lyrical, incantatory, and rich works of measured prose do not emerge unless the reader is also a seeker, not just an online shopper.

Some excerpts will convey the flavor of this book about the reclamation of certain odd books that radiate an eerie glamour.


One of the journeys I often made many years ago took me through the outskirts of a town where the road rose past a Georgian house situated at the top of a slope and positioned slightly at an angle. I seemed always to be in this vicinity around dusk, and as I looked up at this place I could see through the tall window, its curtains not yet drawn against the night, a lamp which cast a gentle golden light upon high, elegant bookshelves.

I don't know why it was that this particular scene had such a strong effect on me, but it seemed a sort of promise of a good way of life. The vision used always to fill me with longing. I wanted to know the person who occupied such a quiet, civilised, cultured (as it seemed to me) room: I wished to be part of such a world myself. It was always with a pang that I saw it and went on my way towards my own rather scruffy, narrow digs. I was then living in a bedsit, amid the fumes of instant coffee, grilled veggie-burgers, mustard and the rank tobacco of my pipe.

I wondered if the contents of the book room might be like the one encountered by Thomas De Quincey in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. He has run away from school and spent some lonely days among the remoter parts of Wales. But at last, in a quiet town just across the border, he meets a sympathetic stranger, a young solicitor in Oswestry who offers him hospitality and has a good if curious library: 'This private Oswestry library wore something of the same wild tumultory aspect, fantastic and disordinate, but not for that reason the less attractive; everything was there that you never expected to meet anywhere, but certainly not to meet in company'. He also refers to the 'mercurial conversation of its proprietor'….

....[T.E. Lawrence] He was not alone in wanting, during the war, to find himself afterwards in some sanctuary nearer to his heart. Ivar Campbell, killed in Mesopotamia, and the author of delicate prose pieces and poems, some with a Blackwoodian spirit of nature-worship, wanted to retire to the country and, under the name John Cowslip, sell old books and make carved walking sticks. The subalterns Oliphant Down and Eric Lyall wrote Pierrot plays full of moonlight and faery which they hoped to see performed in walled gardens or candle-lit drawing rooms. The novelist Norman Davey's book of poems written in wartime included a piece remembering book-browsing expeditions with a friend, and hoping he might return to them. The thought of the lighted window and the book-lined room was, I am sure, a solace to many of the bookish in those harried days, and has perhaps been so to others since....

....it is surprising what can turn up where you least expect it. It has sometimes chanced that I have found myself in some out-of-the-way place without a book. This is a disconcerting experience for the keen reader, and once, in a hotel on an industrial estate, not within obvious easy reach of any purveyor of literature, I was obliged to read the only thing to hand in the somewhat functional room, namely the breakfast menu. This, though not without interest in its way, did not stretch very far (in terms of reading, I mean: the breakfast itself promised to be, and was, extensive, if unsubtle).

However, on other occasions a chance find in a lonely place has proved to be a solace enhanced by its unexpectedness. Once on a rainswept holiday in Cornwall, and desperate to find something diverting to read, I considered without too much enthusiasm the single creaking plastic carousel of paperbacks in the leaking beach shack which was the only shop for miles around. But what was this? The Adventures of Solar Pons by August Derleth. Some splendid Sherlock Holmes-like detective yarns, just the thing to enjoy while the grey gusts swept against the cottage windows.

Since then, I have an idle delight in the game of finding something interesting to read somehow, wherever I chance to be....

'He Saw the Absolute Coming through the Door': Rex Warner's Allegories

....He was an exceptional scholar and a striking athlete and sportsman, playing Rugby for both the University and Gloucestershire. He was apparently delighted by a newspaper report describing him as 'the most dangerous man in the South West'—not for his increasingly radical political views, but for his prowess as a Rugby three-quarters. At the same time, his tutors admired his genuine enthusiasm for study, and he seemed set fair for a glorious academic career. But, according to Day Lewis, he 'read philosophy to such an extent that one day he saw the Absolute walk in at his door, and taking the hint, saved his sanity by having a nervous breakdown, leaving Oxford for a year, and returning to read for a quiet Pass in English.'

Through the Spaces of the Dark: G.W. Stonier's The Memoirs of a Ghost

....Stonier was a versatile journalist, writing and reviewing mostly for the serious periodicals, such as the New Statesman, and also for BBC Radio. He also translated books from the French, and later in his career wrote travel books, including, in his sixties, Off the Rails (1967), an account of a journey by Land Rover with his wife through Africa from Cairo to the Cape. His thoughtful, rather bleak ghost story sometimes gets brief mentions in studies of the field, but it is not widely known.

The Palace of Isis: A Note on Elizabeth Bowen's 'Mysterious Kôr'

....We could read this as an aesthetic response: a lunging after beauty among the rubble of the bomb sites and the dreariness of the little room. The story is, in this view, partly about the awakening of an instinct for strange beauty in unpromising circumstances, perhaps in some ways like Denton Welch's quest for quaint and pretty things in his wartime wanderings and bicycle rides, or John Guest's keen eye for loveliness in fleeting things in his wartime journal Broken Images (1949).

Call for the Colonel: The Crime Novels of Philip MacDonald

....This relative neglect is all the more surprising because MacDonald was much admired by his peers. He was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe prize twice. His early novel The Rasp (1924), which introduced his series detective Colonel Gethryn, was chosen by American detective writer S.S. Van Dine, the creator of Philo Vance, for his 'library of great mysteries'. A later novel, the remorseless Murder Gone Mad (1931) was selected by John Dickson Carr as one of his 'Ten Best Detective Novels'.

....As Charles Williams noted, MacDonald certainly had style, and 'style can excite, style can puzzle, style can delight, for style is interest'.

Dusty Cathedral: The Piquant Thrillers of Edwin Greenwood

....Theodore Edwin Greenwood was born in London on 27th August 1895, and the family home was in Fulham. His father, Alfred, was a music teacher who, however, Greenwood said, 'did everything from digging gold in New Zealand to singing at Covent Garden'. The young Edwin, as he chose to be known, was a chorister at King's College, Cambridge between the ages of eight and fourteen, and later claimed it was this that gave him 'an early leaning towards the macabre'. This is perhaps a sly reference to the influence of the eminent ghost story writer M.R. James, who was Provost at King's. When it came to choosing a career, Greenwood's father suggested he become a chartered accountant. 'I asked him what those words meant and he didn't know,' recalled Greenwood: 'Neither did I. The idea fell flat, so I went to the Sorbonne and studied philosophy and became a Socialist'.

Pagan Mysteries in the Novels of P.M. Hubbard

....P.M. Hubbard's depiction of the village secrets is subtle. Flush as May shows, especially for its time, a surprisingly deep understanding and a certain sympathy for the older religion, and this was to become a hallmark in several of his subsequent novels. There are several ways in which this shows in this book. The first is that it describes very closely a traditional, hereditary witch coven, with its Maid (the matriarchal head), and observance of seasonal customs—Beltane, Lammas and Hallowe'en are specifically mentioned.

....dimension of strangeness and the esoteric

....rich, unusual and outré qualities

....satisfyingly peculiar.

....lyrical writing and incantatory prose

....writing is clear, measured, at times a little too methodical

....context and climate of the work

....well organised, thoroughly thought-through, and carefully explained

....only just enough and no more is said

....A scene repeated in almost all his novels is of a man standing in concealment watching a house secretly.

....eerie glamour

Dorian by Candlelight

....its influence was to resonate throughout the literature of the late nineteenth century and into the Edwardian years and beyond. It may be seen in the decadent horror fiction of Arthur Machen and M.P. Shiel and even in the often precious and languid character of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Walter de la Mare, later noted for his ethereal and dream-like poems and stories, began as an aesthete in the Wildean manner, and once planned a periodical, to be called The Basilisk, which was to be printed in purple ink. The black humour in the tales of Saki (H.H. Munro) owes some of its brittle wit to its example, and the lush verses of James Elroy Flecker and Rupert Brooke reflect the book's dandyish style. Even the cadences of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, despite its austere story of desert warfare, can be seen to bear the impress of Wilde's prose.

But while the book belongs in style to the mannered prose and the languid pose of the 1890s, it has endured because its themes are perennial. It asks fundamental questions about our inner selves. Are we a noun or are we a verb? Are we one or are we many? The assumption, heavy as lead upon our thinking and our custom, has always been that an individual is a single entity that can be categorised, defined, commanded and held to account. That belief marches in step with a monotheistic faith, a single version of truth, and in many other often unquestioned orderings and mores. Yet it is not the prevailing wisdom in other societies and cultures. While no-one can doubt there is (for the time being, until science comes up with other offers) a single physical shell for each of us, the 'identity' within that shell can be seen as fluid, flexible, a stream of thought and actions, not a constant. We are nearer to racing cheetahs than we are to stolid statues.

And in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, a number of writers began to see this, to prise open the hermetically-sealed box of the self and peer inside. Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1886) suggested the existence of at least two selves: the respectable, ethical, dignified public face and the savage, wild, inner demon. It took only a chemical change to release the darker creature. Readers uneasily understood that this was not merely a satire about the risks attendant upon the advance of science. Indeed, its author, from a family of lighthouse engineers, had a healthy respect for what modern invention could do. No: the chemistry was incidental, a device. This was really a book about our secret selves. But Stevenson's remarkable work was not the only study of that question in its time. For, similarly, Dorian Gray suggests several selves: the beautiful, alluring outer self; the wracked and doubt-ridden inner conscience; and, of course, the symbolic 'thing in the attic', the representation of all that is darkest and ugliest about us....

Narcissus of the Nineties: The Poems and Prose of Richard Le Gallienne

....all long, flowing locks, velveteen jackets, courtly gestures and rakishly loose ties.

....The Student and the Body-Snatcher and Other Trifles (1890) is an odd volume which connoisseurs of the recondite still look out for.

....these Prose Fancies and they remain both characteristic of him and a quintessential product of the 1890s. Often whimsical and fantastical, they play delightedly with an idea or image and may well seem overly precious for today's taste, but they represent an interesting diversion from mainstream writing. A further volume with the same title was published in 1896 and throughout his career, Le Gallienne would make similar collections of his work.

....the last piece in Prose Fancies, entitled 'White Soul', recounts his wife's strange dreams of churchyards and her sense of a doom waiting for her.

....Le Gallienne was one of those who helped the novel's transition from its nineteenth century legacy of ponderousness to a more conversational, freer style.

....Le Gallienne later said of the 1890s: 'The amount of creative revolutionary energy packed into that amazing decade is almost bewildering in its variety. So much was going on at once, in so many directions, with so passionate a fervour.'

....easy facility with which he could turn his hand to inconsequential work.

....The Worshipper of the Image, a novella about a man's obsession with what seems to be the death mask of a young girl, and the harm this does to his marriage

....'What serious reformers had laboured for years to accomplish Wilde did in a moment with the flash of an epigram . . . Indeed, he made dying Victorianism laugh at itself, and it may be said to have died of the laughter.'

A Most Surprising Book: John Davidson's Earl Lavender

....frivolity whipping its schoolmaster, common sense

Always Gaping at Weeds: Frank Kingdon-Ward, Himalayan Plant-Hunter

....Kingdon-Ward faced death several times, and hardship and privation often, in his lonely missions in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. Fever, revolution, earthquake, espionage, were all part of his exploits. Not, perhaps, what you would expect from the author of Rhododendrons for Everyone, and the discoverer of a new primula.

J. Milton Hayes: The Green Eyed Yellow Idol Man

....Following the outbreak of World War One, Milton Hayes joined up and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. He was then still living near Manchester and his occupation was given as 'insurance clerk', although this may have been a polite fiction to avoid admitting to his miscellany of jobs. He was mentioned in despatches, and awarded the M.C. for moving a cartload of smouldering ammunition out of the range of men and horses, at great personal risk. He was captured in the last year of the war and ended it in captivity as a prisoner-of-war: not surprisingly, he got involved then in organising concert parties.

The Seer of Simla

"....a bizarrerie of half-weird sheen and gloom"

Three Dandies of the Thirties, I: 'One Long Gorgeous Lark': Richard Oke's Frolic Wind

....India's Coral Strand (1934) is a fantasy in which stout, middle-aged Mrs Yarlove, setting the tea-table one day, swoons, then finds herself plunged into another world, a savage society where a feather-cloaked high priest conducts sacrificial rituals, evidently based on those of the Aztecs. To this strange race she appears as a goddess. For some years, while her original comatose body lies in her bedroom upstairs (and visitors pay to see the Sleeping Lady), she leads a dramatically different existence in this world of barbaric magnificence. The idea, though odd and gaudy, is perhaps not quite artfully developed enough to sustain interest over a novel length.

Three Dandies of the Thirties, II: Pagan Survivals: Patrick Carleton's Desirable Young Men

....Prompted by these revelations, I looked for Patrick Carleton's novels. The first I tried, Desirable Young Men (1932) was very striking. The early part is about vivacious, rather precious young undergraduates at interwar Cambridge, with a distinct sense of E.F. Benson's college novels, and even a tinge of the camp wit of Ronald Firbank, presumably reflecting Carleton's own milieu. Though exuberant and witty, it might deter some readers as being a trifle too arch, but the book takes a darker turn in the final third, revealing the youthful hardships, and proud inner life, of the main dilettante figure of the earlier chapters.

Denied a Fellowship on grounds of character, he becomes a recluse in the bleak Peak District, Derbyshire, living in a village close to a thinly-disguised Buxton, and researches medieval witchcraft and paganism. This part, with its evocation of the haggard terrain, is very Machenesque—I'd be surprised if Carleton had not read him. Nothing supernatural happens, but the mood is most sinister.

Three Dandies of the Thirties, III: A Turn in the Stair: Ivo Pakenham's Fanfaronade

....The author admits: 'I have quite frankly, for the purposes of my story, emphasised the colour and splendour of the Middle Ages, but I hope that I have not shown myself altogether unaware of the other side of the tapestry—of those loose threads of squalor, discomfort and superstition which were such an integral part of a brilliant period.'

He also explains the approach he has taken to the difficult question of dialogue in historical fiction, too often marred by 'godwottery': 'To use modern language seems to me to be a slovenly way of working, while that of the 'cloak and sword' school is unquestionably worse . . . All I have tried to do, therefore is to endeavour to catch the cadence and intonation of fifteenth-century speech . . .' In this he is quite nicely successful, achieving a fine compromise.

'A Rather Beautiful Refuse': Mayvale by H.E. Clifton and James Wood

....This is a very early example of English experimental writing, and seems now like a harbinger of later avant-garde prose such as Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward's Mortmere stories. (These also include scenes at a private school and a railway accident, which is either a curious coincidence or an intentional tribute). Some of the passages in Mayvale have an eerie beauty and the effect of the technique is, curiously enough, not realism, but a drifting, dreamlike atmosphere.

The Ephemeral is the Eternal: Sidney Hunt, Avant Garde Pioneer

....This is a very early example of English experimental writing, and seems now like a harbinger of later avant-garde prose such as Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward's Mortmere stories. (These also include scenes at a private school and a railway accident, which is either a curious coincidence or an intentional tribute). Some of the passages in Mayvale have an eerie beauty and the effect of the technique is, curiously enough, not realism, but a drifting, dreamlike atmosphere.

Of an Antiquary

....James was correct in the distinction that he drew, and moreover that he thereby single-handedly set a new mode for the English ghost story, in which antiquarianism became a generally expected characteristic of a good tale in this field. To those who enjoy this milieu (and I include myself), this can be a source of delight: but, as I have briefly suggested elsewhere, it has also had the effect, certainly throughout much of the twentieth century, of inhibiting the development of the ghost story, or supernatural tale, of restricting its scope.

....This Society defines an antiquary as one interested in 'the study of the past through its material remains'—a most appropriate term for some of the apparitions in James' tales. The definition echoes that of Francis Bacon—'some remains of history which have casually escaped the shipwrack of time'.

....an antiquary, the Society states, may pursue any or all of 'archaeology, history

architectural history, art history, art conservation, heraldry . . . and ecclesiastical studies'. This checklist might serve equally well to summarise the interests evident in James' stories or those of his successors, although palaeography, James' own particular interest, is a curious omission, as is folk-lore, people's memories evidently being regarded as insufficiently material remains.

....eccentric interests, absent-mindedness, reclusiveness, and a rigid certainty about certain of his own madcap ideas.

....they were emphatically told as the creation of an academic, an antiquary, and not as a popular or family tale handed down. Thus, the Jamesian approach removes the ghost story from its origins in the lode of the common lore to the sequestered specialism of the quadrangle and college library. The effect was to add literary and intellectual distinction: there is a large leap in complexity and sophistication from The Ingoldsby Legends to James' tales; but it might also be said to have subtracted a certain crude vigour and wildness.

....An undeniable achievement of James was the creation, pretty much single-handed, of a new way of telling a ghost story. But alongside that new narrative voice (cultured, learned), James also strongly influenced the content of the form. The antiquarian focus upon material remains evinces itself, I suggest, both in the supernatural beings James evokes, which are frequently highly physical, matters of bone, teeth, hair, nails etc., and in the objects which arouse them; an ancient whistle, arcane book, a medieval tomb, church furnishings.

....a man who half-recognises that he is too buried in the study of the past and its material remains and occasionally wishes something more vital and untoward and even dangerous might enter his life, but can still only visualise that as being in the form of the objects of his study.

....A ghost or supernatural story, after James, must involve something like human remains, re-animated, or it somehow doesn't count.

....alternative way of telling a supernatural story is by reference to states of mind, feelings, the reaching-out of consciousness, the supposition of a soul and its wanderings, or to the invisible or unfixable elements; the winds, seas, mists, heat-haze. These are not the province of the antiquarian at all, who may be said indeed to be uninterested in ideas, except as they explain objects.

Few writers of supernatural fiction have been strong enough to emerge from out of the Jamesian museum and muniment room. And they are exactly those, I suggest, who have explored the domains that James shunned: Algernon Blackwood's pantheism, Walter de la Mare's borderland of the mind, William Hope Hodgson's cosmic dimensions, Robert Aickman's revelations of the libido all offer other paths into the supernatural....

'The Rare, the Choice and the Curious': A.N.L. Munby's 'The Comte de Marnay'

....However, what seems to be less well-known is that Munby also wrote another book-collecting short story, not in his ghost story book. 'The Comte de Marnay'

was published in The Book Collector for Spring 1958 and, as is the custom of that journal, a number of offprints were also produced for the author's own use. The story is not supernatural, but it certainly has some of the antiquarian and bookish flavour of his ghost stories. So far as we can trace, this story has never so far been reprinted.

....No doubt recalling his own visits to book collectors in the 1930s, Munby recounts that 'It used to be possible—I speak of the middle Thirties—to visit the Count' and be permitted to look at his treasures. He gives an atmospheric description of such a visit, counterpointing the scruffiness of the neighbourhood with the dignified greetings of the host. Once inside his rooms, the contrast continues: the carpets and furniture are cheap and worn, but the Louis XV bookcases are sumptuous, 'serpentine-fronted lengths of rosewood, with a profusion of ormolu mounts, cupboards below and glass-fronted shelves above'.

....In the notice of A.N.L. Munby in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Anthony Hobson records: 'Generosity was the outstanding trait of Munby's character, expressed in gifts, in help and advice to friends and acquaintances, and in hospitality liberally offered by his wife and himself at their successive Cambridge homes . . . Although a dedicated collector, he could hardly be prevented from giving his books away to those he considered better qualified to own them . . .'

Echoes of Saumur

....Hearing Alain is hard to do because he is so seldom played. He is liked by organists because his music is so different from the common run of their canon, but the occasion to perform either the mystical quieter works or the ecstatic slabs of sound of the bigger pieces hardly ever arises. It is therefore only by chance that I ever encounter him, except in a few albums of recorded music. Yet that very element of chance adds to the allure and witchery of his work. I have twice tumbled in upon unexpected renditions, each time with that surge of delight that says, 'I know that—this belongs to me,' almost as if I'd written the things myself.

Scottish Gothic: Lord Kilmarnock's Ferelith

....all his public work would now be no more than a footnote in history if there had not also been another aspect to his character. And it was for Ferelith that Kilmarnock was to be remembered. The book had a curious after-life as a cult amongst certain French literary figures. For example, Julien Green recorded in his journal that it had been recommended to him by the novelist and critic Edmond Jaloux: 'Jaloux lent me Ferelith, a novel of fantasy and romance by Lord Kilmarnock, which I had never heard of. This wonderful book made me forget some of my present worries. It is the story of a woman, the father of whose child is a phantom—an admirable theme which is artistically treated . . . Nothing is described, but at the same time there is nothing lacking, and one hardly knows from what material the book is really made up. Such as it is, it delights me . . . ' (Julien Green, Personal Record 1928-1939. Entry for 18th January 1936).

Modern Ghosts: The Macabre Fiction of L.P. Hartley

....what Hartley says of ghosts can really be applied to emotions and anxieties and hidden urges: they too had been liberated in the sense that they could now be more freely and openly expressed.

....Naming the fear, exploring it, observing what it does to the human spirit and closing it down again, can help the writer and reader, if not their fictional counterpart in the stories, to come to terms with it, in some measure. Glen Cavaliero has perceptively compared Hartley to Henry James and the Benson brothers, 'bachelors of the bookish kind, readily beset by those fears which are the goblins of the solitary life, and thus all the more susceptible to the creakings of a society ominously on the point of change' (The Supernatural English Fiction, 1995, p. 54-5).

....the exact nuance of intimacy to be negotiated

....judicious, precise, sympathetic

....deftness, precision and conscious control

....The reader is often struck, in Hartley's stories just as in Saki's, with the very careful shape of the story.

....dialogue which later proves to have an ominous edge of double-meaning

....often stretching the opportunity for irony and ambiguity almost to breaking-point

....the ghost story was 'in revolt against a materialistic conception of the universe' but also that it must have 'a natural as well as a supernatural interest'; 'humanity must pervade' both the haunter and the haunted; ghost stories should not be 'merely literary exercises in making one's flesh creep'. These observations demonstrate that he saw the form as important and worthwhile: indeed he called it 'If not the highest . . . certainly the most exacting form of literary art'.

....a highly conscious artist in the macabre

....also to do with fear of becoming too bound up in oneself

....Hartley recognised that the encounter with fear, the pleasures of trepidation can themselves be liberating 'in the larger scheme fear—at least the enchanted fear of childhood, imagination, and art—is a life-giving antidote to the grayness of everyday existence': and he reminds us that, for Hartley's semi-autobiographical character Eustace, 'the nimbus of danger surrounding the unknown . . . had harassed his imagination, but enriched its life'.

....a necessary art, and not without its sombre glamour. There are things that need to be buried: the problem for the elderly Leo is that he has buried them too soon. They are not dead, they are only dormant, festering in the catacombs of his mind. In writing the narrative that is the heart of the novel, Leo exercises the art of the magician (just as his younger self won renown for his apparent success with spells and curses) by revitalising the days of his lost boyhood: and then he prepares to exercise the art of the healer, which in his youth he could not do.

....that most ancient and honoured art, as old as the art of the sexton, the magician and the healer: the art of the storyteller.

....L.P. Hartley's work in the supernatural and macabre should be seen alongside that of Robert Aickman, Oliver Onions and Walter de la Mare. All four writers invest the tale of darkness and dread with a psychological subtlety and a new dimension of tension which indeed requires art of a high order.

....to help us see more glimpses of ourselves, of troubled humanity and of the hidden order of things than we might find—or want to find—alone.

The Ancient Art: The Tales of A.E. Coppard

....He had very clear views about the short story form. It was not, he insisted, merely a cut-down version of the novel. Indeed, it was a different craft altogether, and an older one, 'an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy even before writing, not to mention printing, was invented'. He wrote with these origins in mind, believing that 'the closer the modern short story conforms to that ancient tradition of being spoken to, rather than being read at you, the more acceptable it becomes'. His stories—he preferred to call them tales—often do have this timeless, primeval quality which mean that their incidents and characters linger with the reader long after.

....they are not at all like the traditional ghost story, where typically some chilling, malign apparition impinges itself upon a hapless character. Most often in Coppard, indeed, it is the main character who is the wanderer between the worlds.

....Coppard captures the pervading mood of certain strange days and places with deft, exact phrases (his 'wasteless prose', de la Mare called it), and his very full and active life had given him a clear-eyed insight into the mingling of comedy and tragedy that most people have to face. He does not shrink from portraying cruelty and the hard blows of fate, but he celebrates also the richness and quirkiness of existence. Though his stories often have rural settings and characters, and draw on the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside where he lived, they are by no means rustic idylls. They convey both the rawness and the ripeness of the land and the rough-hewn, but doggedly complex, people who live on it.

....'The whole world loves a story and from fiction's seat of observation the world is most interesting when it is sinning.'

....In his introduction, Coppard noted that while rationally he had an absolute unbelief in the supernatural, nevertheless that had not stopped him experiencing instinctive fears when in dark and lonely corners of the countryside, as when he lived for a while in a lonely cottage in a forest. He also recounted an example of a singular, time-slipping occurrence that had happened to him. The first British edition of Fearful Pleasures was brought out by Peter Nevill in 1951.

....He had very clear views about the short story form. It was not, he insisted, merely a cut-down version of the novel. Indeed, it was a different craft altogether, and an older one, 'an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy even before writing, not to mention printing, was invented'. He wrote with these origins in mind, believing that 'the closer the modern short story conforms to that ancient tradition of being spoken to, rather than being read at you, the more acceptable it becomes'. His stories—he preferred to call them tales—often do have this timeless, primeval quality which mean that their incidents and characters linger with the reader long after.

....they are not at all like the traditional ghost story, where typically some chilling, malign apparition impinges itself upon a hapless character. Most often in Coppard, indeed, it is the main character who is the wanderer between the worlds.

The Pierrot on the Shore: Robert Walmsley's Winged Company

....It is, certainly, in one sense just one man's notes about birds he has seen, and it is based not only on close observation and appreciation of birds, but almost, one might say, identification with them. Walmsley had a real gift of noticing and describing their characteristics and movements. Here he is, for example, on the Barn-Owl: 'The great clock-like face registered nothing of hatred, nothing even of irritation, but only a great weariness, a weariness that was even a little wistful, as of one who regrets to be misunderstood.' And on the Nightjar: 'A bit of fir-tree that takes wing glides over the ground and then becomes part of a fir-tree again.'

The Return of the Grail

....after Chrétien, many other chroniclers and storytellers in all the lands of Christendom kept the idea of the Grail alive, mingled in with the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, right up until Caxton published Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which became the definitive account of the whole cycle in the late fifteenth century. The archetypal story sees Arthur's court given a vision of the Grail when they are gathered together for a feast, and all the knights vowing to go in quest of this mysterious symbol. After many setbacks and adventures on the way, Galahad achieves the quest and two other knights (usually Perceval and Bors) are granted a glimpse of the radiance from the Grail. But the quest leads to the end of the Round Table, since so many of the knights die, are lost, become hermits or remain in far lands. It has been suggested that one reason the Grail legends were so popular is because they presented a different, more daring and mysterious, facet of the Christian faith than the Church—itself then often worldly and corrupt—ever could.

At the Sign of the Black Pterodactyl: George Hay and Books of 'Some Other Dimension'

....books 'of the kind you mention'. What kind had I mentioned? I do not now exactly recall, but the thrust of it would have been books so good you want to tell other discerning souls about them. Undefinable books, the sort that have a curious, charged atmosphere to them, emphatically not of the purely realist school, but yet not necessarily definitely supernatural or strange. He said he had made out the list 'years ago, for someone whose name, I'm afraid, now rings no bell at all'. The list is headed 'Books for Robin Cooper': and I think probably that it was a list for a small scale publisher: I have seen Robin Cooper paperbacks. Probably George was sending him suggestions for books he might reprint. 

This was George Hay's list: 

Provence by Ford Maddox Ford; The Inheritors by Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford; Fowler's End by Gerald Kersh; The Eye-Witness by Hilaire Belloc; Neighbours by Claude Houghton; The Mightiest Machine by John W. Campbell; Henry Brocken by Walter de la Mare; Gallions Reach by H.M. Tomlinson; Beneath the Stone the Scorpion by George Tabori; The Novel of the Future by Anais Nin; Roads by Madge Jenison; The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams; The Skies of Europe by Frederic Prokosch; A Crystal Age by W.H. Hudson; Hieroglyphics by Arthur Machen; Beyond Life by James Branch Cabell; Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton; The Hours and The Centuries by Peter de Mendelssohn; Medusa by E.H. Visiak; The Stone Dragon by R. Murray Gilchrist.

....He had a theory too about why these authors still attracted keen readers, despite the difficulties in finding out about them, getting hold of their work, and making contact with anyone else who cared about them. Reading, he noted, is collaborative, but the more obvious sort of author takes complete charge, and directs the reader down one route only. These others, those who seemed to work in 'some other dimension', did not do this. He thought they 'lay out their wares in a manner which permits the reader to expand outwards, creating [their own] response'. He went on: 'Machen's Gwent, for example, is not simply a recreation of the countryside concerned: it is Machen's private Gwent, to which the reader responds by "playing back" his own Gwent. This is a rare gift among authors. . . .' We needed it, too, he said, for 'Magic must fight back against technology'.

As can be seen from what I underlined in Valentine's book, a collage aesthetic manifesto could be shaped out of parts of sentences and paragraphs. Perhaps an aesthetic of spectral decadence, liminal sympathy, sublime terror?


22 September 2019