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

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

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

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