Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Shadow of Enoch Soames

In 1916, Max Beerbohm published an account of his lunch in a Soho café on 3 June 1897 with the neglected decadent poet Enoch Soames, the author of Fungoids and Negations. His companion repined about the neglect of his work and wondered if he would ever be appreciated. A fellow diner, overhearing this, offered to let him travel in time to consult the catalogues of the British Library exactly one hundred years later. Soames accepted the pact, and met Beerbohm later to tell him what he found. Dolefully, the poet reported that the only reference he could find suggested he was merely a fictional character in a Beerbohm story.

The stranger seems to have selected the date he offered Soames rather maliciously. Had the woebegone writer asked to be wafted a few years further on, he would have been highly gratified. For, since that melancholy episode in 1997, attention to Soames’ work has grown considerably. In 1999, A Bibliography of Enoch Soames (1862-1897) was compiled by Mark Samuels Lasner, and in 2001, Enoch Soames – The Critical Heritage was published by the distinguished booksellers Maggs Brothers. There are even signs of an Enoch Soames Society.

However, a curious episode relating to Enoch Soames has continued to receive too little attention. The story is told in The Devil in Woodford Wells, A Fantastic Novel (1946) by Harold Hobson. We need not be misled by the book’s sub-title, for the author tells us in the second sentence of the book that his story is a true one. Doubtless it was described as a fantasy due to some wartime exigency when it was composed. Mr Hobson is on record as confirming that Max Beerbohm himself approved this further account relating to his Nineties friend.

The author begins by telling us that he is an ardent enthusiast of Beerbohm, and has lectured on him several times: he is just about to deliver a further radio talk about him. And then he relates an encounter on Thursday 5th June, 1941 at the British Museum Reading Room. This was closed to most readers because of the war: but anyone who had work of national importance could still be admitted to a special wartime reading room. As a journalist writing for American newspapers, our narrator qualified. However, on this day he arrived there just at the moment when another man, who gave his name as Soames, was being turned away. The rebuffed figure wore a hat, “slightly raffish, a hat that suggested a harmonious blending of Irving and a rural dean”. He also had a muffler.

Hobson encounters this Soames again shortly afterwards, and makes his acquaintance. They visit a bookshop, and go back to the narrator’s home, in Woodford Wells, where the poet is invited to dine with him, is introduced to his wife and daughter, and regales them with a story he has written.

After this, matters become both murkier and more fantastical, until we understand at the end precisely why this new episode in the biography of the fated decadent versifier must remain in a literary limbo. If the account has not quite all the elan and dark fin-de-siecle glamour of Mr Beerbohm’s original composition, nonetheless it is an affectionate homage.

The author, Sir Harold Hobson (1904-1992) was a miner’s son from South Yorkshire educated at home by his parents owing to childhood polio, a condition that he did not allow to limit his later life. A voracious reader, he earned a scholarship to Oxford, and afterwards began writing theatre reviews, leading to his appointment as drama critic for The Times in 1947. He was a champion in particular of avant-garde theatre.

The Devil in Woodford Wells would seem to have been written as a light diversion. Kate O’Brien, in a review in The Spectator, praised the book’s “agreeable and cultivated writing” and said it conveyed its “easy-going pleasure most infectiously”. It is also one of that select number of works to involve cricket and the fantastic: E R Eddison’s A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), Frank Baker’s Embers, A Winter Tale (1947) and L P Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) are also club members. This delightful memoir, with a tinge of Chesterton and even of Buchan, as well as Beerbohm, certainly ought to attract new readers.

Picture: Enoch Soames by William Rothenstein

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Before Nabokov

Charles Woodington was the author of three books: Hasheesh (Hodder & Stoughton, 1926); His Neighbour’s Wife (Stanley Paul, 1928); and Beauty and the Beasts (Elkin Mathews & Marrot, 1931). Very little else is known of him. To judge from his books, he may have spent some time in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

The title story of his last book is a novella. Set in Alexandria around the time of the Great War, it concerns a beautiful girl of thirteen living with her mother, who is in poverty and owes rent. The landlord, an artist, would like to paint her portrait: at first, simply her head and shoulders. But then he asks if he may do a nude of her. The daughter is distraught at the idea. But, when he persists, a bargain is struck: she will pose, at her mother’s insistence, for a fee that will settle the arrears, and more.

The story handles the girl’s sensitivity at this shabby deal with delicacy. It is the start of a series of attempts by other men to ensnare the girl’s beauty, so that she feels always the object of grubby lust. Even her one real love affair feels to her tainted by the knowledge of the modelling she was compelled to do. When, now a young woman, she hears the picture is to be exhibited, she takes scissors with a view to attacking it: but on the verge of doing so, she is struck by the beauty of the work as art. She walks away proudly, though still under the stare of a couple of lechers. We are to infer that though they won’t change, she at least can preserve her dignity.

The girl’s name is Lolita: the book appeared over twenty years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel of the same name was published in 1955. Lolita, as Nabokov himself noted, was (when he used it) an obscure Spanish familiar name for Dolores. The Russian author’s book was a major departure from his previous novels, both in theme and character. He explained this, in terms, as a triumph of the imagination, a way of extending his abilities and his reach. The theme caused difficulties in securing publication, and it eventually emerged from The Olympia Press of Paris, notorious then for under-the-counter erotic books. Some of that reputation has clung to the novel ever since, though it is also acclaimed as a major literary work, a 20th century classic.

Could Nabokov have read Woodington’s story and brought it to mind when he composed his own version? Direct evidence of this is unlikely to be found. The publisher of Woodington’s book, Elkin Mathews, was in partnership with John Lane in the Eighteen Nineties and co-published many of the leading, and daring, novels of the period. He still had a reputation for producing exquisite and ornate books, and for taking on the more outre elements of literature: he was an early publisher of poetry volumes by Joyce and Pound. His imprint was precisely the type to appeal to Nabokov, the aesthetical young Russian in Europe in the Thirties.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Was this Shakespeare's Dictionary?

Henry Wessells at The Endless Bookshelf is one of the first to review a beautiful and fascinating book that may also reveal one of the most remarkable literary discoveries of our time: Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light by George Koppelman & Daniel Wechsler, Axletree Books (2014).

The authors acquired a copy of an Elizabethan folio dictionary, An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionary, containing four different tongues, namely English, Latine, Greeke and French Newlie enriched with varietie of Wordes, Phrases, Proverbs, and divers lightsome observations of Grammar (etc) by John Baret (1580), annotated in a contemporary hand. Its marginalia, they argue, relates closely to phrases found in Shakespeare’s plays, some of them unique to him, others rarely found elsewhere. They weigh plenty of other options, and objections, but advance an astonishing conclusion: this copy must have belonged to Shakespeare. Those are his annotations, in his hand.

Short of finding Cardenio, or a note from Baron Verulam admitting to a celebrated alias, this has to be, if sustained, the ultimate Grail of Shakespeare studies. The analysis and debate it will occasion is only the beginning. If it comes to be accepted, it will tell us much about Shakespeare’s literary practice, sources, and ways of thinking, and add to our understanding of the man. But even for those who doubt the attribution, the relationship between the dictionary and the plays will require some explanation, and raise many questions. One result will surely be, as Henry notes, to send many people back to read the plays anew, and wonder at a vocabulary and phraseology suddenly requickened.

And Henry also notes, “on grounds of original content and beautiful design, and for launching ideas that will resonate where ever English is remembered”, the book should certainly be one of the most memorable of the year.

(George Koppelman ran the literary imprint Seven Woods Press, and became a rare bookseller as Cultured Oyster Books. Dan Weschler is also the editor of Strange & Wonderful: An Informal Visual History of Manuscript Books and Albums, from his own Sanctuary Books imprint strangeandwonderfulbooks)

Update: Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library discuss the book here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NEIGHBOURS by Claude Houghton

Valancourt Books are about to publish Claude Houghton's first novel, Neighbours (1926), a remarkable debut which I describe in my introduction as follows:

"an intensely written journal of emotions and convictions, [in] its sustained, morbid power, Neighbours was certainly quite unlike any other novel of the time. It is an erotically-charged study of a dual personality, a sort of psychological doppelganger story. The protagonist, taking an attic room high above London, records in minute detail the artistic and sexual affairs of another lodger, in rooms opposite. This character, a fevered and fervent would-be author, is passionately evoked, suggesting he is partly autobiographical

As the book unfolds, the reader feels uneasy about the obsessive voyeurism of the narrator. But then the realisation grows that we are really witnessing something else, and we begin to wonder about the exact relationship between the staid, dulled observer who is our narrator, trapped in the world of appearances, and his neighbour, the fervent, flaming visionary soaring too high towards the sun. The denouement is not entirely unforeseen but is still a masterly stroke of ambiguity, strongly conveyed and thought-provoking."

It's great to see another Claude Houghton novel back in print, along with I Am Jonathan Scrivener and This Was Ivor Trent. Valancourt have also announced more reprints of rare or neglected books by other authors.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Martin Secker, Child of The Yellow Book - Roger Dobson

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some publishers are almost as interesting as authors (we should emphasize the word almost). Great individuals are a vanishing breed as the suits and accountants are gradually taking over what used to be a gentleman’s profession. Nineties enthusiasts have reason to be grateful to Martin Secker (1882-1978), whose Unicorn Press revived much engrossing material.

For example, ‘A “Period” List’ printed on the jacket of Roger Lhombreaud’s Arthur Symons: A Critical Biography (1963) includes such treasures as Aubrey Beardsley’s His Best Fifty Drawings, Dowson’s Poems (7s. 6d.), George Egerton’s Correspondence and Diaries, Lionel Johnson’s The Complete Poems, Richard Le Gallienne’s From a Paris Garret, Arthur Machen’s Hieroglyphics and The Hill of Dreams, Vincent O’Sullivan’s Opinions, Arthur Symons’ Aubrey Beardsley: A Memoir and eight titles by Wilde.

Mervyn Horder, the chairman of Duckworth & Co. from 1950-78, published a tribute to Martin Secker in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1979, writing: ‘Adolescent during the 1890s, he always retained a temperamental affinity for the Yellow Book period and spoke of himself as a child of that age. His spiritual home was the Domino Room of the Café Royal . . .’ A copy of Lord Horder’s article was found among the papers of the late Colin Summerford, a member of Machen’s circle. Colin was friendly with Secker (Machen got on less well!) and helped Horder with the Blackwood's piece: he is listed in the acknowledgements. Horder cites the authors Secker published between 1911 and 1934:

"fiction by Compton Mackenzie, D.H. Lawrence, Hugh Walpole, Frank Swinnerton, Norman Douglas, Oliver Onions, Gilbert Cannan, Francis Brett Young, Arthur Machen, Rafael Sabatini; criticism by Lascelles Abercrombie, Edward Thomas, Arthur Ransome, Arthur Symons; the collected poems of James Elroy Flecker, Alfred Douglas, D.H. Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay, Martin Armstrong, T.W.H. Crosland, Ford Madox Ford, Maurice Baring; the early plays of Noël Coward. Works in translation included those by Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Gerhart Hauptmann, Arnold Zweig, Leon Feuchtwanger, Franz Kafka, François Mauriac — most of them well in advance of their general fame."

Secker was born at 24 Holland Road, Kensington. His father’s forebears were German and his mother Irish. As a young man wishing to make a start in publishing — after an abortive beginning working for the Bank of England, where he claimed to be the only employee sacked for incompetence — he approached a number of successful publishers, William Heinemann, John Lane and Grant Richards, before being taken on as an apprentice by Eveleigh Nash. Over the next eighteen months he learned the trade, and by 1910 was ready to branch out on his own. He established his company — always with a tiny staff — at 5 John Street, the Adelphi. A few years later he took on Rafael Sabatini, the author of The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, as a partner, but Sabatini proved less than ideal and he was replaced by the reliable P.P. Howe, the biographer of Hazlitt. (While hunting for the residences of Ernest Dowson’s family, an address for Sabatini accidentally caught our eye in the 1922 Kelly’s directory: he lived at 81 Albert Bridge Road, not far from Albert Mansions, where Dowson’s father took his life, perhaps, in 1894.)

Financial difficulties arose in the 1930s. ‘Secker’s friendliest friends would never have called him a businessman,’ writes Horder. ‘Secker had his share of that amiable vanity which animates, at the same time as it fatally weakens, most one-man band publishers — the simple idea that because he in his wisdom has chosen to publish a book, the world will automatically rush to buy it.’

After his firm went into receivership in 1934, Secker was obliged to enter into partnership with Frederic Warburg and Roger Senhouse, and in 1935 the firm of Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd was created. ‘By then Secker, aged fifty-two, was far too set in his ways, far too much of a lone wolf to accommodate the publishing habits of those of a pair of younger partners, and by 1937 he was on his own again.’ He acquired the publishing rights and assets of Grant Richards (called ‘the impeccable Granty’ by Secker) and carried on Richards’ business as The Unicorn Press Ltd, operating from the Unicorn Bookshop in King Charles Street (now gone) and then at 4 and 5 Royal Opera Arcade, which had formerly been Leonard Smithers’s office. Secker changed his imprint to The Richards Press, in honour of ‘Granty’ after Richards’ death. In 1948 John Gawsworth made him a Redondan peer in his first Birthday Honours List: Secker had published Prince Zaleski in the New Adelphi Library in 1928. After Secker retired, the publisher John Baker took over the shop and continued with the Nineties reprints. Horder comments:

"Both witty himself and a catalyst of original wit in others, he acted as a kind of laughter-vortex in any company; long after blindness overtook him, he still got carried away by his favourite funny stories, the suicide of John Davidson, the premature knighthood of Sir George Hutchinson, what Gilbert said on Sullivan’s death, and so on — and would tell them with the tears pouring from his eyes. He remembered from a news item that Davidson, who regarded himself as a failure and was a prey to violent depressions, hired a rowboat and jumped overboard some miles off the Cornish coast; nothing was found in the rowboat but a formal letter from Davidson to the directors of the Great Western Railway complaining that the charms of the Cornish Riviera had been grossly overstated in their advertising."

In 1972 deterioration of the retinas of both eyes left Secker completely blind. He was glad to receive friends and neighbours, who would read to him and gossip. Secker died after a series of strokes, on his ninety-sixth birthday on 6 April 1978. His ashes were scattered by his wife Sylvia and son Adrian in the garden of Bridgefoot House, Iver, in Buckinghamshire, where Secker had lived for more than seventy years.

(This is one of a series of writings Roger Dobson compiled for The Lost Club Journal issue 4, which alas never appeared).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Simmons Papers: A Borgesian Jest? - Roger Dobson

If your preference in literature is to be pleased, puzzled, perplexed and presented with paradoxes, we recommend the novella The Simmons Papers (1995) by Philipp Blom, author of To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting (2002). The Simmons Papers is, states Faber and Faber’s blue advertising wrapper-band, ‘The Only Novel about the Letter P’, and this hardly seems likely to be a matter of dispute. The book relates the tragi-comic story of P.E.H. Simmons (1901-89), appointed Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University in 1935. Simmons holds this distinguished post for only three months before resigning because of anti-German feeling: his mother came from Leipzig. After his resignation Simmons remains in Oxford until his death, but never again holds a university post. He writes philosophical treatises that make him a revered figure in European and American universities, though he is such a crusty conservative figure that his status means little to him

The main body of The Simmons Papers is devoted to Simmons’ strange manuscript, an elusive work given several wildly different interpretations by various academics. In the manuscript Simmons describes his work on what he calls ‘the Definitive Dictionary’, which sounds very much like the Complete OED, in a building that resembles the Oxford University Press building in Walton Street. Dr Javis, the editor-in-chief of the Dictionary project, has allocated the letter P as Simmons’ domain, a letter Simmons is fascinated by and proud of. The letter, of course, is his own first initial. ‘P as a letter is a vast mystery,’ he muses. Attentive readers will note that each section of the manuscript begins with P: ‘Personally . . .’, ‘Probably . . . ’, ‘Practically . . . ’, etc. Simmons’ immediate predecessor in the P section had a great fondness for plants, and those that are cited begin with P: a pine, primroses, a palm, poppies.

As the editor (i.e. Philipp Blom) explains in one of the introductory biographical sections: ‘There has been fierce discussion as to whether this account of a piece of extraordinary scholarship is fictional, or is an autobiographical representation of Simmons’ work in the years 1976-9.’ One scholar, Huxley Mandelbrodt (his deconstructionalist statements, which are largely pretentious gibberish, are quoted in footnotes throughout the manuscript), claims it is ‘a subversive un-writing of the gender issues in European literature’. ‘Other positions, suggesting that the work is a coded account of masonic rituals, a translation from ancient Hetitian hymns, or the manuscript of the long-lost novel The Messiah by Bruno Schulz, which Simmons acquired on a trip to the Ukraine in August 1967, and intended to publish under his own name, have failed to find a wide echo within the community of literary scholars.’ It is left open by the editor whether the ‘manuscript published here is a work of art, the emanation of a surprisingly fruitful fantasy, a work of reminiscences, the document of a mental disarray and decay of a fine mind’.

It’s hinted that the work may indeed be fiction, for nowhere in the introductory matter, where Simmons’ life and university career are described, is it stated that he works as a lexicographer. ‘The remaining forty years of his life [after his resignation as Waynflete Professor] were spent in relative obscurity, unknown to any but a small and constant number of tutees and old friends.’ It is revealed that depression dogged the philosopher all his life. ‘At times the “black days”, as he referred to them in his diaries, became so overwhelming that Simmons had to be taken into institutional care for weeks on end. At such times he lived in complete isolation, but for medical visits he received and a caretaker who brought him the daily papers.’ In the manuscript Simmons describes how, in his office at the publishing house, the inter-office messenger, Malakh, brings him books, journals and his letters. Is Malakh the institution’s caretaker? Could it be that all Simmons’ life in the Dictionary office is an illusion? In one episode Simmons describes how in a fit of madness he attacks Malakh and has to be physically restrained. Lending credence to the idea that Simmons is confined to a madhouse is that his two predecessors in P section were likewise eccentric, if not insane. His immediate forebear writes a book entitled Insights into the Lucidity of the Occult and the Mysterium of the Divine Letter. The author, called only ‘the Doctor’ in the manuscript, explains in this book that it was his earthly mission to rebuild the temple of Solomon: ‘In an architectural drawing in his own hand, the temple appeared to have the shape of a gigantic P.’ Relieved of his duties by Dr Javis, the Doctor, who believes himself to be the reincarnation of the Boddhisatva, hangs himself.

Readers may find themselves delighted by Blom’s book, while they rack their brains to find the key to the text- if there is a key. It seems as though it might be an allegory, but an allegory of what precisely? Or is it merely a satire on intellectual pursuits, suggesting that too much knowledge can drive one mad? Or perhaps a giant legpull? Every element of the book can thus be subjected to analysis to determine whether it has deeper significance. For example, why has Simmons never met Dr Javis? ‘Javis is indeed so far removed from the sphere of ordinary office work and editing that I myself have not yet had the privilege of meeting him, or of being summoned to his office, although this is undoubtedly bound to happen at some point in the future.’ Dr Javis has a personal secretary, Mr Lloyd, but Simmons wonders if Lloyd is fictitious: ‘one of those myths which arise during such a complex undertaking as the editing of the Definitive Dictionary over a long time when communication is poor.’

The author has fun satirizing the long ‘Communications of the Great Academy’, which Javis sets up to regulate the editing of the Dictionary. These are issue in daily supplements and the ‘rulings encompass every possibility, provide for all contingencies. From the consumption of sandwiches during working hours to the format of the writing paper, the standardized way of using paper clips’, etc. Is this a satirical thrust at OUP communiqués sent to staff? Apparently Philipp Blom, who was born in Hamburg in 1970, studied in Vienna and Oxford and then worked in publishing for a time . . .

Simmons lunches at Braun’s Hof (he’s allowed out then?). Was this Brown’s Hotel which used to exist in St Giles (now an Oxfam Bookshop) or the nearby trendy Brown’s restaurant in the Woodstock Road? Your co-editor’s landlady inherited one of the stair carpets from Brown’s Hotel: a most depressingly worn item. Midway through the text Simmons falls in love, with a woman he can’t see properly since he is short-sighted. Looking from his window across the courtyard he sees a co-worker in a floral dress, ‘a lady of radiant beauty, the fairest among women and a lily among thorns’. She seems to be working in M section, which pleases the old scholar. ‘M is the nasal relative of P . . . They are connected through B, the sonor, or voiced stop.' Note the author’s name: Philipp Blom.

The book is full of in-jokes like this. Simmons solemnly cites a monograph by Pierre Menard. Menard had no earthly existence but sprang from the fertile mind of Jorge Luis Borges. Indeed, The Simmons Papers can be viewed as an elaborate Borgesian jest. Simmons works on the third floor, Room B 304. The editor comments in a footnote: ‘This location has not been decoded by literary scholars. To his puzzlement, however, the editor of these pages has realized that it corresponds with his own room in his college.’ There are allusions to The Waste Land, Jacob’s ladder (‘ . . . “And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night”, in a classical but little-read text’), etc. All in all, a mind-boggling, very entertaining puzzle that people will enjoy racking their brains over. If anyone who reads it knows what it is about, please tell us.

(This is one of a series of previously unpublished pieces by the late Roger Dobson originally intended for The Lost Club Journal.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

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

The letters would arrive headed by a drawing of black pterodactyls in flight, and the typed legend FUTURES CONSULTANT, with an address in All Saints Street, Hastings. “I consider Hastings to be a metaphor for the more sinister (but also beautiful) aspects of the human condition,” their sender told me. I did not know what a futures consultant was or did, but I knew I enjoyed getting the letters. They were from George Hay, man of letters in the broader sense, to use a quaint term he might not have claimed.

We began corresponding when George sent for a copy of an Arthur Machen booklet I had co-edited with Roger Dobson. This led us on to discuss other neglected writers – Machen interest was then in one of its periodic doldrums – and how to get them appreciated anew and back in print. George, as I now realise, did indeed know something about futures, because he foresaw print-on-demand: “I believe new technology will fairly soon permit of ‘narrowcasting’ publishing based on the needs of individual readers,” he told me in May 1994, long before that came true.

Early on in our correspondence, George sent me a list of 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.

Any keen book collector will understand that I studied the list at once, and began sifting the titles in my mind. Some of the books I knew and appreciated already; Machen’s Hieroglyphics, E.H. Visiak’s Medusa, Walter de la Mare’s Henry Brocken. Others I knew about, but recognised as (then – before the technology George knew would come) fabulously rare: R Murray Gilchrist’s The Stone Dragon, Neighbours by Claude Houghton (now soon to be reprinted by Valancourt Books). Some I had tried, and liked well enough, but would not have placed quite so high as George perhaps did.

But then there were those I did not know at all. And these, of course, I then began to look for, in the days when the only way to get an out of print book was to go out and look for it. “You’ll be very lucky to find The Hours and the Centuries,” George told me, and explained he was “still trying to get someone to republish it” but the rights were complicated. In his next letter, he told me, “The plot is not important: the style is everything”.

The book was by Peter de Mendelssohn, and published in 1944, and I remember my delight when I at last found a copy in a Suffolk cottage bookshop. It was marked inside in pencil with the single word ‘France’ (evidently meant as an enticement) and the price was modest. It is indeed set in France, in a decaying clifftop city, to which inhabitants from many ages seem to return, for it is a sort of timeslip story. But what matters more is the unusual atmosphere of the book. I have found other copies since and given them to friends, and all are agreed about that peculiar tone to the book, which I can best describe by saying it is like the days when summer slowly gives way to autumn.

An easier book to find, but harder to “get” in another way at first was Gallions Reach (1927) by H.M. Tomlinson. Its hero, not quite the right word, Colet, is a dreaming, melancholy young man clerking in London’s docks, who commits what will look like a capital crime, and must flee. He takes ship for the Indies: the book is about his voyage and the development of his spirit, and the decision he in the end has to make. I was not sure what Tomlinson wanted us to understand at first: the violent incident seemed a forced device, and to strike a false note; but there was no doubt of the quality of the prose, and the haunting quality of the book once it is on the seas. And it is a book I have often come back to, as well as following up more work by Tomlinson.“His fiction and journalism,” said George, “was remarkable for vivid evocation of ‘some other dimension’, and I think deserves study by intending writers. His sentence and paragraph construction were quite unique”.

That phrase about ‘some other dimension’ was, I think, the code we had begun to use for books “of the kind” we both relished. Such books can perhaps only be conveyed by citing examples, as their common attributes are very hard to pin down, and indeed a stern critic might say there is no such group at all, other than “some books I like”: and there might be truth in that. But we were both clear that Claude Houghton also worked in the same form: we had each found our way to his work independently. George was hopeful that “a few interested souls” might be able to get together to encourage the reprinting of “lost jewels”, that “some valuable works might eventually appear”.

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”.

Mark Valentine