Monday, May 22, 2017

E.H. Visiak, Detective!

The poet Kenneth Hopkins (1914-1988) was for many years a friend of E.H. Visiak (1878-1972). What is little known is that Hopkins published three detective novels featuring the elderly Dr. William Blow and his friend Professor Gideon Manciple.  In published order they are She Died Because . . .  (1957), Dead Against My Principles (1960) and Body Blow (1962).  In US editions, they were published out of order (Dead first, She second and Body third), between 1962 and 1965, and the blurbs get the ages of Blow and Manciple wrong. When She Died Because ... was first published in England, Blow's age is about 79.  Curiously, that's the same age as E.H. Visiak was at that time.  Coincidence?  No, for Hopkins dedicated the book "To E.H. Visiak, as dedicated a scholar as Dr. Blow, but luckier with his domestics."  And in inscribing a copy of Body Blow to John Arlott, Hopkins wrote: "No prizes for recognising the original of Dr. Blow."

She Died Because ... begins with Dr. Blow engaged in his fifteen-year task of editing the complete works of Samuel Butler, when he realizes he is hungry. He reasons through the facts to ascertain that his housekeeper must not have brought him food, and perhaps he had missed tea with his friend Manciple, who lives in the rooms underneath him. After observing the housekeeper's body lying on the floor of her room, Blow summons Manciple for help, not realizing it is three in the morning. Here's a paragraph of skillful and witty characterization, appearing in the one-sided conversation of Dr. Blow as he, at Manciple's urging, has telephoned the police:

E.H. Visiak in the mid-1960s
“Ah. Is that the police station? Just so. I am telephoning up about my housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull. Sollihull—certainly not, my name is Blow: BLOW, Blow, Dr. Blow.  I must explain that I am not, however, a Doctor of Medicine. I should, in that event, have known at once that she was dead; as it was, Manciple told me. Manciple. Dear me, he is internationally known, I assure you.  I must ask you not to interrupt. My housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull, when she didn’t bring my tea, you understand, as she always does, or rather did—at first I thought it was Wednesday, which would have explained it. Yes, you foolish fellow, I know it is Wednesday now, but it wasn’t yesterday. Really, the police are too stupid—he’s saying now, Manciple, that is is Wednesday. . . .  Policeman! You must please listen carefully or call one of your superiors, I am being very patient with you. My housekeeper, Mrs. Sollihull, is lying dead in her room. I have a witness. Now I want you to come round here first thing in the morning and deal with it—what time do you open? There is the body and everything. I shall be obliged to go out to breakfast in the circumstances, but I shall return by ten o’clock. Oh, certainly, if you prefer it. The address is Ten Priory Place; it is the second turning on the left after you pass the junction of North Street with High Street; and we are at the lower end, overlooking the sea—number ten, the top flat. I shall be waiting for you. It is very early, but you know your own business best, Good-bye.”

This lampooning of Visiak as Dr. Blow is affectionate, witty and addictive. I zipped through all three Dr. Blow novels when I first discovered them in Perennial Library paperbacks in the mid-1980s. And I periodically re-read them, both for sheer pleasure and for the insight they give to the often inscrutable character of their model.

Hopkins wrote Visiak's obituary for the Royal Society of Literature, noting that Visiak "lived a secluded life, and in later years his health was indifferent, and he reserved his energies for his own work, and for entertaining a few friends who delighted in his learning and insight. How many evenings have I passed in that seaside flat high above Adelaide Crescent in Hove, with the dark room heavy with cigar smoke, and Visiak's deep voice elucidating some tricky point in the interpretation of the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, or a disputed reading in Of Prelatical Episcopacy: it all sounds pretty dull stuff, but Visiak had the gift of making it exciting, and that's a gift somewhat rare among scholars."

Besides the three Dr. Blow novels, Hopkins published five other mystery novels, four of which concern a newspaperman named Gerry Lee, including The Girl Who Died (1955), The Forty-First Passenger (1958), Pierce with a Pin (1960), and Campus Corpse (1963).  Hopkins's final mystery was Amateur Agent (1964), published under the pseudonym "Christopher Adams".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reissue of detective novel by R.A.V. Morris, the older brother of Kenneth Morris

First published in 1922, The Lyttleton Case by R.A.V. Morris went through some seven printings through 1930, before lapsing into obscurity, possibly because the author wrote no follow-ups of the detective adventures of Chief Inspector James Candlish. In 1971, in their Catalogue of Crime, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor called it "an early specimen of the well-written, slow, carefully plotted puzzle," and concluded "this is an acceptable tale of murder, impersonation, and abduction, withe entertaining asides about the contemporary scene."  

Ronald Arthur Vennor Morris (1877-1943) was the older brother of the classic fantasist Kenneth Morris (1879-1937). R.A.V. Morris published only this one book.

The Lyttleton Case is now republished (on May 18th) by HarperCollins in their Detective Story Club series about which I have written previously.  I wrote a short introduction for this reissue, which is a nicely done hardcover at the low price of £ 9.99 from Amazon in the UK. The cover of the new edition is above.  Below I'll post some of the early dust-wrappers from early editions.

1922 edition

Third Impression, 1923

1927 two shilling edition

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guest Post: A Note on the Location of a Machen Tavern by R B Russell


At the start of The London Adventure Arthur Machen is sitting in a tavern in St John’s Wood, London. In other places this establishment has been identified as The Knights of St John (7 Queen’s Terrace) and The Eyre Arms Tavern (1 Finchley Road), but I would like to suggest that the Princess Royal (11 Circus Road) is also a candidate. In Hair Under a Hat (Chaterson, 1949), J.P. Hogan claimed to know the exact location:

‘I wondered a long time about the whereabouts of this tavern. … The long and the short of it is that on a warm Sunday evening in early September I found myself in Clifton Hill, St. John’s Wood. I had had some correspondence with Mr Machen a year or two before his death; and he had assured me that this particular tavern (he gave no guarantee as to others) was not fabulous; he had even given me exact details as to its whereabouts. And it all fitted in, at least on the material level, with the description in his book.

But ... Here, in what Mr Machen’s spirit had made an oasis for his body, I found only confusion and decay, peeling stucco and peeling standards of inward living, the dreariness and drabness of a suburb that has ceased to hold the impulse that built it. St John’s Wood, it seemed to me as I hesitated outside the unobtrusive tavern, was all rats and flats: rats in the bombed houses and flats in the rest. I did not enter the tavern; I should have felt like Pascal at a bacchanal.

Thus one learns the lesson, so tersely set down for us in the Tao, that ‘without going out of the door one can see the whole world’. It would have been wiser, on that torpid Sunday evening, to have stayed in my garden and re-read The London Adventure. For then the ‘remote tavern’ would have remained a reality (and a satisfying one at that), whereas by rushing in where an angel would hesitate I had merely seen with my own eyes a chimaera.'

And so, annoyingly, Hogan does not reveal the location of the tavern.

In Morocco Bound (Farrar & Rinehart), 1929, Edwin Valentine Mitchell specifically mentions The Eyre Arms, but states that ‘Arthur Machen’s pub, the Princess Royal, is only a few streets away.’And in The Life of Arthur Machen (FoAM/Redonda/Tartarus, 2005) John Gawsworth writes of this period:

'… he had changed his tavern to the Princess Royal, where a new band gathered around him, Captain Kenneth Rivington of the family of publishers, Frederick Carter, who had deserted Liverpool for St John’s Wood to continue his studies in symbolism, Philip Sergeant, the historical biographer, secretary of the Jacobite Society, and several of the fraternity of arts and letters who owned studios and flats in the neighbourhood. Machen enjoyed six years of what for him was prosperity; an urban and urbane host, his hospitality is remembered by many who enjoyed it.'

Sadly, the buildings housing both The Eyre Arms and The Princess Royal have both been rebuilt, and The Knights of St John is now closed, so we cannot visit any of these establishments today in the hope of finding Machen’s ‘pleasant and retired spot’. But, as Hogan suggests, perhaps it would be wisest to simply re-read The London Adventure, and not chase chimeras.

(Pictures: The Eyre Arms (top), The Knights of St John (below))






Monday, May 8, 2017

Wormwood 28


In Wormwood 28, just published:

Robert Aickman’s vast unpublished philosophical work Panacea must certainly cast some light on his early thinking and attitude to life, and may possibly illuminate some of his strange stories. Doug Anderson is the first to attempt an analysis of it, starting with an estimate of when it was written, how much was written (rather more than Aickman thought) and broadly what it seems to achieve. In Part 1 of his study, he also provides a succinct summary of the first 27 chapters.

Philip Challinor meanwhile continues his close reading of Aickman’s stories with an essay discussing “Meeting Mr Millar”. The story contains some evident autobiographical details, Philip notes: and, unusually, Aickman provides not one explanation but two. This, however, should make us even more wary than where there are none.

Reggie Oliver’s reviews include a discussion of a recent biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard, and he notes that her impulsive character and intense emotional life were the essential qualities that made her writing so authentic: there was a symbiosis between the life and the literature.

Lionel Johnson might be seen as the last lost decadent – he has never had even the twilight esteem of Ernest Dowson, say, or John Gray. Nina Antonia sets out to put that right with the first part of an extensive study of his life and work. There emerges a figure, “Mystic & Cavalier”, whose dedication to poetry and to austere ideals, not always realised (which of us does?) deserves our respect.

‘Hibernian Hierophant, Chameleon of Identity, Sorcerous Scribbler’ says Adam Daly of his subject, Herbert Moore Pim, an author whose life seems to have been dedicated to provocation. But was there a secret purpose behind his changeable character? Adam suggests a surprising but plausible answer.

We might be equally surprised to find late-Victorian fairy stories linked to the women’s rights movement. But Mark Andresen, in his essay on ‘The Fairy Suffragettes’, explores how three women working in children’s fiction used their stories to provide new models for the independent and creative individual.

Rudyard Kipling, once lauded as the “poet of Empire” is now more often seen as the “relic of the Raj”, says Jacob Huntley. But he was a more complex figure than either the accolade or the dismissal. This essay discusses his abiding interest in the modern and in the realms of the spirit, neither of them obvious fits with his imperialist reputation.

The Italian empire in Libya is the subject of a book reviewed in John Howard’s Camera Obscura column, The Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina, which he suggests is a subtle exploration of contrasting loyalties, painted with “broad and deep strokes of sensual colour.”

David Lindsay was also the author of several vast works, one (The Witch) not yet fully published, the other, Devil’s Tor, published but often hard to find. Robert Eldridge and Thomas Kent Miller offer separate perspectives on the second of these, finding in it on the one hand a profound expression of the otherworldly and on the other a strong allegiance to the eternal feminine.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

RIP Richard Dalby (1949-2017)


We are very sorry to learn that the veteran ghost story editor, scholar and bookseller Richard Dalby has died aged 68 at his home in Scarborough. Richard was one of the most learned authorities on supernatural fiction of his time.

He edited a succession of well-chosen and pioneering anthologies, including the Virago volumes of women’s ghost stories, the Mammoth Books of ghost stories, the Jamesian collection Ghosts & Scholars (with Rosemary Pardoe) and several popular books of Christmas ghost stories and thrillers. Other noted volumes include The Sorceress in Stained-Glass (1971), Dracula’s Brood (1989) and Tales of Witchcraft (1991), all highly respected and now much sought-after.

He also introduced many editions of rare ghost story collections by little-known authors, taking a leading role in The Ghost Story Press (with David Tibet) and later working with Sarob Press, Tartarus Press and others. His most recent book was characteristic: an edition of previously uncollected antiquarian ghost stories, The Haunted Haven by A Erskine Ellis (Phantasm Press).

Richard’s work was not, however, simply retrospective: he also championed contemporary writers, often bringing them to a wider audience through his books. I can vouch for this personally: Richard was the first to publish one of my own stories professionally. In a manner typical of his wide reading, he had noticed the story in a small press booklet and I still remember the joy his unexpected and courteous request to reprint it brought me.

Nor was Richard’s work limited to the ghost story, though this was his abiding interest. He also acted as an unofficial deputy editor to the journal Book & Magazine Collector, checking the bibliographies and price guides, and contributing many articles throughout its history from 1984-2010. Again, Richard kindly introduced me to the journal, suggesting I write about Michael Arlen in his centenary year, and often putting forward ideas for other subjects. I know I was far from alone in receiving Richard's encouragement and advice.

Richard’s career began in bookshops in London, including Foyles, but he later became a bookseller in his own right, issuing catalogues from his home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. His Christmas ghost story catalogues were a delight for many readers. He had lived with diabetes since early childhood but undaunted pursued his determination to make a career in literature. He was unflagging in his scholarly zeal and did not let his condition hold him back.

There can have been few people with such a wide and deep knowledge of ghost stories and allied fiction as Richard. He was dedicated in his research into even the obscurest authors and books, often uncovering information that had eluded others. But he was also generous with his work, always willing to share what he had found, to help others, and to discuss ideas. His many friends will remember a shrewd, warm, enthusiastic gentleman, formidable in his learning but companionable and kindly in person.

Mark Valentine

Photo courtesy Tartarus Press