Posts tagged england
For the two weeks leading up to Halloween, I’ll try to highlight some under-appreciated writers of ghost stories/horror/weird fiction. As a preteen I would read a book per day by big names like King, Straub, Barker, and Campbell. After a couple decades away from the stuff—except for a Machen phase in my early twenties—I dug a little deeper and found the true masters of the form (M.R.James, Blackwood, Ligotti) and actually read Lovecraft for the first time (we all have blind spots!), in the process encountering hundreds of forgotten writers.
Robert Aickman (1914–1981) may be my favorite out of the bunch. While he’s read more than most of the writers on this tumblr, Aickman should be a household name. His wikipedia page contains two quotes that sum up his appeal:
His literary gifts were of an extremely high order. His prose style – supple, urbane, sophisticated, restrained, yet capable of surprisingly powerful emotive effects – never falters from the beginning to the end of his work. There are few writers who are as purely pleasurable to read, regardless of their subject matter or the success or failure of their actual work, as Robert Aickman. His major literary influences (it might be better to say analogues) appear to be M. R. James and Walter de la Mare, yet he excels the former in richness and variety of texture and the latter in the sustained intensity of all his literary work.—S. T. Joshi,The Modern Weird Tale
I think that Aickman is one of those authors that you respond to on a very primal level. If you’re a writer, it’s a bit like being a stage magician. A stage magician produces coin, takes coin, demonstrates coin vanished… That tends to be what you do as a fiction writer, reading fiction. You’ll go, “Oh look. He’s setting that up.”…Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully. Yes, the key vanished, but I don’t know if he was holding a key in the hand to begin with. I find myself admiring everything he does from an auctorial standpoint. And I love it as a reader. He will bring on atmosphere. He will construct these perfect, dark, doomed little stories, what he called “strange stories”.—Neil Gaiman
Tartarus Press has published limited hardcovers of many of the collections, while Faber is doing print-on-demand paperbacks. Here’s a link to an Amazon search for “Robert Aickman.” Really you can’t go wrong; start anywhere.
I have the suspicion no one reads classical scholar, poet, philosopher, and “psychic researcher” Frederic William Henry Myers (1843–1901); and I’ll admit to a momentary feeling of wistfulness that I will never once glance at his posthumous 1,360-page behemoth Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, which presents “an overview of his research into the unconscious mind.” Maybe in another hundred years readers will dip into it as they dip into The Anatomy of Melancholy.
I stumbled upon Myers’ biography tonight and soon found quotes about him from luminaries like William James:
Brought up entirely upon literature and history, and interested at first in poetry and religion chiefly; never by nature a philosopher in the technical sense of a man forced to pursue consistency among concepts for the mere love of the logical occupation; not crammed with science at college, or trained to scientific method by any passage through a laboratory, Myers had as it were to recreate his personality before he became the wary critic of evidence, the skillful handler of hypothesis, the learned neurologist and omnivorous reader of biological and cosmological matter, with whom in later years we were acquainted.
Publisher’s description for Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian search for life after death by Trevor Hamilton:
Immortal Longings is the first full-length biography of Frederic W.H. Myers, leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research and friend and associate of Browning, Gladstone, Ruskin, Tennyson, Swinburne, Henry James, Prince Leopold and other influential Victorians. The book offers a fascinating insight into a key period in the development of Victorian thought.
Myers researches led him to forming a view about human personality and psychology which Aldous Huxley has said is much richer than Freud’s.
Everything’s happening, at the turn of the century…
No one reads Prof. Blyde Muddersnook, P.O.Z.A.S.
This includes a link to the rather wonderful report by fellow topologist Prof. Blyde Muddersnook, P.O.Z.A.S. on his archaeological excavation of the ruins of Lun-Dun. Originally published in the Strand magazine in 1911, it reads like P. G. Wodehouse possessed by a Ballardian ghost of Xmas future.
[Submission by Rhea137]:
No one reads Nicholas Moore, son of philosopher G.E. Moore and a poet who in the 1940s was as renowned as Dylan Thomas, but who faded into obscurity through a series of misfortunes and “mysterious circumstances.” Later deemed an eccentric, Moore may have had his revenge on the establishment by pseudonymously submitting 31 translations of Charles Baudelaire’s “Spleen” to a contest in the Sunday Times judged by George Steiner. These translations, available on Ubuweb, brilliantly evoke a number of poetic voices and bring to light many of the thorny issues surrounding translation.
- For more of Moore’s poems, see the September 1945 issue of Poetry
Through his press, Gaberbocchus (the name is a latinized version of Jabberwocky), he introduced to the English-reading world translations of works now considered canonical, including Alfred Jarry’s absurdist play Ubu Roi, Raymond Queaneau’s Exercises in Style, and Cozette de Charmoy’s above-pictured “collage novel,” The True Life of Sweeney Todd.
Bertrand Russell admiringly summed up Themerson’s own work as being “nearly as mad as the world.” The plot of The Mystery of the Sardine, a meandering detective story that begins with an exploding poodle and includes among its cast of characters a 12-year old author (of a book titled Euclid Was an Ass) and a bureaucrat called the Minister of Imponderabilia, suggests that Russell was not far off in his pithy assessment.
For more, see:
No one reads Thomas Lovell Beddoes, who asks in his poem “Dream-Pedlary”:
If there were dreams to sell/ What would you buy?
and whose obscurity perplexed Lytton Strachey, who wrote:
If the neglect suffered by Beddoes’ poetry may be accounted for in more ways than one, it is not easy to understand why more curiosity has never been aroused by the circumstances of his life. For one reader who cares to concern himself with the intrinsic merit of a piece of writing there are a thousand who are ready to explore with eager sympathy the history of the writer; and all that we know of both the life and character of Beddoes possesses those very qualities of peculiarity, mystery and adventure which are so dear to the hearts of subscribers to circulating libraries.
For more on Beddoes’ peculiar, mysterious and adventurous life, see John Ashbery’s lecture on the poet in Other Traditions.
(Image: first stanza of “Lord Alcohol”)
Berg is a beautiful novel: it is dark, esoteric, haunting - sometimes disturbing. It is saturated with detail, particulars and minutiae. A novel of voices and voice. The best novel ever set in Brighton in my opinion - forget Patrick Hamilton (as splendid as he is), Ann Quin’s Berg is the real deal. It cuts through the superfluous like acid and marvels in the seamier mystery all our seaside towns, and especially Brighton, keep hidden. For an insight into what British literary fiction could have been if we’d only have listened, I’d start with Berg by Ann Quin every time.
(Cover art via)
Although he’s attained a certain vogue in the past few years, we’re convinced no one reads B.S. Johnson, author of among other things, The Unfortunates, a book presented to the reader as a series of unbound chapters, to be read according to whim.
No one reads L. P. Jacks. (Photo: Rabindranath Tagore and L.P.Jacks)
From Among the Idolmakers: “Desolate Islands, more than I could ever explore, more than I could count or name, I found in the men and women who press upon me every day. Nay, my own life was full of them; the flying moment was one; they rose out of the deep with the ticking of the clock. And once came the rushing of a mighty wind; and the waves fled backward till the sea was no more. Then I saw that the Islands were great mountains uplifted from the everlasting foundations, their basis one beneath the ocean floor, their summits many above the sundering waters — most marvellous of all the works of God.”