Posts tagged ws
I learned of the forgotten novelist Claire Spencer (1895–1987) through Houghton Library's post of this art deco cover. Spencer might fall into the category of “justly neglected?”—and it’s likely I’ll never get around to reading her three novels, Gallows’ Orchard (1930), The Quick and the Dead (1932), and The Island (1935). (You can read two of the books online by following those links.) At first I was just going to post the cover, but finding no wikipedia entry or online bio I decided to cobble one together myself.
Claire Spencer was born in Paisley, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1918. At some point before the publication of her first novel, she married the editor and publisher Harrison “Hal” Smith, and they had two children together. They divorced in 1933 and the same year Claire married John Evans, the only son of bohemian arts patron Mable Dodge Luhan and the author of two novels. Much of this info was gleaned from the letters of Robinson Jeffers’ wife Una, who was friends with John and Claire during their time in Taos. Una called Claire “the strangest woman I’ve ever met & one of the most interesting.” Hal Smith did publish The Island two years after the divorce, but it would be Claire’s last book. The couple and their brood eventually settled in Brooksville, Maine, where Claire Spencer Evans died in 1987 (I cannot find an obituary). John served in a number of government positions until his death in 1978.
(John Evans and Claire Spencer, portraits by Edward Weston)
In Gallows’ Orchard, “marriage and child birth and death take on distorted forms for Effie Gallows. Her neighbors loathe and fear her, and eventually the village children stone her to death.” It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. (Time says, “Book-of-the-Month selectors defend their choice by comparing Gallows’ Orchard to the work of the late great Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy.”)
Kirkus Reviews tells us that The Island “emerges with a certain stark beauty in spite of an incredible number of tragedies and violent deaths.” They end their short review, "Not a book to be sold indiscriminately."
The Quick and the Dead — set in New York City, unlike the Scottish village setting of the other novels — seems to have gotten the strongest reaction from 1930s reviewers. John Bronson, reviewer for The Bookman, drolly summarizes, “When his mother dies Peter is at last happy and commits suicide” and continues:
The retching jagged emotion, the dribbling loathsome sensation, the hysterical impression, the granulation and distortion and decomposition of life are Miss Spencer’s material. There is no question of the success of her style: it is sensitive, intense, and original. The only questions are whether the public is interested in being tortured and nauseated and, this premise granted, whether Miss Spencer’s rather abstract characters possess the reality to attain that end. [source]
That sounds like a review of an AMC or HBO TV show.
The notice in Literary Sign-Posts couldn’t have helped sell many copies: “The people are filled with a deep revulsion with themselves and with each other and with the lives they lead, occasionally touching a depth of disgust that is almost a spiritual nausea.”
I wonder if Graves and Faulkner read her books?
Ben at Toys and Techniques mentions the Welsh writer Owain Owain. It appears his books have never been translated into English (and probably never will be). I have the sense they’re not in print in Wales either.
His science fiction book entitled Y Dydd Olaf (“The Last Day”) was described by the Welsh literary critic Pennar Davies in the book’s preface: “Nothing like this book has been seen before either in our language or in any other language. We should rejoice that such brilliance exists in Welsh writing.”
this photo via Gwenno
Pierre Bettencourt (1917 – 2006) is a merry prankster, an eccentric of French letters. If the history of the French fantastique in the 20th century has gone somewhat underground, if many of its practitioners are forgotten today, Bettencourt is even more obscure, a lifelong outsider artist despite coming from a prominent family: his younger brother André Bettencourt was the head of L’Oréal and held a senate seat for 44 years (that’s three presidents), while André’s wife Liliane was involved in one of the biggest tax evasion and campaign financing scandals in recent French history. Bettencourt was also a painter, known for his layered pieces featuring such mixed media as butterfly wings, stone, eggshells, and pine needles. [cont. reading]
Sample lines translated by Gauvin:
11. My wife and I have a way of sleeping together that might seem a bit bizarre: neither face to face nor back to back, but with the soles of our feet pressed together.
14. I just lost my head. Little by little, my neck stretched out like an hourglass, and then tied off all by itself, without any gush of blood.
22. No one has the right to cut their nails here: except priests.
29. I have pills for dreaming.
34. The spiders around here mean no harm. You fall asleep in a lawn chair and wake up trussed hand and foot.
58. A very elegant thing to do in these parts is dressing half in flesh, half in bones.
Image by Pierre Bettencourt
[Image: George Platt Lynes’ 1938 photo of Frederic Prokosch was floating around tumblr yesterday]
I recently scrolled through the blog seraillon and found numerous Writers No One Reads (some more Unread than others, many new-to-me). Follow the links below to read the posts:
—Jan Křesadlo [“I would be especially interested to see a translation of what is purported to be his magnum opus: ’Astronautilia,’ an epic science fiction poem modeled after Homer’s Odyssey, running to more than 6,500 lines, and written entirely in classical Greek, with Czech translation on facing pages.”]
—”Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s 1834 work The Queen’s Tiara (Drottningens Juvelsmycke) — ‘The Great Swedish Classic’ according to the cover of my Arcadia Press edition — ranked easily among the most fascinating books I read in 2012 and among the oddest books I’ve read in any year.”
—“The pachyderm in question in Ángel Ganivet’s hugely entertaining and disquieting 1897 novel, The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya, is a hippopotamus.”
—”Amanda McKittrick Ros (1861-1939), frequently heralded as the worst novelist in the English language”
Bookseller Callum James discusses a writer no one reads and scans some rare work by illustrator Alberto Martini:
Perceval Landon (1869-1927) was a lawyer, journalist and author and was best known in his day as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Raw Edges was his only collection of stories that verged into the supernatural but this rare 1908 publication contains one of the best ghost stories ever written which has been regularly anthologised since this first appearance, “Thurnley Abbey”. The book is further distinguished, however, by its illustrations. Alberto Martini provides four intense black and white designs which meld his own proto-surrealist style with the dark edges of Landon’s prose and create something rather striking and memorable. [more]
Mark Valentine writes about another work by Landon:
In 1903 he published a book (dated 1904) of sundial mottoes which purported to be from an old volume Englished in the early 17th century by one John Parmenter, Clerk of Wingham in the County of Kent. Landon claimed to be simply the editor. The British Library catalogue, however, is not convinced: it notes the book is “edited [or rather written]” by Landon. In other words, the entire book is an amiable hoax, and Landon himself is the creator of Parmenter and all the sundial mottoes.
"I was unable to go to sleep yesterday evening. At half-past eleven everything around me was suddenly lighted up, and the vivid light permitted me to distinguish surrounding objects. I arose this morning with a very clear remembrance of that which I then saw. A tableau was formed in that light, and I had more before me than the interior of a Martian house—an immense square hall, around which shelves were fastened, or rather little tables suspended and fastened to the wall. Each of these tables contained a baby, but not at all bundled up; all the movements of these little infants were free, and a simple linen cloth was thrown round the body. They might be said to be lying on yellow moss. I could not say with what the tables were covered. Some men with strange beasts were circulating round the hall; these beasts had large flat heads, almost without hair, and large, very soft eyes, like those of seals; their bodies, slightly hairy, resembled somewhat those of roes in our country, except for their large and flat tails; they had large udders, to which the men present fitted a square instrument with a tube, which was offered to each infant, who was thus fed with the milk of the beasts. I heard cries, a great hurly-burly, and it was with difficulty that I could note these few words [of this text]. This vision lasted about a quarter of an hour; then everything gradually disappeared, and in a minute after I was in a sound sleep."
Hélène Smith, pseudonym for Catherine-Elise Muller, quoted by Théodore Flournoy in From India to the Planet Mars (1900; in print from Princeton; Amaz link). Note that I opened the book at random and started typing.
Read all about Smith—and see samples of her Martian writing (no one reads Martian writing)—in an article from the very first issue of Cabinet Magazine.
New category: Fictional “Writers No One Reads”
No one reads Enoch Soames.
When a book about the literature of the eighteen-nineties was given by Mr. Holbrook Jackson to the world, I looked eagerly in the index for SOAMES, ENOCH. I had feared he would not be there. He was not there. But everybody else was. Many writers whom I had quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly, lived again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook Jackson’s pages. The book was as thorough as it was brilliantly written. And thus the omission found by me was an all the deadlier record of poor Soames’ failure to impress himself on his decade.
I daresay I am the only person who noticed the omission. Soames had failed so piteously as all that! Nor is there a counterpoise in the thought that if he had had some measure of success he might have passed, like those others, out of my mind, to return only at the historian’s beck. It is true that had his gifts, such as they were, been acknowledged in his life-time, he would never have made the bargain I saw him make—that strange bargain whose results have kept him always in the foreground of my memory. But it is from those very results that the full piteousness of him glares out.
“You may be familiar with Robert Bridges, who served as England’s Poet Laureate. But chances are, you are unfamiliar with the work of Digby Mackworth Dolben, a school friend of Bridges’s who died at only nineteen. An eccentric and a zealous Anglo-Catholic, long after his death Dolben continued to exercise a compelling hold over his circle, which included Gerard Manley Hopkins.”
I hope to some day read the Collected Works of Mirtha Dermisache (Argentina, 1940–2012).
Image: Mirtha Dermisache, Carta, 1970
From the publisher’s page for City: Bolshevik Super-Poem in 5 Cantos:
Manuel Maples Arce was born in 1898, and studied law in Mexico City. He was a judge and later Secretary General of the Government in the city of Xalapa, state of Veracruz, under the controversial revolutionary General Jara. During this same period he became the central figure in the Stridentist Movement, a very ambitious avant-garde group that flourished under General Jara’s protection. Composed of a small group of poets and visual artists (especially engravers and printmakers), Stridentism bore resemblence to both Futurism and Dada, as well as many similar groups throughout Latin America, but was much more radical, politically, and came much closer to the realization of many of their goals, since they effectively were the government in Xalapa for a brief period in the 1920’s. General Jara was eventually deposed and murdered and the group dispersed. Maples Arce went on to become a diplomat, serving as the Mexican ambassador first to France, then Canada. He continued writing poetry as well as essays and criticism. His collected poems was published in Mexico in 1971. Maples Arce died in 1981.
André-Marcel Adamek (1946-2011) is the pen name of one of Belgium’s finest contemporary storytellers. The author of more than fifteen books of fiction, poetry, and teleplays, he also holds several patents, and has been a cruise ship steward, a toymaker, a paper wholesaler, a goat farmer, an editor, and a ghost writer. His awards include the Prix Jean Macé, the Prix triennal du roman, the Prix du Parlement de la Communauté française, and the Prix Rossel, Belgium’s top literary prize. His sweetly postapocalyptic fable “The Ark” appeared in the January 2011 issue of Words Without Borders.