Monday, April 25, 2016

The TBR list grows longer (1 of 2)


Writers added to my Overwhelming List can be interesting for various reasons. I've always tended to highlight those women who wrote mysteries, for example (as I've already done this time around in two recent posts), or war fiction (as I'll be doing in a new post soon), or children's fiction, or romances, etc., etc. More recently, I've also started to highlight some of the interesting life stories of the authors, for example, or the famous familiar or other connections to authors added to my list. But I finally realized, with just the past update or two, that I needed (for my own sanity, if not for yours) to somehow earmark those writers who seem—to me at least—to have the most potential to become authors whose books I might actually track down and (hopefully) enjoy.


This time, out of nearly 400 new authors added to the list, I narrowed my list to just 26 that are going onto my interlibrary loan and/or Abe Books list. That's still enough to fill two whole posts, but hey, think how much work I've already done for you just narrowing it down that much!

First, I thought I'd mention a few of the lighter-hearted possibilities (at least to the extent I've been able to determine the tone of their books).


DOROTHY BONAVIA-HUNT, one of the authors I mentioned in my recent "mistaken identity" posts, is also one of the few authors in this update to actually have a book in print. Sourcebooks has reprinted her 1949 Jane Austen sequel Pemberley Shades, written when its author was already in her late sixties. Austen Prose had largely positive things to say about the book here



Bonavia-Hunt's second and final novel, The Relentless Tide, published two years later and only in the U.S., has gotten much less attention, to the extent that I haven't even determined its subject matter. Presumably it's not another Austen sequel or it would have gotten more attention, but one wonders where its seventy-ish author chose to go with her follow-up…


WINIFRED BOGGS is one of those authors who could really go either way in terms of readability. On the one hand, many of her titles sound rather charming and humorous, such as Sally on the Rocks (free to download from Google Books in the U.S.) and The Indignant Spinsters. On the other hands, books don't always live up to their titles, and detailed information about her books is hard to come by.


Also on the lighter side, based on what information I have, are the novels of one of the two nieces of Somerset Maugham to have been added to my list this go-round. KATE MARY BRUCE wrote sixteen novels in all, and a 1923 article from The Literary Review (kindly shared with me by Grant Hurlock) describes two of her novels thus:

Her first volume was a novel of theatrical life, telling of a beautiful actress who would sacrifice everything on the altar of a new sensation. Her new book concerns a girl who married the wrong man only to discover the right one too late.… Neither theme appeals to us as vastly original, but they say that Mrs. Bruce writes brightly, humorously, and easily, of Mayfair.

Jane Hervey in the 1960
(from the Persephone Books website)

On the humorous but nevertheless more serious side is JANE HERVEY, the addition of whom to my list is entirely to Persephone's credit, as I'd never heard of her until they reprinted her one novel, Vain Shadow (1963). They describe this book as a "unique, astute and very funny black comedy," which places it high on my TBR list, and although it was published after the end of this list's time frame, my justification for including her is that the novel actually written in the early 1950s.


Among those authors I know little about but whose work sounds intriguing, I have to include EMMELINE MORRISON and ELIZABETH MURRAY. It's entirely possible that one or both are completely forgettable, but I was seduced in the first case by several irresistible dustjackets and in the second purely by titles. Morrison's Red Poppies (1928) is described as a tale of a woman spy in WWI. A blurb from Fidelis (1932), meanwhile, reads as follows:

A romance of young love, frustrated by fate and parental authority, of the long years of separation which followed the love affair of a summer holiday in the Alps. The story of a girl who had the courage to defy the social conventions of those days, and who went into business in order to enable her to bring up and educate a son whom she should not have brought into the world.


Apparently, The Last of the Lovells (1928), Countisbury (1933), and An Open Secret (1939) are a trilogy about a young couple meeting, falling in love, and facing married life. You can just imagine how lured I am by one of Morrison's later works, A Tale Untold (1956), whose blurb reads, "Free at last from the family ties which have bound her for the past 10 years, Brenda Harrington, a spinster of thirty with a legacy of 300 pounds, sets out for the continent, with few plans but a determination to find herself romance & adventure." If Morrison lives up to her potential at all, then there's plenty of potential to be had—she wrote nearly 70 novels in all!


And re Elizabeth Murray, I don't really know how to justify my seduction at the hands of the titles of her four novels. I just very much wonder about the themes of Comedy (1927), The Partridge (1928), The Gilded Cupid (1930), and June Lightning (1932). Some sort of gut instinct at work?

Olivia Robertson in her later days as a "neo-paganist"

My inclusion of LUCY MYFANWY PRYCE here is based on little more information, really, and I don’t even really know whether her work is lighthearted or deadly serious. But a description I read of her novel Blind Lead (1928), as being about a family staying in the Welsh mountains after the children have had measles, leads me to think she tends to explore the lighter side of life, especially combined with such other intriguing titles as Parsons' Wives (1926) and Lady in the Dark: Country Dance for Four Couples (1938).


Technically, TINA SPENCER KNOTT is included on my list for her single novel, called Nemesis for Norman (1951), described as focusing on British workers in the oilfields of Venezuela. Now, that may not sound hilarious (though it could be for all I know), but by contrast her two memoirs could be quite enticing. Fools Rush In (1949) is about her and her husband's experiences buying a farm in Devon, and Keep It Clean (1958) follows their subsequent venture setting up a launderette. Could they be Verily Anderson-esque memoirs, one wonders?

I don't know if BARBARA BURKE's three novels are humorous or not, but they do sound intriguing. She was also a poet, biographer, and travel writer, and the first two of her novels—Barbara Goes to Oxford (1907) and Their Oxford Year (1909)—sound like they could (???) be grown up school stories. Have any of you who are fellow fans of that genre ever heard of (or read) these two?


The first of OLIVIA ROBERTSON's five novels, Field of the Stranger (1948), was apparently a Book Society choice, so her career must have got off to a good start. The cover blurb calls it "[a] witty novel in which the ancient charm of Irish county life contends with currents as new as existentialism." Could well be worth checking out for fans of Irish-themed titles. Robertson published four more novels over the subsequent nine years—The Golden Eye (1949), Miranda Speaks (1950), It's an Old Irish Custom (1953), and Dublin Phoenix (1957)—before shifting her focus to painting and "neo-paganism," on which latter topic she published several later books.


And finally, I'm definitely finding myself eager to sample one of the five novels by SHEILA TURNER, which seem to be humorous tales of village and farm life. She began with Over the Counter: A Year in the Village Shop (1960), which I would have taken for non-fiction if several sources hadn't noted that it was fiction. Her others are This Is Private (1962), A Farmer's Wife (1963, published in the US as Farmer Takes a Wife), The Farm at King's Standing (1964, published in the US as A Little Place Called King's Standing), and Honestly, the Country! (1965).


And that's it for this batch of lighter or humorous authors who may be worth checking out. Next time I'll mention a few other new additions who seem a bit more serious and literary—more quintessentially middlebrow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book report: ELIZABETH ELIOT (2 of 2)


Eliot's third novel, Mrs. Martell (1953), follows an utterly self-absorbed, superficial woman from her teens to her second marriage. But if that sounds unpleasant, in Eliot's hands it's not at all. Obsessed with money and class and all the appearances of a sophisticated life, but coming herself from genteel poverty, Cathie Martell rarely loses her focus on getting what she wants out of life, regardless of the feelings or happiness of those (her Aunt Violet, for example, who finances her education, or her first husband, or the man she's set her sights on to be her second—not to mention that man's current wife) who get in her way.

A critic's blurb about Mrs. Martell, from the back cover of Eliot's subsequent novel Starter's Orders (1955), says, "Only an artist in character study could make Cathie Martell tolerable; Miss Eliot goes further and makes her real." And it is indeed remarkable that the novel is so completely enjoyable despite having such an unlikeable main character. But I think it's Eliot's sharp eye for detail and her sense of humor that allow her to pull it off.

Another terrible photo, but the best I could
find for this book

The humor is a bit more muted here than in her first two novels (another critic notes that this is so "because wickedness is a sad business"), but it's still very much present. Sometimes it's that wonderful surprise ending to an otherwise innocuous observation, as here when Cathie is bored on a train and wishes for a handsome man to help her pass the time:

Even so, an encounter with a tall and handsome stranger would have been a pleasant interlude, but alas, he did not appear. Once, in the corridor, and right at the beginning of the journey, she thought she had found him; but later when he came into the dining-car he was surrounded by a gaggle of five or six bright adolescents all of whom addressed him as 'Daddy'; and they were accompanied by a depressed middle-aged woman who inevitably was Mother; impossible to imagine her as having ever been anything else.

One imagines the poor Mother must have sometimes had trouble imagining herself as anything else too! And here, in a dispute with Aunt Violet, a younger Cathie lets her propensity for drama get the best of her:

'As far as I am concerned, Aunt Violet, I don't want another penny of your money. I can go out and earn my bread,' and she saw a distinct picture of herself working her fingers to the bone and being seduced by goodness knows whom.

Blurbs from the back cover of Starter's Orders

And once or twice, even in this more serious novel, Eliot drops in an instance of pure silliness, as in this discussion at a ski lodge after one of Cathie's companions breaks a collar bone:

'Such a shame to break something at the beginning of the fortnight.' The elderly lady who had waylaid Laura in the hall of the hotel clicked anxiously over her knitting-needles.

'Yes,' Laura agreed, 'oh, yes.'

'When I was out here with my boys last year, we had two broken legs; but only on the very last day.'

'Even so, it must have been dreadful.'

'Of course they didn't both belong to us.'

Like most of Eliot's other novels, I think Mrs. Martell is a novel that will only improve on re-reading.

I did say "most," because, although it saddens me to admit that a new favorite author has her flaws, I'm not quite so sure that the same is true of Eliot's fourth novel, Starter's Orders (1955).

Front flap from
Starter's Orders

Now, if you're a big fan of horseracing, and are looking to read about it in fairly intimate detail—exploring the thoughts and feelings not only of the principle characters (a stable owner and the woman who may become his wife), but also of grooms and trainers and owners and bookies and gamblers, as well as several relatives and servants of the main characters—then you'll be happily in your element here. But those—like me—who can hardly tell the difference between a horserace and a game of croquet are likely to find less excitement here.

Starter's Orders seems to be in the nature of an experiment for Eliot—an attempt at a Dickensian variety of character with the budget-busting cast of thousands that a Hollywood extravaganza has on offer. And since Eliot is a polished and very talented author, I admit that even some of the scenes showing the care and handling of horses, or detailing the anxious preparations for a race, did pull me in and hold my interest, added to the fact that, when the focus is on the main characters and their slowly progressing relationship, Eliot produces more or less her usual sparkling, entertaining prose. Plus, even a not-entirely-successful novel can be interesting when examining a very good author's body of work, so perhaps I will revisit the novel someday and see what I come up with.

By contrast, however, Eliot's fifth and final novel, Cecil (1962), which appeared after an uncharacteristic seven year gap in publication, tops off her too-short literary career in style. Here, Eliot tries to get at something very subtle and elusiveportraying a dysfunctional (to say the least) mother/son relationship from the perspective of an in-law who only sees them now and again over the course of several years. Anne, the narrator, is the sister-in-law of the title character, and although she develops strong feelings about Henry and his mother, Lady Guthrie, one is also aware that her knowledge and perception is limited.

In lieu of a cover image of
Cecil, the back flap of Starter's
Orders
, with enthusiastic praise
for Alice

Eliot's intent is clearly not to make the relationship obvious, but to show it only as it can be wrestled with and perceived in glimmers and fragments and suspicions. It's an ambitious project, and one that fans of Henry James, for example, may happily sink their teeth into, but it's also always a fascinating and entertaining project. Just as I recently wrote about Rachel Ferguson's Evenfield, Eliot too manages to create genuinely serious literature without making the reader's experience feel like serious work. The shades of meaning and possible interpretations are there if you want to sample them, but you'll have fun even if you don't.

What's more, Cecil is an excellent portrayal of a theme I haven't commented on here for a while—that of the maleficent malingerer, here encapsulated in Lady Guthrie, who (if Anne's observations are to be believed) ruins the life of her son as thoroughly as if she set out to do so meticulously and calculatedly (but wait, perhaps she did?). Yet even as loathsome as she seems, I found Lady Guthrie completely believable, not just a comic book villain, and there are no easy answers for her or any of Eliot's other characters. And perhaps even Lady Guthrie's loathsomeness, as observed by Anne, is placed in some doubt, for one may wonder how much of it is real and how much is built up in Anne's own mind:

Lady Guthrie and Cecil arrived, as threatened, on the sixth of August. I had not, as I have said, seen Cecil for nearly three years or Lady Guthrie for seven. In the interval my feelings towards her, mainly, naturally, owing to the circumstances which had surrounded the breaking off of the engagement, had undergone a considerable change. As I waited for the carriage I realized that whereas before I had been accustomed to think of her as a selfish and often foolish woman I now regarded her as a veritable ogress. In my imagination, untouched by any sight of the reality, the soft features had become witchlike; the embonpoint had turned to layers of repulsive flesh. My first sight of Lady Guthrie, not very surprisingly, proved me to have been completely wrong. The appearance of the woman who was ushered into the drawing-room differed very little from that of the one who had last left it in 1887.

I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure, even now, what to think of Cecil's relationship with his mother, and I can't decide if this is because Eliot handled her ending with just a bit too much subtlety, or if this impression—that one almost perceives the truth, that if one just strains a bit more, re-reads earlier passages, seeks the clues a bit more aggressively, then one will see it all—is precisely the point Eliot wanted to make—that we can never see all of the clues, never perceive all the truth about other people and their motivations. And this is not to mention the ways in which the narrator's speculations sometimes reflect upon her own relationships with her husband and children—and perhaps the ways in which her ability to understand Cecil and his mother are limited by her own experiences as a mother.

Certainly, some dark secret about Cecil is implied here and there, but it is kept as vague as the misbehavior of schoolboy Miles in James's The Turn of the Screw, of which Cecil's implied but vague crimes reminded me.

But even feeling not completely sure about the ending, this is one of my favorite Eliot novels (though it's true I've felt that about all of her novels as I've finished them, except for the aforementioned Starter's Orders). More serious than the others, and somewhat inexplicably set in the late Victorian period—though its tone feels just the same as the others which are set in the 1950s—it nevertheless sparkles with Eliot's sharp observations and charming prose. It's less laugh-out-loud funny than her earliest works, though it does still have its moments, and I can't resist sharing one longish dialogue between Anne and Lady Guthrie, from very early on, as they discuss Lady Guthrie's current interest in spiritualism:

'If it hadn't been for the poltergeists,' idly Lady Guthrie picked up the silver trumpet used for blowing out the little spirit lamp under the kettle, 'I am convinced that my private hour with him would not have ended as it did.'

Exactly how the hour had ended she had not told us but apparently she and Mr Jackson had failed to communicate with the spirit of her sister Marion.'

I nodded sympathetically, thinking what a pity it was that of all Lady Guthrie's sisters, Marion, the only one who had died, should also be the only one in whose advice, if only it could be obtained, she seemed to place any confidence.

'Perhaps,' I said, 'if you were to try again on your way back through London?'

'I shall certainly attempt it but sometimes with so many wishing to speak to us it can be very difficult. On Sunday at the public meeting there were a great many messages; most of them I'm bound to say rather silly.'

Abruptly Lady Guthrie, without attempting to do anything supernatural with it, which is what I'd been vaguely afraid of, replaced the trumpet on the tea-table. 'Half of them might just as well have been written on the back of picture postcards of Brighton, "All well here, everything very beautiful, don't worry."'

What a shame that Eliot didn't continue to write fiction after 1962. As wonderful as Alice and Henry are, she evolved tremendously as an author by 1962, and I would have loved to see where she might have got to if she had gone on. From the beginning, she was a very smart, sophisticated, and clever author, and by 1962 she had become a very subtle one as well. She certainly deserves to be more widely read…

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Book report: ELIZABETH ELIOT (1 of 2)


'As soon as you're born,' Alice said, 'they dress you and say it's a dear little girl, and when you die they talk about the corpse, and in between you lead this extraordinary life and pretend that things are important and are going to go on for ever.'

Now, if I say that this rather alarming statement from the eponymous Alice effectively sums up Alice (1950), the first of five novels written by Elizabeth Eliot—better known by the time of her death in 1991 for the non-fiction Heiresses and Coronets (1959, published in the U.K. as They All Married Well), about prominent Edwardian European/American marriages—then you may not believe me when I also say that it's one of the funniest, strangest, and most addictive novels I've read in a long time.

The delightfully morbid story of—well, very little in fact beyond the strange and often woeful domestic lives of Margaret, the narrator, and her friend Alice from their final year at boarding school in the late 1920s to their mid-20s or so with the Spanish Civil War in the background and global war on the horizon, Alice shares a family resemblance with several of my favorite novels, from Barbara Comyns' Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead to Rachel Ferguson's The Brontës Went to Woolworth's. And yet it's also completely its own thing.

The book was apparently a Book Society choice, not bad for a debut novel.

Alice and Margaret love nothing so much as imagining the pain and suffering of others, or even the pain and suffering that might be their own lot in the future. But their existential ponderings (and indeed there is a surprising amount of philosophical depth here, and an ongoing trope about fear as a primary motivator, which lends a somewhat eerie seriousness to the characters' otherwise often superficial and odd behavior) are both hilarious and tragic, witty and melancholy, a delicate balance that Eliot manages to maintain in a rather extraordinary way throughout. Even when imagining the labor of servants long retired or dead, their loopy imaginings are rather dark:

The next day Alice showed me over the house. We walked for miles up and down staircases and through deserted rooms. We paused in the front hall with its pillars and its white marble floor. Alice opened the shutters of one of the windows.

'It's lucky we don't use this as a hall now, isn't it?' she asked.

'Imagine if it had to be scrubbed every day. It would take hours. Nanny says that when she was a young girl housemaids used to get up at four in the morning. It's not surprising when one thinks what they had to do.'

We contemplated the floor, thinking with sympathy of the Victorian housemaids who had scrubbed it.

'Though perhaps it was the odd man,' Alice said more brightly, and for the sake of the housemaids we were glad.

In fact, in an ironic way, the servants come to symbolize freedom for Eliot's young women, trapped inside their regimented high-class lives:

Personally I never found anything about the servants squalid, but always most interesting. Besides, one learnt so much more about people when one was disagreeing with them, and compared with us the servants had unbelievably exciting lives. Their world was boundless, while ours was contained within such narrow limits.


But the servants! Anything might happen to them. They might go in a train to Woolwich and meet the love of their lives, or be murdered almost for the asking. Not that one wanted to be murdered exactly, but there was frustration in being denied the possibility.


Then another thing, the servants could give notice and a month later they would be living in a different house surrounded with quite different people, and the love of their lives lurking round the corner perhaps, or beside the bandstand on a summer evening.

Alice marries, unhappily, and faces many other adventures and hardships, involving Margaret in most of them, until she suddenly decides—with fabulous success—to become an actress. Other characters come and go, but one feels that the point is not so much the events themselves as the quirky ways in which Margaret and Alice handle and discuss the events. And a good deal of the morbidity of their thinking seems to stem in part from an underlying sense of radical instability in their world. The narrator's grandmother's maid, for example, fears that a boat they're travelling in will suddenly stop floating—"Not because anything had gone wrong with it, you know, but because the rules about what could float and what couldn't had suddenly altered." These are anxious characters who feel marooned in the world without any safe harbor—a tragic circumstance, no doubt, and one probably based in class changes in postwar Britain, but, in Eliot's hands, it's an absolutely hilarious one.

One case where the American cover
is definitely inferior to the British edition

She also has a wonderful flare with metaphor, which adds to the humor of her tale. Here's one of my favorite examples:

'Darling! and how do you feel?' Mrs. Norton, in her usual flowered evening dress, rushed at her daughter and kissed her. One was reminded of a black and white hen hurrying across a farmyard with its wings outstretched.

And then there's just a fair amount of giddy silliness, as in this one final quotation, which doesn't even require any setup or scene-setting:

Felix turned on the waiter, who still stood in the doorway.

'Who's responsible for this food, what?'

'It's sent up from the kitchens, sir.' Williams remained imperturbable, disinterested. One felt that had the kitchens chosen to send up nothing but potato peelings he would have served them with detachment and without comment.

I loved Alice so much that I had to find another of Eliot's books, and, rather astonishingly, it turned out that our local public library had a copy of her second novel, Henry, published later the same year as Alice.

And here's a case of the American edition
being superior (see below)

Henry has quite a lot of similarities to Alice—a first person narrator observing and admiring a problematic character (in this case, her brother), and making marvelous daft/brilliant observations of the events and people around them. I already mentioned Barbara Comyns and Rachel Ferguson among the authors Eliot has reminded me of. I don't know if Henry's tone was actually darker and more disturbing than Alice, or if I merely started to notice the subtexts a bit more, but while reading this one I found myself thinking of writers such as Shirley Jackson and J. D. Salinger, with perhaps a little Sylvia Plath thrown in (I wonder why I thought of American authors this time around?).

I made a note, too, that the wit in Henry reveals more uncomfortably familiar truths about love and dysfunctional families, and about what gets called love though it's really composed most of fear or power or weakness. What can be better than a hilariously entertaining novel that also makes you think and realize things about yourself?

Admittedly a terrible photo, but I think
the cover in general is a little bland

This exchange between Anne and her mother, after Anne has threatened to go out to work in order to gain her independence, makes relatively explicit the instability of the characters' social world:

I told her that I had done quite a lot of typing in the W.R.N.S., when I wasn't driving a lorry, and that I would learn shorthand in the evenings.

'The papers are full of advertisements for secretaries and junior typists. So I don't expect people will be as particular as they used to be.'

Mother said that standards were certainly going down, and that 'they' were forcing 'us' out of existence.

And my mother had looked mournfully round the drawing room. 'They' had prevented her renewing the faded chintz covers, and also, presumably, buying a new castor for one of the armchairs.

Here, I think, is an absolute truth about human relations placed into a tidy nutshell:

'I'm sure he's charming,' Gerald said politely.

I hoped that when he did meet him Gerald really would find that Henry was charming or, at any rate, interesting. Of course, Henry was a human being and human beings were always interesting.

People were quite different. They overcrowded the buses and they created queues.

And here is a memorable summing-up of a core principle of Plato's philosophy:

I heard the word, 'Plato,' and remembered that Plato had said that human souls had once been round and that at a given moment they had broken into two and spent the rest of their existence looking for their other half; like in a cotillion.

I'm giggling again just inserting the quote here, and you can bet I'm already planning to move on to Eliot's three other novels—Mrs. Martell (1953), Starter's Orders (1955), and Cecil (1962). In fact, I'll leave you with this evocative image of my Eliot-related interlibrary loan and purchasing excesses:



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mistaken identity part 2

I recently wrote about one of the most interesting cases of mistaken identity in my recent list update—that of the two Dorothy Alice Hunts. But there were actually a few other smaller confusions that also proved interesting to explore—and again I relied mostly on the superior skills of other researchers, so I'm not taking credit for unravelling any of the more complex mysteries.

The first Hazel Adair (Hazel Iris Addis)

Such as, for example, the confusion—similar to that of the two Dorothy Alice Hunts—surrounding two Hazel Adairs. Oddly enough, both were pseudonyms, and their use of the Adair name very nearly overlap in the 1950s. Bear Alley already did all of the work unpacking this confusion here. The first HAZEL ADAIR (real name Hazel Iris Addis) wrote more than 20 novels over the course of nearly as many years, and her husband, Eric Addis, was also an author, publishing thrillers under the name Peter Drax. 


And the second one (Hazel Joyce Marriott)

The second HAZEL ADAIR was primarily a television screenwriter, as well as an actress and producer, but she published novelizations of two of her television programs, Stranger from Space (1953) and Life in Emergency Ward 10 (1959), which just barely qualify her for my list. She later wrote one an additional novel, as Clare Nicol, called Blitz on Balaclava Street (1983), about an ambulance driver in WWII.


It was also Bear Alley who clarified the rather labyrinthine confusions surrounding JOAN BARRETT and her husband, author Frank Barrett (really Frank Davis). I don't think I could begin to sum them all up, so I will merely refer you to his post here.

Then there's the mysterious (literally and figuratively) MARY ARDEN, who published two wartime novels that seem to be mysteries or thrillers—The House of Mystery (1940) and The Woman in Black (1944). Some sources have incorrectly identified her as Violet Murry (née le Maistre), the second wife of Katherine Mansfield's widower, John Middleton Murry. Murry used the Arden name for her one book of stories, Luck and Other Stories (1927), which received enthusiastic praise from Naomi Royde-Smith: "Miss Mary Arden does, and does brilliantly, the same thing for suburban London as Miss Suckow and Miss Ferber do for extra-metropolitan America." (Note to self: Must get round to reading this collection.)

The tragic Violet Murry, who published one
story collection as Mary Arden

But there is a quite compelling reason I'm sure that Mary Arden the mystery or thriller author is not Mary Arden the short story author, which is that Violet Murry, like Mansfield, died tragically young of tuberculosis—in 1931. It's actually a slightly unsettling story, not only because John Middleton Murry lost two wives to tuberculosis within the span of a decade, but because a photograph of Violet reveals that she resembled Mansfield in more than just her tragic illness (and literary talent, though it's surely too much to ask that her work could stand up next to Mansfield's). 


And the first Mrs. Murry, the brilliant Katherine Mansfield

It must have been a rather unusual marriage, too, as much of Murry's time during these years was spent editing Mansfield's unpublished stories, journals, and letters. I can't help but feel a pang of sympathy for Violet in this rather Rebecca-ish marriage, which—however happy—must have sometimes felt a bit like a ménage à trois. Let's hope there was no Mrs. Danvers present to make it worse…

At any rate, I'm reasonably certain that Violet did not return a decade after her death with two final novels, and John Herrington's searches were also to no avail, so the second Mary Arden must remain for now a shadowy figure.


BARBARA HALL the novelist is not nearly so mysterious, though she shares her name with a well-known crossword puzzle creator. Perhaps more mysterious is why Hall the novelist (full name Constant Barbara Hall) published two novels in 1934 and 1935, and then fell silent until two more novels appeared in 1951 and 1954. Are there missing pseudonyms here, or did she really fall silent for 16 years in between? (I suppose it's unlikely she could have written a couple of wartime thrillers as Mary Arden???)


There's also not much mystery about LALAGE PULVERTAFT, who was added to my list because I stumbled across one of her novels at a bookstore around Christmas, and perhaps she doesn't even belong in this post. But she did cause me a bit of confusion, because that book I found, A Question of Love (1966, originally Either/Or), was published under the name Hilary March, which turned out to also have been an early pseudonym of another author on my list, Almey St. John Adcock, whose books sound like bleak rural drama.


A Question of Love turned out to be not quite my cup of tea, but she also published three earlier novels using her real name (believe it or not—full name Isobel Lalage Pulvertaft). No Great Magic (1956) appears to deal with archaeology and was dramatized by the BBC in 1960 as Dead Man's Embers



The Thing Desired (1957) is set among London artists and intellectuals, and was mentioned in relation to Iris Murdoch in an early review. And Golden October (1965), it turns out, belongs on my Grown-Up School Story List, with a public school setting and a plot about a headmaster's wife returning to her husband and children after a love affair. John unearthed the fact that Pulvertaft appears to still be alive and (hopefully) well and living in Cambridge.

The American Helen Anderson, rather than
the Scottish one

Interestingly, two of the authors added to my list have been entangled in some sources with American namesakes, but with John Herrington's help I can untangle both of them. HELEN M. ANDERSON was a Scottish author who published four novels in the 1920s and 1930s, about which I know little. Her final work, Sons of the Forge, appeared in 1932, but a few years after that a scandalous novel appeared called Pity for Women (1937), with fairly straightforward lesbian themes. In fact, it's difficult to determine whether the novel was in fact scandalous, per se, or if the Saturday Review writer whose review I found was merely himself scandalized by the themes. Regardless of its literary quality, the novel is probably worth remembering as an early appearance of lesbian themes, but it's not an appearance of the theme in British literature but rather in American lit, because as it turns out that Helen Anderson is an entirely different person hailing from across the pond.


It's also easy to see how, based on sparse information, MARGARET MALCOLM, the British author of more than 90 Mills & Boon romances 1940-1981, could have got mixed up with the author who used that name for a single mystery in 1973. That novel, Headless Beings, was actually set in Scotland, a plausible enough setting for a British author, though its protagonist is described as "Hortense, an elderly American geneaologist in Scotland for a summer tracing a forebear." The mystery was published by Doubleday, and it actually sounds rather intriguing, but the Hartford Courant obituary of one Edith Lyman Kuether (see here) makes clear that it's the only book she published, so she is certainly not the romance writer. John found a listing of Mills & Boon writers, without many details but including any pseudonyms used, and it appears that Margaret Malcolm is indeed a real name, though she has not yet been fully traced.


And finally, I don't know if this quite fits the category of mistaken identity, but it is certainly a mystery that deserves highlighting. Who on earth, you might well ask, would choose as a pseudonym for one's literary output a name like F. DICKBERRY? In fact, we're not absolutely certain and she may not belong on my list at all. Several sources online note that it's the pseudonym of Fernande Blaze de Bury, who appears to have been born in France circa 1856 (which means she wouldn't fit my list) but was also described as a British subject. By marriage? But she is also shown in 1891 as single (and a professor of singing). A death date of 1931 is given in some sources, but John has not been able to confirm it. She may have been a member of the literary Blaze de Bury family which included authors Henri, Rose, and Yetta (possibly among others). One online source gives Rose as the author of at least one of F. Dickberry's titles, but as Rose died in 1894, well before any of the Dickberry books appeared, this is implausible. In short, a mass of confusion that likely can't be sorted out except by a fluent French researcher.

And then there's the question of how the books came to be attributed to any of the Blaze de Burys at all. John said he found no source for the attribution, merely online sources confidently asserting it. Which leaves just enough uncertainty for me to keep this vague author on my list. (I admit it would be hard for me to delete such an entertaining pseudonym from my list anyway.)

That's all of the major identity confusions from this list update (at least those that I know of), but I have no doubt there will be more in the future!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring book sale loot II: the sequel

I really wasn't planning to do a follow-up to my post from last Friday on the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale. It was quite long and self-indulgent enough, I thought.

I forgot to post our pics from the line last time. Initially, I tried
to get by without the granny cart, carrying only a shopping 
bag. Andy had to run back to the car to bring in the cart 
within twenty minutes...

But then we decided to make a quick return trip on Saturday morning, when the crowds are far sparser and the browsing more relaxed and pleasant. We've occasionally made return visits in the past, and they very rarely pay off with any big finds, so I wasn't expecting a lot—perhaps some more recent titles that I've meant to read, maybe a handful more mysteries.

Our selfie from the book sale

Which is pretty much what I got, but with one very big exception. Who would have expected, when the books had been picked over for several days already, an American first edition of Angela Thirkell's wonderful early novel, The Brandons


But there it was, in a box under one of the tables (and I was only half-heartedly perusing the boxes, to be honest, so it's just dumb luck that the Thirkell happened to be lying almost on top).


I can't resist sharing every bit of its lovely dustjacket, of course.


Apart from that lucky find, I did some across two more Ngaio Marsh books, a beat-up old copy (but with dustjacket) of Clutch of Constables, and a recent hardcover reprint of Artists in Crime—which is just as well, since I've already finished one of the ones I picked up on Tuesday and am well into another. I seem to be a bit obsessed...


Andy also came through with another harder-to-find title from my mystery wish list—Christianna Brand's Suddenly at His Residence (1946), which is apparently set during WWII, and which I've been eager to read for some time.


It was also Andy who brought me a lovely copy of a book indirectly relevant to my blog—Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's sequel to their bestselling Cheaper by the Dozen, Belles on Their Toes


The bright, charming dustjacket caught his eye, as it did mine, and I couldn't resist it, even if it is American. 


The gratuitous jacket flaps, of course:


It also included a Book-of-the-Month Club flyer from when the book was a selection, and I'm always interested in those.


And Andy also remembered that I had previously asked him to look for Georgette Heyer books, so when he came across Jane Aiken Hodge's biography, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, he grabbed it for me. If nothing else, it contains irresistible photos throughout.


I'm not sure how I first came across a mention of a recent novel called Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans—perhaps it was a runner-up for one or another of the numerous literary prizes given every year? At any rate, as it's set during World War II, it piqued my interest, and I picked up a copy on Saturday. After finding one of Margaret Yorke's non-mysteries on Tuesday, I couldn’t resist a nice ex-library copy of one of her mysteries, also just $1.

Two Iris Murdochs, one more Anita Brookner, and a pristine paperback of A. S. Byatt's Possession (which I read when it first came out a quarter of a century ago—can you believe it?—but have been meaning to re-read for a while now) also leapt into my shopping bag.

And that was that for our return visit. Hardly enough to fill a post, but how could I resist sharing the Thirkell find?!
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