Friday, February 28, 2014

A new edition of the Overwhelming List

It's that time again!  Another couple of months of research, helpful suggestions from readers, and general stumbling over hitherto unknown authors has made another revision and update necessary.  I've just posted the new edition of my Overwhelming List, which you can view here, and I've uploaded a new PDF version (now expanded to nearly 150 pages!), which you can download from the list pages or by clicking here.

As with the last update, the new version already contains a whole slew of new writers that I'll be discussing in update posts over the new few weeks, and the total number of writers listed is now 938, a net gain of 128.  The next update will surely take us into quadruple digits!  That seems quite astonishing to me, and is far beyond anything I could have imagined when I started the list, in innocent ignorance, with less than 100 authors.  But since I am still coming across writers almost every day who seem interesting and intriguing, clearly my work here is not yet done!

As well as the new additions, the revised list also contains new or corrected information on a bunch of writers who were already added in previous updates.  Many of these changes I owe to John Herrington, who has tracked down numerous writers I've been unable to find and has shared additional data on many for whom I had only the most shadowy outline.  (Of course, other women still remain shadowy outlines, but that's part of the fun of the process!)

Apart from John, I also owe a big thank you to several readers who shared their knowledge of lesser-known authors or suggested new ones I should include. 

Death notice of Mary Elizabeth Penrose, provided by Diane

Diane provided me with information about Mary Elizabeth Penrose—including a death date, which was more than The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction was able to provide.  She also explained that Penrose stopped writing following her son's death in 1918, during the final days of World War I.  Thank you, Diane!

Elizabeth Nisot cover, provided by Fernando

I also have to thank Fernando, who emailed me a while back about mystery author Anne Hocking.  Reportedly, there were three Hocking sisters, daughters of author Joseph Hocking, who all became novelists themselves.  Fernando successfully tracked down Anne's sister Elizabeth Nisot, who sometimes added a parenthetical "Elizabeth Hocking" on her book covers.  For now, the third sister remains an enigma, but I bet we identify her eventually!

Tina has been a loyal and supportive reader of this blog from its early days, and her suggestions have already resulted in the addition of numerous writers to my list.  Several more in this update come from Tina's research as well, so thanks again, Tina!

Dorothy Severn, provided by Geraldine

And finally, thanks to fellow DES-sie Geraldine, who suggested Dorothy Severn for my list and was even able to provide a photo.  Geraldine's husband was the founder of the Markyate Local History Society, and Severn was an early topic of research for the Society.  I would undoubtedly never have found Severn, who published only two books—a volume of poetry and a children's historical novel—on my own, so thank you to Geraldine for taking the time to share her with me.

In addition to the new additions to my list, there were also three excisions.  As much as I hate to remove perfectly good writers from my list, further research revealed that Judith Kelly was Canadian, Cynthia Lombardi was American, and Maysie Greig was Australian.  Perhaps someday I'll get around to adding Canadian, American, and Australian writers to my list, but for now I'm quite overwhelmed enough!  However, since I already did a review of a Maysie Greig novel a while back, I will leave the link to that review in my "Reviews by Author" section.

I've removed her from my list, but
can't resist posting her picture anyway

So, that's that for this go-round.  As always, please contact me if you see any inaccuracies or errors in the list, if you know of a writer who's missing, or if anything doesn't function or navigate properly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Update: A Miscellany

This update is a bit of a hodge-podge, comprised of 18 writers who, though some are quite interesting, just didn't fit into my other recent updates or else were inadvertently left out.

Of the below, ELISABETH INGLIS-JONES (her publishers couldn't seem to decide whether to hyphenate her name or not—see photos above and below) seems most intriguing to me.  She is perhaps best known for Peacocks in Paradise (1950), about Hafod Uchtryd, a well-known estate in west Wales, but I am also very interested in her dark, quirky-sounding novels. Her debut, Starved Fields (1929), is discussed here, but it's Pay the Piper (1939), a tragedy set in Wales and about (according to Saturday Review) "two gnarled, complex, vital characters ... a passionate woman who has been denied all passion by the fact of her physical ugliness, and ... a man of much spirit and few scruples, who finds it useful to play the ardent lover," which seems rather bleakly intriguing to me.  Perhaps I'll be writing about it here before too long...

Concordia Merrel in about 1909

CONCORDIA MERREL's romantic fiction seems to have been successful (particularly so among Spanish-language readers, judging from the proportion of book covers of Spanish-language editions available online), but her earlier career and life in general may be of even more interest.  In her youth she was a model and appeared as the "Kodak Girl" in a well-known 1910 ad campaign for that company.  Her son with her first husband was Valentine Dyall, radio's "man in black."

ANNE SCOTT-JAMES, too, was known more for her other work than her literary contributions, but her single novel, In the Mink (1952) is of interest for its portrayal of the British fashion industry, which Scott-James knew well from her early experiences as a journalist for Vogue and Picture Post. I've come across both praise and disdain for the novel, but it seems certain to be a fascinating read.  Later on, Scott-James was known for her books about gardening, including the definitive text about the garden created by Vita Sackville-West, Sissinghurst: The Making of a Garden (1975).

When I started looking more closely at the romance novels of ANN STAFFORD, I discovered that she had written many novels in collaboration with Jane Oliver (already on my list) under the single pseudonym Joan Blair.  Only two or three of these seem to be listed in entries on Oliver in reference works, so clearly some updating needs to happen there!

Marjorie Strachey

I would have thought that I had already come across all the Stracheys and their in-laws who could possibly have written fiction (see Julia and Dorothy Strachey, and Amabel Williams-Ellis, for starters), but I would have been wrong. MARJORIE STRACHEY, sister of Lytton, James, and Dorothy, sister-in-law of Ray, aunt of Julia, and cousin of Amabel (whew!), gets added to the list, and her final novel in particular, The Counterfeits (1927), seems of potential interest, featuring a woman adapting to peacetime life after nursing in WWI.

The works of DOROTHY CHARQUES, focused on realistic portrayals of English country life, also sound of interest, though what jumped out at me most was her response to a Contemporary Authors question about her avocational interests.  Charques listed "walking and sitting."  Now there is a writer after my own heart!

And finally, MARJORIE RIDDELL is best known (to the extent that she is known at all) for her Delafield-esque M Is for Mother (1953), about a young woman with an overbearing mother.  But I found myself even more intrigued by her final two books, described as “career novels” for girls and entitled A Model Beginning (1962) and Press Story (1964).  Who could resist those covers?

The short bios for all 19 authors are all listed below, and the writers have already been added to the main list.

NINA ABBOTT (1863-????)
(pseudonym of Selina Sara Ellington Collinson, aka Nana Collinson)

More research needed; mother of novelist and memoirist Naomi Jacob and herself the author of three novels—Look at the Clock: A Yorkshire Novel (1939), Shadow Drama (1940), and Balance Suspended (1942); Jacob wrote about her in Robert, Nana and—Me: A Family Chronicle (1952).

(née Taylor)

Historical novelist acclaimed in her time for portrayals of English rural life in the past, including in her trilogy—Time's Harvest (1940), The Running Heart (1943), and Between the Twilights (1949)—about a family in the 1870s ruined by a murrain outbreak among their cattle.

(née Tilling)

Actress best known for voicing members of the Buggins family in radio broadcasts spanning 20 years, Constanduros was also an enormously prolific playwright and author of several novels, including Poison Flower (1937), A Nice Fire in the Drawing Room (1939), and On the Run (1943).

CATHERINE COTTON (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of what appear to be three novels—Experience (1922), The Polite Paupers (1929), and Water Into Wine (1930)—as well as a distressing-sounding text called Your Sacred Body (1933), published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.


More research needed (possibly American?); author of three novels in the early 1930s—Happy Sinner (1931), which Forum compared to an Elizabeth von Arnim novel (and found it inferior), The House of Wives (1932), and Sold for a Song (1933).

(née Hannay)

More research needed; author of at least two mystery novels, The Corpse in the Church (1934) and The Hand, or, Mystery at Number Ten (1937), as well as several children's books, including The Unexpected Adventure (1935) and Bulldog Sheila, or, The Gang (1936); details are sketchy.

Portrait of Elisabeth Inglis-Jones


Author of six novels—Starved Fields (1929), Crumbling Pageant (1932), The Loving Heart (1942), Lightly He Journeyed (1946), Aunt Albinia (1948), and the intriguingly Brontëesque Pay thy Pleasure (1939); later known for biographies and for Peacocks in Paradise (1950), about Hafod Uchtryd.

(married name Banbury)

Mills & Boon author of the 1930s whose work appear to be romances set in exotic locales; titles include The Dancer of El Touran (1931), Where Caravans Pass By (1935), The Ladies of Shalm-a-Dar (1936), and Tropical Island (1937).

ALICE ARMSTRONG LOW (dates unknown)
(aka Mrs. Cranston Low)

More research needed; Worldcat classes her under Scottish writers, but unless she wrote under another name I haven't uncovered, she apparently published only a single novel, Langshaws (1934).

(pseudonym of Mary Phyllis Joan Morton, née Logan, other married name Dyall)

Model featured in the 1910 "Kodak Girl" ad campaign, and a prolific romantic novelist of the 1920s and 1930s; her titles include Ordeal by Marriage (1926), Julia Takes Her Chance (1926), Sally Among the Stars (1930), The Cads' Party (1931), and Adam—and Some Eves (1931).

MAY F[????]. NEVILLE (dates unknown)

More research needed; apparently the author of numerous "newsprint novels" of the 1920s to 1940s; titles include A Soul's Bondage (1923), Love in a Lilac Lane (1936), Her Sister's Secret (1937), Her Wedding Day (1941), A Runaway Wife (1942), and Only the Governess (1943).

AISHIE PHARALL (dates unknown)

Author of four novels of the 1920s and 1930s, including at least two Jazz Age novels which appear to make romantic use of post-war settings—Middle Mists (1923) and The Little Less (1924)—plus two more, Jocelyn Calls the Tune (1932) and Infidelity (1934).

MARJORIE RIDDELL (dates unknown)

Best known for M Is for Mother (1953), a Delafield-esque comedy about a young woman with an overbearing mother, Riddell wrote three subsequent books—The Big City (1958) and two “career novels” for girls, A Model Beginning (1962) and Press Story (1964).

ANNE SCOTT-JAMES (1913-2009)
(married names Verschoyle, Hastings, and Lancaster)

Best known for her books about gardening, including Sissinghurst: The Making of a Garden (1975), about the garden created by Vita Sackville-West, Scott-James began as a journalist for Vogue and Picture Post, which experience forms the background for her one novel, In the Mink (1952).

Anne Scott-James on safari in Africa

ANN STAFFORD (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of Ann Pedlar, aka Joan Blair [with Jane Oliver])

Children's author and author of romance and historical novels from the 1930s to 1960s, including some written with Jane Oliver; titles include Green Eyes for Jealousy (1936), Love and Sister Lorna (1939), Cuckoo Green (1941), Look Again, Lovers! (1945), and Blossoming Rod (1955).


Sister of Dorothy and Lytton, Marjorie Strachey published a collection, Savitri and Other Women (1920), and three novels—David the Son of Jesse (1921), The Nightingale (1925), about Chopin, and The Counterfeits (1927), about a woman adapting to peacetime life after nursing in WWI.

JOAN SUTER (dates unknown)

More research needed; apparently the author of one novel, East of Temple Bar (1946), described as being about Fleet Street.


Best known for her three volumes of memoirs—Greenhorn: A Twentieth Century Childhood (1973), One Woman's Story (1976), and Alone (1979)—Tibble also published a novel, The Apple Reddens (1924), set in Yorkshire, and collaborated with her husband on a biography of John Clare.

Pamela Wynne

PAMELA WYNNE (1879-1959)
(pseudonym of Winifred Mary Scott, née Watson)

Prolific and successful romance novelist from the 1920s to 1950s, Wynne's first major success was Ann's An Idiot (1923), which became a movie called Dangerous Innocence; other titles are Penelope Finds Out (1926), Love In A Mist (1932), Love Begins At Forty (1936), and Merry Widows (1943).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Recent Reading: The Great Gladys

This post is a rare confluence of my personal reading habits and some notable publishing news (that's my excuse for its length, anyway, which is even more excessive than my norm!).  Typically I'm oblivious to publishing news—though I did intend to post on the ridiculousness of the news stories (using that phrase loosely) a few weeks ago about the “discovery” of Stella Gibbons’ two unpublished novels—you know, the ones that her biographer described in depth in his bio of Gibbons…in the 1990s?  One source even described them as “lost” manuscripts, which could hardly have been the case unless her heirs had simply forgotten which drawer they'd tucked them away in!  What next?  Breaking news coverage of radio listeners terrorized by a broadcast of “War of the Worlds”?  But I digress (and overindulge in sarcasm). 

Ahem.  As I was saying, rarely am I on the cutting edge of publishing news.  Typically, I either miss it altogether or else I only cotton on to it six months after everyone else considers it old hat, by which time blogging about it would seem a bit passé.

The Great Gladys

But eureka!  As it happens, my comfort reading of the past couple of weeks has not only been greatly entertaining, but has led me to a fairly timely discovery.

I am a sporadic mystery addict.  Usually—as, perhaps, with most addictions—my mystery habit recurs at times of stress or general malaise.  At such times, there is something about life-and-death situations and their clear resolution, combined with the unique attention to everyday life that the genre requires and the compelling, page-turning style that it ideally offers, that provides some odd kind of solace.

Undoubtedly, the writer I have turned to more than any other for this kind of solace (and indeed often just for pure mindless entertainment) is Agatha Christie.  I started to read her in my teens and I’ve now read all but one of her novels (oh, why why why must Passenger to Frankfurt be so impermeably dull?!) and most of her stories, as well as her wonderful autobiography.  Many of her novels I’ve read multiple times (and I’ll confess right off that I can almost never remember whodunnit, except in the case of her most iconic plots like Murder on the Orient Express or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  Sometimes I can even remember how the murder was done (as in the ludicrously daft plot of Murder in Mesopotamia), but still I can only rarely recall who committed it or why.

Apart from Dame Agatha, my mystery reading of choice has included Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham (though I need to read more of all three), and even such male writers (believe it or not) as Cyril Hare and Edmund Crispin.  I’ve had the occasional lark with Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax, a few laughs with M. C. Beaton here and there, and a long love affair with the coziest of all modern mystery writers, Hazel Holt, whose Mrs. Malory books have often proven irresistible after a stressful day (or week, or month).

But in the past couple of weeks, as we have coped with the sudden loss of one of Andy’s brothers, I happened, when feeling tired and sad and anything but inspired, to pick up a Gladys Mitchell novel and fall effortlessly and irretrievably into its pages.  Then I read another.  And another.  And yet another.  (A rare occurrence for me, since I'm a reader who tends to flit hummingbird-like from one author to another.)  And I’ve absolutely fallen under her spell.

I’ve read a handful of Mitchell novels over the past few years, and I’ve always enjoyed them—particularly the eccentric, rather daft early novels like The Saltmarsh Murders and When Last I Died, which were reprinted a couple of years ago by Vintage UK along with several other of her best-known works.  But somehow I never became addicted to Dame Gladys as I have always been to Dame Agatha.  But that may now have changed.

My own cheesy paperback of Spotted
; who on earth is the woman
in the photo supposed to be?!?!  Certainly
not Dame Beatrice!

Gladys Mitchell—referred to by no less a figure than Philip Larkin as “the great Gladys”—wrote 66 mystery novels under her own name, all featuring the gloriously strange forensic psychiatrist Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley (in later novels she becomes Dame Beatrice, surely a deserved, if fictional, honor).  Intriguingly, Mitchell also wrote five historical adventure novels under the pseudonym Stephen Hockaby in the 1930s, as well as six more mysteries under the pseudonym Malcolm Torrie in the late 1960s and early 1970s, none of which seem to have ever been reprinted.  And finally, she wrote nine novels for children, mostly mysteries for younger readers, but also including On Your Marks, a girls’ career novel dealing with Mitchell’s own area of expertise, physical education—which, happily, was reprinted by Greyladies last year, and a copy of which, even more happily, is in my hot little hands.

And let me point out that I did not, in fact, just mutter an incantation and become an authority on a writer I had barely read until a couple of weeks ago.  But you too can feel like an authority on Mitchell if you consult Jason Hall’s amazing website, which includes a cornucopia of information, book covers, bibliographies, essays, and reviews on Mitchell’s many works.  I keep getting distracted from writing this post because there’s just so much on Jason’s site to enjoy.

Interestingly, none of the four novels I’ve read in the past couple of weeks rank high on Jason’s list of Mitchell’s best work.  Which—considering that I quite enjoyed all of them—may mean I will be even more ecstatic as I continue to explore her other novels.  Since Mitchell is a pretty widely-read author and has many loyal followers online who know more about her than I do, I’m going to make this a “recent reading” post with only general comments about the four books I read, rather than actual reviews, and I'll follow that with the actual bit of Mitchell-related news that I’ve just come across.

Bio and younger photo from the Penguin
edition of Watson's Choice

My reading started with Spotted Hemlock (1958), which deals with a body found at the girls’ agricultural school at which Dame Beatrice’s nephew, a pig farmer, has been teaching.  The plot is gloriously strange, involving a missing student, a secret marriage, a possibly ghostly figure riding a horse that is all too real (based on its damage to the school’s kitchen garden), and the possibility that—despite the body’s identification as the missing student by her own mother—the victim might actually be someone else entirely.  Dame Beatrice travels to Scotland, southern Italy, and Northern Ireland—seemingly random fact-finding missions that are little more than excuses for commentary on the scenery and to keep the reader guessing about the direction of Dame Beatrice’s thoughts.  (The fact that I can never begin to follow a logical progression of deduction and logic in Dame Beatrice's investigations is one of the things I love about Mitchell's novels, but of course it might be an annoyance to readers who expect to actually understand all the details of the crimes and their solutions!)

The girls’ school setting is an interesting one, especially since the girls here are learning about pigs and crops and fertilizer and the like—hardly the Abbey Girls or the Chalet School!  Lyn at I Prefer Reading recently reviewed another wonderful girls’ school mystery, Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, and mentioned her affinity for “closed society” mysteries—those set in schools and convents and the like.  I had never thought to categorize them in that way, but I realized that it’s a very useful concept and that I too—unbeknownst to myself—have long been a fan of closed society novels of all kinds (in fact, see the fourth Mitchell title I read below).

One thing that’s always fun about a Mitchell novels is its descriptions of Dame Beatrice—regularly compared to crocodiles, witches, snakes, and even pterodactyls.  And yet despite an appearance that takes strangers aback, I find her completely lovable in her blithe acceptance of all sorts of human frailty and diversity, from insanity, perversion, and violence all the way down to ordinary sex, jealousy, and fear, and she has a charming tendency to refer to people as “my dear child,” suggesting a nun-like serenity and compassion even in the face of a decomposed corpse.  In Spotted Hemlock, Dame Beatrice gets a memorable comparison to the Ancient Mariner:

Basil, who had lowered his newspaper as soon as she had begun to speak, crushed out his half-finished cigarette and looked ready to take flight, but Dame Beatrice, emulating the Ancient Mariner, held him grounded as though by some magic spell.

And there’s always at least one reptile comparison:

“I certainly sympathize with your point of view,” said Dame Beatrice, returning the grin with an alligator leer which appeared to startle her companion.

I found it difficult to put Spotted Hemlock down, even with everything else that was going on in our lives, and when I finished it I moved right on to The Death-Cap Dancers (1981), a very late Mitchell picked up at a book sale a couple of years back.  Jason and most other Mitchell fans seem to give her late novels—which become less eccentric and more mundanely procedural—a low ranking, but Jason also shares several other fans’ lists on his website and a couple of them actually place Death-Cap Dancers in their top five among Mitchell's works, which only goes to show that readers look for and enjoy very different elements even in the work of a writer they all appreciate. 

This one is set in the realm of youth hostellers and vacation campers, and features Dame Beatrice’s grand-niece Hermione Lestrange along with a folk-dancing troupe that seems to be under attack from a killer who bashes victims’ heads and then pushes a deadly mushroom into the wound.  Unfortunately, Hermione’s great-aunt doesn’t make an appearance until page 126 of a 192 novel, which almost always seems to be the hallmark of any great mystery writer’s lesser novels.  (I always wonder, if a writer is tired of their detective—which is certainly understandable—why not create a new one, or write a non-detective novel?  There’s at least one Christie mystery—They Do It with Mirrors, perhaps?—where Miss Marple barely appears at all, and the novel is much the weaker for her absence.  On the other hand, there are works like Crooked House, Murder Is Easy, and of course And Then There Were None which are great novels without any of Dame Agatha’s usual detectives at all.  So why would Mitchell write a Dame Beatrice novel and then give Dame Beatrice little more than a cameo appearance?  One wonders.  But I digress again.)

For me, The Death-Cap Dancers was readable but eminently forgettable.  Except perhaps for the murderer’s rather memorable sudden demise at the hands, er, snouts, of a bunch of hungry pigs…

Despite feeling lukewarm on that one, however, I went right into Watson's Choice (1955), which, it turns out, falls right in the middle of all the readers' lists on Jason's website.  Not too good, not too bad, would seem to be the consensus.  The reviewers on Goodreads seem to veer a bit more to the negative in their assessments, but I actually enjoyed it a lot.  It is admittedly a rather loosy-goosy mystery (which for me is a compliment but for most Goodreads reviewers is apparently not) beginning with a Sherlock Holmes-themed costume party at which a prank leads to the unplanned appearance of the Hound of the Baskervilles.  No kidding.  But only some time later do a lot of seemingly unrelated events finally result in a murder loosely connected (I'm not sure that I quite understand, even now, exactly how) to the dog involved in the stunt.

It’s all as quirky, odd, and disjointed as any of the Mitchells I've read, and the Sherlock Holmes party adds lots of interesting trivia to the mix, cleverly providing “clues” in multiple senses of the word.  Plus, we get the wonderful Dame Beatrice and her own entertaining “Watson”—her assistant Laura, here engaged to Inspector Gavin, who also attends the party and investigates the murder—straight through from beginning to end.  The novel makes a hilarious mockery of detective novel stereotypes, highlighted with some subtlety in the clues to a Holmes contest held at the party, and more explicitly when Dame Beatrice relays a message to Laura from Inspector Gavin:

He dined here last night and thinks the Gunter case is breaking very nicely. They are pretty sure of a conviction. Once they had interpreted correctly the clue of the dining-club tea-cloth, everything fell into place. Good night, dear child. Sleep well.

Ah, yes, the dining-club tea-cloth.  Of course.  Elementary, my dear Watson.

Another particular source of enjoyment in this novel is that Dame Beatrice's wide-ranging intellect is on full display.  She analyzes a suspect's anxieties with reference to "that humane genius Sigmund Freud," and then, too, it seems that Mitchell must have been reading the work of Gertrude Stein while at work on Watson's Choice, as there are at least two references to her work.  Stein's most obscure, experimental, and befuddling works were just finally being published by Yale University Press in the 1950s, and Mitchell must have been taking an interest.  Early on, she has Dame Beatrice compare a schizophrenic patient's ravings to Stein's work (a comparison which might not seem flattering, but which I bet Stein would have loved), and later one of the suspects, Mrs. Dance, begins a distinctly odd and distinctly Steinian riff on a fellow suspect's nickname:

'What is more, he hates Boo with an old-fashioned Mexican hatred that would give me nightmares if I were in Boo's shoes. Boo's shoes,' she repeated thoughtfully. 'It sounds like one of those novels where they make up half the words. Boo's shoes, shoes boo the crowd, boos through Boo, shoos away coos—I mean cows—oh, dear! How silly!'

It can be no coincidence that one of Stein's most famous (and racy, once one realizes what it's really about) works dealt prominently with cows.  And given Stein's well-known affinity for detective novels, one can't help but wonder if Mitchell's earlier work might have made occasional appearances on Stein's bedside table?

Finally, as Dame Beatrice is beginning to reveal to Laura some of what she knows about the solution of the case, she gets distracted into this wonderfully random, yet wholly compassionate and intelligent meditation on Sodom and Gomorrah:

'Well, I'm dashed!' said Laura. 'What don't you know?'

'Exactly what went on in the Cities of the Plain, child. Even allowing for all the sources and idiosyncrasies of human behaviour which modern psychology has laid bare, it is difficult to conceive of a state of things so far removed from normal conduct that the cities had to be destroyed in so uncompromising a fashion. One thinks of post-1918 Hamburg; one thinks of the port of Suez; one thinks unutterable thoughts; and, after that, imagination boggles, as the master of the comic novel has said.'

Perhaps someday I'll share my own thoughts on the Cities of the Plain, but meanwhile this has to be one of my favorite Mitchell quotes to date...

After having so much fun with Watson's Choice, I recalled that had just lucked into a used copy of the now out-of-print Greyladies edition of Convent on Styx (1975), and so I dived right in.  This is another late Mitchell but one which, for my taste, is much, much stronger than The Death-Cap Dancers.  To prove that there's an exception to every rule, in this novel, too, Dame Beatrice doesn't appear until nearly the halfway point, but here I found that a strength.  (I know, I'm being inconsistent, but after all, Emerson did say that foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds, and even a middlebrow hates having hobgoblins dancing around in his little mind!)

Dame Beatrice's absence early on works here because what we get in that time is a wonderful picture of ordinary life in the convent at which the murder will (eventually) occur—the little bitternesses, annoyances, pleasures, and joys of this particular "closed society."  This seems to be the real focus of the novel, and I found it completely fascinating.  No wonder Greyladies chose it as the one Mitchell mystery they would reprint (so far, at least).  As a sample, the narrative starts entertainingly but also poignantly with the somewhat embittered Sister Wolstan:

Sister Wolstan had no real quarrel with her lot. Long enough ago she had renounced the world (although one still had to live in it), the flesh (although one still had to eat, drink, sleep and wash), and the devil (although Sister Wolstan sometimes thought that it must be easier to oust him from a reformatory than from a convent) and she was prepared to be humble and meek, offering her meekness and her humility (and the rheumatism that had begun to trouble her) upon the same altar on which so many years ago she had laid her vows of poverty and chastity and her vow of obedience to her superiors.

Then there is Sister Hilary, who "[i]n her unregenerate days … had led protest marches, obstructed the police and had stood out for women's rights in a militant, aggressive, troublemaking manner that had resulted in a most disagreeable blaze of newspaper publicity and a threat of dismissal from her teaching post."  Most of the nuns are presented with similar vividness, and the result is a portrait of convent life so compelling that I almost regretted the murder and resulting investigation when it finally occurred.  The mystery itself is rather run-of-the-mill, and the solution distinctly uninspired, so those looking for a thrilling page-turner might want to look elsewhere.  But as for myself, I have a feeling Convent on Styx will be one of my most frequent Mitchell re-reads.

We also get one of the best descriptions of the ageless Dame Beatrice (who, much like Hercule Poirot, began her literary life elderly and remained timelessly old for nearly sixty years thereafter) that I've yet come across:

Fennell saw a formidable old lady who could be anything between seventy and ninety, small and thin, with sharp black eyes which he was convinced would miss nothing and, having summed up what they saw, would regard it with resignation and amusement. Apart from her costume, which was of a particularly villainous shade of green topped off by a purple silk shirt-blouse, other noticeable features were her yellow, claw-like hands, her shrewd, beaky little mouth and the unnerving cackle with which she received his lighter remarks.

How could anyone not love such a figure?

Alas, it seems that despite Mitchell's continuing popularity among a passionate group of fans, all too many readers have been able to resist Dame Beatrice's witchy charms.  The result being that until the last few years most of her novels had lapsed out of print and been allowed to languish. 

But that has now begun to change. 

Rue Morgue Press began the effort by reprinting a dozen or so of Mitchell's works.  Then a couple of years ago Vintage UK published a few more in snazzy new editions, and they've added even more to their list in the past few months, so that they've now made available almost thirty titles in all. 

And finally, as I've poked around in the past week or two to see what other Mitchells I might be able to find, I discovered that Thomas & Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing (who knew?), appears to be making many, many more Mitchells available in e-book format.  In fact, though I haven't taken the time to check for every single title, it appears that by the end of April, virtually all of Mitchell's Dame Beatrice novels will be available, and (so far, at least) at the bargain price of $3.99 each.  This includes numerous titles—such as the World War II-era Sunset Over Soho and Brazen Tongue—that have become scarce or downright nonexistent.

And all of this seems to have been a relatively recent development, as most of these e-books have appeared on Amazon just since I first searched a couple of weeks ago.  Thus, for once, I am shockingly timely with this post.  I'm also hopeful that a batch of new readers will now take the plunge into the great Gladys's odd, brilliant oeuvre.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Update: Children's Authors (Part 4 of 4)

Happily, although this is the last update of children's writers from the current batch, I'm pretty sure there will be a few more children's updates before my list is complete (should that unlikely event ever actually come to pass). Already I've stumbled across a fair number of children's writers who still need to be researched.  So, this is only the last updatewith its accompanying, lovely, colorful, children's book cover artfor the time being.

Below are 15 more authors, including the three PULLEIN-THOMPSON sisters, who, rather oddly, all wrote children's horse stories.  Certainly something fishy—er, horsy, rather—going on in that family!

Then, who knew that Margaret Kennedy's sister, VIRGINIA PYE, was also a successful author.  She specialized in adventurous holiday stories, some of which sound rather interesting.

MIMPSY RHYS is almost definitely a new name for just about everybody reading this.  While many of the other names came from current publishers who are reprinting classic children's books, Rhys comes from a contemporary review.  As far as I can tell, she published only one book, Mr. Hermit Crab: A Tale for Children by a Child (1929), about which I've been able to find absolutely nothing.  Anyone remember their grandmothers talking about enjoying this book?

Although horse stories are really not (so far, at least) my "thing," I have to admit that MARY TREADGOLD's stories which make use of wartime and postwar conditions, are tempting me a bit.  We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941) is about children who miss the evacuation of a fictional Channel island because they refuse to abandon their horse, and end up aiding the resistance to the occupying Nazis, and its sequel, The Polly Harris (1948), "follows the Templeton children to the problems of post-war London, where they become involved in terrorist bombings and smuggling" (ODNB).  Hmmmm.

And finally, MARION ST. JOHN WEBB's Mr. Papingay series sounds oddly familiar, but I can find little information about it.  I wonder if one or more of these are among the few children's books I actually read as a child (I was a distinctly unrestricted child when it came to reading material, and I generally wound up picking my own books, usually with shockingly bad judgment, from whatever library shelf I happened to be near).

All 15 writers are shown below, and all have been added to the main list.  I hope you enjoy!


Children's author and BBC broadcaster who innovated broadcasts to interest children in history; most of her books were historical non-fiction and occasional historical novels, most notably Redcap Runs Away (1952), about a medieval boy who joins a troupe of minstrels.

(married name Popescu, aka Christine Keir)

Prolific author of children's horse stories and other fiction, including We Rode to the Sea (1948), Phantom Horse (1955), Stolen Ponies (1957), and A Dog In A Pram (1965); she also collaborated on early works with her sisters Diana and Josephine (see below).

(married name Farr)

Children's author who, like her sisters Christine and Josephine, focused on horse stories such as I Wanted A Pony (1946), Three Ponies and Shannan (1947), Janet Must Ride (1953), The Boy Who Came To Stay (1960), and Ponies In The Valley (1976).

(aka Josephine Mann)

Sister of Christine and Diana and also an author of children's horse stories; her titles include Six Ponies (1946), I Had Two Ponies (1947), Prince Among Ponies (1952), Show Jumping Secret (1955), The Trick Jumpers (1958), Fear Treks The Moor (1978), and Ride To The Rescue (1979).

VIRGINIA PYE (1901-1994)
(née Kennedy)

Sister of novelist Margaret Kennedy; children's author who specialized in holiday adventure stories; titles include Red-Letter Holiday (1940), Half-Term Holiday (1943), The Stolen Jewels (1948), and Holiday Exchange (1953); she wrote one adult story collection, St. Martin's Summer (1930).

MIMPSY RHYS (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of a single title, Mr. Hermit Crab: A Tale for Children by a Child (1929), described as a book "written by a child for children."

JOAN SELBY-LOWNDES (dates unknown)

Children's author who wrote about horses, the circus, and the ballet, as well as several books for children about religion; titles include Mail Coach (1945), On Stage Please (1952), Circus Train (1956), and The Blue Train (1958), the last a biographical work about dancer Anton Dolin.

EVELYN SMITH (1885-1928)

Prolific but tragically short-lived author of girls' school stories, starting with Nicky of the Lower Fourth (1922) and including Val Forrest in the Fifth (1925), Septima at School (1925), The Twins at School (1927), Phyllida in Form III (1927), and Milly in the Fifth (1928).

SHEILA STUART (1892-1974)
(pseudonym of Mary Gladys Baker, née Westwood)

Children’s author known for her series of adventures featuring Alison and Niall, including Alison’s Highland Holiday (1946), Well Done Alison! (1949), Alison’s Poaching Adventure (1951), and Alison and the Witch’s Cave (1956); some of her titles have been reprinted by Fidra in recent years.

MARY TREADGOLD (1910-2005)

BBC radio producer and children's author, best known for her classic We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941), about children who miss the evacuation of a fictional Channel island and aid the resistance to the Nazis; later works include The Running Child (1951) and The Winter Princess (1962).

ELFRIDA VIPONT (1902-1992)
(married name Foulds, aka Charles Vipont)

Children's author and Quaker historian best known for several novels about the Haverard family—The Lark in the Morn (1948), The Lark on the Wing (1950), The Spring of the Year (1957), and Flowering Spring (1960); she also published at least one adult novel, Bed in Hell (1974).

MURIEL WACE (1881-1968)
(aka Golden Gorse)

Children's author known for her horse stories, particularly Moorland Mousie (1929) and its sequel Older Mousie (1932); her other titles include Janet and Felicity, the Young Horsebreakers (1937) and non-fiction works for children learning to ride and care for horses.

Marion St. John Webb

MARION ST. JOHN WEBB (1888-1930)

Author of fiction and poetry for children, including the well-known Knock Three Times! (1917) and the Mr Papingay series, including Mr Papingay and the Little Round House (1924), Mr Papingay's Ship (1925), Mr Papingay's Caravan (1929), and Mr Papingay's Flying Shop (1931).


Author of four popular children's books with Katharine Hull, most famously The Far-Distant Oxus (1937), written when the pair were still teenagers, about six children on their own in Exmoor; later titles were Escape to Persia (1938), Oxus in Summer (1939), and Crowns (1947).

Ursula Moray Williams

(married name John)

Children's author best known for Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse (1938), about a toy pony who sets out in the world to make a living; others include Gobbolino the Witch's Cat (1942), The Three Toymakers (1945), Malkin's Mountains (1948), and The Noble Hawks (1959).
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