Monday, June 2, 2014

List Highlights: Connections

One of Olive Katharine Parr's pseudonymous novels

If you're a regular reader of my posts on new additions to my Overwhelming List, you'll already know how much I love finding siblings, friends, lovers, colleagues, and others connected in some way to authors already on my list.  It somehow gives me a feeling of creating a "big picture" of what was happening in the literary world sort of below the radar, as it were—among the authors who aren't already thoroughly canonical and therefore thoroughly researched.  Or perhaps it's just that it reminds me that these are real people I'm dealing with, not just names on books.  They had real relationships, real heartbreaks and victories, and real, often fascinating, lives outside of the now-forgotten books they wrote.

Amy (Renie) Shute, from daughter Nerina's memoir

My most recent update contained a nice selection of these hitherto unknown (to me) connections, and I thought I'd dedicate a post to them.

Did anyone else know that novelist and criminologist F. Tennyson Jesse had an older sister who also wrote?  I certainly didn't, until John Herrington pointed out STELLA MARY JESSE to me.  We've been able to trace Eve in Egypt (1929), a novel (or possibly a travel book) about a young woman's travels, but mystery lingers: Her Times obituary says that she also published novels under the pseudonym Stella Simson, but if she did all trace of them seems to have been lost—neither the British Library catalogue nor Worldcat produce any results under that name—nor, for that matter, under any likely alternate spellings, assuming the Times could have spelled the name wrong.  Did she in fact publish such novels?  And if so, what could have become of them?  Yet another middlebrow mystery, I'm afraid.

And speaking of mysteries, two of the connections in this update are mysterious ones in a different sense of the word.  I already wrote a while back about the discovery (again, with John's help) of the third Hocking sister, JOAN CAREW SHILL, the baby sister of mystery writers Anne Hocking and Elizabeth Nisot.  Shill didn't live up to Hocking's or Nisot's output, publishing only a single mystery, Murder in Paradise, in 1946, but it's still nice to have tracked down the real identities of the three novelist daughters mentioned in a bio of novelist Joseph Hocking.

WINIFRED BLAZEY's connection to mystery is a bit more tenuous.  She was a close friend and roommate of mystery great Gladys Mitchell for at least a decade or so in the 1920s and 1930s, which includes the time that Mitchell was writing her first novels featuring Dame Beatrice Bradley.  The two must have remained close, since Mitchell dedicated her 1947 novel Death and the Maiden to Blazey as well.  Blazey later wrote four novels of her own, which seem to also take crime as their theme though they appear to be more psychological than whodunit in nature.  The Spectator compared her rather dark debut, Dora Beddoe (1936), to Francis Iles' Malice Aforethought (not entirely favorably).  Her fourth and final novel, Grace Before Meat (1942), sounds more cheerful.  Described as "a cheerful period piece with a murder thrown in for good measure," it's about a young woman taking charge of a village school.

Dedication of Gladys Mitchell's Death and the Maiden (1947)

A couple of connections to girls' author Elsie Oxenham in this update—one quite close, and one distinctly peripheral.  I only recently discovered that Oxenham (whose real name was Elsie Dunkerley) had a sister who also wrote fiction.  ERICA DUNKERLEY published four novels under the pseudonym Pamela Hamilton, but I couldn't locate any details about them.  Has anyone come across them?  She later adopted the family pseudonym, publishing a biography of the girls' father John Oxenham under the name Erica Oxenham.

Olive Katharine Parr (inscribed with her pen name)

The other connection is quite peripheral indeed.  OLIVE KATHARINE PARR, a novelist best known for her activism in fighting for the preservation of Dartmoor, was apparently the inspiration behind John Oxenham's novel The Lady of the Moor.  Parr's own fiction sounds a bit overwrought to me, but perhaps I'm wrong?

Then there are two more close connections that I can't believe I hadn't come across before.  Leonard Woolf's sister, BELLA SIDNEY WOOLF, was apparently a successful children's author, as well as having written the first Western guidebook to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka).  And I only recently realized that novelist Compton Mackenzie had a wife who was a rather well-known author in her day as well.  FAITH COMPTON MACKENZIE (rather odd that use of her husband's first name as part of her own?) was best known for three popular volumes of memoirs about the couple's lives, but later in life she also published two novels, The Crooked Wall (1954) and Tatting (1957).

And finally, it's rare that I come across a mother and daughter as part of the same update, but the fascinating and scandalous Shutes seem to have been exceptions to most rules.  AMY SHUTE was famous for a wild personal life and for working her way through six husbands (two of them simultaneously!), but also for the scandalous (and relevantly-titled) novel, The Unconscious Bigamist (1911).  I haven't found a lot of details about it, but it seems to have created quite a stir.  She wrote a second novel as well, which seems to have gotten less attention.  Her daughter, NERINA SHUTE, is much better-known.  A prominent film critic and journalist, Nerina also courted scandal.  Her debut novel, Another Man's Poison (1931), featured an "ambisextrous" female character.  Her biographical novels about literary figures were less controversial, but in her mid-80s she published a memoir, Passionate Friendships (1992), in which she frankly discussed her bisexuality and her various exploits.  She also published a memoir of her mother, Come Into the Sunlight (1958), which would surely make interesting reading!

The short bios for each of these authors are below.

(full name Clara Winifred Blazey)
Best known in mystery trivia as a close friend and sometime roommate of Gladys Mitchell, Blazey also wrote four novels in her own right—Dora Beddoe (1936), Indian Rain (1938), The Crouching Hill (1941), and Grace Before Meat (1942) which likewise take crime as their theme.

(aka Pamela Hamilton, aka Erica Oxenham)
Sister of girls’ author Elsie Oxenham; author of four novels in the 1920s and 1930s, including Out of the Strong (1925), Whin Fell (1927), Southernwood (1929), and Then Came Nicholas (1936); she later wrote a biography of the girls’ father, who wrote as John Oxenham (1942).

(married name Simson, aka Jane Starr, aka Stella Simson???)
Sister of F. Tennyson Jesse and author of Eve in Egypt (1929), about a young woman's travels; her Times obituary says she also wrote novels as Stella Simson, but if so no trace of them seems to remain.

Wife of novelist Compton Mackenzie; biographer, memoirist, and novelist; her three volumes of memoir, As Much as I Dare (1938), More Than I Should (1940), and Always Afternoon (1943), were popular; late in life she published the novels The Crooked Wall (1954) and Tatting (1957).

(aka Beatrice Chase)
Poet, novelist, campaigner for Dartmoor preservation, and inspiration for John Oxenham's novel The Lady of the Moor, Parr's fiction, Christian and romantic in theme, includes A White-Handed Saint (1913), A Dartmoor Galahad (1923), Lady Agatha (1926), and Patricia Lancaster's Revenge (1928).

An early work by Parr focused on London slums

JOAN CAREW SHILL (1908-1978)
(née Hocking)
From a family of novelists—daughter of Joseph Hocking and sister of Anne Hocking and Elizabeth Nisot—Shill published a single novel, Murder in Paradise (1946), a mystery written (and perhaps set?) in Mauritius where her husband was a government minister.

(née Pepper-Staveley, other married names Brass, Breene, Sellers, White, and Sparrow, aka A. B. E. Shute)
Mother of journalist Nerina Shute, as well-known for her wild personal life (including six husbands) as for her two novels—The Unconscious Bigamist (1911), described as a "rip-roaring Edwardian novel," and The Cross Roads (1917).

NERINA SHUTE (1908-2004)
(married names Day and Marshall)
Film critic, memoirist, novelist, and daughter of scandalous Edwardian novelist Amy Shute, remembered in Come Into the Sunlight (1958); fiction includes her autobiographical debut, Another Man's Poison (1931), and novels about Fanny Burney, Percy Shelley, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Endpapers of Bella Sidney Woolf's Dear Sweet Anne

(married names Lock and Southorn)
Sister of Leonard Woolf and author of the first Western guidebook to Ceylon (1914), youth wrote several popular children’s books, such as All in a Castle Fair (1900), Dear Sweet Anne (1906), The Twins in Ceylon (1909), More About the Twins in Ceylon (1911), and The Golden House (1912).


  1. A Brontë-esque title always grabs my attention! I found this little bit:

    ENGLISH COUNTRY LIFE; WHIN FELL. By Pamela Hamilton. New York: Longmans, Green & Co. $2.50.
    "THIS novel of the English countryside is concerned with the age-old themes of love and labor and human service. Margery Eager, the central figure, is a girl who at first is vaguely discontented with life, not because she finds her environment particularly onerous, but because she has no proper vent for her abundant energies."

    Now I can settle down and savor the rest of your delicious new post : )

    1. Fantastic! Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like it could be very good or, well, not, but definitely great to know something about her work. I'll add this to my database. I do love it when readers do some of my research for me! :-)

  2. Quite a lot of info about Erica in Monica Godfrey's book 'The World of Elsie J Oxenham and her Books' (2003) - too much to type out here, anyway. Erica used the Oxenham surname for the books she co-wrote with father John as well as for the 2 books she wrote about him - 'Lake of Dreams' in particular seems more her than him.

    1. Thank you, Ruth! I've made a note of this book and will check it out when I have some time. My first Elsie Oxenham is still waiting patiently on my "to read" shelf and when I finally get to it I may want to know more about the whole family anyway.

  3. I can tell you a bit about the family, and our website - I am Administrator for the EJO Society - has some family information, though it is naturally mainly about Elsie herself. Have a look at the FAQ section, in particular, on if you want to know more.

  4. Oh, fine. "Grace Before Meat." ANOTHER school-based mystery to track down. SCOTT! Think of your public! Tom

    1. Well, if you manage to track that one down, Tom, do let me know. I think you MIGHT find it a challenge!

  5. I am enchanted by the cover of Patricia Lancaster's Revenge (now there's a snappy title for you!). It clearly involves walking on water. I wonder if the matching bathing suits - toning beautifully with the setting sun in the background I notice - are significant?

    And just what is she wearing on her head?

    1. It certainly seems like an illustrator was having some fun, doesn't it, Cestina? I can't fathom what on earth they're doing, but the man seems oddly perky and cheerful compared to the rather uncertain-looking woman, doesn't he? But perhaps she's just uncertain about that hat...

  6. Fascinating post! I wonder if Mary Hocking is related to the Hockings you've mentioned. I'm just starting a Mary Hocking novel today, 'Good Daughters'.

    1. Thanks, Peggy. I believe I did try to find connections with Mary Hocking when I first posted on the Hockings, but didn't find anything. She could be a cousin or distant relative, but I couldn't find anything suggesting a closer link.

  7. Mary Hocking has recently died, so we can't even ask her! It was her real name, though.
    I also meant to say that the endpapers you show from 'Dear Sweet Anne' were also used for some reprints of Elsie Oxenham's first book, 'Goblin Island' (1907).

    1. Wonderful, Ruth, another example of recycled art! I had never realized how frequently that apparently happened in the early and mid 20th c.

    2. Once the publisher had paid for teh picture - they tended at that time to purchase the copyright outright, or use 'staffer' artists - they would get as much mileage from it as possible. There is a picture Elsie Anna Woods painted that Collins used for 3 EJO titles and in an annual containing a version of part of one of them, and then again in another annual for a completely different story by another author - and probably elsewhere that no one has noticed yet!.

    3. I guess they were into recycling long before it was a routine fact of life!


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