Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Filling in the blanks (part 2)

I posted not long ago about some of the most interesting new information I've come across—largely thanks to John Herrington's tireless research—about authors who were already on my Overwhelming List, as opposed to authors newly added to that list, which is what most of my previous updates have been composed of. Last time, I focused on authors of mainstream and genre fiction, but I also added quite a lot of new information on school story authors, the lesser-known of which are notoriously difficult to track, since so many wrote under pseudonyms and publishers and critics often didn't take them seriously enough to document them as clearly as they might have other authors.

Not surprisingly, we found several of these authors had some kind of connection to schools themselves. For example, John found that E. E. (EDITH ELIZA) COWPER (1859-1933), author of girls' stories "in the Bessie Marchant tradition," as Sims and Clare describe them, was married to a schoolmaster, while MARY ALICE FAID (1897-1990), author of the 10 "Trudy" stories, which trace their lead character from school years to adulthood, was herself a schoolteacher for several years before her marriage.

WINIFRED ELLAMS (1917-     ), who only wrote a single school story, The Girls of Lakeside School (1949), nevertheless probably tops all other school authors for the sheer number of connections she has to the profession. She was not only the daughter of a headmaster and a teacher herself, but she also had four siblings who were all teachers! According to a comment left by Ellams' niece last year on another site, Ellams, who was born in Newcastle, was then 97 years old and still living in the Midlands.

Grace Easton's one school story

MINA FAHY (c1861-1916) is also a minor figure in the school genre, publishing only a single title, St. Clement's, in 1910, but it was interesting to discover that she was born in Ireland and, as of the 1911 census at least, she and her sister were running a small school of their own in Henley-on-Thames. And John discovered that GRACE M[ARY]. EASTON (1895-1985), who published The School on the Hill (1940), set in a school for children of missionaries, was—perhaps not surprisingly—a missionary herself, as well as being the daughter of a missionary. She spent at least a portion of her life in China.

Anne Treneer, whom we now know was aka S. K. Ensdaile

Perhaps the best known of the authors we discovered had real-life school experience is one about whom new information only recently revealed has allowed me to merge what were previously two entries on my list. Formerly, S. K. ENSDAILE was the unidentified author of four school stories praised by Sims & Clare for vivid characterization. But thanks to a revelation in a recent edition of ANNE TRENEER's memoirs of life as a schoolteacher—School House in the Wind (1953), Cornish Years (1949), and A Stranger in the Midlands (1952)—we now know that Treneer and Ensdaile were one and the same. There's little doubt that there are more similarly unidentified school authors who are also the pseudonyms of writers of other types of books, and hopefully more such revelations will be made in the course of time. For now, though, the Ensdaile entry has been removed and the pseudonym added in the entry for Treneer—one fewer author to keep track of!

Inscription by Wilfred Oscar Bishop ("Freda Russell")
to his sister, courtesy of his grand-niece Jennie

Or, actually, I could say two fewer authors to keep track of. I recently heard from the grand-niece of Wilfred Oscar Bishop, who, it turns out, was the author of three school stories, The Island School (1926), Dormitory No. 19 (1926), and Smugglers' Gap (1927), under the name FREDA RUSSELL. Sims & Clare said of the books that they "should not be missed by anyone who enjoys daft thrillers." Nevertheless, Bishop clearly doesn't belong on a list of women authors, so I've removed him from my list. Many thanks to Jennie, his grand-niece, for providing this information.

Title page and frontispiece from The Island School by "Freda Russell"

We also had to work through a couple of other pseudonym questions. For example, ANN ERSKINE is credited with a single girls' school story, Kath of Kinmantel (1958), but John discovered that Erskine is actually the pseudonym of an identified man, John Erskine Tuck, and an as-yet-unidentified woman, Ann Hawkesworth. So, we have a bit more information, but the net result is the same—an unidentified woman writer.

And, also interesting in terms of pseudonym confusion (and some of the confusion still remains) is SYBIL HADDOCK. She was the author of several girls' stories of the 1940s (and 1950s?). A couple of months ago, in a comment on this blog, David Redd noted his suspicion that the final two Haddock titles I had listed, published in the 1950s, are probably nothing more than reprints of earlier titles. I'll bet he's correct, but I haven't been able to definitely confirm it, so for now I've kept all five titles in my entry for Haddock. If anyone can confirm this for sure, please do let me know. 

Obituary of Sybil Haddock, from
County Press, June 2, 1979

David also mentioned that, in addition to her girls' stories, Haddock appears to have written a column for the Methodist Recorder under the name Margaret Harwood, and some of those writings also appeared in book form under the Harwood name. I immediately assumed that this meant that the author's real name was Margaret Harwood, and she had used the Haddock name for her fiction. That somehow seemed like the more expected scenario. But when I turned it over to John, he came back with the information that she was in fact Sybil Fern Haddock (1887-1979), née Nume, born in Yorkshire. Interestingly, her obituary mentions the Methodist Recorder writings, but does not note that they were written under a pseudonym (it also doesn't mention her girls' stories, but that is perhaps not unexpected). And by the by, I just noticed in glancing back at the obit that her husband, Mr. Wilfrid Haddock, was headmaster of Niton County Primary School for 35 years up to and including World War II. Thanks to David for getting the ball rolling on identifying Haddock!

Brenda Colloms, who had earlier penned two school stories
under her earlier married name Brenda Cross

Among John's other discoveries was the fact that BRENDA CROSS, who published two Breary-esque school stories—Barbara's Worst Term (1950) and Barbara in the Lower Fifth (1953)—was an earlier married name of journalist and Picturegoer film critic Brenda Colloms, and he even found an interesting obituary and photo. So, it makes sense that her two girls' stories feature a film star's daughter, since she knew a bit about film stars.

When I first added WINIFRED DONALD (1917-1999) to my list, I noted that a source had mentioned that she also wrote mysteries for adults. But although John was able to identify her and provide her life dates (and the fact that she graduated from Aberdeen University in 1939), the mysteries she supposedly wrote remain, well, a mystery. John reported finding a letter in the Hutchinson archive, dated 1948, in which Donald writes of giving up writing for children now that she is writing adult fiction. But the additional layer of mystery here is that the five books we know of by her all appeared after 1948. Does this mean there are additional, earlier children's titles, perhaps under another name? How does one "give up" children's fiction if one has not in fact written any? And how to explain that the five books we know of were all published after she says she is giving up children's books for adult fiction? Perhaps the adult fiction didn't work out after all? Or, as John suggested, perhaps the adult fiction referred to fiction for periodicals rather than books. For now, however, it is all genuinely mysterious.

Sometimes there is so little information available about an author that a definite identification cannot be made, but a very probable one can be. I've added probable life dates and other information for several school authors, with the appropriate note that the identification is not definite. These include AUDREY DINES (?1900-?1987), CECILIA [FRANCES] FALCON (?1889-?1959), and CICELY FRASER (?1914-?1950). Some other more definite identifications that may be of interest to fans of the genre are MAUDE S[ARAH]. FORSEY (1885-1971), MARGARET C[ECILE]. FIELD (1903/4-1975), BERTHA MARY FISHER (1859-1914), LUCY GLADYS FITZPATRICK (1892-1970), and BARBARA HECTOR (1902-1985).

And finally, you know how I love finding connections between authors on my list, and this time I have one between two girls' school authors. It turns out that BERTHA LEONARD (1883-?1959), author of a dozen or so school stories and other children's fiction, was the mother LEONORA FRY (1913-1999), who published a single school title, For the School's Sake (1934). Steve at Bear Alley was the one to trace this connection and detail it, and you can read his very interesting post about the mother and daughter here. He was unable to definitely confirm Leonard's death date, hence my question mark, but there is no question of the connection between the two.

That's all of the newly-acquired info on school story authors for now, but John is still working his way through some of my other untrackable authors, so I hope there will be more interesting discoveries to come. Of course, if anyone reads this who happens to have information to clarify any of the uncertainties above, please do contact me.

Friday, October 23, 2015

An American Digression: HELEN HULL, Heat Lightning (1932)

My copy of Heat Lightning, a happy book sale find

It's been far too long since I've reviewed a Persephone title here. Sometimes I get so distracted by the thrill of the chase after hopelessly obscure authors whose books must be tracked down in libraries in Dayton or Toronto, that I forget there are quite a few really marvellous authors who have already been rediscovered and made readily available. So, even if this American novel of the early 1930s is a bit of a digression from my usual British authors, I'm very glad I happened across it at the library's Big Book Sale in September.

In fact, Heat Lightning has already become a favorite. It's another of those wonderful Persephone selections in which, as they put it in their blurb for the novel, "everything happens and nothing happens." It takes place in the summer of 1930, less than a year after the stock market crash that ushered in the Depression years, and follows the family turmoil that Amy Norton finds when she, in her own turmoil over her relationship with her husband, and with her children away at camp, returns to her home town in Michigan to spend a few days regrouping emotionally by sinking into her old familial roles.

Helen Hull in the 1930s, from the Persephone site

Hull manages to create an astonishing array of memorable characters, each of them so clearly delineated and recognizable that they seem to walk up to you and say hello. I've made a dizzying attempt to compile most of them, just for a demonstration, though I don't promise that I haven't left anyone else. Here goes:

In addition to Amy, there's her parents Albert and Catherine Westover; her grandmother, who lives next door with her housekeeper Lavinia and a disabled man, Curly, who helps with gardening (and who turns out to be a half-brother to Amy's father—an illegitimate child of Amy's grandfather); Amy's sister Mary and her husband Henry, and her brother Ted and his French wife Felice; her neurotic aunt Lora and Lora's sons Tom and Laurance (and his wife Emma) and her daughter Harriet, who is at the least flirting with lesbianism (Hull makes a clever connection to Radclyffe Hall's scandalous novel of a few years earlier, saying of this character, "Poor Harriet was a muddle. Her well of loneliness had brackish waters"); Amy's uncle Dewitt, who has gambled on the stock market and lost, and his wife Isabelle, whose self-esteem seems to be invested in her lavish redecorations of their home each year (they have a daughter, Sophie, who is out of town); Catherine's maid Lulu, who is "in trouble" as a result of a fling with Tom; Charley Johnson, Amy's grandmother's former chauffeur, whom Grandmother set up with his own garage; the Italian family down the street, who provide bootleg liquor to certain family members; and, finally, Amy's husband Geoffrey, who appears late in the novel (her daughter Buff and son Bobs figure prominently but never appear). Whew! How's that for a cast?

A charming original dustjacket (not my copy, sadly)

Now this might sound overwhelming—I know I've had problems before with novels that have vast casts of characters, those where you need a cheat sheet to figure out what's happening. But I have to say that, here, Hull introduces each character so skillfully and makes them so distinctive that I never felt confused about who was who. The developments of the plot are numerous, too, but they center around the events leading up to, and the chaotic aftereffects of, the death of the family's strong-willed, hard-headed, but irresistible matriarch, who has been a leading figure in the town for decades and the backbone of the family since her husband's death many years before.

There are a number of soap opera-ish elements here—a pregnant maid, a bankrupt uncle, a revelation of an illegitimate child—but they are so intelligently and insightfully handled that they simply tug the reader irresistibly forward from the opening pages to the final paragraph. I think it's because Hull succeeds in making this family seem so real. They are people, some likeable, some not, but all interesting, and we care what happens to them.

Original Book-of-the-Month Club flyer, happily found inside my copy

If one were to read the novel (as surely some of its original readers would have—particularly since it was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection) purely for its family saga, one would find it engrossing and satisfying. But it is also a very thoughtful and provocative novel. Amy's observations about family ties, conflict, motherhood, love, and death are perceptive and provocative, and it strikes me as a perfect novel for re-reading, since undoubtedly some of its subtleties will only be revealed at a second or third perusal.

In fact, it's been quite challenging for me to select just two or three of Amy's observations to share here. For example, I love the compassionate metaphor she comes up with about her disruptive, neurotic aunt Lora, whose marriage ended years ago because of her husband's infidelity:

Suddenly Amy's irritation dissolved in a kind of pity without tenderness for the woman. Lora had to run on because she was such a mess inside. Tom drank, and Lora prattled about bootlegging. Laurance had escaped her, and she lamented his ruin. And Harriet—her one daughter—they hadn't come to Harriet yet. Lora was all loose ends; her bright strings of colored stones, her ear-rings were a symbol. Walk past a counter with trays of loose beads at a five and ten cent store, and you had Lora. Her string had broken when she failed with Tom Senior.

Amy's observations about her parents' happy and supportive marriage help her to shed light on her own troubled marriage:

Pride in her mother dropped through her like clear water. "She's wonderful with him. She meets him where he stands, not where she is, herself. She doesn't care about justifying herself to him. He's not really blaming her for anything, he's yelling about other things, serious things." She stood at the top of the stairs, her hand hard against the banister. "When Geoffrey yells at me, I holler back. Always. But why should I do all the work? I want Geoffrey to know where I am. Maybe you can't both know, at once, can't both see what's pinching the other into such unreasonableness."

And I also have to share this observation about parenting, which spoke to me even though I don't have kids myself, and so may be even more striking for those of you who are parents:

Getting away from your children for a while was a good thing, thought Amy. You realized them more completely as people when you weren't concerned with obscuring details about hands that needed washing and clothes that needed mending, and manners that, like the clothes, needed mending. No one had ever told her it would be such an absorbing and delicate and delightful task to be friends with her own children. It differed from friendship with an adult because of the subtle variation from day to day. They grew up by surprising jerks, and if you weren't alert, you were left behind where they had been yesterday and last week.

Heat Lightning's engrossing family stories and Amy's musings about them would be worth the price of admission in themselves. But I think this novel deserves attention just as much for the light it sheds on a pivotal moment in American history. While reading it, I kept feeling what a compelling supplement Hull's book is to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath or Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road, or the noir thrillers that helped Americans escape their woes during those years. Because Heat Lightning in many ways gives us "the rest of the story" in regard to the early days after the crash.

My copy isn't the Persephone edition, but how could I not show their
endpaper design anyway, a fabric called Memories of the Alamo, from 1929

We've read about the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age hedonism and greed that led to the stock market crash, and about the soup kitchens and unemployment that resulted, the terrible Dust Bowl in American agriculture and the resulting poverty that Steinbeck and Caldwell portrayed, and the cynicism and ruggedness that became a factor of American culture in the 1930s—the gangsters and bootleggers, and the stoical Hollywood leads that stared boldly back at the harshness of life.

But Hull's brilliance here, I think, is in showing us how ordinary middle-class life went on in those early days, much as usual but with ominous cracks already beginning to show. These are ordinary Americans, as opposed to the iconic, symbolic, rather distant figures from much other Depression-era literature and film. If the novel is mainly concerned with the emotional and social lives of one family in small town Michigan, we nevertheless see glimpses throughout of the earthshaking events of the outside world—haunting the novel's main focus, you might say. There are occasional mentions of Wall Street investors leaping to their deaths from office windows, and even an occasional glance at local evidence of economic decline, as in this passage late in the novel:

"There's another fellow"—he pointed across the road—"who meant to get rich quick. Look at the wreck." Just opposite the car stood an elaborate and flimsy wooden gate, from which the paint had chipped, CHARMWOOD SITES in faded red letters over the shallow arch. In the field beyond was a checkering of roads, grass in the old ruts, and rows of unfinished two-story houses, wind and sun blackened. "He couldn't raise the money to finish his scheme. That was Moody, you remember, Cathy?"

It's a fascinating and perhaps unique snapshot of a moment in time, when American culture was just on the cusp of an irrevocable shift, with the ground in middle-class America just beginning to quiver, its citizens unaware of just how large an upheaval was headed their way. And in the way that it captures that moment, I think the novel is a truly amazing achievement.

As a side note, according to Persephone's bio, Hull wrote a total of 17 novels from the 1920s to the 1960s. She must have been quite successful, as this novel was a 1932 selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, which would have ensured it a substantial readership. I imagine quite a few people have been reading Heat Lightning since it was reprinted by Persephone, but I wonder if any of you have proceeded to track down other of her books? I'm very curious as to whether there are other treasures among her remaining body of work. I know, there I go again, seeking ever greater obscurity, but in this case it appears several of her titles may be available from the Hathi Trust, so perhaps I'll manage to explore one or two of Hull's other titles without having to bother any overworked librarians in Dayton or Toronto…

Monday, October 19, 2015

JOSEPHINE ELDER, Sister Anne Resigns (1932) & Doctor's Children (1954)

Josephine Elder (better known to most readers for her school stories) is anything but a literary writer when it comes to her adult fiction. She is completely matter-of-fact and no-nonsense in her approach—no fancy symbolism or gushing, poetic prose here—and her stories are basically socially-conscious melodramas. But if that sounds like the beginning of a negative review, think again, because she is also—as many readers of her school stories would attest—a stellar storyteller. It's terribly hard not to care about her characters and the often fascinating events of her novels, which offer wonderful slices of life and—particularly—insights into her characters' professional lives. That her books are not always entirely satisfying as novels ultimately takes a back seat—for me, at least—to how interesting they are in other ways.

I read my first adult novel by Elder, Lady of Letters (1949), more than a year ago, and I confess I was a bit lukewarm on it. I don't remember a lot about it, and may have to re-read it soon in light of how much I liked the second and third of her novels that I've read. Somehow I knew that her other novels were going to pay off more, and I quietly collected several of her other books for my TBR shelves. I've since read two of her girls' stories (including The Scholarship Girl at Cambridge (1926), which I reviewed here), and now I've read two more of her adult novels and enjoyed them very much indeed.

In my earlier post, I noted that one of my favorite things about Scholarship Girl was that it’s one of the only novels I know of in the early to mid-century years in which the main character is a young woman whose scholarly and career ambitions are consistently given validity over and beyond her potential for romance. When does that ever happen in middlebrow fiction? A heroine without a hero? Absurd! It might perhaps be a bit less of an anomaly in the context of a school story, where romance is more or less necessarily absent, but the heroine of Scholarship Girl is, after all, a college-aged young woman, so at the very least some fantasies of romance, even in lieu of a real live paramour, might have been expected. 

Blurb from back cover of Greyladies edition of Sister Anne Resigns

In fact, I've been trying to think of other novels of the period in which a woman's career is given such a central focus. Dorothy Whipple's High Wages comes to mind, and perhaps one or two others, but in the enormous majority of novels I recall, the heroines may sometimes have friends—or enemies—who are very concerned with their work, but they are rarely ambitious professionals themselves. And in the presentation of such supporting characters, serious career concern in a woman—serious enough to put at risk one’s chances of marrying and living happily ever after—seems generally to be a subject for criticism or outright mockery.

If I recall correctly (it's been a while), this is true, for example, of E. M. Delafield's Faster, Faster, in which the main character pushes herself beyond her limits because (the novel seems to be saying) of her over-inflated and rather self-righteous sense of her own importance. That "type" even becomes a sort of stock character in humorous fiction of the time—the tireless campaigner determined to save the world but boring everyone around her senseless with her pontifications and, usually, her socially inept personality and self-absorption. When they're taken at all seriously, they're most often dismissed as trying to be like men, or having lost touch with the real meaning of life, or else as frumpy women destined for spinsterhood, rather than as women who are ambitious and talented and capable. And these are just the women writers—it's hardly necessary to note that male authors were very often even more critical and mocking of career women.

Alas, all of this is often enough still true today…

So I found this career focus in The Scholarship Girl at Cambridge to be an irresistible change of pace. And to some extent the same focus is at the heart of Sister Anne Resigns, published six years after Scholarship Girl, and of Doctor's Children, published more than two decades after that.

As you might expect from the titles, Sister Anne Resigns deals with a young nurse, while Doctor's Children traces the experiences of a middle-aged doctor and her family. As Elder (whose real name was Olive Potter) was herself a practicing doctor at a time when relatively few women occupied such a role, the details of both characters' professional lives are fascinating and clearly drawn vividly from real life.

I found both novels to be compulsively readable, but I particularly recommend Sister Anne Resigns for those interested in the medical angle. Specifically, its strength is its portrayal of the various kinds of women who become nursing sisters, and the effects that a gruelling, rigidly disciplined profession can have on them. Some are kind, some are cruel, some are practically demented with the petty powers they wield, and some are merely absorbed by their work at the expense of social interaction. All of them are interesting, though, and they ring so true that they must have been based on Elder's own experiences. And when, for example, I was reading about Anne trying desperately to save three children, each near death from different ailments and all arriving in the ward in a matter of hours, it would have been hard for anything short of a major earthquake to distract my attention (a minor one would surely have been a mere annoyance).

Doctor's Children, on the other hand, focuses on a heroine who takes up her largely abandoned medical career again when her husband abandons her and their children. It's a bit more concerned with family life and with the difficulties of the children and a bit less concerned with Barbara's work life. But what there is of her career is particularly interesting because she reactivates her career as a doctor just as the National Health Service is being implemented. Elder offers insight into the impacts of the NHS on various of the medical professionals in the novel, and the discussions about it (largely negative) are quite interesting. I found the sections focused on Barbara's children to be less entertaining, but even there, her son's involvement with an early version of a street gang offers some insight into the delinquency that became a major social concern after World War II.

I should certainly mention that in both of these novels Elder reveals some degree of anti-Semitism—both in stereotypical portrayals of Jewish characters and in her characters' condescending or contemptuous reactions to them. It's rather odd and puzzling, since, for example, in Sister Anne Resigns, Anne becomes friends with one Jewish character (who doesn't fit her stereotypical ideas) even while being scornful of some of the Jewish women she treats in the course of her work (who apparently do fit her stereotypes). This is not any kind of dominant or prevalent theme in either novel, and there is less of it in Doctor's Children than in the earlier work, but it's something you should be aware of before reading the novels. It rather took me by surprise, since Elder is in so many ways so ahead of her time and is generally such a sensitive author, but obviously racism (as well as other –isms) has been a blind spot for many writers.

Blurb from back cover of Doctor's Children

It's also a bit frustrating for me that in these novels, unlike the earlier Scholarship Girl at Cambridge, Elder seems unable to allow her characters to continue to prioritize their careers over romance. I wonder if she was pressured by her publisher to provide "happy endings," because in neither case does the romantic plot development ring completely true, as if Elder herself couldn't relate to it. How I would have loved for her to be able to produce a novel about an unmarried professional woman like herself without such developments! But at least Elder acknowledges the complications and conflicts in her characters' decisions, and perhaps, in view of the times in which these novels were published, the characters are already radical enough just by virtue of having careers.

All but one of Elder's adult novels have been reprinted by Greyladies, though only two remain in print at the moment. Sister Anne Resigns is one of those two, however, and the other, The Encircled Heart, also about a woman doctor, is on my TBR list as well.

If Elder's novels are not always completely satisfying, they're nevertheless some of the most fascinating records I've ever come across of one area of women's experiences in the first half of the 20th century, and an area that is woefully underrepresented in other fiction of the time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Filling in the blanks (part 1)

Last week, I quietly finished an unusual update to my Overwhelming List—and the secondary Mystery List and War List as well. Generally, as you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, my updates involve adding a whole slew of new authors to the list, after which I spend some time discussing authors or tidbits that struck me as particularly interesting. But this update was a bit different.

I've mentioned researcher John Herrington here before, as he has been an enormous help in fleshing out personal details about some of my most obscure authors. He enjoys tracking down and identifying forgotten authors, and loves nothing more than a particularly challenging puzzle. So a couple of months ago I suggested that I compile the authors from my Overwhelming List for which I was still missing crucial pieces of information, and he could see what he was able to find. He took me up on the offer, and the new update was the result of his labors—additional information about dozens of authors already on the list. Sometimes this consists of only the basics, such as life and death info, married or maiden names, etc. (and for authors who have been "lost" for decades, it's often exciting enough just to have made a positive identification!), but sometimes there are also additional interesting tidbits.

So I thought I'd mention a few of those in a couple of new posts about the update. This post is devoted to authors of adult fiction, while the second post, which should come along in a week or two, will focus on children's authors and particularly school story authors, many of whom are notoriously hard to identify due to pseudonyms and to the fact that fact that publishers and critics have never taken the genre seriously enough to pay close attention to the authors involved.

One of the authors on my "help list" was OLIVE MOORE, a modernist writer who published three highly experimental novels and an essay collection in the 1920s and 1930s, after which she sank into oblivion. By the time she was rediscovered by academics, who have recently taken a renewed interest in her position in modernist literature, the details of this rather private woman's life had been more or less lost. A friend who knew her in the 1930s clearly had no idea, in his memoir of her, that she had ever been married (or, for that matter, had a son who was given up for adoption to a nurse in the hospital where he was born).

When I added her to my list initially, several websites were confidently asserting that she was Constance Edith Vaughan (1904-c1970). They noted that she had been married to Serbian sculptor Sava Botzaris (sometimes Botzaritch), who had done a well-known bust of her, but those researchers either never found the marriage certificate or they assumed (not unreasonably, perhaps, considering how carefully Moore seems to have covered her tracks) that it was simply inaccurate—more on that in a moment. At any rate, this identification was repeated in numerous other sources.

I added Moore to my "help list" for John with what now seems a rather naïve comment: "I feel like this should be an easy one to nail down, but all the online sources just have the c1970 death date." I thought he would, in his wizardly way, simply find a death record and we would be set.

Dalkey Archive's 1992 edition of Moore's
works, now out of print

Instead, he emailed me back that he thought it possible that the identification was an incorrect one altogether. He did locate the Constance Edith Vaughan that other sources had thought was Moore, and even found the death date (1986) that had eluded them, but noted that the marriage certificate gave her name clearly as Constance B. Vaughan. He also found that Constance Edith Vaughan appeared to have spent her entire life in Hereford, where she had been born, which didn't fit with what was known of Olive Moore.

In the end, John turned the mystery over to Steve at Bear Alley, who finally put all the pieces together in a fascinating post here. With the result that I have now revised my entry for Olive Moore to read "pseudonym of Miriam Constance Beaumont-Vaughan." Both women, it turns out, were born in Hereford, which may have led to the confusion. Steve found many interesting facts about Moore, but sadly there are still many gaps in what we know of her life once she stopped publishing in the 1930s. Perhaps more tidbits will be unearthed as time goes on, particularly since she has now been correctly identified.

Although I did absolutely none of the legwork in identifying her, I'm happy to know that it was my naïve query to John that led to corrected information about this increasingly important literary figure. Now I'll have to decide whether to actually read any of her work. I've seen her work compared to that of Virginia Woolf, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it must be a bit more impenetrable in style than Woolf's; otherwise, how to explain how it could have been forgotten for several decades? I'll certainly let you all know if I give it a try.

Most of my other updates can be summarized a bit more briefly. For example, I was very pleased that John was able to identify several mystery writers for whom information had been lacking. For example, when Rue Morgue Press reprinted the two mysteries written by MAUREEN SARSFIELD, they reported that no one had been able to track her down, and I seem to recall that I speculated that perhaps the fact that she wrote so little might be because she died young. In fact, she lived for 13 more years after publishing her final novel, A Dinner for None (1948, reprinted as A Party for Lawty and Murder at Beechlands). John did find, however, that she published a bit more than we had thought. In addition to a non-mystery novel for adults, called Gloriana (1946), she published four children's stories under her real married name, Maureen Pretyman.

Thanks to John, I was also able to flesh out information on mystery writers JEAN EDMISTON (who wrote as Helen Robertson), ELAINE HAMILTON (many of whose novels, as I recently noted in my review of ANNIE HAYNES' Who Killed Charmian Karslake?, have been released as e-books), and SHELLEY SMITH. And, as I also noted in that review, thanks to the research of Curtis Evans, I was also able to flesh out my information on Haynes.

You know I always enjoy when I discover that authors on my list have prominent relatives or in-laws, and John unearthed three more such connections in this update. MURIEL HARRIS, a forgotten author of three novels in the 1930s, was, it turns out, the sister-in-law of modernist great Ford Madox Ford, whose name had been changed from Hueffer to Ford in 1919. At least, there was reported to be a marriage in there somewhere, although she lived with Oliver Madox Hueffer (himself a novelist) for at least a few years while Hueffer was still married to another woman.

Meanwhile, RUTH HOLLAND was for many years the sister-in-law of J. B. Priestley, after he married her sister Jane in the 1920s (they divorced in the 1950s). Having a famous connection doesn't seem to have helped her much, however, as her novels, too, are completely forgotten now.

And finally, however tentative the interest one might have in JENNY NICHOLSON, who just barely qualified for my list in the first place, having written a WWII-related book, Kiss the Girls Goodbye: On Life in the Women's Services (1944), it was intriguing to learn that she was the daughter of no lesser figures than poet and novelist Robert Graves and artist Nancy Nicholson. She was born Jenny Nicholson Graves, and her decision to use only the Nicholson name for her journalism and books might be taken as an effort to make it under her own steam, without the heady publicity a connection to her father would have brought. On the other hand, just a quick glance at some of the drama her childhood must have contained (see her mother's Wikipedia page) might also suggest that her use of her mother's name was a subtle way of taking sides in the family turmoil.

To squeeze out one more distant connection here, Nicholson's grandfather was painter Sir William Nicholson, and according to his own Wikipedia page, William spent the final years of his life as the companion (he was still married, and his wife refused to grant him a divorce) of yet another author from my list, MARGUERITE STEEN.

One final connection: I was already aware that PHYLLIS IRENE NORRIS was the cousin of girls' author GWENDOLINE COURTNEY, but John was able to find her dates and make the connection explicit—Gwendoline's father was the brother of Phyllis's mother. Phyllis was 2 years older than Gwendoline, being born in 1909, but she outlived her for several years, dying in Salisbury in 2004.

A few other quick tidbits:

DIANA MURRAY HILL (1910-1994), on my list as the author of a single novel about women factory workers in World War II, Ladies May Now Leave Their Machines (1944), was apparently quite a well-known stage actress in her day.

Elisabeth Fagan, 1916

ELISABETH FAGAN (1866-1939) was likewise an actress, as well as the author of four novels and one volume, From the Wings (1922), which appears to be a memoir of theatrical life. John also discovered a photo of her in the National Portrait Gallery.

I'm a big fan of DOROTHY EVELYN SMITH's novel Miss Plum and Miss Penny (1959) (the rest of her work is rather uneven), but had always assumed a definite identification would be virtually impossible in view of her rather generic names. John, however, was able to determine that she was born in 1893 (with a maiden name as generic as the rest, Jones!) and died in Southend-on-Sea, Essex in 1969.

In the words of The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, GERTIE WENTWORTH-JAMES was the author of "about fifty-five smartly witty novels, self-consciously progressive especially about sex, published between 1908 and 1929." In addition to her life dates (1874-1933), John found the sad detail that her widowed husband committed suicide the year after her death, and the perhaps even sadder one that his life had apparently become so lonely that his body was not discovered for nearly two weeks.

It's not often that two authors from my list merge into one, but additional information proved that MAUDE LITTLE, who wrote several novels under her own name, is actually also the bearer of the pseudonym HERBERT TREMAINE, best known for the WWI play The Handmaidens of Death (1919), which was revived a couple of years ago by the Southwark Playhouse in London. So, the separate Tremaine listing has been removed and the pseudonym added to Little's listing.

And finally, HELEN HAMILTON is hardly a big name no matter how you approach her. She was best known for The Compleat Schoolmarm (1917), a poem about the education of women, and also published three novels which do sound intriguing: My Husband Still (1914), about a working class marriage, The Iconoclast (1917), about a schoolteacher's romance, and Mountain Madness (1922). She may have been fading a bit in the public's memory by the time of her death in 1937, but she certainly deserved a more—shall we say—focused obituary than the one printed in the Aberdeen Press & Journal. It's a four paragraph obituary, which I will include below. The first paragraph is perfectly fine, in praise of Hamilton's apparently numerous talents. But reading on, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that Hamilton's sister had viewed the obituary as a golden opportunity for self-promotion:

The Late Miss Hamilton

We have lost a poet of considerable talent, as well as a most lovable personality, in Miss Helen Hamilton, who died after a long illness at Torphins last week. Her verse showed a delicacy of perception, a philosophy, and an awareness of beauty which gave pleasure to all who read them.

For many years Miss Helen Hamilton lived quietly at Elm Lodge, Torphins, with her artist sister, Miss Mary Elizabeth Hamilton. They had many friends in the district, and were within easy distance of their brother, Brig. Gen. Hamilton of Skene, and his family, to whom they paid frequent visits.

Miss Mary Hamilton has had several successful "one-man" shows of her paintings. Her work is of a distinctly high standard, and she has had pictures hung in the Royal Academy.

In her girlhood she was encouraged in painting by her father, the late Mr. George Hamilton of Skene, who was the friend of many well-known artists and connoisseurs, including Mr. William Graham, the patron of Burne-Jones. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Hamilton of Skene, is also a clever artist.

It's rather hilarious (if tragic) that by the final paragraph, the "she" being referenced isn't even the dear departed! One wonders how this dynamic played out while Helen and Mary were living together during those many years…

This post covers only a portion of the details I was able to add to my lists thanks to John's help. Stay tuned for part 2, focusing on children's authors, as soon as I can get it pulled together.

Friday, October 9, 2015

ANNIE HAYNES, Who Killed Charmian Karslake? (1929)

I admit that I still feel a little ambivalent about the rise of e-books. Part of the ambivalence may have to do with the apparent devaluation of books that they seem to have ushered in—well, e-books as well as the horrifying decline in the number of people who would ever consider reading a book in any format. But the larger part of my resistance has, I admit, always been considerably less about social concern and more about my fetish for old (and, for that matter, new) books and how they feel in my hands, the satisfaction of turning real pages, the smells, and all that jazz. I know many of you share that preference, so I won't bother to elaborate.

On the other hand, I also have to admit that lately, my resistance has been breaking down for purely pragmatic reasons. In the past year or so, Bello Books has released affordable e-books not only of more or less the complete works of Edith Olivier, one of my favorite unknowns, but, more recently, a whole slew of impossibly obscure novels by Richmal Crompton, which I'm still busting to sample when time allows.

But probably nowhere is the resurgence of lesser-known women writers more evident that in the mystery genre. The British Library reprinted Mavis Doriel Hay's three novels and are planning to bring back Lois Austen-Leigh's vanishingly rare The Incredible Crime early next year. Most of Ethel Lina White's novels are now available as well, including The Third Eye, which was added to my Grown-Up School Story List at a time when I thought it was going to be impossible to track down but which is happily now waiting patiently on my Kindle for me to have time for it. Many of the novels of A. Fielding and Elaine Hamilton are also now available in affordable e-book format. And this is not to mention the fact that even such a big name as Gladys Mitchell has now seen (almost) her entire body of work made easily available, something that was probably rarely (if ever) the case even in her lifetime. There are still more lost authors to rediscover (just have a gander at my Mystery List if you don't believe me), but it's pretty wonderful how much progress has been made.

And adding substantially to that progress has been Dean Street Press—who, I should note, release their titles both as old-fashioned physical books and as e-books, though the e-books are the most tantalizingly economical—who in the past couple of months have breathed new life into the works of two lost Golden Age mystery authors. First, a couple of months back, they released two mysteries by Ianthe Jerrold, The Studio Crime (1929) and Dead Man's Quarry (1930)—and I am cursing myself that I read and quite enjoyed the first of those, but never got around to discussing it here. And then, just this week (I am, indeed, more timely with this review than I have probably ever been before!), they've released seven of the twelve mysteries written by Annie Haynes, who in her too-brief career was highly praised, but fell into obscurity after her premature death. (I understand they're planning to release the other five as well, in due course.) In the cases of both Jerrold and Haynes, these are the first reprints of the books in many, many moons, and are in most cases their first ever appearance in the U.S.

Who Killed Charmian Karslake? has been a tantalizing obscurity for me ever since I came across a photo of the original dustjacket when I first added Haynes to my Overwhelming List, so I had to start my exploration of Haynes' work by reading that one. It's the last novel Haynes actually finished, published the year that she died prematurely at age 63, though she wrote a substantial part of one additional novel, The Crystal Beads Murder, which was finished by an as-yet-unidentified fellow mystery author (mystery scholar Curtis Evans, in his introduction to the Dean Street editions, speculates based on textual evidence that it may well have been Lucy Beatrice Malleson, best known later on for many successful mysteries under the pseudonym Anthony Gilbert).

Original dustjacket of the American edition

Haynes proves to be a no-nonsense kind of writer, and the novel has little unnecessary explication, moving at a swift, jaunty pace. It opens over breakfast in a country manor house on the morning after a lavish ball. From the opening lines, one can hardly miss the Jazz Age ambience in the characters' dialogue:

“Beastly mess the place seems to be in,” grumbled Sir Arthur Penn-Moreton, looking round the room with a disgusted air.

“Well, if you will give balls you have to put up with the aftermath,” said Dicky, his younger brother, screwing his monocle in his left eye as he spoke.

“Your wife was a great success. She roused us all up.”

Dicky looked pleased. “Good-looking kid, isn’t she? And lively—she has got the goods, you bet.”

(Fortunately, the flapper-ish lingo doesn't stand out quite so much once the story is well under way.)

Talk quickly turns to the guest of honor of the night before, the celebrated American stage actress Charmian Karslake:

“Charmian Karslake, if you mean her! She is all alive from the crown of her lovely head to the toes of her pretty little feet."

And there is surely a trace of very dark humor in the fact that even as this line is uttered, Karslake is lying dead in her room, the victim of a gunshot wound to the heart.

What adds an additional layer of interest to this rather standard, if intriguing, opening is that, although the actress has purportedly never been to England until her current gig in a hit London play, and although she presumably knew no one at the ball the evening before, she was overheard (but not seen) greeting someone in a hallway with the words, “Well, Mr. Peter Hailsham, we meet again, do we?” The trouble is (naturally) no one named Peter Hailsham was at the party, and the only such person known in the neighborhood was an eccentric elderly man who had died years earlier with no surviving family. Who could she have been greeting, then, and why was she shot a few hours later, following a struggle in her room? What's more, how could she have commented to Lady Moreton, while admiring the view from the window of her room, ‘Why, the big oak over there by Craxton Church has gone!’ It is this added twist, the fact that the novel is not only a whodunit, but also what one might call a whoisshe, which made it completely addictive reading for me.

Among the useful and hitherto unearthed biographical information in the introduction is the fact that, well before Haynes began publishing in book form in 1923, she had written various other serial novels starting in the 1910s or even earlier. Curtis Evans, who has his own fascinating blog called The Passing Tramp, where he has been discussing Haynes recently, points out in his introduction that her mysteries retain some of the elements of this earlier, more sensationalistic fiction, and while I usually have a short fuse when it comes to melodrama, I found the traces of it here quite entertaining and completely in keeping with the book's Golden Age feel—as, for example, when the victim's body is first discovered:

Sir Arthur went nearer and bent over the quiet form. He took one of the cold hands in his and let it fall again.

“Dead!” he said in a hoarse whisper. “Dead, and cold! Poor soul! Poor soul! What could have made her do it?”

“Made her do it!” echoed one of the men who had followed him in. “Man alive! Don’t you see”—pointing to two tiny burnt holes in the midst of the red stain, and then waving his hands round the disordered room—“how she has struggled and fought for her life? Charmian Karslake has been foully, brutally murdered.”

And although humor isn't generally at the forefront here, there's no question that Haynes can be quite charmingly funny when she wants to be. There is, for example, some gentle mockery of Americans—mainly in the form of a wealthy in-law who blusters about and complains of the ineptitude of British police. I perversely love the caricatures of Americans that appear pretty regularly in British fiction—and I generally find more than a grain of truth in them. There's a more subtly humorous portrayal of one of Charmian's old theatrical acquaintances, whose vanity, appearance, and archness make her seem like a delightful, rather low-class reject from a Josephine Tey novel. And finally, although the detectives investigating the case don't seem to have been intended to stand out very much (at least I hope not, as I kept mixing them up right to the end), there is one very funny exchange between them about women's fashion, which particularly caught my eye:

Here poor Charmian Karslake’s gold frock lay over the back of a chair as she had thrown it. He went across and felt it over. Harbord came in and stood beside him.

“You won’t find anything, sir. All the women have given up pockets, confound them!”

“Yes. And the bags they carry instead they never can remember,” the inspector added. “It is always—‘Where is my bag?’ What they do it for I can’t imagine. Fancy a man having his pockets fastened up and carrying his keys and money and everything in a bag which he dangles about by the handle.”

“Some of ’em haven’t got handles either,” Harbord said, as his sharp eyes glanced about the room. “My sister’s hasn’t. She just carries it about tucked under her arm, a pochette she calls it. She told me handles had gone out of fashion, the other day.”

“So have brains, I should imagine,” grumbled the inspector.

Curtis Evans' introduction notes that in the 1920s only two women mystery writers were published by the prestigious Bodley Head publishing house. Annie Haynes was one and no lesser figure than Agatha Christie was the other (Christie of course famously got rather screwed over on royalties by Bodley and left them at her first opportunity, but nevertheless…). Now, say what you will about Dame Agatha, but taking into account her enormous popularity, her readability by fans of all ages and from numerous cultures and backgrounds, and the sheer brilliance of many of her puzzles, precious few other mystery writers can bear a direct comparison to her.

I'm not going to claim that Haynes can fully stand up to Christie either—you probably wouldn't believe me if I made such a claim anyway. But I do have to admit that it was Christie who most frequently came to mind for me in reading Charmian Karslake. Like Christie, Haynes is first and foremost a puzzler—her characters are interesting and varied and vivid, the dialogue is lively and fun, but the focus is more on plot than in-depth character development. Haynes' objective, it seems to me, is to keep readers obsessively turning pages and wondering what can possibly happen next as her intriguing plot twists and turns. And it's surely a sign of how well she succeeded if I note that, reading on the train during my morning commute one day, I was so engrossed that I very nearly missed my stop.

It might also be evidence of how much I enjoyed Charmian Karslake that I already three more Haynes novels queued up on my Kindle. I have a feeling I'm going to wish she had written more than 12 mysteries...
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