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.


  1. Scott, I am impressed at all the work you and John have done tracking down information on these authors and coordinating it all. Nice job!


  2. Does anyone know where and when Helen Hamiltion was born ? I am particularly interested in her climbs in the French Alps.


NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!