In 2013, not long after I began blogging, I made my first Hopeless Wish List, having already developed the first symptoms of my all-consuming obsession with the most obscure of obscure authors. But not, as it happens, having quite fine-tuned my interlibrary loan and/or savvy book shopping skills. Nor, for sure, had I made contact with a host of fellow aficionados who have since made it possible, in various ways, for me to read some of my most-yearned-for titles.
I updated the list in 2014 (I can't believe it's been that long!), but that one is long out of date too. It's therefore time to do a new Hopeless Wish List, and needless to say I have significantly upped the ante on exactly what it means for a book to be "hopeless"! But based on past experience, it's worth my while to make a list of my most coveted titles, on the off chance that someone somewhere someday will say, "Hey! I have a copy of that you can borrow/buy/have!" It could happen (and has before). Plus, I wanted to organize the list in order to create Abe Books "wants" for them, so I might just as well share it. And for those of you who have trouble finding a lot of the books I write about, an added benefit is that it may provide a wry comfort to see that there are books I can't get hold of either...
In case anyone but me is curious, at the bottom of this post I'll also do a summary of the titles from the previous versions of my list which have been, in one way or another, removed from the realm of the hopeless. But first, without further ado, here are the new additions to my greatest hits of hopelessness:
(It's hard to prioritize these books, a) because I would jump on any one of them in a moment, and b) because some I know a fair amount about and others I have only small tantalizing tidbits about, but of course it could be the latter which turn out to be the real treasures.)
P. Y. BETTS, French Polish (1933)
Could this one—the one and only novel by an author better known for her acclaimed memoir People Who Say Goodbye (1989), reprinted a few years ago by Slightly Foxed—be one of those treasures? French Polish is mentioned as "a funny and sharply observed novel about a girls’ finishing school", which is more than enough to sell me on it. But try looking for a copy of it.
E. M. CHANNON, The Surprising Holidays (1926)
I've read several of Channon's books, including the mysteries Twice Dead and The Chimney Murder, which were reprinted by Greyladies, and a very enjoyable school story, The Honour of the House. But ever since I read a piece about Channon by Hilary Clare, this is the one I've most wanted to get hold of. Clare said it was among the funniest of Channon's works, and summed up its plot as "the lack of domestic capability of an English middle-class family." Books to Treasure has released several of her school-related stories in e-book and paperback, so why why WHY haven't they got round to this much harder-to-find book?!?!
PRISCILLA JOHNSTON, The Narrow World (1930) & Green Girl (1931)
These two novels, the latter a sequel to the former, come from my Grownup School Story List, just like the Betts title above. Both appear to be set in schools, and the latter includes a romance between a young girl and one of the masters at her school. Other details are elusive, and an Abe Books search for either is unlikely to bear any fruit.
DOROTHY LAMBERT, Fish Out of Water (1937) & Much Dithering (1938)
These could truly be either trash or treasure, as I know practically nothing about them or about Lambert herself, but the titles are irresistible and they are seductively unavailable. Who could resist a title like Much Dithering?! (A part of me, I admit, really hopes that it turns out to be the name of a country estate: "We're walking over to Much Dithering this afternoon to have tea with Lady Smythe-Hyde-Barrington-Thorne-Babbington.")
MARGARET RIVERS LARMINIE & JANE LANGSLOW, Gory Knight (1937)
At least we know a fair amount about this one, and as of this writing a single copy is actually available on Abe Books, should you wish to invest a cool $1,000 on it (!!). A parody of the detective genre (the title is of course a wry homage to Sayers), in which caricatures of the most famous detectives of the day gather at the home of one Miss Pyke and are drawn into the mystery of a kitchen maid's disappearance. Mystery guru Martin Edwards even wrote a piece about it , about reading and discussing the book with fellow mystery writer Margaret Yorke. I can't imagine why no one has reprinted this by now—perhaps there's a rights issue?
HILDA HEWETT, The Desert Shall Rejoice (1950)
I've written about Hewett , having been lucky enough to track down several of her books from libraries. She's a classic hit-or-miss kind of author, and in truth I'd be willing to sample any of her other titles if they could be found, but my two favorites of her books so far are Kaleidoscope (1947) and So Early One Morning (1948). I know absolutely nothing about The Desert Shall Rejoice, but the three books have in common that they're the only three Hewett published with Hurst & Blackett, who seem (perhaps?) to have given her a bit more freedom and encouragement than her usual publisher, the more romance-oriented Robert Hale.
MONICA REDLICH, Cheap Return (1934), No Love Lost (1937), & The Various Light (1948)
I had had Redlich on my author list for a couple of years before even discovering that she had written adult novels in addition to her two (slightly better-known) children's books, Jam Tomorrow (1937) and Five Farthings (1939), the latter of which I reviewed . I'll bet a lot of fans of those books don't realize it either. Cheap Return was described by one critic as "entertaining because of its gentle satire and its lively presentation of life in a girls' college," which is more than enough to make me crave it. No Love Lost gets the briefest of critical mentions as "a simply-told story of the reactions of a schoolgirl to the unhappy marriage of her parents." And of The Various Light I know nothing except that Carl Jung, of all people, particularly recommended it to a friend of his (which is certainly enough to arouse curiosity—did he enjoy the novel, do we think, or merely find it of psychoanalytic interest? Either way I'm sold). Are these three novels as charming and entertaining as her children's fiction? Or not? Judging from my searches for available copies of them, we may never know.
GWENDOLINE COURTNEY, A Coronet for Cathie (1950) & other serials (?)
I've nabbed all of Courtney's other titles, but a recent Abe Books search for this one found only a $700 copy of the Girls Gone By reprint. The original edition must be worth its weight in gold. Which (not to be critical of my fellow indie publishers, but…) begs the question of why GGB recently reprinted the readily available Stepmother instead of this one! And along the same lines, when GGB reprinted Mermaid House, a novel that had previously appeared only as a serial, the introductory material suggested that there were other such works to be be published in due course. I might have to drop them a line to see what happened to those.
NETTA SYRETT, A School Year (1902)
Another school story that has apparently become highly collectible. Sims & Clare note that it's on the borderline between children's and adult fiction, which is always tantalizing for me, and that it's based on Syrett's own school experiences. Syrett was also an early feminist who wrote intriguing adult novels, a few of which have been reprinted in recent years. Alas, not a single copy available on Abe Books at last check.
RUTH ADAM, Set to Partners (1947)
Though occasionally an uneven writer, I have always been fascinated by the wonderful detail and social conscience of Adam's novels (and of course her social history A Woman's Place, available from Persephone). I've written about her several times and have been fortunate enough to read several of her obscure titles (see ). But this one remains a complete mystery. Not even any details of its subject matter. Not a single copy available either. Grrrr.
AGNES ROSEMARY COOPER & MARY WELLER (writing as RAMSAY BELL), The Lake of Ghosts (1940)
Very much in the realm of books I'm irrationally obsessed with despite knowing very little about them is this little potential treasure. Cooper and Weller wrote four novels under their pseudonym, with the first, Dragon Under Ground (1937), described by a contemporary critic as "a pleasantly told yet thrilling tale of Christmas adventure." (That one's currently available for a mere $471!) With the popularity of Christmas titles, and especially if it turns out that these are all mysteries, as seems possible, we just might see that one become available in the future?) But it's Lake of Ghosts that attracts me, despite the fact that my only tidbit of knowledge is that it's set in the Apennines and has an archaeologist as heroine.
JOAN DE FRAINE, Eighty in the Shade (1935)
Along the same lines, I only have a blurb noting that Eighty in the Shade "tells the story of a suburban family over a Bank Holiday weekend." But there's certainly potential there, right?
ALICE LUNT, Tomorrow the Harvest (1955)
Lunt was a close friend of Mabel Esther Allan and the author of several children's titles, including three school stories, as well as this one adult novel, described as being based on her wartime experiences in the Land Army. The children's titles are possible to find, but the novel has practically ceased to exist. You can see though why it would be on this list.
MARGARET LANGMAID, This Charming Property (1934)
The Sydney Morning Herald called this "a spirited little romance" about the "uncivil warfare" aroused in a traditional English village by the building of a row of new villas. "Thus modernity challenged antiquity, and the strife was none the less savage because it took the form of snubs, veiled insults, and occasional outbursts." I'm sold, but alas the book is not—anywhere.
MABEL BARNES-GRUNDY, Paying Pests (1941), Mary Ann and Jane (1944), & The Two Miss Speckles (1946)
These could certainly go either way, and Barnes-Grundy seems to have been known for her frivolous romantic tales (though similar language has been used about some of my favorite authors), but these, her final three novels, are likely enriched by wartime settings. I know little about the first two, but the last deals with two sisters living in Bath during the war.
WINIFRED LEAR, I Like This Place (1980) & Maiden Stakes (1988)
These might be the most hopeless items on this list. Lear, the author of two novels—The Causeway, enthusiastically reviewed , and Shady Cloister, which I never got round to reviewing and didn't love as much but still enjoyed, as well as the delightful memoir Down the Rabbit Hole—apparently self-published, in small quantities, three short books of anecdotes and recollections, which means they're vanishingly rare. These Peculiar Things, the third title, isn't even listed on Worldcat at all, but I know it exists because it's the one I happened to stumble across (and spent far too much to acquire). I really need to write about it here, but meanwhile I'm beginning to doubt that similar lightning will ever strike for these two.
And if that's not enough hopelessness, there are still some from my previous lists that I despair of ever having the chance to read (perhaps these should be called The Despair List?):
Greyladies happily reprinted MOLLY CLAVERING's Near Neighbours a couple of years back, and Mrs Lorimer's Family is widely available, but all her other novels (see ) seem to be about as rare as a Guttenberg Bible.
My second wish list mentioned BRIDGET LOWRY's To-Morrow's Giants (1933), which remains hopeless to find, but the situation was worsened when Lowry's granddaughter chimed in on the post and quoted a review of another of her novels, The Losers (1932), described as "..a little Cranford about a bungalow town..." There are currently two copies of that one on Abe Books—both selling for well into three figures…
I must keep mentioning F. M. MAYOR's Mrs Hammond's Children (1901) & Miss Browne's Friend (1914) in the hope that some savvy publisher with British Library access will finally reprint them. Her three novels are classics, particularly The Rector's Daughter, so it's criminal that these are still unavailable. Janet Morgan, in her intro to The Squire's Daughter, described Mrs Hammond's Children as a collection of stories “based on the relations among children and the kindnesses and cruelties they practise on one another.” Miss Browne's Friend (1914), published as a serial, is described as "an exploration of a friendship between a suburban lady and a prostitute." One can only imagine what Mayor's brilliance might have made of that!
I was fortunate enough last year to read one of WINIFRED WATSON's rare other novels (aside from the ubiquitous and wonderful Miss Pettigrew)—see . My focus now is on two more of her books—Hop, Step And Jump (1939), described in one source as a "variant on the Cinderella theme", and Leave and Bequeath (1943), which came after Miss Pettigrew and is described as "part murder-mystery and part psychological study". Both, needless to say, hopeless.
Also on my second list, I mentioned ELEANOR SCOTT's War Among Ladies and Puss in the Corner (1934). There is, it now seems, a glimmer of hope that Interlibrary Loan may come through for War (I'll keep you posted), but Puss seems thoroughly hopeless. A contemporary review of the latter described the author as "a witty and discerning observer of female character, and more especially of the reactions of women to one another." Exactly zero copies available for sale.
Other lingering hopelessness from the earlier lists includes MARJORIE APPLETON's Anything Can Happen (1942), WINIFRED BLAZEY's Grace Before Meat (1942), and MARGARET DALE's Maze (1934).
On the brighter side, however, here are some of the books from the earlier lists for which the fog of hopelessness has cleared:
From my original 2013 list (), I'm particularly delighted to note that I had a hand in dispelling the fog for two of the titles—both FRANCES FAVIELL's A Chelsea Concerto (1959) and E. NESBIT's The Lark (1922) seemed hopeless to me back then, but are now yours for the ordering as Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press!
My earlier wish lists were rather dominated by WWII novels, and I'm happy to say a number of them have been checked off my list. After several years of searching and savvy shopping, I was thrilled last year to get hold of BARBARA NOBLE's The House Opposite (reviewed ). And then there's the whole slew of other books that have been made available to me by the redoubtable Grant Hurlock, whose library must exceed even my fantasies. Thanks to him I got to read RUTH ADAM's Murder in the Home Guard (reviewed ) and There Needs No Ghost (reviewed , MARJORIE WILENSKI's Table Two (reviewed ), AND LORNA LEWIS's Tea and Hot Bombs (reviewed ). (Happily, I recently seized a rare opportunity to get hold of Lewis's other wartime girls' novel, Feud in the Factory, and will plan to review it soon.)
Whew! Plus, thanks to Grant, I also now have the one URSULA ORANGE novel I had previously found unattainable, 1942's Have Your Cake, and hope to be reading and reviewing that one soon as well!
NOEL STREATFEILD's World War II era novels for adults were on my list a few years ago. Thereafter, I managed to track down I Ordered a Table for Six, which was rather bleak, and Greyladies reprinted The Winter Is Past (1940), which became one of my favorites (see ). But there's no longer any hopelessness at all, as all of Streatfeild's adult novels are now happily back in print (and in e-book) from Bello Books and Macmillan. Hooray!
Greyladies also cleared the fog of obscurity from RICHMAL CROMPTON's wartime novel, Mrs Frensham Describes a Circle (1942), which I reviewed . A dozen or so other Crompton titles (sadly not including Mrs Frensham) have also been released in paperback and e-book by Macmillan.
Happily, too, the two unpublished STELLA GIBBONS novels I was yearning for—The Yellow Houses (c1973) and Pure Juliet (c1980, originally An Alpha)—were finally published in recent years, and the latter is a favorite of mine (reviewed ). Not only that, but I've now tracked down all of her other novels, as well as (thanks to Grant Hurlock) her one rare children's title, The Untidy Gnome (see )!
The wonderful Simon at Stuck in a Book so generously gave me (!!!) his copy of EDITH OLIVIER's The Underground River (1929), which still has pride of place on my shelves. Why hasn't a children's publisher reprinted this one, especially now that her novels and other books are available from Bello and Macmillan?! I reviewed it .
I found several novels by NORAH HOULT and enjoyed them very much. I'm reminded that I really need to get back to reading more of her work. If you're a fan of There Were No Windows, do track down House Under Mars, one of her other wartime works. And I did get hold of ELINOR MORDAUNT's The Family (1915), but it was finally just a bit too bleak for my tastes. It can now be downloaded, at least in the U.S., via Hathi Trust. I nabbed a copy of EDITH PARGETER's Ordinary People (aka People of My Own), quite some time ago, but still haven't read it. It was somewhat deceptively referred to by Janet Maslen as "about a family living in a 'peaceful English setting...in cramped quarters during heavy blitzes". Actually, it appears to be substantially pre-war in setting, though it may well end with the Blitz, and that caused it to be pushed aside for other priorities. And although I never found SYBIL LETHBRIDGE's The Wild Feather or Gnats and Camels, I did give another of her novels, Misfits, a try, and wrote about it in a post about disappointments . I might still pick up one or both of the other titles if I stumbled across them, but I'm not actively searching.
Well, surely that's more than enough to have bored you all silly. I doubt that I need to say this at this point, but if you happen to have a copy of any of the above titles, do feel free to drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org)!