Thursday, May 31, 2012

Benson Bidwell


Benson Bidwell (b. Avon, New York, 2 September 1835; d. Chicago, Illinois, 7 March 1911)

Benson Bidwell published only two books, both coming out at his own expense in 1907.  The first is an autobiography of sorts, with the breathlessly long title Benson Bidwell: Inventor of the Trolley Car, Electric Fan and Cold Motor: History of Early Struggles and Later Successes: With Personal Reminiscences, Lectures, Essays and Letters (Chicago: The Henneberry Press, 1907).  The second is a slim epistolary fantasy, The Flying Cows of Biloxi (Chicago: The Henneberry Press, 1907). The latter book has achieved a legendary status.  According to Vincent Starrett, who wrote in 1948 in his “Books Alive” column in The Chicago Daily Tribune, “it first came to notice of fantasy collectors, in 1933, when it was listed in Science Fiction Digest and attracted attention by its provocative title. Ever since, book hunters in the fantasy field have been seeking the tale and failing to find it; it has become one of the famous ‘phantom books’ of recent bibliography” (11 April 1948). Starrett also quoted Melvin Korshak, who during the World War II had been stationed near Biloxi and one day went there and questioned the mayor and a delegation of alderman about the book:  “without result, except that I worried them considerably about a mystery book that took the name of their city in vain. They didn’t know anything about flying cows, either; and they would like to know something about Benson Bidwell, the reputed author.” A few years later, Frederick Shroyer devoted his column (“The Antiquarian Bookshelf”) in the September 1950 issue of Fantasy Advertiser to discussing the book.  Many years later, Sam Moskowitz published “A Collector’s Saga” in Fantasy Commentator, no. 45/46 (Winter 1993/1994) a long account of his search over many years to acquire a copy. Typically Moskowitz’s account centers on acquisition, not on putting any historical perspective on Bidwell or his book.

Joseph Benson Bidwell was born in upstate New York, the third child (of six) of Austin Burhham Bidwell (1804-1865), a confectioner, and Laura Isabell Butterfield, who were married in 1832.  On 3 February 1856, Bidwell married Clarissa Eliza Walker Burch (1838-1907). They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Unusually for his time, Bidwell seems to have moved around a lot.  According to the U.S. Censuses, in 1850 he and his family were living in Toledo.  In 1860 Bidwell listed himself as a baker in New York City. Ten years later he is found as a candy manufacturer in South Bend, Indiana.  By 1880, Bidwell has moved to Indianapolis, his profession elevated to that of a lawyer, while in 1900 he had evolved into an electrician in Chicago (the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire many years ago).

Bidwell first book was a self-aggrandizing autobiography in which claims are made for various inventions and episodes from his life are whipped up to the status of myth, complete with illustrations, some of which are unintentionally quite funny, having captions like “Baby Brother Petting Snake,” “He Scalds His Mother’s Foot,” “Live Indian Roasted on Logheap,” “Old Horse Resents Singeing,” etc. The legend to Bidwell’s frontispiece portrait elevates himself to the status of professor. The prose is also overblown, and the claims that Bidwell invented of the trolley car, the electric fan, and the cold motor engine, remind the modern reader of the sham hucksterism of the likes of P.T. Barnum. 

The Flying Cows of Biloxi, which is also illustrated with line drawings by the same artist, purports to collect Bidwell’s letters to a friend telling how, when visiting Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1893, Bidwell observed that the cows fed upon spanish moss, which grows only high-up in the trees.  So Bidwell invented a way to graft branches of orange trees onto the cows so they could fly up for their food.  The wings have the added advantage of growing oranges! Another great invention for the talented Bidwell!

From The Flying Cows of Biloxi

The truth is another matter.  A perusal of The Chicago Record-Herald shows that in early 1908 Bidwell and his elder son, Charles Freeman Bidwell (1857-1929), who was also his business partner, were arrested and charged with fraud and embezzlement.  Investors in his cold motor engine claimed that their money was used solely to fund the publication of his two books.  In October 1908 the pair were convicted of running a confidence game and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Charles Bidwell withdrew his appeal and accepted the prison term on the condition that his elderly and widowed father, whom he claimed was near death, could remain free.
An advertisement for the cold motor

NB: A portion of the above appeared in different form in the “Curiosities” column of the October-November 2005 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

George Blink


George Blink (b. Warley Camp, Essex, about 1798; d. Brighton, Sussex, 4 January 1874)

British Post Office official (President, Islington), and occasional dramatist.  George Blink was one of the ten children of William Blink (b. c. 1760) and Sarah Lenham (b. c. 1765). In Islington on 17 April 1822, Blink married Mary Anne Cliffe (1802-1873). They had four children, two sons followed by two daughters.

Blink authored at least three plays that were performed and subsequently printed up as small pamphlets.  The dating of the pamphlets, as well as the dating of the first performances of any play of that time period, is extremely difficult. 

Blink’s most significant work is The Vampire Bride: or, The Tenant of the Tomb: A Romantic Drama, in Two Acts (London: J. Duncombe, [1830]).  This premiered as the opening piece at the Sadler Wells Theatre in London on 8 March 1830, followed by performances of “Paul and Virginia” and “The Flying Dutchman.”  “The Vampire Bride” was also staged elsewhere in England, and occasionally revived, such as at the Queen’s Theatre in Manchester on 28 September 1839. Blink’s play is based on the anonymous English translation of Ernst Raupach’s “Lasst die Todten Ruhen” (1822), published as “Wake Not the Dead” in Popular Tales and Romances of the Northern Nations (1823).  Raupach’s name is nowhere mentioned. A later edition, with slightly different text, appeared as The Vampire Bride: or, Wake Not the Dead: A Melo-Drama in Two Acts (London: T. H. Lacy, [1854]).

Frontispiece and title page of the 1854 edition.

Other plays by Blink include The Tiger at Large; or, the Cad of the “Buss”;  A Comic Burletta, in One-Act (London:  Chapman & Hall, 1837), first performed at the Strand Theatre on 8 May 1837; and Blind Man’s Buff:  or, Who Pays the Bill: A Farce in One Act (London:  John K. Chapman and Co., 1850).  A play of this latter title had debuted at the Royal Amphitheatre in September 1815, but this was probably an entirely different play. The Lord Chamberlain licensed another play with this same title on 18 August 1837, and this is probably the one by Blink.

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Clark B. Firestone


Clark B. Firestone (b. Lisbon, Ohio, 10 September 1869; d. Cincinnati, Ohio, 3 June 1957)

Clark B. Firestone in 1950
Clark Barnaby Firestone was the third of four children of Solomon Jefferson Firestone (1833-1912) and Anna Elizabeth Williams (1836-1926).  He had two older brothers and one younger sister.  Firestone graduated from the Lisbon High School and went on to Oberlin College, where he received an A.B. in 1891, an honorary M.A. in 1911, and an honorary LL.D. in 1951. In 1906 he married Beatrice Sturges (1874-1958); they had three sons and one daughter.

Firestone spent most of his life as a journalist and newspaperman.  He began on The New York Mail and Express, where he was a reporter (1892-99), chief editorial writer (1899-1901 and 1903-11), and London correspondent (1901-02).  After a year (1911-12) as editorial writer at The New York World, he returned to Lisbon to serve as president and director of the Firestone Bank, owned by his late father.  In 1921 he returned to newspaper journalism as the editorial writer for The Cincinnati Star-Times.  He became associate editor of this newspaper in 1930, a position he held until his retirement in 1954.

Firestone’s first book was technical work for the Army Ordnance Department of the U.S. Government, The Ordnance Districts, 1918-1919, Philadelphia (1920). He followed this with a series of travel books, the first being a work of romantic scholarship on the on the reaches of literary imagination as found in old travel tales. Subsequent books were rooted more closely to home, including the successful Sycamore Shores (1936), about a journey on some rivers of the Middle West, including the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; Bubbling Waters (1938), about a walking tour of the mountain country of Kentucky and Tennessee;  the shorter, self-described Journey to Japan (1940); and finally, another popular book, Flowing South (1941), an account of some five thousand miles of travel on the inland waters of the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. Other works include a libretto, Enter Pauline: A Lyrical Romance in Two Chapters and a Frontispiece (1929), book and lyrics by Firestone with score by Joseph Surdo; and three volumes of poetry, The Winding Road (1937), Tower Window (1949) and The Yesterdays (1953).

It is for Firestone’s second book that he deserves coverage here. The Coasts of Illusion: A Study of Travel Tales (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924) is a wide-ranging exploration of the myths and half-myths of geography that are loosely called “travel tales”, including both the countries of legend and the creatures that were reported to have been their inhabitants.  Subjects covered thus include Atlantis, the Amazons, dragons, rocs, unicorns, the Pygmies, Satyrs, the Sargasso Sea, and El Dorado.  A thoroughly entertaining catalog of the places and beings with which mankind has though history populated the shifting borderlands between knowledge and imagination. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Royal W. Jimerson


Royal W. Jimerson  (b. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 4 September 1895; d. San Francisco, California, 3 August 1958)

Royal Wade Jimerson was the oldest of two children of Herbert W. Jimerson (1865-1964) and Harriet M. Page (1874-1972), who were married in Minneapolis on 7 November 1894.  Royal had one sister, Faith, who was six years younger than himself.

The family moved to Wisconsin before 1910, and Royal was educated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. For about five years he worked as a reporter on The Minneapolis Star and The Minneapolis Tribune.  He married Mabel Weik (1886-1974) in Chicago on 24 February 1917. At the time he filled out his draft registration card for World War I, Jimerson was a newspaper reporter in Chicago. Jimerson and his wife had two children; their oldest son Herbert was born in Minneapolis in 1917 but died of bronchial pneumonia in 1929.  Their second son, Royal W. Jimerson, Jr., was born in 1920.

In 1925 Jimerson joined The San Francisco Examiner as a rewrite man, and the family moved to California.  He went over to The San Francisco Chronicle in 1935 as a reporter, but later returned to The San Francisco Examiner as financial editor.  In 1938 he was appointed political editor, a position he held until 1954 when he retired because of illness.  He died in San Francisco at the age of 62.

In April 1928 he published a single story in Weird Tales magazine, “Medusa”, with a headpiece illustration by Hugh Rankin.  E.F. Bleiler has noted that it is a modernized version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, calling it “well-written, and one of the more effective horror stories of the period.”  It was reprinted by Christine Campbell Thomson in her anthology By Daylight Only (1929), the fifth volume in the British “Not at Night” anthology series. “Medusa” was also reprinted in the May 1938 issue of Weird Tales. It is Jimerson’s only known published work of fiction. 

Jimerson also had two letters in “The Eyrie”, the letter column of Weird Tales, in the January and May 1928 issues. In the latter letter, Jimerson wrote: “Your March issue hits a new high level.  My own preference is for stories that leave something to the imagination, and the March number hits the ball. Its literary quality is about the best you have attain; from cover to cover, the boys have done their job beautifully.”   

NB: Thanks to Alistair Durie and Terence McVicker for assistance on this entry.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Elinore Blaisdell


Elinore Blaisdell (b. Brooklyn, New York, 15 October 1900; d. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 22 November 1994)

American artist and prolific illustrator of books.  Born in Brooklyn, New York, on 15 October 1900 (not 1904, as appears in reference books), Blaisdell studied at the Art Students League and Naum M. Los School of Art, New York, in addition to the Slade School of Fine Art in London.  In 1928 she married Melrich [“Mike”] Vonelm Rosenberg (1905-1937), an author and publisher’s representative.  Blaisdell illustrated some of her husband’s books, including a biography Eleanor of Aquitaine (1937), and With Sword and Song (1937), the tale of a fifteen-year-old boy in medieval France. Rosenberg died of a heart attack at age 32. The couple had no children, and Blaisdell, who always used her own name professionally, never remarried.

Blaisdell edited and illustrated one anthology for which she merits special consideration here.  Tales of the Undead: Vampires and Visitants (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947) qualifies as the precursor to the familiar modern themed anthologies of vampire stories. Though its contents are not solely vampire stories (it includes stories of other types of the undead, defined as “the unearthly being which is neither ghost nor living”), they are in the majority.  Classics like Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” Gautier’s “Clarimonde,” and F. Marion Crawford’s “For the Blood Is the Life,” appear along with more recent tales, many from pulp magazines like Weird Tales, by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Seabury Quinn, and Robert Bloch.  Each of the twenty-three selections has an illustration by Blaisdell. 

According to the dust-wrapper blurb, Blaisdell had become a devoted reader of supernatural stories at the age of seven, when she discovered Poe, Hawthorne, and Maupassant in her father’s library.  She read “several thousand stories in all and selected each in this collection for its particular appeal and excellence.”

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Uel Key

Uel Key (b. Bilbrough, Yorkshire, 20 September 1874; d. Fulford, Yorkshire, 29 January 1948)

“Uel Key” was the working name, for fiction only, of Samuel Whittell Key, the only child of Samuel Key (1848-1922) and Blanch Lefroy Whittell (1852-1940).  He studied at Haileybury College and Wesminster College, before matriculating at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, in 1892.  In January 1895, he migrated to St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. in 1898 and M.A. in 1901.  He was ordained a deacon in Norwich in 1899, and a priest in 1901, thereafter moving around and serving under various titles.  He was at the Church of North Walsham, Norfolk, from 1899-1902; the Church of Chislehurst, Kent, 1902-3; and the Church of Lee, 1903-5.  He was the Vicar of Cleator, Cumberland, 1905-10; Vicar of All Saints, Ipswich, 1910-22; Rector of Great Blakenham, Suffolk, 1922-8; and Vicar of Fulford, Yorkshire, 1928-48.

In the summer of 1899, he married Katherine Hilda Browne (1874-1967) in Chesterton, Cambridgeshire.  They had three children, two sons and one daughter.  During World War I, Key served as Chaplain in the Royal Army Chaplain’s Department.  In a brief autobiographical entry from the 1930s Key listed his recreations as “painting and making art novelties”.

As a writer, most of his output dates from around the end of the Great War, as he published four books between 1916 and 1921.  The first two, bylined S.W. Key, were small religious volumes, The Material in Support of the Spiritual: One Hundred and Three Similes or illustrations for Use in the Preparation of Sermons (1916), and The Solace of the Soul: A Sequence of Gems on the Study of Prayer (1919). Key’s fiction, signed “Uel Key”, began in 1917 in Pearson’s Magazine as a series of tales concerning Dr. Arnold Rhymer, an occult detective sometimes employed by Scotland Yard. Five of these stories were collected in The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (London: Hodder & Stouchton, [May 1920]).  A follow-up novel was Yellow Death: A Tale of Occult Mysteries, Recording a Further Experience of Professor Rhymer the ‘Spook’ Specialist (London: Books Limited, [April 1921]).  As “S. Whittell Key” he published a few nonfiction articles in The Harmsworth London Magazine in 1903 and The London Magazine in 1905. He also contributed to Pictorial Magazine, among others. 

The Arnold Rhymer tales are Key’s only work in the field of the fantastic.  Blatantly derivative of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, they are unfortunately both dated and overfilled with anti-German sentiments prevalent during the Great War.  E.F. Bleiler described the stories in The Broken Fang as “crude”, and “sometimes on the silly side”, a judgment which may be a bit too harsh. The stories are certainly readable, if crude in politics though not in the writing. There are at least a couple of uncollected Rhymer stories, “The Inaudible Sound” in Pearson’s Magazine for January 1921, and “Buried Needles” in Pearson’s Magazine for February 1922. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Francis C. Prevot


Francis C. Prevot (b. France 1887; d. Tottenham, London, 25 October 1967)

Not to be confused with his near namesake, the poet and fiction writer "Francis Prevost" (Henry Francis Prevost Battersby, 1862-1949), Francis Clare Prevot was born in France but lived in England for most of his life.  His education began at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, Devon. During the First World War, he was in the Royal Naval Air Service from 1914-15, in Censorship from 1915-17, and in the 15th London Regiment from 1917-18. He became a barrister, and was in January 1922 called to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. He married Tamo Kato in the summer of 1927.

Prevot published only two books, and was an assistant editor on a third, but he was a regular contributor to periodicals, including a stint from the mid-1920s through the early 1930s as a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (his reviewing expertise was delineated as “new books in French; art; Shakespeare; and China”).  He also contributed to Bookman’s Journal, the Daily Sketch, and the Encycopaedia Brittanica.  

His first book was slim volume of London history, The Adelphi (London: Chelsea Publishing Co., 1923), followed some months afterwards by a small collection of twenty-one short stories, Ghosties and Ghoulies (London:  Chelsea Publishing Co. 1923), with illustrations by A. Wyndham Payne. Most of the stories originally appeared in the weekly, Brighter London. The illustrations are rather primitive, and the stories are, for the most part, too short be anything other than vignettes. A similar malevolence is attributed to the supernatural in most of the tales.  In one story, a haunted shaving mirror inspires a young man to use his razor on himself; in another, an evil grimoire, bound in human skin, sweats blood before enacting its fatal curse upon its reader.  The Times Literary Supplement aptly described Prevot’s stories as “various in their circumstances but monotonous in their limited expression” (6 December 1923).

If he was merely a dabbler in the writing of ghost stories, a short article called “A Plea for the Ghost Story” in The Bookman’s Journal & Print Collector of 29 November 1919 shows Prevot to have had more refined tastes in the genre.  First, Prevot observes that the ghost story has been unpopular with the best writers of fiction, and he makes a distinction between stories of the occult and ghost stories, using two of Rudyard Kipling’s tales as examples, putting “The Mark of the Beast” in the first category, and “The Phantom Rickshaw” in the second—the latter being “one of the finest ghost stories ever written.” Prevot gives pre-eminence in the  field to M. R. James; his stories,“steeped full in horror, show what priceless material the despised ghost can be in the hands of a cultured, scholarly writer.”  Prevot also notes that “the late Monsignor Benson gave us some wonderful ghost stories, one of them the shortest that ever was told.  So short it is that it may be quoted here in full: ‘I stretched out in the dark for the matches, and they were put into my hand.’” Finally, Prevot calls attention to one volume by a writer who is now primarily remembered for his adventure stories dealing with life in the French Foreign Legion, and who isn’t usually listed among ghost story writers.  This is P.C. Wren (1885-1941).  According to Prevot, Wren’s early volume Dew and Mildew (1912; revised in 1927) entitles him to special consideration.

In 1949, Prevot was one of two assistant editors to H.T.D. Meredith on The New Universal Dictionary. Prevot died peacefully at the age of 80 in the Private Wing of the Wales Hospital, Tottenham. 

NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Countess of Munster


The Countess of Munster (b. Dun House, Montrose, Scotland, 27 June 1830; d. Hove, Sussex, 9 October 1906)

Wilhelmina Kennedy-Erskine was the third child of the Hon. John Kennedy-Erskine (1802-1831) and Lady August FitzClarence (1803-1865), who were married in 1827.  Wilhelmina had an older sister and an older brother.  Her mother was one of the ten illegitimate children of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV of the United Kingdom from 1831 until his death in 1837, and the famous actress Dorothea Bland (Mrs. Jordan), with whom he was associated between 1790 and 1810. 

Wilhelmina was brought up in privilege, and on 17 April 1855 she married William George FitzClarence (1824-1901), the 2nd Earl of Munster, and afterwards was styled the Countess of Munster.  She and her husband had nine children, seven sons followed by two daughters. She took to publishing late in life, first with two novels, each triple-deckers, Dorinda (1889) and A Scotch Earl (1891), followed by a collection of Ghostly Tales (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1896), and an autobiography, My Memories and Miscellanies (1904).  All are bylined the Countess of Munster.

Ghostly Tales contains eleven stories, one (“The Ghost of My Dead Friend”) reprinted from The Strand Magazine. Most are written in a manner similar to accounts of true hauntings, and they are unremarkable in the telling, but they do manage a frisson in the descriptions of the apparitions.  Otherwise the stories are standard, melodramatic fare, perfectly forgettable.  The tipped-in illustrations—twelve of the sixteen are signed Fred Hyland (leaving four by other hands)—are amateurish, with exaggerated spectres; they complement the stories well.

In her autobiography, the Countess related “A True Ghost Story”, covering the experiences of her older sister and her niece in seeing the legendary ghost of the “Green Lady” at their home, Wemyss Castle in Fife, Scotland. In the “Miscellanies” section of the Countess’s autobiography, there are some essays and ruminations as well as a couple of otherwise uncollected supernatural stories, “A Half-True Story” and “The Crimson Portrait”, the latter reprinted from The Lady’s Realm, volume one (November 1896-April 1897).   

Monday, May 7, 2012

Clive Pemberton


Clive Pemberton (b. reg. Kensington, London, April-June  1881; d. reg. Newton Abbot, Devon, Oct.-Dec. 1954)

Clive Pemberton was the fourth son of Thomas Joshua Pemberton (1837-1907) and his first wife, Catherine Jane Eccles Fisher (1838-1894).  One of Clive’s older brothers was the popular novelist Sir Max Pemberton (1863-1950).  After Clive’s mother’s death, his father married Alice Phillips, the daughter of the famous baritone Henry Phillips (1801-1876).  His paternal grandfather was Charles Pemberton, famous as an advocate for Liverpool. Clive began work on the Stock Exchange, but after three years abandoned it for journalism. 

Clive Pemberton is remembered primarily for his first book, The Weird o’ It  (London: Henry J. Drane, 1906), a collection of ten short stories which were originally published as a numbered series in the weekly paper Sketchy Bits, edited by Charles Shurey, beginning in early 1906.  The Weird o’ It appeared in December of the same year, and is now a very rare book. Perhaps the best stories in it are “The Pool” and “The Bulb”. In the former, a young artist’s wife is haunted by the pool nearby their new residence. The artist hears a local tale that previous occupants had been drowned in the pool owing to a curse, and he rushes home to find the inevitable.  In “The Bulb”, an ancient flower bulb and an associated descriptive papyrus is found inside a mummy case recently purchased at an auction.  The bulb is planted and grows.  Eventually the papyrus is translated and it warns of the fatality of the bloom of the bulb of Neshta, which lives for one moment and takes the life of someone in that same moment, a revenge planned for a future grave-robber.  Pemberton’s collection contains no lost masterpieces, but his work should not be entirely dismissed, for the stories are skillfully written grues, successful in attaining their small ambitions. In 2000, Midnight House of Seattle republished a hardcover edition of The Weird o’ It, limited to 460 copies, with one additional story, “The Mark of the Beast”, for which no source is given.

The Weird o’ It was followed soon after by The Harvest of Deceit (1908), a mystery novel published by Greening & Co.  A small biographical sketch of Pemberton (including a photograph, which shows a close facial resemblance with his older brother Max) appeared in the Greening house-organ, The Imp: A Monthly Magazine, at Christmas 1907, where it notes that Pemberton “has a leaning towards detective stories, and finds a peculiar fascination in keeping dark the mystery to the last line”.  It also notes that between 1902-07 he published over a hundred short stories and many novelettes and poems.  He was among the first to contribute stories in verse to The Novel Magazine (founded in 1905), which became a distinctive and popular features contributing to the success of the magazine. Pemberton is also known to have contributed to The Morning Leader, The Daily Mail, The Daily News, The Dundee Advertiser, Cassell’s Saturday Journal, Sketchy Bits, and various publications of Newnes and the Amalgamated Press. It seems likely that Pemberton’s connections to the latter were due to the influence of his brother Max, who worked closely with the founder of Amalgamated Press, Alfred Harmsworth (after 1905, Lord Northcliffe). Some undated Pemberton novels, including The Valliscourt Mystery (Lloyd’s), Her Own Secret, Until You Came (Amalgamated Press), and possibly others, likely appeared in the 1910s in paperback formats.  Such popular fiction titles, often part of a many-volume series, are not separately listed in the British Museum Catalogue, and as surviving copies are scarce, it is virtually impossible to find accurate bibliographical details.

Pemberton married Winifred I. Crooks (1894-1955) in the summer of 1915.  Two more novels appeared, including A Member of Tattersalls (1920) and The Way of the World (1921).   Nothing is known of his later life. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

M. Humphreys


M. Humphreys  (fl. 1922-23)

Nothing is know of M. Humphreys, whose name is the byline on one effective horror story which appeared in the May 1923 issue Weird Tales magazine—“The Floor Above”, a story much admired by H.P. Lovecraft. Strangely, when the story was reprinted in the June 1933 issue of Weird Tales, as a classic reprint, the byline appears in the table of contents as “M.L. Humphreys” but not with the story itself, where it is still given as “M. Humphreys”.  In reprints of “The Floor Above”, as in Robert Weinberg’s anthology The Eighth Green Man and Other Strange Folk (1989) as well as in my own H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales (2005), the middle initial “L” appears as part of the byline.*  I now believe the inclusion of a middle initial to be a mistake, and the proper attribution should read simply “M. Humphreys”.

This is due to the discovery of a second story contemporary with “The Floor Above” also bylined “M. Humphreys”.  This story is entitled “The Baby”, and it appeared in the April 1922 issue of the New York version of Pearson’s Magazine, then edited by Frank Harris.  It is a decidedly unconventional story for its time, the narrative of a ten year old orphaned girl who lives with her unloving uncle, a preacher, who had married a much younger women a few years previously and who has an ecclesiastical future all mapped out for their young baby, Luther. The picture it paints of the dreary lives of the minister and his family would not have been welcomed at many publications in the early 1920s, so kudos to the iconoclast Frank Harris for publishing it. While the story itself is in no way fantastical, there is through it all an undercurrent of fear and horror. 

It still seems to me probable that “M. Humphreys” is a pseudonym.  Both Humphreys stories are well-executed, and therefore unlikely to be the only writings by this person. 

* I also wrote in the headnote to that story that in the June 1933 reprint the name is misspelled “Humphries”, but this assertion, based on information in Sheldon R. Jaffery and Fred Cook’s The Collector’s Index to Weird Tales (1985), is wrong.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wolfheinrich von der Mülbe


Wolfheinrich von der Mülbe (b. Berlin, 22 October 1879; d. Munich, 30 April 1965)


As a student Mülbe studied law, medicine, and literature, taking a doctorate in the History of Art in 1904 at Breslau (Wrocław, Poland).  He taught in Hanover and Heidelberg, and spent time abroad in France, Italy and Denmark before settling in 1915 in Munich, where he worked as a freelance writer and prolific translator until his death. Authors he translated into German include Sigrid Undset, Herman Melville, and Roald Dahl.  His first book was a volume of poetry, Sonne und Nacht [Sun and Night] (1902), followed by Michelangelo: Ein Kranz von Sonetten [Michelangelo: A Wreath of Sonnets] (1912). He published a mystery novel Harald Vorchs Todesfahrt [Harald Vorch’s Death-trip] in 1926, and another novel, Stanoffs Tochter [Stanoff’s Daughter] in 1935, which was followed by his most significant work, a fantasy novel which has a complicated publishing history.  Written for his bedridden first wife, Käthe, it was first published under the title Das Märchen vom Rasierzueg oder Die Zauberlaterne: Ein Phantastischer Roman [The Fairy-tale of the Shaving-set, or The Magic Lantern: A Fantasy Novel] (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1937).  It was reissued by the same publisher in 1949 under the title Die Zauberlaterne oder Wer das Glück Hat, Führt die Braut Heim [The Magic Lantern, or Who Has the Good Fortune to Carry Home the Bride]. The text was cut by the author (two chapters were eliminated) for the 1964 paperback edition (published by Ullstein in Frankfort), and the book was adapted for German television as Der Rostrote Ritter [The Rusty Knight], first broadcast in 1973.  An audio-version, retitled Ritter Kuniberts Suche nach dem Glück [Knight Kunibert’s Search for Happiness] (2006) has also been released. Recent German editions, under the shorter title Die Zauberlaterne, have republished the full text, and Deborah Webster Rogers’s English translation of the complete text, titled The Vision of the Lantern, is currently seeking a publisher.*
The 2005 Piper edition

Die Zauberlaterne is the tale of Sir Kunibert, who is goaded by his mother to leave their ill-kept old Castle Snagglestone and to set forth on adventures with his squire Schorse and his horse.  He learns of a rich and beautiful princess, and after seeing a vision in a magic lantern (which foreshadows the rest of the story) he must accomplish three tasks to win her hand, the second of which involves searching for a magical shaving-set for her father. The predominate tone of the story is one of whimsical and wry humor, but occasionally Mülbe evokes satire. 


*Prospective publishers may contact me for information on how to reach Deborah Webster Rogers.