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Flaxman Low: The First Psychic Detective

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the Victorian world of a neglected ‘psychic detective’

The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in The Strand magazine from 1891 until the 1920s, led to many imitators. As well as such creations as Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, the blind detective, and the psychological detective, Dr John Dollar (created by Doyle’s own brother-in-law, Raffles creator E. W. Hornung), a mini sub-genre of fictional detective also emerged: the psychic detective or paranormal investigator. Flaxman Low was not the most successful of these, but he is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Although numerous scholars of the ghost story and psychic detective tale have traced the fictional paranormal investigator back to Dr Martin Hesselius, the creation of the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu (whose 1869 story ‘Green Tea’ remains popular), it was not until the turn of the century, and in the first few years of the twentieth century, that the fictional psychic detective really took off. This was partly, as I explore in my academic study Bewilderments of Vision, a result of Read the rest of this entry

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Samuel Butler’s Erewhon: Dystopia before Dystopia

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle explores the looking-glass world of Samuel Butler’s pioneering anti-utopian novel

When I was an undergraduate English student at Loughborough fifteen years ago, I took an optional second-year module called ‘Other Victorians’. As this title implies, the module was intended as a sort of companion-piece to the core module ‘Victorian Literature’, which covered the canon of Victorian writing. On the one hand, you had George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son, and Tennyson’s In Memoriam. On the other, you had Florence Nightingale’s essays, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books, and Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage.

Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) would stand firmly in the latter camp containing those ‘other Victorians’. His anti-utopian novel is part science-fiction, part social commentary, part adventure fantasy, part comic satire. Like many experimental Victorian works of literature, it resists easy categorisation. Is it even a dystopian work, a forerunner to Brave New World, We, and Nineteen Eighty-Four? Read the rest of this entry

Arthur Machen’s Weird Reputation: The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle salutes the Welsh wizard of horror fiction

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) is one of those writers who seem destined to fall in and out of fashion. Having attained fame, swiftly followed by notoriety, in 1895 when his book The Three Impostors scandalised the London literary world with its account of debauched pagan rituals, Machen had to wait twelve years to get his next novel, The Hill of Dreams, published. During the First World War, his short story ‘The Bowmen’, in which English soldiers are aided on the battlefield by the ghosts of English archers from the battle of Agincourt 500 years before, caused a sensation when Machen’s entirely fictional account was taken up as fact. Then, again, he disappeared from view. Interest in Arthur Machen has been sporadic ever since. It’s delightful to see that, with the publication of this glorious (and gloriously yellow) new edition of Machen’s horror fiction, The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories (Oxford World’s Classics Hardback Collection)he’s getting another push towards greater recognition once again.

The furore caused by The Three Impostors in 1895 signalled a decline in Machen’s popularity for a while, but it also demonstrates his power as a writer of horror fiction. When John Lane approached Machen about toning Read the rest of this entry