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?

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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

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Max Carrados, the Blind Sherlock Holmes

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys the once-popular but now largely forgotten detective stories of Ernest Bramah

The name Ernest Bramah may be largely forgotten now, but he created a detective whose popularity rivalled that of Sherlock Holmes (at least so it is rather improbably claimed). Bramah (1868-1942) created Max Carrados, a popular sleuth whose adventures appeared in The Strand magazine, which also published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. But there is one important difference between Max Carrados and Sherlock Holmes: Carrados is blind.

The complete adventures of Max Carrados, a blind detective who can nevertheless solve crimes thanks to his extraordinary skills at reading things with his fingers and paying attention to the sounds that other people overlook, have recently been reprinted as The Eyes of Max Carrados (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural). Carrados first appeared in 1914 and over the next decade his short stories had many readers in Britain gripped. They still stand up well now. George Orwell was also a fan, claiming that, along with R. Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke stories and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales, the Max Carrados stories are the only detective stories since Edgar Allan Poe that are worth rereading.

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May Sinclair’s Modernist Masterpiece: The Life and Death of Harriett Frean

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle bangs the drum for an undervalued modernist novel

1922 was the annus mirabilis and high point of modernist literature. James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories, and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room were all published. On 18 May 1922, Joyce and Marcel Proust, two titans of the modernist novel in their respective languages, met at a disastrous dinner in Paris; the two writers spent the meal discussing their ailments, before eventually admitting that they hadn’t read each other’s work. Also present at this historic dinner party were Picasso and Stravinsky. 1922 was the point where a number of modernisms appeared to converge and collectively reach their zenith.

Yet this handful of modernist classics fails to tell the full story. 1922 also saw the publication of another modernist novel by a writer who is far less celebrated than Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, or Mansfield. Yet she was an important figure in the movement and even now she is overlooked in our rush to get to Ulysses and to Virginia Woolf’s mature novels. May Sinclair (1863-1946) was, in fact, the one who first applied the psychological term ‘stream of consciousness’ to the work of one of her modernist contemporaries – another novelist often absent from discussions of modernist fiction, Dorothy Richardson. Sinclair championed the work of the Imagist poets led by Ezra Pound, and even wrote a novel in verse using the Imagist method, The Dark Night. Like much of her work, it is seldom mentioned in surveys of modernist literature.

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Curious Facts about the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the fascinating facts behind some of the greatest detective novels

The rise of detective fiction is a fascinating topic (previously, I’ve chosen 10 of the greatest examples of the genre), and it’s no surprise that a book telling the story of classic crime fiction in 100 books should yield many surprising and interesting facts. This is certainly the case with Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics), a beautifully produced book from the British Library which charts the rise of crime fiction during the genre’s ‘Golden Age’ of the first half of the twentieth century.

Over the course of 24 entertaining and accessible chapters, which are based around various themes (including London-based crime fiction, crime fiction in the countryside, the seemingly ‘impossible crime’ of the locked-room mystery, parodies and humorous examples of the genre), Martin Edwards considers some of the most emblematic and readable examples of crime and detective fiction written between 1900 and 1950 (loosely).

As well as telling the story of crime fiction as an overall genre, Edwards also offers mini-histories of not only his 100 chosen novels but also the authors who wrote them. The Story of Classic Crime is packed full of curious biographical trivia, delving into the alternative lives

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