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The Female Sherlock Holmes: C. L. Pirkis’ Loveday Brooke

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle applauds the 1890s short stories featuring an early female detective

The name Catherine Louisa Pirkis is relatively unknown now, but Pirkis left two legacies of interest. The first arose out of her animal charity work: with her husband, Pirkis was one of the founders of the National Canine Defence League in 1891. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile legacy in itself, but it’s the second legacy of C. L. Pirkis which concerns us here: her small but nonetheless notable contribution to detective fiction.

In 1893, C. L. Pirkis (1841-1910) wrote a series of short stories featuring a character who has been dubbed ‘the female Sherlock Holmes’, the lady detective Loveday Brooke. It was an opportune, if not out-and-out opportunistic, time to create a new fictional detective: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had just killed off his popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes, much to the nation’s outrage, although a huge financial incentive would persuade him to bring Holmes back a decade later. Read the rest of this entry

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Fantasy Book Review: Leigh Brackett’s Sea-Kings of Mars

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the rich and rewarding planetary romances of a forgotten pulp writer

What happens if you cross the Martian adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the pulp fantasy of Robert E. Howard? You get the planetary fantasies of Leigh Brackett, the underrated writer of ‘science fantasy’ who penned a number of hugely entertaining short stories and novellas set on Venus and Mars. Leigh Brackett hasn’t quite been forgotten, at least by those (including the fantasy and SF author Michael Moorcock) who have championed her work and, in the case of Moorcock among others, been inspired by her: Moorcock himself wrote a trilogy of Martian novels, Kane of Old Mars, which were influenced by Burroughs but also, I suspect, by Brackett. (Leigh Brackett also inspired, and later collaborated with, a young Ray Bradbury: one of their co-authored stories, ‘Lorelei of the Red Mist’, is included in the edition I mention and review below.) But nor has she ever quite got her due. Like another queen of the golden age of pulp fantasy, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett has been allowed to fall out of print. Much of Brackett’s best writing goes unacknowledged: she also worked with Jules Furthman and William Faulkner on the critically acclaimed screenplay for the 1946 film version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep, one of the classics of the noir genre. Read the rest of this entry

The Anxiety of the Thirties: Richard Aldington’s Life Quest

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, the modernist long poem that time forgot

The standout modernist long poem of the 1920s was The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s poem redefined what modernism could do in poetry, influenced by James Joyce’s example of the ‘mythical method’ in his novel Ulysses and the various Symbolist and imagist experiments in French and English verse. It captured a moment and mood of post-war desolation and uncertainty, a world in ruin plagued by fears and anxieties, ennui and a lack of self-confidence. But what happened to the modernist long poem in the 1930s at another moment of anxiety and transition has been less well-covered by scholars and critics of modernism.

The thirties belong to W. H. Auden, and to a lesser extent those who moved in his orbit but were good, or very good, poets in their own right: Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, the ‘Pylon poets’. Curiously, Auden more or less began his poetic career with a highly unusual work, caught between Read the rest of this entry