Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Bessie Kyffin-Taylor

Today’s post highlights Bessie Kyffin-Taylor, and her collection From Out of the Silence (1920). This seems to be one of only two works by Kyffin-Taylor, the other being Rosemary (A duologue) (1918) — held only by the British Library, at least according to WorldCat. Rosemary isn’t online anywhere that I’ve found.

From Out of the Silence
Image from the Mystery and Imagination blog

Nor is there much information about the author herself, though I did find a bit about her husband [1], and about her name:

From Out of the Silence is an enjoyable collection. I liked Kyffin-Taylor’s authorial voice; her protagonists are well-drawn, fleshed out, and occasionally quirky. There are some lovely discriptions of locale and scenery here, especially regarding Wales. The shadow of World War I hangs over a few of the stories, giving an extra touch of tension. Several of the tales have fairly novel touches to their plotting, though they can be somewhat sentimental in places. Supposedly these stories have been compared to the work of E.F. Benson; I thought of A.M. Burrage (maybe that was the WWI aspect, but Burrage could also get a bit sentimental, too), and “Two Little Red Shoes” made me think, just a bit, of Mary Wilkins Freeman.

According to some genealogical research by a gentleman named Anthony Kyffin, the name Kyffin comes from the Welsh word cyffin: “border, limit, frontier, boundary” (there is a link to the research in this blog post). And the Kyffins are/were to be predominantly found in Liverpool and in Wales (Denbighshire). This links up with stories in From Out of the Silence: though Kyffin-Taylor’s protagonists are mostly London-based, Wales comes up in two stories, in the form of a beloved but unnamed, “secret” Welsh locale that the protagonists of the stories retreat to. I imagine that’s an autobiographical detail.

My main beef with at least a couple of the stories is that the plots rely too heavily on no one telling the protagonist anything. Even though they all act like they want to, and it’s clear from the situation that they should, they just…don’t. And not for any good reason, other than to make the story happen. Sigh.

Nonetheless, if you can get past that, the collection is a good read, and I commend it to you.

As to the specific stories themselves: while researching this post, I found John Linwood Grant’s review of Out of the Silence at the Greydogtales blog. It’s pretty complete, and my opinions generally coincide with his, so rather than repeat everything again, I’ll point you there.

I’ll just add that my favorite story was “Outside the House,” which I have to say suffers badly from ‘Dangit, why don’t you just TELL HIM’ syndrome, but makes up for it by its darkness, the novelty of the haunting, and of its underlying cause. “The Twins” has an interesting setup, and “The Star Inn” has for its protagonists an eccentric (and disturbingly affectionate) brother and sister team, along with a prescient and plucky dog.

You can find a link to the collection here, at the Mystery and Imagination blog. It’s also available as ebook and physical book on Amazon.

Enjoy.


[1] Gerald Kyffin-Taylor was a military man who attained the rank of Brigadier-General, was a Conservative MP for Liverpool Kirkdale, and wrote a book (or report) called Re-housing the Dispossessed in Liverpool (1913), when he was Chairman of the Liverpool Corporation Housing Committee. He was also a regional Commissioner for Housing representing Lancashire and Cheshire in 1919. Exciting stuff, I know.

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