The Seeds of Nero Wolfe

Before ghost stories and the uncanny, crime fiction was my genre of choice. I’ve gone back to reading a lot of mystery lately, especially Golden Age mystery, and
recently I came across an early Rex Stout story — pre Nero Wolfe. The Last Drive (1916) is an enjoyable enough story of its kind, but got more interesting when I realized that this golf-themed mystery is an early version of the central conceit in the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance (1934). Aha!

GolfersMagazine1916cover
The first installment of The Last Drive appeared in the July 1916 issue of Golfers Magazine. Source: Hathi Trust

The Last Drive was originally published as a five-part serial in Golfers Magazine, and had been long forgotten, even by Rex Stout scholars. The story was rediscovered in 2011 by Cattelya Concepcion, then a student at George Mason University School of Law. She and her professor, Ross Davies, published their discovery in the 2012 Green Bag Almanac and Reader, an annual almanac that highlights the previous year’s exemplary legal writing.

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Kristine Ong Muslim

Today’s featured writer Kristine Ong Muslim is a native and resident of Maguindanao province, southern Philippines. Her uncanny fiction, poetry and translations of other Filipino writers have been widely anthologized, and her most recent book is the collection of apocalyptic short fiction, The Drone Outside (2017).

Kristine Muslim
Kristine Ong Muslim. Source

My introduction to Ong Muslim was her short story “The Pit,” in the uncanny fiction anthology Uncertainties, Vol 4 (editor Timothy J. Jarvis), from Swan River Press. It’s short, unsettling, and ambiguous. There is much for the reader to reconstruct between the lines–as is generally true of the type of fiction that shows up in the Uncertainties anthologies. It’s the kind of story that will work for some readers, and not for others. I was intrigued; I wanted to find more.

Grande uncertainties4

Ong Muslim writes on a variety of dark themes, with a mixture of horror, science fiction, weirdness, and allegory. Not all of her tales are necessarily “weird,” but there’s always at least a trace of the uncanny in her prose. In the last few years especially, much of her fiction has had a decidedly apocalyptic theme running through it, and a deep pessimism about human nature. I won’t lie; a lot of her stories are hard to read, at this time, in the present pandemic situation. But they’re beautiful.

Much of her work is available online, and here are some stories that I especially liked. This is more links than I usually share, but many of these, even the “longer” ones, are quite short. The longer pieces are in roughly chronological order.

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Theo Douglas

Today’s authoress of the fantastic is Henrietta Dorothy Everett (1851-1923), who wrote under the name Theo Douglas. Though mostly forgotten today, she wrote some 22 novels, at least half of which were fantastical or supernatural. There isn’t a lot known about her life, but from the descriptions in both the Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Wikipedia, her novels look worth digging up, if you are into quirky pulpish stuff [1].

The Death Mask book cover
Book cover for the first edition of The Death Mask (1920). Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Today, however, I’ll talk about Everett’s ghost stories, mostly collected in The Death Mask and Other Ghosts (1920), published under her real name. The Death Mask drew notice from both M. R. James (“of a rather quieter tone on the whole, but with some excellently conceived stories”[2]) and H. P. Lovecraft (“though adhering to very old and conventional models, [she] occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror”[3]).

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Emilia Pardo Bazán

Women’s History Month is over, but my series continues! Today I am featuring one of the major figures of Spanish literature: feminist, novelist, journalist, critic, and profilic short story writer Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Countess of Pardo Bazán. Like George Sand, she is not primarily thought of as a writer of the fantastic [1], but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.

La Esfera-Condesa de Pardo Bazán Gamonal
La condesa de Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) Illustration by Isidro Fernández Fuertes (1921). Source: Wikimedia

According to her page at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, she “is considered the best Spanish woman novelist of the 19th Century and one of the most distinguished writers in [the history of Spanish literature].” In 1916, she became the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university: Chair of Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid.

I hadn’t read her since my undergrad days (I have a minor in Spanish Language Literature, though I remember almost nothing about it now), and she didn’t catch my attention at the time, focused as I was on the Argentine magical realists. I came across her again recently, while flipping through some of my old textbooks and bilingual anthologies, and this time around, her stories struck me, hard. Her writing feels remarkably contemporary in its psychological acuity and feminist outlook; like Quiroga, she sketches perceptive portraits of some of the darker and/or frailer aspects of human nature. While the stories I initially read don’t quite fit into the types of fiction I discuss on this blog, I really wanted to include her in this series, if possible.

Fortunately, a little digging surfaced several pieces that arguably qualify as fantastic or weird. I think I’ll have translation projects for some time to come! For this post, I’ll start with two that are short, but particularly powerful.

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: May Sinclair

Today’s featured author is Mary Amelia St. Clair (1863-1946), who wrote under the name May Sinclair. She was a novelist, poet, and literary critic; also a feminist who was actively involved in the suffrage movement. She wrote and critiqued works in the modernist tradition, and is credited with having coined the term “stream of consciousness” in a literary context.

363px May Sinclair 001
May Sinclair (1863-1946), circa 1912. Source: Wikimedia

She was also greatly interested in philosophy and psychoanalysis, interests that permeate the writings that I’m highlighting today. She wrote extensively on the Brontë sisters, and it seems to have been her Brontë scholarship that led to her interest in the supernatural. Several of her ghost stories and metaphysical tales were published together in 1923 as Uncanny Stories.

I first came across Sinclair’s writing in the excellent Boris Karloff/Edmund Speare anthology And the Darkness Falls. Her story “Where the Fire is Not Quenched” is a dark and dread-inducing description of Hell, with an almost Twilight-Zone vibe. It’s also a great example of Sartre’s maxim “Hell is other people” — written at least twenty years before Sartre wrote No Exit in 1943.

Uncanny Stories went into public domain in the U.S. just before I discovered Sinclair, and I’ve had the collection on my “to read” list ever since. This series gave me the perfect motivation to finally pull it off the list, and I’m glad I did.

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Juana Manuela Gorriti

Today’s featured writer is Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), possibly the first published writer of fantasy in Latin America [1].

Juana Manuela Gorriti
Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892).
Source: Wikimedia

During her lifetime, she was also the most widely read woman writer in Latin America [2]. I don’t honestly know how well known she is today, but she definitely deserves attention for (among other things) her contributions to gothic literature. In this post, I’ll talk about some of Gorriti’s gothic pieces, and share a translation of a short ghost story from her later writing.

Juana Manuela Gorriti came from a politically active family in Argentina. Her father, José Ignacio de Gorriti, was a hero of the Argentine war of independence from Spain, and a supporter of the Unitarian faction of Argentine politics [3]. When the opposing Federalist faction overthrew the Unitarian government of Argentina, the Gorriti famiily escaped to Bolivia.

In Bolivia, Juana Manuela met and married Manuel Isidro Belzu, who eventually became President of Bolivia. The marriage was not happy, and Gorriti separated from Belzu and moved to Peru, where she began her literary life.  She started a school, edited journals, and published not only in Peru, but in Chile and Argentina as well. While in Lima, she began to host tertulias, or salons, which were attended by prominent cultural and literary figures of the day, both men and women–especially women, for Gorriti was a feminist and encouraged women to join in the intellectual and political life of their countries.

In 1878 she returned to Argentina, establishing herself in the literary and cultural circles of her native country, while maintaining connections with the (many) notable women writers of the period from all over South America. She died in Buenos Aires in 1892.

Continue reading

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: George Sand

Today’s post features Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand (1804-1876).

George Sand (1804-1876)
George Sand as painted by François Théodore Rochard, circa 1835. Source: Wikimedia

Sand was one of the most popular writers in the Europe of her time, and highly regarded by contemporary writers and cultural figures, many of whom were her close friends or lovers. Incredibly prolific and politically active, her writings advocated for the poor and working-class, and criticized the social norms that subordinated women to their husbands. She also lived a colorful and controversial life, openly wearing male attire and smoking in public at a time when women did neither of those things. After separating from her husband (at a time when divorce was illegal in France), she took a number of lovers, including Frederic Chopin.

There are people more qualified than I am to write about her overall standing and influence on literature, so I’ll just write about the fantastical and folkloric work that I’m highlighting today: Sand’s 1859 novella Les Dames vertes, translated into English as The Naiad: A Ghost Story; and her 1858 collection Légendes rustiques (Rustic Legends).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Las Rayas by Horacio Quiroga

In the introduction to their fantastic (and huge) anthology The Weird: A Compedium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer talk about “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational” as components of the Weird. With respect to modern (twentieth and twenty-first century) fiction, they write:

The Weird, in a modern vernacular, has also come to mean fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark recognition of the unknown and the visionary.

The thought 1904 jpg Blog
The Thought, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1904). Source: WikiArt

There is a particular feeling, they go on to say, that a certain piece of fiction gives to aficionados of the Weird, a feeling that makes us go “yes, that piece, it’s Weird.” When I read “Las rayas,” by Horacio Quiroga, I definitely got that feeling.

Quiroga isn’t represented in The Weird anthology, but perhaps he ought to have been. He wasn’t in Jorge Luis Borges’ anthology The Book of Fantasy, either, and Borges must certainly have been familiar with his work. Though obviously the fantastic and the weird aren’t (always) the same thing. Quiroga’s work is mostly non-supernatural–also true of Poe, who Quiroga greatly admired–but much of it (like Poe) is extremely unsettling, with illness or madness, or the brutality of jungle life contributing to that sense that here, in this story, you have indeed relinquished the rational.

“Las rayas” struck me as particularly weird. It’s a story about an inexplicable graphomania and its tragic outcome. So of course, I wanted to translate and share it. It seemed straighforward enough, but turned out to be challenging for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.

Continue reading

Library Police: A Novel Crime Fiction Genre

Reading two different takes on libraries, crime, and the 1970s.

I tripped over an interesting collection while browsing the Wildside Press website: The Library Fuzz Megapack, James Holding’s series of short stories about Hal Johnson, the “Library Fuzz.” That’s right, he’s library police for the Grandhaven Public Library, in a smallish city that seems to be modeled on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[1] His job is to track down stolen and overdue books, and collect fines.

The Library Fuzz Megapack, by James Holding

As someone who more than once has put a hold on a checked-out book at my local library, only to eventually discover that said book has disappeared, this concept resonates with me. I’m lucky; I can afford to buy books that I can’t get from the library, but not everyone can. And often the book I asked for is older, out of print, and relatively obscure, so even money doesn’t help; the book can’t be easily purchased, and information has simply been lost. So, while I appreciate that it isn’t a good look these days for cops to go door to door, demanding the return of overdue books and collecting late fees (which is what Hal Johnson does–politely), I have to admit that I like the idea of libraries having their own police to recover stolen books. I suspect more than a few librarians feel the same.

Continue reading