Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Update: Supernature (mostly)

A slew of new writers (well, 16 anyway—I've never been sure exactly how many constitutes a "slew").  Several of these writers were best known for works of fantasy or works that incorporate supernatural elements, and I have to give credit where it's due, because some of these writers were actually brought to my attention by two helpful readers, one really interesting reference work, and a publishing house I don't know how I'd missed until now.

Julia, who has already made many other suggestions that have already been added to the list, emailed me a while back and mentioned two more, Jessie Douglas Kerruish and Maryon Urquhart.  John at Pretty Sinister did a fascinating review of Kerruish's The Undying Monster (1922) a while back, and Urquhart's The Island of Souls (1910) has been described as: "A fully developed Edwardian novel about high magic in contemporary England, and the struggle between forces of good and evil for the soul of a young girl."  Both sound fascinating, so thanks again, Julia!

Still from the film version of "The Undying Monster"

And another kind reader, Tina, has provided me with wonderful lists of the authors included in several anthologies she has from the 1930s.  These have been great fun to look over, and have led me to five new authors for my list.  Christine Campbell Thomson, Kathleen Warren, and Pansy Pakenham were included in Tina's lists, but Pansy turned out to be a triple score, because in addition to being a novelist herself, she happens to have had two sisters who also qualify for the list.  I do love these literary families! 

Pansy Lamb (née Pakenham) with her daughters

Violet Powell (née Pakenham) with husband, novelist Anthony Powell

MARY PAKENHAM's Christmas with the Savages (1955), described as a novel that makes autobiographical use of the Pakenhams' large family gatherings, sounds irresistible.  And I'm stretching the boundaries of my list for Violet Pakenham, since only one of her memoirs (barely) fits my time period, but the fact that she was also the biographer (under her married name, Violet Powell) of the likes of Margaret Kennedy and E. M. Delafield made her a very worthy exception (not to mention that the "Powell" comes from her hubby, novelist Anthony Powell).  The Pakenham sisters seem interesting in their own right, so I may be revisiting them in future posts  So, thanks again for your help, Tina!

Mary Pakenham (later Clive)

I recently came across a useful 2008 reference book called Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Robin Anne Reid, which provides an excellent survey of women's writing in those genres going all the way back to the medieval period.  Naturally, the chapters focused on 1900-1959 were right up my alley, and several of the names below derive from there.  (At some point, I'm going to post a bibliography of useful reference works I've found and ask for you brilliant readers' suggestions of others, and Reid's book will belong on that list when it finally comes about…)  For example, SUSAN ALICE KERBY's 1945 novel, Miss Carter and the Ifrit, in which, according to Reid, "a spinster learns to enjoy life with the help of a genie," sounds irresistible.  And, though she's already on my list, I had never given much thought to Mary Norton's The Magic Bed-Knob (1943) until Reid noted that it's about "a spinster learning how to become a witch," which triggered thoughts of Lolly Willowes and bumped it up my "to read" list.

Original cover, now reprinted by Sundial

And finally, how have I never stumbled across Sundial Press until now?  According to their website, they've been around for eight years, so I have obviously been oblivious.  A search for Phyllis Paul led me to them, because they've reprinted her 1957 novel A Cage for the Nightingale, and they compare it to Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, one of my ambivalent favorites (I hate it, but I love it, if you know what I mean).  While I was there, Sundial's website introduced me to Phillippa Powys, sister of the better-known John Cowper Powys.  Her fiction, including the one novel published in her lifetime, The Blackthorn Winter (1930), sounds bleak but interesting, and I also learned that one of the torments in her tormented life was having been infatuated with Valentine Ackland before Sylvia Townsend Warner came along and lived not-entirely-happily but certainly ever after with Ackland.  Undoubtedly some drama there if we were to dig a bit deeper…

Portrait of Phillipa Powys, by Gertrude Powys

By the way, Sundial has issued some other intriguing reprints as well, including several by authors already on my list.  They've published a compilation of Rosemary Timperley's ghost stories and next spring will (bless their hearts) reprint F. M. Mayor's impossible-to-find story collection The Room Opposite (1935), which contains several ghost stories and has been on my wish list for a while.  They've also published new collections of stories by Elizabeth Myers and Malachi Whitaker, both writers I've meant to read but haven't yet.  I've added Sundial to my "Sympatico Sites" and will be watching them closely to see what they'll do next!

Below is the whole list of new authors, all of which have been added to the main list.  I hope you find them interesting!

JANE GASKELL (1941-    )

Fantasy writer best known for Strange Evil (1957), written when she was only 14, which deals with a war between fairies; a later series deals with residents of Atlantis fleeing to Egypt; other titles include King's Daughter (1958), All Neat in Black Stockings (1968), and Summer Coming (1972).

Jane Gaskell
Paperback cover of Gaskell's Strange Evil

(pseudonym of Alice Elizabeth Burton, married name Aitken)

Known for popular histories of life in various periods of British history, Kerby also wrote six earlier novels, including Miss Carter and the Ifrit (1945), an intriguing fantasy about a spinster and a genie, and Mr. Kronion (1949), about a Greek god defending English village life.

Cover of Kerby's later fantasy novel


Author of The Undying Monster (1922), about a family cursed by an unknown creature, for short fiction collected in Babylonian Nights' Entertainments (1934), and for her two earlier adventure novels, Miss Haroun al-Raschid (1917) and The Girl from Kurdistan (1918).

HILDA LEWIS (1896-1974)

Historical novelist and children's author best known for The Ship That Flew (1939), about a toy ship that travels in time; her novels for adults include Said Dr. Spendlove (1940), about the Crippen case, Imogen Under Glass (1943), Wife to Henry V (1954), and The Witch and the Priest (1956).

Hilda Lewis

(aka Mark Vinton)

Fantasy author known for her Karmic Destiny sequence—Island Sonata (1944), Muted Strings (1946) and Delphic Echo (1948)—which deals with Atlantis and reincarnation; other titles include The Future of Mr. Purdew (1936), A Market for Idols (1939), and Moloch (1942).


Best known for her much-cited history The Irish Republic (1937), Macardle also wrote numerous plays for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, as well as four novels, most famously Uneasy Freehold (1941, aka The Uninvited), a romantic Gothic, and Dark Enchantment (1953), about an accused witch.

A seductive cover for Macardle's most successful novel

Poster from 1944 film adaptation

Another intriguing cover, for a less famous work

MARY PAKENHAM (1907-2010)
(married name Clive, aka Hans Duffy)

Sister of Pansy and Violet below, Pakenham published four pseudonymous novels in the 1930s—In England Now (1932), Seven by Seven (1933), Lucasta's Wedding (1936), and Under the Sugar-Plum Tree (1937)—and the acclaimed autobiographical novel, Christmas with the Savages (1955).

PANSY PAKENHAM (1904-1999)
(married name Lamb)

Wife of painter Henry Lamb; biographer of Charles I (1936), translator, and author of two novels, The Old Expedient (1928), described as an “original and intriguing fantasy” set in London and on an Irish island, and August (1931), called “a brief but searching Odyssey among the intelligentsia.”

(married name Powell, aka Violet Powell)

Wife of novelist Anthony Powell; memoirist and biographer, her three volumes of acclaimed memoirs begin with Five Out of Six (1960), but she is likely better known for her biographies of Somerville & Ross (1970), Margaret Kennedy (1983), and E. M. Delafield (1988).

This seems like a must-read

PHYLLIS PAUL (1903-1973)

Author of eleven well-received novels from the 1930s-1960s, some dealing with supernatural themes; titles include We Are Spoiled (1933), The Children Triumphant (1934), Constancy (1951), and A Cage for the Nightingale (1957), which has been compared to The Turn of the Screw.

Another rather seductive dust jacket...

PHILIPPA POWYS (1886-1963)

Sister of novelists John Cowper and Theodore Francis, Powys wrote dark fiction about rural life but published only one novel in her lifetime, The Blackthorn Winter (1930); two more unpublished novellas, The Tragedy of Budvale and Sorrel Barn, were first published by Sundial Press in 2011.

ELLA M[ARY]. SCRYMSOUR (1888-1962)
(full name Ella Scrymsour-Nichol, née Robertson)

Novelist who had triggered considerable research long before I came across her, best known for the supernatural/sci-fi thriller The Perfect World (1922) and for subsequent potboilers; the stories in Shiela Crerar, Psychic Investigator, only compiled in 2006, may also be of interest.

(married names Cook and Hartley, aka Flavia Richardson)

Best known for popular anthologies of horror fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Not at Night (1925), Thomson also published short fiction of her own and several novels, including Bourgoyne of Goyce (1921), The Incredible Island (1924), and In a Far Corner (1926).

Christine Campbell Thomson

M[ARYON]. URQUHART (dates unknown)

Author of six novels from 1905-1910, some focused on the supernatural—most famously The Island of Souls (1910), about "high magic in contemporary England" and "psychic vampirism"; others include Our Lady of the Mists (1907) and The Fool of Faery (1910).


An acclaimed writer of novels and stories of ghosts and the supernatural, Walter is on the very edge of my time frame, with her first novel, The More Deceived, appearing in 1960; her ghost stories appear in collections like Snowfall (1965), The Sin Eater (1967), and In the Mist (1979).

KATHLEEN WARREN (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of at least three novels published by Faber in the 1950s—The Locked Gates (1950), Intruder in the House (1951), and The Long Fidelity (1952)—but details about these or other titles are sketchy.


  1. I loved the Violet Powell biography of The Prov Lady. Well worth reading.

    1. Oh, good to know, Nicola. I'm going to have to check it out!

  2. I've just ordered Christmas with the Savages. What an extraordinary family!

    I can see your site is going to have an appalling effect on my purse.

    1. Well, if it makes you feel better, I've been blowing my book budget lately too! I have Christmas with the Savages on the top shelf of my "to read" bookcase. I almost started it last week, but wondered if I should wait for Christmas to come around again. In any case, let me know what you think!


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