Sunday, February 18, 2018

Beardsley 120 - The Death of Pierrot


Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton in 1872 and attended Brighton Grammar School. He died in 1898 at the tragically early age of 25 from tuberculosis.

Beardsley 120: The Death of Pierrot is a series of events in Brighton that commemorate 120 years since Beardsley’s untimely death. The events are co-ordinated by Alexia Lazou and present aspects of Beardsley’s life and work in various ways including tours, talks and films. They include:

Aubrey Beardsley: 25 Years in 25 Pictures
Launch event. Saturday 3 March, 1pm, The Yellow Book café/bar, York Place, Brighton.Free entry. At 2pm Alexia Lazou will present a short introduction to Beardsley—25 Years in 25 Pictures.

The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley
Sunday 4 March, 2pm, The Annunciation Church, Washington Street, Brighton. Free, donations welcome. Alexia Lazou presents an illustrated talk, ‘The Brighton of Aubrey Beardsley’, exploring the buildings and places associated with the artist’s early life. Following the talk there will also be an opportunity to look round ‘the artists’ church’ with writer Stephen Plaice.

Beardsley’s Brighton tour

Saturday 10 & Sunday 25 March, 11am. Meet outside W H Smith's bookshop, Brighton Station concourse, Queens Road. Free. Join guide Alexia Lazou for a gentle 90-120 minute stroll through Brighton, exploring the buildings and places associated with Aubrey Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley: 120 Years After The Death of Pierrot
Bite-Size Museum Talk, Tuesday 27 March, 12pm, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. No booking required. Come and discover more about Beardsley, see two of his original drawings close up, and hear about some of the ways he has been commemorated during the 120 years since his untimely death. With Alexia Lazou, Collections Assistant.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Psammomancy – Mark Valentine and Brian Lavelle


Fine sand is poured from a pouch,
trickled onto a tray or table,
fingertips are used to find figures,
tracing, erasing, effacing, shaping . . .


Psammmomancy
: the mysterious art of sand reading explored in text by Mark Valentine and music by Brian Lavelle, with black and white photography by Jo Valentine. Professionally printed 16 page booklet and professionally duplicated CD.


Limited to 120 numbered copies, of which 100 only are for sale. £8 plus postage of £1.50 UK, £4.00 Europe and £5.00 Rest of the World.

Available here, or via Bandcamp (slightly higher prices there to allow for charges).

Or contact markl [dot] valentine [at] btinternet [dot] com,
removing spaces and replacing the words in brackets with characters.
(Note, the fifth character is the letter ell not the number one.)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Steve Holland's Forgotten Authors, Volumes 1 & 2

Steve Holland has recently published two volumes of his researches into forgotten authors, and some of these authors (like Gerald Biss and Ella M. Scrymsour) are of definite interest to Wormwoodiana readers.

Forgotten Authors Volume 1 covers thirteen authors, including W. Stephens Hayward,  Anonyma, Stella M. During, Edric Vredenburg, Morley Adams, Gerald Biss, W. Holt-White,  Alphonse Courlander, Ella M. Scrymsour, Alexander Wilson, Guy Ramsey, E. T. Portwin, and Dail Ambler. It is available in trade paperback and Kindle formats via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. See the Amazon pages for more details.

Forgotten Authors Volume 2 covers another ten authors: Bracebridge Hemyng, Philip Richards, Frank Barrett (Frank Davis), Ernest Protheroe, Charles Granville (Charles Hosken), Louise Heilgers, C. E. Vulliamy, Evelyn Winch, Frederick Foden, and David Roberts. This volume is also available in trade paperback and Kindle formats, via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Clink on the links for more details.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Reading Walter de la Mare - a Cambridge Conference


‘Reading Walter de la Mare’
is a two day conference to be held in Cambridge on 20-21 September 2018, organised by Yui Kajita and Anna Nickerson, with support from the University of Cambridge and The Walter de la Mare Society.

The conference has now issued a call for papers on any aspects of de la Mare’s writing – his poetry, plays, fiction, essays, anthologies. Proposals should be received by 31 March 2018. Expressions of interest in attending are also invited. The announcement for the conference advises that “It is anticipated that the main programme, including lunch and refreshments, will be free for all.”

De la Mare’s influence on the field of supernatural fiction has been profound, and can be seen directly, for example, in the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Butts, Forrest Reid and probably Robert Aickman. He may be seen as one of the first to move the ghost story into subtler and more uncertain terrain, and to mesh ideas of an other world with the ambiguities of this one, the borderlands of the mind, the enigmatic country of dreams, obsessions, visions.

The idea for the conference is very welcome and should be an excellent opportunity to explore the many rich dimensions of de la Mare's work.

Mark Valentine

Monday, February 5, 2018

Une Autre Cigarette – Two Versions of An Uncollected Poem by Percy Lancelot Osborn


Percy Lancelot Osborn was the author of two books: Rose Leaves from Philostratus (‘adapted into English verse from the Greek epistles’), published At the Sign of the Unicorn in 1901; and The Poems of Sappho (‘Poems, Epigrams and Fragments: Translations and Adaptations’), issued by Elkin Mathews in 1909.

The Spectator (16 April, 1910) thought the Sappho book “shows scholarship and a feeling for the more delicate shades of cadence and emotion”. In the very brief fragments, each of a few words only, given at the end of the book, Percy Osborn also showed a modern sensibility, almost as a herald of the Imagist dedication to the terse and elliptical.

In the Sappho book he is described as ‘Late Demy of Magdalen Coll., Oxford’. At Oxford, he contributed to The Spirit Lamp, the journal edited by Lord Alfred Douglas. It was redolent with the aesthetic and decadent ambience of the Eighteen Nineties. His work appeared under his initials, as by ‘P.L.O.’ He translated Baudelaire and in one issue offered, from Meleager, ‘The Garland of Boyhood’s Flowers’, a paean to Greek youths.

‘Caprice: la cigarette’ appeared in the 6 December 1892 issue (Volume II, no IV). It has never been collected. To write about a cigarette, and to compare it as he does to the human soul, would have been seen at the time as a daring and disdainful thing to do: other decadents such as Arthur Symons also evoked the symbolism of its sordid silver smoke.

In his essay ‘Butterflies, Orchids and Wasps: Polyglossia and Aesthetic Lives: Foreign Languages in The Spirit Lamp (1892-1893)’, Xavier Giudicelli suggests the influence of Verlaine in Osborn’s cigarettes verse, and adds: “The tone and subject of this poem are rather playful. It is an ode to the cigarette as the epitome of ephemeral pleasure and as a metaphor for the inanity of man’s life in this world.”

Nothing seems to be known of Percy Osborn after his second book. His brother, E.B. (Edward Bolland) Osborn (1867-1938), who also contributed to The Spirit Lamp, was later the literary editor of the highly respectable Morning Post newspaper, an anthologist and general man-of-letters, most known for The Muse in Arms, his anthology of First World War poems. There is always a sense of fleetingness in Percy Osborn’s work: we are left to wonder if he was another of those from what Yeats called the Tragic Generation, who succumbed young.

Here is the cigarette poem in Osborn’s original French, and my two renderings of it:

Caprice: la cigarette

‘P.L.O.’ [Percy Lancelot Osborn]

Ô cigarette à douce odeur,
Les tourbillons de ta vapeur
Ressemblent à la vie humaine,
Qui n’est que vaporeuse et vaine.

Comme dans l’air la vapeur fuit
L’âme qui meurt s’évanouit
Dieu s’écrie ! Ah, si l’on regrette
Roulons une autre cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Respectfully Englished by Mark Valentine


O cigarette so sweetly odoured,
The swirling of your vapour
Is as human life the same:
Nothing but hazy and vain.

Just as your fumes fade in the air
The dying soul will disappear.
God cries out! Ah, if we regret
Let’s roll another cigarette.

Caprice: the cigarette
Freely Englished by Mark Valentine


The scented cig fumes rise
Resembling our lives
Each crazy silver spiral
Just as hazy, just as futile.

Yeah, the fumes disappear;
And we’ll end up nowhere.
So what? Je ne regrette.
Roll another cigarette.

Other versions would be most welcome.

Mark Valentine

Thursday, January 18, 2018

An Interview with Henry Wessells - Part 2


You note that H G Wells created for himself a role as a “public intellectual of the first order”. Can science fiction still lead thinking and debate in this way? Is it still involved in a “conversation”, or is it just talking to itself now?


Lead in the sense of walk along untrodden pathways and offer concrete fictional models for thought, yes. Whether those outside the field pay attention to science fiction is ultimately a different question.

One thing about the twenty-first century is clear, science fiction writers do not turn away from their roots when their intellectual engagement takes them into a broader public sphere. As Phillip K. Dick wrote, the world became increasingly phildickian during the 1970s. The publisher of William Gibson may no longer use the science fiction label to market his novels, but Gibson has not forgotten where he comes from.

You mention Philip K Dick’s “vision of disintegrating reality” but also say “his books are about what it means to be human.” That suggests a bleak view of the human position. Is SF increasingly a pessimistic genre?

No! Emphatically, no! I am the least pessimistic person you can think of. Science fiction is the literature of imaginative possibilities. The real point of interest in recent dystopian fiction is not the immediate circumstances of the dystopia, but an idea most clearly articulated by Christopher Brown in an essay entitled “Dystopia Is Realism: the Future Is Here If You Look Closely”: “We need to write our way through our own ruin to have any hope of finding what could be on the other side.”

Lastly, what’s your current reading in SF and the Fantastic?


Gnomon by Nick Harkaway; Little, Big by John Crowley (to re-read: I resisted the temptation all last year while writing my ‘Conversation’); and I want to read some ghost stories of the interwar years, to follow up on some of the suggestions in Richard Dalby & Rosemary Pardoe’s anthology Ghosts and Scholars (1987).


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Interview with Henry Wessells - Part 1


In our previous post we discussed A Conversation Larger Than the Universe - Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic by Wormwood contributor Henry Wessells. Henry kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book.

Your book takes us back to imaginary voyages, often written with polemical or satirical intent (More’s Utopia, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels etc), and to the Gothic novel. Do you think this sort of continuity is important to how science fiction sees itself? Couldn’t it rather be seen as a bold example of “make it new”, as a disruption?


To think about how science fiction is at its core about disruption or innovation is really useful.

To step back a bit before following that line: I subscribe to a very broad description of science fiction as encompassing fantasy and horror. I use science fiction in preference to John Clute’s useful notion of “fantastika” but that is a personal habit of speech. I do see the awareness of history, of the past as material for fiction, as a key component of the Gothic, which can be discerned from 1762, when Longsword appeared. The tale creaks, but everything is there: evil monks, menaced maidens, imprisonment in castles and monasteries, infant kidnappings, “secret malignity,” poisons, indirection and difficultly, and wild coincidences.

Labelling is inherently retrospective. There are any number of works that have been identified as “where science fiction begins” (the earliest being Lucian of Samosata, which I have not read). To make such an assertion — for Utopia, the Chemical Wedding, Kepler’s Somnium, or Hugo Gernsback — is a political statement, as Chip Delany reminds us.

For me, Frankenstein (1818) is where science fiction emerges from the Gothic. The innovation is in the extrapolation from science, and the boldness to create life from dead parts. The creature is not an automaton or doll but a sentient individual capable of self-education and the acquisition of language (and a vegetarian, too!).

Mary Shelley grew up in a literary household, her father William Godwin wrote Things as They Are, the bleakest late Gothic novel of persecution. When Mary wrote a novel, how natural to adapt the epistolary form and other trappings of the Gothic mode. And yet the subject matter and intellectual concerns of Frankenstein mark the novel as something new, a gate once opened and not to be closed again.

The late Brian Aldiss was a bold advocate for Mary Shelley as the origin of science fiction, but he was certainly not the first to articulate the importance of Frankenstein in science fiction. For example, Frankenstein is one of the earliest novels recorded in the 1953 bibliography “333”.

I suppose that as a reader I am interested in two aspects of a book: innovation, what is new, and “filiation,” how it relates to earlier works. I use Philip Gove’s very useful term, from The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction (1941).


And yet it could be argued that pretty much up to cyber punk, science fiction used fairly conventional storytelling forms to explore its unconventional themes. Why wasn’t there a Modernist science fiction – or was there? What experiments in form or style do you see?


One of the joys of science fiction is the ability to move unflinchingly through time and space: and the knowledge that the reader will follow. And so this will be a slightly roundabout way of getting to the question of modernity and the fantastic.

Science fiction is a living literary mode that is perpetually open to change (sometimes to the dismay of readers who can no longer keep pace with all the books). In the flood of new work, sometimes older works are overlooked. As a reader, I am often drawn to such “forgotten” books. Some are very much worthy of rediscovery.

Take Richard Jefferies' After London (1885). Jefferies removed London from the face of the earth and wrote a two-part tale of what one might call the Day after the End of the World. The first part is nature writing of a formally innovative kind: not explaining the cataclysm but observing the consequences. Nothing else like it. And if the second part takes the shape of a boys’ adventure tale, it is still recounting events hundreds of years after the defining event (and that part of After London is the archetype for all the neo-feudal futures to come). Science fiction does sometimes evolve new forms in the struggle of the story to be told.

A year or so ago, while I was writing the chapter on Jefferies and others, Peak Victorian (published in Wormwood 29), when I would ask people if they had read Jefferies, even well-read people often looked at me with puzzlement. Even when I met people who knew Jefferies’ nature writings, they had never heard of After London. Yet in the same week that Wormwood 29 appeared this fall, the TLS reviewed a new scholarly edition of After London edited by Mark Frost for Edinburgh University Press. Steam-engine time for Richard Jefferies.

Now to think a bit more directly about literary modernism and the fantastic. Heart of Darkness is an early Club Story, and the apotheosis of the form. Just look at John Clute’s A Darkening Garden (2007) to see how his thinking about Conrad developed in the decade after the Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

Hope Mirrlees was a contemporary (and friend) of T. S. Eliot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf published her Paris a Poem (1919), now seen as one of the antecedents of The Waste Land (1922). As Michael Swanwick observes, Lud-in-the-Mist “is a dissident work, written in full awareness of what the proper literary writers were up to, and in its refusal to go along with them daringly defiant.”

Lord Dunsany, whose early work had close ties to W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, wrote novels of fantasy in sonorous prose in the 1920s. The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924) describes the forging of a magic sword from thunderbolts with a monstrous, unequivocally post-war simile: “like the evil pool that glares when thermite has burst.” His 1933 novel The Curse of the Wise Woman is tale of rural Ireland and the magic of the red bog set mostly in the 1880s. Except that it is a retrospective tale narrated by an Irish consul in an unnamed Balkan country, and within the first three chapters, Dunsany specifically uses the words “silence,” “exile,” and “cunning”: he was not unaware of modernism.

Certainly there are strains of fantasy that are conservative and even hostile to literary change. For all his cosmic philosophical viewpoint, H. P. Lovecraft rejected Eliot’s modernism and aspired to eighteenth-century English literary ideals; and the American pulps did not reward literary experimentation. In many ways the pulps operated in defiance of modernism. Science fiction was never at a distance from literary activity. Look at Shelley or Wells. Literature never excluded science fiction until it excluded itself.

Things began to change in the late 1940s. Anthony Boucher encouraged literary quality in the works selected for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and he was the first translator of fiction by Jorge Luis Borges into English. James Blish and Damon Knight raised the standards of literary criticism in American science fiction. But it is really with the New Wave of the early 1960s that the learned or self-imposed isolation of science fiction collapsed.

Writers such as J. G. Ballard and Tom Disch and Joanna Russ asserted literary excellence as inseparable from the aims of science fiction. And for formal innovation, Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967) is still pretty dazzling. William Burroughs was familiar enough with the tool-kit of science fiction to add it to his cut-up machine in the early 1960s: think of Nova Express and The Soft Machine. Science fiction writers of the 1980s such as William Gibson and Rudy Rucker were conscious of these writers when they burst on the scene.