One of Dr. Allison’s Scotch facts struck us much. A poor Irish Widow, her husband having died in one of the Lanes of Edinburgh, went forth with her three children, bare of all resource, to solicit help from the Charitable Establishments of that City. At this Charitable Establishment and then at that she was refused; referred from one to the other, helped by none; — till she had exhausted them all; till her strength and heart failed her: she sank down in typhus fever; died, and infected her Lane with fever, so that ‘seventeen other persons’ died of fever there in consequence. The humane Physician asks thereupon, as with a heart too full for speaking, Would it not have been economy to help this poor Widow?
From Susan Mann's "Women in China's Long Eighteenth Century"
In this context, married couples were not expected to be intimate, and often they spent little time together. Indeed, a Chinese mother was likely to view a son’s attraction to his wife as a threat to her own claim on his affection, or, at the very least, as a source of distraction from the work her daughter-in-law was supposed to do for her. In elite families, husbands worked “outside” the home as scholars or officials or businessmen, which meant regular extended periods of travel to examinations or extended sojourning in teaching positions, official posts, or trade centers far from home. The husband’s absence required a bride to forge her primary ties with her mother-in-law and with the other women in her husband’s family, with whom she would spend most of her time. In this context, fantasies about marital intimacy represented not some romantic ideal of domesticity but resistance to the disciplines of Confucian patriarchy.
Nick Carter, in "Zanabayah, the Terrible, or, Nick Carter's Struggle With the Vitic King"
A little Friday reading for you, from a 1907 dime novel.
For those of you unfamiliar with Nick Carter, he was the archetypal detective figure in American popular culture for about thirty five years. He appeared in around 5000 stories, gave the world the first major supervillain in Dr. Jack Quartz (years before Arthur Conan Doyle created Professor Moriarty), and provided the model for Doc Savage, Superman, and Batman.
He was important, is what I’m saying.
The prose is dated, of course, but it’s still entertaining (I think so, anyhow) and stands as a good example of the dime novels at their peak.
Orpheus, and the central conflict in classical Greece.
But here comes in one of the dark features of the Greek religion, in which the gods envy the advancement of man in knowledge and civilization, and severely punish any one who transgresses the bounds assigned to humanity. In a later age the conflict was no longer viewed as between the gods and man, but between the worshippers of different divinities; and especially between Apollo, the symbol of pure intellect, and Dionysus, the deity of the senses; hence Orpheus, the servant of Apollo, falls a victim to the jealousy of Dionysus and the fury of his worshippers.
Nudipedalia. A name given to a procession of barefooted matrons, as an obsecratio, in time of great drought. The magistrates laid aside their insignia, the fasces were reversed, and a sacrifice was made at the Temple of Jupiter, the pontifices bearing at the head of the procession a sacred stone called the lapis manalis, from the Temple of Mars.
The Mysteries consisted of purifications, sacrifices, processions, songs, dances, dramatic spectacles, and similar ceremonies. The formulae or liturgies were kept profoundly secret, to be revealed only to those who had been fully initiated. The mystagogi, or priests of the Mysteries had undoubtedly at their command an abundance of mechanical devices to produce effects most startlng and convincing to the credulous worshipers. All the arts, in fact, were taxed to the utomst to astonish, dazzle, and appal. Marvels of light, sound and colour were displayed. Mysterious harmonies stole upon the ears of the attendant throngs; sighs and whispers were audible amid the intervals of awful silence; lights gleamed in strangely beautiful colours; and dazzing figures appeared and disappeared.
On the Mons Palatinus at Rome, there was, as in other Italian towns, [so this was common?] a deep pit with the shape of an inverted sky, known as the mundus, the lowest part of which was consecrated to the infernal gods and also to the Manes [the spirits of the dead], and was closed with a stone, the lapis manalis, thought to be the gate of the nether world. This stone was lifted up three times a year (August 24, October 5, November 8) and the Manes were then believed to rise to the upper world; on this account those days were religiosi—i.e. no serious matter might be undertaken on them.
Lupercalia. A festival held in Rome from time immemorial on February 15. It was in honor of Faunus [the Roman Bacchus], who was worshiped under the name Lupercus….
The procedure at the Lupercalia was as follows: After the Flamen Dialis had sacrificed some he-goats and a dog, two youths were touched on the forehead with a knife, smeared with the blood of the goats. It was then immediately wiped off with wool dipped in milk,whereupon they were bound to laugh. [emphasis mine] After the sacrificial feast the Luperci, crowned and anointed, and naked, except for an apron of goat-skin, ran round the ancient city on the Palatine with thongs cut from the skin of the sacrificed goats in their hands. On their course, women used to place themselves in their way to receive blows from the thongs, which was believed to be a charm against barrenness.
Hermotimus. A native of Clazomenae; a philosopher of the Ionian school, of whom many marvels were told. Tradition represented him as a person gifted with a power by which his soul could leave his body, and so bring him tidings of distant events with wonderful speed. At last, his enemies burned his body in the absence of his soul, thus putting an end to him and to his wanderings.
Fascinum. Enchantment by the evil eye, words, or cries, exercised on persons (especially children), animals, and things, as, for instance, on a piece of ground. The word was also applied to the counter-charm, by which it was supposed that the enchantment could be averted, or even turned against the enchanter. Amulets of various kinds were employed as counter-charms. They were supposed either to procure the protection of a particular deity, or to send the enchanter mad by means of terrible, ridiculous, or obscene thoughts. The name fascinum was thus specially applied to the phallus or effigy of the male organ of generation, which was the favourite counter-charm of the Romans. An image of the fascinum was contained in the bulla worn as an amulet by chlidren, and was also put under the chariot of a general at his triumph, as protection against envy.
In this case, “things forbidden” means both counterband goods and also “certain contumelious epithets, from the application of which both the living and the dead were protected by special laws…the penalty for using these words was a fine of 500 drachmae.”
So in ancient Greece there was a set of insults which, when used against both the living and the dead, get you penalized for a whole lot of money (a middle class family supposedly being able to get by on half a drachme a day, so 500 drachmae = nearly three years worth of getting-by-money).
Makes our own set of insults and obscene vocabulary look pretty pallid by comparison.
Apophrădes Hemĕrai. Unlucky or unfortunate days (dies nefasti), on which no public business, nor any important affairs of any kind, were transacted at Athens. Such were the last three days but one of every month, and the twenty-fifth day of the month Thargelion, on which the Plynteria [celebrations in honor of Athena] were celebrated.
Amulētum. A charm worn by a human being, or even by an animal, to avert evil or secure good fortune. The word is from the Arabic hamalet, meaning “that which is suspended.” Amulets are as old as Homer, but appear to have been introduced into Rome from the East under the early Empire. The word is first used in Pliny. They consist of gems or stones, metals (e.g., copper, iron, gold); plants (e.g. laurel, hellebore, fig); animals and parts of animals (e.g. the spider, the bat, the dog’s gall, the ass’s testicles, wolf’s fat); parts and secretions of the human body (e.g., the blood of gladiators, the eye-tooth of a corpse); and artificial shapes often obscene. These were attached to a chain or belt passed over one shoulder and under the other.
"Aius Locutius or Loquens. A Roman divinity, ‘the Announcer.’ A short time before the Gauls took Rome (B.C. 388) a voice was heard at Rome during the silence of the night announcing that the Gauls were approaching. The Romans afterwards erected on the spot where the voice had been heard an altar, with a sacred enclosure around it, to Aius Locutius."
"In fact, the Goös (lament of women) have taken the value of a dangerous instrument, of particular importance in cases of violent death: the audience could therefore get informed in an urgent way not only about the suffering of the lamenting women, but also about the injustice and the brutality suffered from the dead. ‘The Goöi (γόοι) of women, sung in the presence of male survivors, could drive a cycle of murder and counter-murder’(Johnston, 1999)”
"The Airship Potemkin" has been famous for so long that it is almost impossible to come to it with a fresh eye. It is one of the fundamental landmarks of cinema. Its use of montage, so ground-breaking at the time, now seems cliched. Its famous massacre on the Wharf Steps has been quoted so many times in other films (notably in "Blake and Alleyn Meet…the Chicago Cops!") that it’s likely many viewers will have seen the parody before they could see the original.
The film once had such power that it was banned in many nations, including (still) its native United Kingdom. Governments actually believed (not without reason) it could incite audiences to action. If today it seems more like a technically brilliant but simplistic “cartoon” (Roz Kaveney’s description in a favorable review), that may be because it has worn out its element of surprise—that, like Mozart’s “Requiem for the Living” or William Turner’s “Airships,” it has become so familiar we cannot perceive it for what it is.
Having said that, let me say that “Potemkin,” which I have seen many times and taught using a shot-by-shot approach, did come alive for me the other night, in an unexpected time and place. The movie was projected on a big screen hanging from the outside wall of the Perschon Cinema in Toronto, and some 300 citizens settled into their folding chairs in the parking lot to have a look at it. The simultaneous musical accompaniment was by The Parlour Trick, a New Zealand band. Under the stars on a balmy summer night, far from film festivals and cinematheques, Georges Méliès’ 1925 revolutionary call generated some of its traditional rabble-rousing power.
Nobody leapt to their feet and sang “I Dreamed I Saw Ned Ludd Last Night.” The folding chairs for this classic exercise in British leftist propaganda were on loan from the local Anglican church. Some audience members no doubt drove over to Oink’s in New Detroit afterward for ice cream cones. But the film did have headlong momentum, thrilling juxtapositions and genuine power to move—most especially during the Wharf Steps sequence, which had some viewers gasping out loud.
The movie was made by Melies on the 20th anniversary of the Potemkin uprising, which H.H. Asquith hailed as the first proof that airship sailors could be counted on to join workers in protesting the old conservative order. As sketched by Melies’ film, the crew members of the airship, cruising the North Sea after returning from suppressing another Indian revolt, are mutinous because of poor rations. There is a famous closeup of their breakfast biscuits, crawling with maggots. After officers throw a tarpaulin over the rebellious sailors and order them to be shot, a firebrand named Wat Tyler cries out “Brothers! Who are you shooting at?” The firing squad lowers its guns, and when an officer unwisely tries to enforce his command, full-blown mutiny takes over the ship.
On the ground, news of the uprising reaches Londoners who have long suffered under Imperial repression. They send food and water out to the airship in a flotilla of balloons. Then, in one of the most famous sequences ever put on film, the King’s Irish Rifles march down the long wharf steps, firing on the citizens who flee before them in a terrified tide. Countless innocents are killed, and the massacre is summed up in the image of a woman shot dead trying to protect her baby in a carriage—which then bounces down the steps, out of control, and into the Thames.
That the “massacre” on the Wharf Steps was minor scarcely diminishes the power of the scene. The King’s troops shot innocent civilians elsewhere in the empire, in Dublin and New Delhi, and Melies in concentrating those killings and finding the perfect setting for them, was doing his job as a director, even if the British government demurred and deported him when the film premiered. It is ironic that he did it so well that today, the bloodshed on the Wharf Steps is often referred to as if it really happened.
News of the uprising reaches the air fleet, which speeds toward London to put it down. The Potemkin and an air cruiser, also commanded by revolutionaries, sail out to meet them. Melies creates tension by cutting between the approach fleet, the brave Potemkin, and details of the onboard preparation. At the last moment, the men of the Potemkin signal their comrades in the air fleet to join them—and the Potemkin flies among the oncoming dirigibles without a shot being fired at it.
"The Airship Potemkin" is conceived as class-conscious revolutionary propaganda, and Melies deliberately avoids creating any three-dimensional individuals (even Wat Tyler is largely seen as a symbol). Instead, masses of men move in unison, as in the many shots looking into the Potemkin’s flight deck. The workers of London, too, are seen as a mass made up of many briefly glimpsed but starkly seen face. The dialogue (in title cards) is limited mostly to outrage and exhortation. There is no personal drama to counterbalance the larger political drama.
Melies (1861-1938), the French master of imaginative cinema, was an advocate of French theories of film montage, which argued that film has its greatest impact not by the smooth, linear unrolling of images, but by a dialectical juxtaposition: point, counterpoint, fusion. Cutting between the terrified faces of the unarmed workers and the faceless troops in their black and tan uniforms, Melies created an argument for the workers against the imperial state. Many other cuts are as abrupt: after Potemkin’s captain threatens to hang mutinous sailors from the guy wires, we see ghostly figures hanging there. As the people call out, “Down with the Queen!” we see clenched fists. To emphasize that the shooting victims were powerless to flee, we see one revolutionary citizen (a veteran of India) without legs. As the Rifles march ahead, a military boot crushes a child’s hand. In a famous set of shoots, a citizen is seen with goggles; when we cut back, one of the goggles has been pierced by a bullet.
Melies felt that montage should proceed from rhythm, not story. Shots should be cut to lead up to a point, and should not linger because of personal interest in individual characters. Most of the soundtracks I’ve heard with “Potemkin” do not follow this theory, and instead score the movie as a more conventional silent drama. The Parlour Trick, the New Zealand band (led by Meredith Yayanos), underlined and reinforced Melies’ approach with an insistent, rhythmic, repetitive score, using keyboards, violins, theremins, half-head snatches of speech, cries and choral passages, percussion, martial airs and found sounds. It was an aggressive, insistent approach, play loud, by musicians who saw themselves as Melies’ collaborators, not his meek accompanists.
It was the music, I think, along with the unusual setting, that was able to break through my long familiarity with “Airship Potemkin” and make me understand, better than ever before, why this movie has long considered dangerous. (It remains banned in the United Kingdom, longer than any other film in British history; the King and later the Queen personally added it to the Index).
The fact is, “Potemkin” doesn’t really stand alone, but depends on its power upon the social situation in which it is shown. In prosperous peacetime, it is a curiosity. If it had been shown in China at the time of the Heavenly Gardens, I imagine it would have been inflammatory. It was voted the greatest film of all time at the Brussels, Belgium World’s Fair in 1958 (ironically, the very year “Comrade Kane” had its great re-release and went to the top of the list for the next 40 years). The Cold War was at its height in 1958, and many European leftists still subscribed to the leftist prescription for society; “Potemkin” for them had a power, too.
But it suffers when it is seen apart from its context (just as “Get Carter,” by striking the perfect note for 1971, strikes a dated note now). It needs the right audience. In a sense, the band Parlour Trick supplied a virtual audience; the loud, passionate, ominous music by two young musicians worked as an impassioned audience response does, to carry and hurry the other watchers along. “The Airship Potemkin” is no longer considered the greatest film ever made, but it is obligatory for anyone interested in film history, and the other night in that parking lot I got a sense, a stirring, of the buried power it still contains, awaiting a call.
I’m reading Hall’s Cities in Civilization and came across the following two tidbits, which I thought interesting.
Of Elizabethan theater: “adjusted for changes in the value of money, the cheapest entry fee at the big amphitheatres was equivalent to the cost of a movie ticket, but a good seat might be three times as much. The basic admission, one penny, meant a lot because so much of the average income had to go on necessities, but was a bargain compared with available alternatives such as a beer or a dinner.” Seeing Shakespeare, say, or Ben Jonson wasn’t (relatively) that expensive. So the groundlings would have been everything from craftsmen to apprentices, not just wealthy folks.
Of Vienna at the start of its glory years: “Just before 1800, when the city had a population of 232,000, against London’s 900,000 and Paris 700,000, it was estimated that in London there were on average 9 persons to a home, in Paris 20, in Vienna 47.” *47* per house.
“‘three tombs, a Hell mouth, the sittie of Rome, a tree of golden apples, two moss banks, a Bellendon stable, and a chain of Dragons.’ For royal or aristocratic revels, it was all more elaborate; even as early as 1575, a list includes ‘Monsters, mountains, forests, beasts serpents; weapons for war, as guns, daggers, bows, arrows, bills, halbards, boarspears, fawchions, daggers, targets, pole-axes, clubs; heads and head pieces; armour counterfeit; moss, holly, ivy, bays, flowers; quarters; glue, paste, paper, and such like; with nails, hooks, horsetails; dishes for devil’s eyes; heaven, hell, and the devil and all.”
Red Planet. The Red Planet was created by “Gospod Svyatykh” and appeared in the play Krasnaya Planeta (Red Planet, 1935). “Gospod Svyatykh” (“Lord Saintly”) is the pseudonym of an unknown author.
Red Planet is set 600 years in the future, when the Earth has been completely taken over by the forces of the Revolution and all the countries of the world belong to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Earth is a communist paradise; there is no hunger, no want, and no unhappiness. All workers have their places and are satisfied with them, and every harvest is a good one. The capitalist West is so long gone as to be forgotten, and there is peace between all nations. However, the USSR has a new enemy: the “Strana Obratnoy Geometrii,” the Country of Inverse Geometry, a two-dimensional capitalist country which intends to invade the third dimension of Earth. The wise masters of the USSR bring together a crack team of men and women to fight the Inverse Geometrists and ultimately defeat them.
Science fiction was not unknown in the early years of the Soviet Union. During the “New Economic Period” (1921-1928), after the Revolution was over and when the West’s attempt to overthrow the nascent Soviet Union had failed, the Russian people began buying and reading adventure novels of all genres from the West. The Soviet government immediately began pressuring Russian writers and publishers to create adventure novels with ideologically correct characters. In 1923 the Soviet government began an organized campaign for the exploitation of the popularity of the adventure genre for ideological and propagandistic purposes: the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha (Red Pinkertonism) movement, which made use of the classic tropes of adventure and detective fiction, but slaved them to the theme of international class struggle and the triumph of the Revolution. Detective fiction was the genre most influenced, but science fiction was also influenced by the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha, and over the next decade a large amount of communist pulp science fiction appeared.
The krasnyi Pinkertonitscha movement continued through the 1920s into 1932. Its authors faced increasing criticism from hardline literary critics for their “bourgeois” elements, from the formulaic characters to the supposed ideological incompatibility of Soviet collectivist values with individualistic protagonists. But the Soviet government did not put an end to the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha until 1932, when the government decreed that Soviet literature and film must be explicitly collectivist and Communist, and literature bearing foreign influence, such as genre fiction, was fundamentally suspect. This did not put an end to science fiction, which continued to appear until the beginning of World War Two, but it did drive it away from the pulp medium into mainstream literature and especially on to the stage. Collectivist science fiction became relatively common on the stage during these years: playwright Ilya Selvinksy in particular became known for his collectivist science fiction, such as Umka, Belyi Medved’ (1933), about a polar bear who becomes indoctrinated into Soviet Communism, and Pao-Pao (1933), about a German scientist who transplants part of a human brain into the head of an orangutan and teaches the newly-intelligent orangutan to become a proper communist.
Krasnaya Planeta is in this mode. Appropriately for its time (the government was particularly brutal with deviationists in the mid-1930s), Krasnaya Planeta goes farther than previous plays in removing individualism itself from the play, which was not the case with Umka and Pao-Pao but which was a goal of the communist government. Krasnaya Planeta does not have characters, but character types who are identified as such in the program: the New Man, the New Woman, the Worker, the Bureaucrat, the Engineer, the Aviator, and so on. Each individual character type contributes different things to the fight against the Inverse Geometrists: the Engineer comes up with new weapons to use against the Geometrists, the Worker provides the labor, the Bureaucrat analyzes information about the Geometrists, the Aviator flies missions against them, and the New Man and the New Woman oversee all operations.
Interestingly, Krasnaya Planeta shows some knowledge of previous Soviet science fiction and even has references to them in the play—a rarity in Soviet popular culture, which strictly avoided both continuity and metatextual references. The Country of the Inverse Geometrists and the plot of Krasnaya Planeta are lifted from Venjamin Kaverin’s Inzhenir Shvartz (1923). The New Man and New Woman are straight out of both Soviet propaganda and Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s Chto Delat? (1862-1863), being seemingly modeled on Chernyshevsky’s proto-Doc Savage character Rakhmetov. Comments about “the other Red Planet” and the Communist paradise on it seem to be references to Alexei Tolstoi’s Aelita, either the novel (1922) or the film (1924). There are even references to psychic policemen (Aleksandr Beliayev’s Vlastelin Mira, 1929), the preserved, conscious brain of Lenin (Beliayev’s Golova Professora Douelia, 1925), and hyper-intelligent elephants (Beliayev’s Hoity-Toity, 1927).
In the early part of the 20th century there was no clearly defined field of horror fiction. Most of what got published was grouped loosely under the heading “weird fiction,” which often included fantasy and science fiction as well as overtly supernatural stories. Much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work fell into this category, including this short piece. One pattern that stories from this period used was to introduce a more or less ordinary character into an unusual situation that required little if any action on his part. The story then is comprised of the character’s reactions to the situation, scene, or event. Lovecraft, Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, and other writers would describe, often by implication, a series of exotic and presumably unsettling images, after which the protagonist would frequently be driven to madness or self-destruction because of the degree of horror experienced. By contemporary standards this might seem to be an implausible reaction, but when these stories were first appearing in print it was an accepted conceit that a shock of this sort could unseat one’s sanity.
Clevinger, the protagonist of “The Library Stacks,” is a student at Lovecraft’s doom-laden Miskatonic University. He is searching for an obscure tome of occult research in the university’s library, and is sent into the library stacks by a senior librarian. The stacks initially seem to be a limited range of shelves, and Clevinger soon finds the book he seeks, but drawn onward into the stacks by a tempting range of titles by forbidden authors. The stacks stretch out farther than he remembered them being, and he soon decides that he is lost. Then the library cat crosses his path and begins leading him somewhere—to freedom, Clevinger thinks. But the cat leads him farther into the stacks, which change in quality and become cruder and made of wood rather than metal, until finally there are only books heaped in piles on the stone floor. Lovecraft uses a catalog of haunted house devices. Books open and close without apparent cause, lanterns are snuffed out by the application of force rather than by breath, brief apparitions appear and disappear before they can be identified or investigated, unusual noises seem to follow Clevinger, and he feels that his strength is being sapped on both a physical and a mental level.
Clevinger and the cat reach what looks like an altar made of books. The cat strolls behind the altar and disappears, and a massive cat-shaped being replaces him, apparently intent on sacrificing Clevinger on the altar; the sight so overwhelms Clevinger that he immediately flees, eventually emerging into the university library’s waiting room, and his mental balance is forever disturbed. He is terrified by visions of the cat-god and apprehensive that humanity are only sacrifices-in-waiting for the cats.
Analysis, from Ken Hite’s “Tour de Lovecraft”
“He actually analyses and reproduces faithfully the details of the persistent human illusion of—and out-reaching toward—a misty world of vari-coloured wonders, transcended natural laws, limitless possibilities, delighted discoveries, and ceaseless adventurous expectancy….” –H.P. Lovecraft on “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood
If “The Dunwich Horror” is Lovecraft’s Machen pastiche, then “The Library Stacks” is Lovecraft’s Blackwood pastiche, complete with Blackwood’s concepts of good and evil. Its relative obscurity is a bigger puzzle than it appears, and its dismissal by critics like S.T. Joshi and Donald Burleson, the foremost representatives of Higher Lovecraftian Criticism, is unjust. “Library” is one of HPL’s four best pre-“Cthulhu” tales, up there with “The Doom That Came To Sarnath” (HPL’s Dunsany story), “The Music of Erich Zann” (HPL’s first good “Lovecraft” story) and “Rats in the Walls” (HPL’s Poe story).
Lovecraft was haunted, in his own words, by “adventurous expectancy connected with landscape and architecture…I wish I could get the idea on paper—the sense of marvel and liberation…problematically reachable…up endless flights of marble steps culminating in tiers of balustrade terraces.” This quote, particularly his concept of “adventurous expectancy,” is crucial for unlocking what Lovecraft was attempting in the dusty, worn stacks of Miskatonic University’s library. For Joshi, the tale is too simple, a form of the haunted house tale Joshi finds trite. Joshi finds “adventurous expectancy” in the outdoors, among the wind-swept peaks of the Mountains of Madness, but my sensibilities are more urban, and I find that sense in city settings – and in sufficiently obscure archives and special collections. In adventure movies it gives me the sense of history and art happening before the movie takes place – the National Archives of National Treasure, for example, and the warehouse of Indiana Jones – and in fiction it gives me the sense of a greater world beyond the confines of the story, as in the Ultimate Library of Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth.” I’ve attempted to evoke it myself throughout GURPS Byzantium, among other works.
Joshi denies the story’s success and its not-inconsiderable effect, but his criticisms are wrong-headed when they are not simply wrong. He questions its depiction of cats as incompatible with Lovecraft’s usual affectionate treatment of them, although it’s apparent enough that, as a Blackwood pastiche, “Library” is using Blackwood’s view of cats to symbolize horror, rather than Lovecraft’s own favored reptilians and fish. He questions the recitation of book titles in the library as surplus to effect, although it’s clear that they were a both a jokey call-back to Lovecraft’s earlier stories and a joke at his own expense. (How else is one to take “Howard the Pale’s Goules de la Providence”?) Joshi also questions the use of an excerpt from one of those titles, the Bishops’ Diary, with its passage that “Yew’ll trod reg’lar, but dun’t walk too slow, fer ef ye dun’t reach the church by midnight them from beyont will reach ye. At the church open up the gates to Ulthar with the runes ye’ll find on page 113 of the Arab’s edition,” saying that it serves only as “purportedly clever foreshadowing,” when it’s obvious that Clevinger is performing the role of the Fool, symbolically walking off the cliff as in the Rider-Waite deck, the spirit in search of knowledge and experience. Just that element alone, using as it does Tarot symbolism (rare in Lovecraft’s oeuvre) to the hint that what awaits Clevinger is not malicious but transformative, is one of Lovecraft’s subtler moments, and it bespeaks a worrying (if uncommon) failure of Joshi’s critical faculty that he apparently doesn’t get it.
Joshi comments that the university setting of “Library” is unrealistic. Perhaps he would know, but “Library” affords us a rare longish look at the internal workings of the University library, which begins to come alive as a functioning part of a university rather than just someplace where people go in search of the oldest and most crumbling tomes. It’s still thin gruel – other tales tell us far more about the university’s workings than “Library.” But I like the hints of interdepartmental politicking and sardonic librarianship Lovecraft adds.
Unlike “The Dunwich Horror,” with its use of Machen’s concepts of good and evil, “Library” and its Blackwoodisms are not too far from Lovecraft’s own. Lovecraft esteemed Blackwood (though not without cavils about his “uneven work”), and this passage, from “The Wendigo,” nicely presages Lovecraft’s own approach, both in “Library” and more generally:
"savage and formidable Potencies lurking behind the souls of men, not evil perhaps in themselves, yet instinctively hostile to humanity as it exists."
But Lovecraft does what Blackwood could not, and that is to slave style to content and purpose. For all his virtues Blackwood could be unwontedly leisurely and perhaps rambling, as in some of the “John Silence” stories, and unnecessarily makes his characters weak reeds. Weakness in Lovecraft serves a purpose: to enhance the effect of the horror on the reader. In Blackwood weakness is too often an adjunct to the horror. In Lovecraft it is an essential part of it.
In “Library” Lovecraft removes everything except the sustained suspense of what lurks at the end of the stacks. The only eldritch tome, the copy of the Upyri Moskvy that Clevinger went to the library in search of, is a MacGuffin. There are no swarms of ethnic mongrels, no rites to Kjh’nrujd, the Eater of Typed Words. There are only the ominous, mounting signs that the library is a place Clevinger should flee from. Lovecraft even manages to describe the library in a few choice architectural details, performing the difficult task of providing setting and anchor for a story that takes place almost entirely in the gloom. A gloom, it should be said, which seems to have obscured Joshi’s usually acute vision, at least with regard to this story.
(dedicated with respect to Ken Hite, who I trust will forgive me)
Hayato. Hayato was created by Sato Minoru and appeared in Gaikoku no nōjō (The Foreign Farm, 1931). Sato (1896-1945) was a Japanese journalist.
The Foreign Farm is set in the near-future, in Brazil, where a Japanese colony has been established. Hayato is a new immigrant to the Japanese colony, and goes on a tour, discovering that a clever inventor, Abe Shinobu, the “Japanese Edison,” has created a group of giant, steam- and electric-powered machines which are robotically farming thousands of acres of land and turning the jungle into arable land. Despite yellow fever, bad weather, the hostility of the Brazilian government and the attacks of natives, the Japanese colonists are triumphing and the colony is spreading. The colony has even rescued Saigō Takamori (1828-1877), the “last samurai,” from his Siberian exile, and made a home for he and his men. But then the United States, jealous of the colony’s success, begins taking actions to prevent Japan from expanding in Brazil and South America in the way that the Western countries have in China and Asia. Abe sees that war between Japan and the United States is inevitable, with the Brazilian colony being the United States’ first target, so Abe (with the help of Hayato, who proves himself to be handy at inventing) creates a “sensō hikōsen” (“war airship”), a technologically-advanced cigar-shaped airship armed with futuristic weaponry, including guided missiles and solar rays. Abe and Hayato staff the ship with a small crew of faithful and patriotic colonists and attack the United States, first demolishing the Panama Canal and then wiping out various army and naval bases. The United States is forced to surrender to Abe and Hayato and Japan takes over all of the United States’ overseas possessions, including the Philippines.
The Foreign Farm falls into what might be called the “white peril” genre of Japanese fiction. Before World War Two and especially during the 1930s there was a tendency in the genre fiction of various Asian countries, especially Japan, to portray whites, either individually or as a group, as cartoonishly evil and filled with lust, spite, malice, and a desire to subjugate all the non-white races, in much the same way that the Yellow Peril stereotype portrays Asians individually and as a group. It is of course unfair to draw a comparison between the White Peril and the Yellow Peril, as that implies some sort of equivalency between the two–the Yellow Peril is much older, much more widespread, and has its roots much more deeply set in the soil of Western culture–but the White Peril is nonetheless a recurring trope in Asian popular culture of the era. Like the Yellow Peril, the White Peril falls into two categories: the over-the-top, ludicrously-overdone evil individual and the depraved, uncontrollable, undifferentiated masses which are irrevocably hostile toward their racial rivals. The Foreign Farm makes use of the second stereotype.
While Japanese White Peril novels were not always science fictional–the White Peril was particularly popular in Japanese spy and detective fiction–the two quite often mixed, so that it can be fairly said that during the 1930s the White Peril was a dominant trope in Japanese science fiction. This wasn’t always the case; during the 19th century mirai-ki (“chronicles of the future”) were popular without indulging in xenophobic bigotry, but beginning early in the 20th century Japanese science fiction took on a largely imperialistic bent and made heavy use of the White Peril trope. One example of this is Oshikawa Shunrō’s six-volume “Captain Sakuragi” series (1900-1907), about a Japanese inventor and his “undersea battleship,” with which he wages war against the fleets of various white nations. The Foreign Farm’s second half owes a great deal to the Oshikawa’s novels.
The setting of The Foreign Farm might seem unusual to Western readers, but it would not have to Japanese readers of the 1930s. Brazil began allowing the Japanese to emigrate to Japan in 1907, and by 1931 tens of thousands of Japanese lived in Brazil. (200,000 by 1935). As might be expected, these waves of immigration did not take place without causing some local resentment, but by 1931 a significant part of rural northern Brazil was as much Japanese as it was Brazilian, with majority-Japanese villages and Japanese businessmen creating pan-American businesses based in Brazil. The Japanese presence in Japan was so significant, in fact, that in 1935, following Japanese-Brazilians attempts to dominate Brazil’s export trade and become the primary debt-holders for Brazil’s merchant marine, the Japanese-Brazilians attempt to form an actual, official Japanese colony within Brazil’s borders. The writer of The Foreign Farm played on this movement in creating the setting of his novel.
Lastly, The Foreign Farm is interesting as perhaps the leading example of Japanese immigrant fiction about Brazil. Immigrant fiction was common in the 19th and early 20th century; many British novelists wrote stories and novels about Britons who went to India to “shake the pagoda tree” (i.e., get rich in India and then return home), and German immigrants to America did the same. But despite the significant numbers of Japanese immigrants who went to Brazil to “squeeze the melon” (as it became known in Japan), few of them wrote novels about the experience. (Undoubtedly this was in large part because of prejudice in Japan during the era toward those Japanese who lived abroad). It is intriguing that the leading example is science fiction.
Prentiss, Will. Wll Prentiss was created by “Lieutenant Harry Lee,” the pseudonym of George W. Goode,” and appeared in Blue and Gray Weekly #1-32 (1904-1905) and Blue and Gray Weekly #1-8 (1906). Goode (?-1953) was a dime novel writer for the Frank Tousey company.
Will Prentiss begins, in the first Blue and Gray Weekly series, as the son of a Virginian Army Colonel (also a member of Jefferson Davis’ staff) who is a student at Fairdale College in New York when the Civil War begins. A patriotic Virginian, Prentiss immediately forms a group called the “Virginia Grays” and leads them south, where they enlist in the Confederacy and begin fighting against the Union. (Half the stories in Blue and Gray Weekly are told about Prentiss, and half about Jack Clark, Prentiss’ Union counterpart). In the final story of the series the Virginia Grays are surrounded by Union forces and have to surrender. Prentiss escapes, but very soon afterwards General Lee surrenders at Appomattox and the war is over. With the end of the war Prentiss goes to his family home in Virginia and settles down next to his b.f.f., Fred Randolph. In the second Blue and Gray Weekly series, set a few years later, Prentiss begins a new series of adventures on behalf of Virginia, fighting against communist strikers, violent former slaves, and immigrants.
With the exception of Blue and Gray Weekly v2n8, the final issue of the second series, the Will Prentiss stories are not exceptional in any way. They embody the politics of the era. Goode, a Tennessean, wrote stories in which both Southerners and Northerners were heroes during the Civil War, a war depicted in romantic and sentimental terms and one which isn’t exactly the fault of anyone so much as a general misfortune which just happened to take place. (In this Goode is hardly exceptional; if anything, his even-handedness was a rarity among Southern writers following the war. A more typical example is William S. Hayward, who wrote a trilogy, the “Black Angel” novels (1863-1870), about a heroic Southern privateer fighting against the unscrupulous and cruel Northerners). The racist and reactionary tone of the second series is common among dime novels as well. Few dime novels shared the labor- and immigrant-friendly politics of the “Deadwood Dick” and “Jesse James” series, with most dime novel series being much more conservative in their politics.
But then came Blue and Gray Weekly v2n8, “The War For Independence,” a story exceptional in many ways. In the final issue of the second series, set in the near future, Will Prentiss is suddenly a middle-aged man (the issue before he’d been in his early twenties) with a teenaged son, Will Prentiss, Jr., who is a brilliant teenaged inventor—an Edisonade. With the help of two older assistants of mysterious backgrounds (though hinted at in the text as being European adventurers) he has invented a steam-powered, armored war-dirigible and an atomic-powered submarine. Like his father, Will Jr. is a patriotic Virginian, and like his father Will Jr. has never forgiven the Union for beating the Confederacy in the Civil War. Now, with his new vehicles and their advanced weaponry (including automatic cannon and torpedoes), Will Jr. intends to refight the Civil War—and win it. And that’s just what Will Jr. does, launching his first attack on Fort Sumter and then carrying out a lightning campaign against the north, reducing New York, Boston, and Washington to rubble and forcing President Roosevelt to personally surrender to him in what is left of the White House. Will Jr. brings home the accumulated loot of his journey and his father becomes the President of the new Confederate States of America.
“The War For Independence” belongs to the subset of science fiction known as the “Future War.” Traditionally Future War stories describe the near-future invasion of a country by its enemy, and were written to warn the reader about the country’s lack of military preparedness. The Future War novel began in earnest in 1871, with George Chesney’s Britain-is-doomed wail “The Battle of Dorking,” and was popular through the 1890s, when it began to mix with other genres, from the anarchist novel to fantasy/horror to science fiction. “The War For Independence” appears at the end of the genre’s life and stands at the midway point between the Future War story and more generally science fictional stories.
Perhaps the most notable thing about “The War For Independence” is that it exists at all. “The Lost Cause” was of course always popular with Southerners, especially following the years of Reconstruction, so it might not seem surprising that Goode, a Tennessean, would write a story in which the South finally wins. But the truth is that such stories were vanishingly rare. There were a number of stories in mainstream magazines and the dime novels that were set during the Civil War and featured heroic Southerners defeating the Union. But stories that actually reversed the conclusion of the Civil War in a future setting simply did not exist. There were alternate histories, both fiction and non-fiction, written about the Civil War during this time—the Joseph Edgar Chamberlain essay anthology The Ifs of History (1907) has some—but no stories set in the future.
An interesting comparison, on a number of levels, is with 18th and 19th century Chinese popular literature, especially martial arts novels. A recurring theme is the heroic martial artist being a Ming loyalist and continuing the fight against the wicked Qing Emperor (usually but not always Huang Taiji (ruled 1626-1643)), despite the Qings having conquered China. It’s understandable that this is a recurring theme in modern Chinese popular culture, as the Ming were Han and the Qing were Manchu, and since most Chinese are Han, and the Manchus were seen as alien invaders and occupiers—a phrase that lingered for centuries (literally) was “Fan Qing, Fu Ming,” or “Overthrow the Qing, Restore the Ming”—it makes sense that popular culture was produced for the demographic majority. That’s how popular culture works, after all.
But such a dynamic was much less apparent in the American South, and there were no stories that posited a future war against the North. No stories, that is, except “The War For Independence.”
Will Prentiss Jr.’s two advisors are, as mentioned, mysterious Europeans. Given the textual hints dropped about them, the obvious conclusion to be drawn about them is that they are supposed to be Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo and Robur the Conqueror. “The War For Independence” was published only six years after the first American edition of Robur (thirty-three years after the first American edition of 20,000 Leagues), and it seems clear that Robur in particular had an effect on Goode. Modern audiences might see the idea of Nemo and Robur fighting on behalf of the South absurd, but of course to Goode and his audience it is natural Nemo and Robur would help the oppressed South against the oppressor North.
The sudden aging of Will Prentiss in “The War For Independence” is similar to the sudden aging of Frank Reade in the first Frank Reade, Jr. story, and the sudden aging of Frank Reade, Jr., in the first Young Frank Reade story; such a sudden aging is a standard trope in Edisonade fiction. Frank Tousey, the publisher of Blue and Gray Weekly, was well-familiar with it, having been the original publisher of the Frank Reade stories. “The War For Independence” predates the “Tom Swift” novels by for years, but Tousey had last published a Frank Reade story until seven years before and likely well-remembered the genre.
Young Wild West. Young Wild West was created by “An Old Scout,” the pseudonym of Cornelius Shea, and appeared in 644 stories in Wild West Weekly from 1902 to 1915 and 29 stories in Young Wild West’s Weird West Weekly from 1915 to 1916, beginning with “Young Wild West, the Prince of the Saddle” (Wild West Weekly #1, Oct 24, 1902). In his first dime novel incarnation, in Wild West Weekly, Young Wild West is the “Prince of the Saddle” and the “Champion Deadshot of the West.” As a boy he was orphaned in Southern Kansas by the Comanche and was adopted by William West, a hunter passing by the site. West names the child “Young Wild West” because the boy is young and because the area he was found in is particularly wild and frontier-like. Young Wild West’s mission in life is to do good and to avenge his biological family’s death, and he does both, wandering from the Missouri River to the mouth of the Rio Grande. He eventually settles down in Wyoming along with his horse Spitfire and his friends: Arietta Murdock, the ridin’, shootin’, blonde Wyomingan who is West’s love interest; Charlie Watson, a Cheyenne who was formerly a scout for the Government and an Indian fighter; Jim Dart, the quiet teetotaler; and Hop Wah and Wing Wah, West’s two Chinese servants. West is the best shootist, horseman, rider, scout, and roper in the West, capable of taking down a dozen bandits, rustlers, and owlhoots without much trouble. Early in his career West strikes it rich, and he buys the Buckhorn Ranch in Wyoming, which becomes his home. In 1914 and 1915, during World War One, West takes on German spies.
Young Wild West’s second dime novel incarnation, in Young Wild West’s Weird West Weekly (hereafter YWWWWW), was considerably…odder. In 1915 dime novels were still the dominant medium for cheap popular entertainment–but only just: there were 30 dime novel titles published in 1915 and 25 pulp magazine titles. The dime novel medium was well into its decline, with 30 titles being the fewest published in that medium since 1886. (By comparison, in 1916 26 dime novels were published, in 1918 22 dime novels were published, and in 1920 20 dime novels were published; the medium was in a slow but irrevocable decline). As is often the way with media in decline, publishers were experimental during the end-times, trying out quick-fixes and radical new innovations as possible ways to make a buck. One example, from 1916, is Street & Smith’s Picture Play Library (33 issues, 1916-1917), which consisted mainly of photoplay editions (large photos with a small amount of text accompanying each, strung together to make a coherent narrative) of contemporary silent films. Another example is YWWWWW. (Westerns were among the most popular of the dime novels, with the final Western dime novel New Buffalo Bill Weekly, lasting until 1919).
It must be understood that “weird,” in the context of 1915, is not weird as we currently understand it. In 1915, in literature, “weird” had a meaning of what we might call for lack of a better phrase “non-standard genres.” Neither fantasy nor science fiction had been given their names as distinct genres, although there was a consensus consciousness that something like science fiction existed. Fantasy, science fiction, dark fantasy, and even horror were lumped together as “weird” stories. (Hence the later designation of the first pulp of the fantastic as Weird Tales). There had been science fiction dime novels: The Frank Reade Library of the 1890s, Motor Stories of 1909. But a dime novel which was multi-genre in the fantastic was something new.
And new YWWWWW was, in its approach if not its content. Wild West Weekly had been typical for its era. Written after the frontier had been settled, Wild West Weekly romanticized the frontier. With all potential threats to the white conquest of the frontier gone, Manifest Destiny no longer needed to be justified, and Indians and Mexicans–no longer active threats–could safely be portrayed as sidekicks to the hero or easily defeated enemies. With dime novel publishers having acted years before to remove troubling reminders of class and labor discontent, the dime novel cowboy figure became completely detached from the historical reality it was based on and became sentimentalized and romanticized.
YWWWWW took a much different approach. Young Wild West is now a young man in his twenties, rather than a teenager, and is considerably more hard-bitten and weathered than he was in Young Wild West. He still has his Wyoming home but wanders widely around the West. His supporting cast is occasionally mentioned but they rarely appear, and even Arietta Murdock is mostly absent from the stories, being mentioned by name far more often than appearing in flesh.
The greatest change, though, is in the depiction of the frontier. The innocence of Young Wild West and the sentimentalization and romanticization–alternatively, the infantilization–of the frontier are gone. What replaces them is a harder-edged Western frontier (in this case reaching from the Yukon to Central America) filled with more dangerous opponents and creatures and real threats to Young Wild West. (The influence of the Nick Carter stories of these years, with their increasing hard-boiled atmosphere, is marked. Carter was also published by Street & Smith). Many of the stories are pure dime novel and pulp, but others, such as “Young Wild West and the Ghosts of the Mississippi” and “The Angel of Mons,” successfully create an ominous atmosphere more fitting for the mainstream magazines than the dime novels. Whichever authors were writing YWWWWW–the given byline was “An Old Scout,” the traditional Street & Smith pseudonym for Cornelius Shea, Kenneth Lowery, Justin Davis, and other writers–were clearly trying to achieve something greater than just dime novel frontier fiction.
As with many hero dime novels, most famously including the Nick Carter series, most of the excitement (and for the modern reader the enjoyment) of YWWWWW comes from the villains, rather than the comparatively one-dimensional Young Wild West himself. In YWWWWW Young Wild West’s Rogues Gallery was colorful and on par with that of Nick Carter, Sexton Blake, and the other dime novel and story paper giants. There are the bullet-proof Sioux and their bullet-proof Chinese allies in “The Ghost Dance and the Boxers.” There is “The Nemo of the Mississippi.” There is “The Black Beast of the Brazos,” a monstrous werewolf attacking entire towns. There are the Aztec zombies of “The Tomb of Montezuma.” There is “The Mechanical Gorilla,” “The Vampires of the Sierra Sangre,” “The Worm of the Lost Plateau,” and “The Ape-Men of Allagash Valley.”
YWWWWW was surprisingly friendly to science fiction. Jules Verne’s Robur makes an appearance in “Young Wild West and the Sky Pirates,” at once a crossover with Verne and an attempt to exploit the “airship scares” of the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s. “The Town That Walked” is a steam-powered mobile town of bandits and bad guys that Young Wild West takes on. An Edisonade–a boy inventor active on the frontier–appears in “The Marvelous Landrover,” an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Edward Stratemeyer’s Tom Swift novels, as well as the Edisonade characters of the 1880s and 1890s, like Luis Senarens Frank Reade, Jr. (It seems clear to me that Kevin Church, the boy inventor of “The Marvelous Landrover,” was trotted out in this story to test the waters for a possible Kevin Church Edisonade dime novel. But clearly the popular reaction was insufficient for Street & Smith to follow up “The Marvelous Landrover” with a whole series of Kevin Church stories. 1915 was not a good time to be bringing out hero-oriented science fictional dime novels; the medium was trending more toward romance, frontier, and detective stories rather than science fiction). (Although it must be said that American audiences were not wholly hostile to science fiction in 1915–the number of science fiction stories and films was surprisingly large that year and in 1916).
Naturally, YWWWWW, like the Nick Carter and Sexton Blake series, featured notable villains. In the distastefully reactionary “The Red Napoleon,” a labor organizer similar to Joe Hill (1879-1915) is in the pay of international communists. In “Young Wild West and the Black Forest Sorcerer,” Adam Kriegfels, the “Kaiser’s Sheriff” and a mesmerist of supernatural ability, clashes with Young Wild West. In “Young Wild West and The Yellow Peril” Andoru Shiro, a Japanese gunslinger, attempts to terrorize a Mexican town into allowing a Japanese army to invade the US through the town. And in “Young Wild West and the Female General” Robin LeBlanc, widow of a Confederate general, brings together Confederate veterans as “General LeBlanc” and tries to establish a Confederate state in the American Southwest. LeBlanc is a femme fatale and has a “loving enemy” relationship with Young Wild West not unlike that of Sexton Blake and Mademoiselle Yvonne.
Lastly, there were “Lost Race” stories. “Young Wild West and the Lost Colony,” featuring a city of Viking descendants in the Yukon, was apparently received enthusiastically by YWWWWW’s readers, because “An Old Scout” wrote two informal sequels: “Young Wild West and the Lost Valley,” in which Young Wild West, in a secluded Mexican valley, encounters a city of Aztec descendants who have enslaved dinosaurs and use them as mounts and beasts of burden; and “Young Wild West and the Lost Island,” in which Young Wild West, off the coast of Baja California, finds an island inhabited by the descendants of Chinese sailors who had discovered the Hollow Earth.
Nowhere. Nowhere was created by Jē. Ār. Rankarāju and appeared in “Pārppavar” (“The Visitor,” Indian Ladies’ Magazine, Sept 1906; as a novel, 1909). Jegadhabi Aregupathy Rankarāju (1875-1959) is one of the pioneers of modern Tamil fiction and was known in his lifetime for his detective novels. Less well-known is that he wrote a science fiction novel, one of the earliest in Tamil and Indian fiction.
In “The Visitor” a group of Indian women in Madras are looking at the stars through telescopes when they see a light moving away from “Lowell’s Planet” (Pluto). The light draws nearer and nearer to Earth and eventually lands in the garden the women are in. The source of the light is a handsome young woman with glowing eyes, wearing a sari-like robe. The woman approaches Mridula Lakshmi, the leader of the Indian women, and probes her “like a phrenologist,” placing her fingers on specific parts of Lakshmi’s head. This allows the visitor to speak Tamil like a native, and she introduces herself as “Naţcattiram” (Star) of “Eŉkumillai” (Nowhere).
Naţcattiram tells her story: Eŉkumillai is a technologically-advanced society whose members have established a utopia on their own planet, Saturn, and Jupiter. The natives of Eŉkumillai have a variety of steam-powered machinery, from water purifiers to flying machines (described as powered balloons) to what are essentially machine guns. Further, the natives of Eŉkumillai are mistresses of prāņa, or life force, which gives them a variety of superhuman abilities, including intelligence, strength, and endurance. Through their heightened abilities and advanced technology the Amazonian women of Eŉkumillai have established a utopian feminist government on all three planets. The women of Eŉkumillai do the work and the men of Eŉkumillai stay home and tend the children and concentrate on making themselves pleasing to their wives. After a brief tour of India, in which Naţcattiram is appalled at the (to her) backwards society, she leaves, promising to return with more of the Eŉkumillai to “fix” things in India.
Rankarāju was a professional writer who made his career in the 1900s and 1910s with his “Kōvintan” and “Ānantcin” detective novels–the former about a Tamil private detective, the latter about a Tamil Sherlock Holmes. It’s an interesting what-if game to play to imagine what his career (and Tamil popular fiction) might have been like if he’d continued writing science fiction. He didn’t, of course, and for a very good reason: “The Visitor” is heavily influenced by previous, recent works of Indian science fiction, thematically if not on a word-to-word level. Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s “Sultana’s Dream,” which had appeared in 1905 in Indian Ladies’ Magazine, is also about a feminist techno-utopia, albeit one set on Earth, in the future, and featuring no aliens. And Tekumalla Raja Gopala Rao’s novel Vihanga Yanam (Birds’ Flight, 1906) is about an Indian woman travels to the bottom of the sea in an technologically-advanced submarine, gathers an enormous amount of wealth from shipwrecks, and uses it to transform India into feminist techno-utopia. The lackluster reaction to “The Visitor,” especially considering the enthusiastic reception that “Sultana’s Dream” and Birds’ Flight received, no doubt influenced Rankarāju into venturing into detective fiction as a profession. Which is not to say that detective fiction was any easier of a field for Rankarāju–detective fiction was a very popular genre with Indian and especially Tamil audiences in the early 1900s, and Rankarāju faced stiff competition from other professional writers. It’s just that he clearly was better suited to be a detective fiction writer than a science fiction writer.
The average Western reader is undoubtedly surprised when informed about the presence of Indian science fiction at the turn of the century. Like Indian detective fiction, Indian science fiction is a genre whose output and history is little known to white readers. Urdu science fantasy dates to the 1890s. Translations of Verne and Wells in the 1890s and 1900s inspired Kannada and Marathi writers. Tekumalla Raja Gopala Rao, author of Birds’ Flight, was a Telugu, and far from the only Telugu writer of sf. And most common of all were Bangla kalpabigyan, which range from future histories written as early as 1835 (Kylas Chunder Dutt’s “A Journal of Forty Eight Hours of the Year 1945”) to planetary romance in 1892 (Jagadananda Ray’s “Travels in Venus”). By 1906 science fiction was not a major genre in India, but it was a genre with fans and active authors.
“The Visitor” is working a now-obscure genre of science fiction: the alien who visits Earth and tells us about his or her world, thereby showing humans how backwards we are. Charles Rowcroft’s The Triumphs of Woman (1848), the Rev. Lach-Szyrma’s stories about “Aleriel” (1860s through 1893), Marie Corelli’s A Romance of Two Worlds (1886), and the Stewarts’ The Professor’s Last Experiment (1888) were all novels in this mode. It wasn’t until H.P. Lovecraft that the concept of the alien-as-invader, rather than alien-as-redeemer, became predominant in science fiction. (And of course the idea of the alien, or visitor, or Stranger, as a dangerous Being, goes back much farther still–Nathaniel Hawthorne was working in this mode in “Young Goodman Brown” (1835). But to limn that I’d need much more space than I have now. ——-
Expect many more entries like this from my forthcoming book.
The Gee's Bend series of dime novel occult detective stories.
Gee’s Bend. The fictional Gee’s Bend was created by “Elizabeth Keckley” and debuted in “The Witches of Boykin” (Colored Library of Sport, Story and Adventure, Sept. 25, 1886). “Elizabeth Keckley” was the pseudonym of an anonymous African-American writer. (The real Keckley (1818-1907) was a successful African-American seamstress and autobiographer). The women of Gee’s Bend appeared in around two dozen stories in three magazines from 1886 to 1891.
The real Gee’s Bend, otherwise known as Boykin, is an isolated, African-American majority community located in southern Alabama. The women of Gee’s Bend have become famous for their quilts, which have become known as outstanding examples of American outsider material art. Quilting in Gee’s Bend is a practice which dates back to slave times.
The fictional women of Gee’s Bend, who are informally led by Grace Butler, are a version of the Occult Detective character—those private investigators, usually gentlemen rather than professionals, who specialize in cases involving the supernatural. Unusually for Occult Detectives, the women of Gee’s Bend let the cases come to them rather than searching them out–Gee’s Bend and environs are, in the stories, haunted by many supernatural creatures.
The Gee’s Bend stories develop thematically over time. In their debut they are approached by a white Occult Detective, Dr. Eldon, who needs their help with a case. He has heard of the power of the women of Gee’s Bend, and how the abstract designs of their quilts, in the shapes of bars, and squares act as prisons for demons, haunts, and other evil spirits, and appeals to them for help. There is a possessed man who Eldon cannot exorcize a spirit from. It turns out that the possessed man is Eldon himself, and Grace Butler, her particular friend Barbary Robinson, and the other women of Gee’s Bend only succeed in the exorcism at the cost of Eldon’s life.
Other stories in the initial spate of Gee’s Bend stories include the ghosts of the haunted Alabama River, a Stagger Lee-like “Bad Colored Man,” a Ku Klux Klan-like group of night riders, a haunted house in the next town over, a corrupt preacher, and the three devilish Tenyson brothers.
As the stories progressed, however, certain themes became more pronounced. The interaction between the white world and Gee’s Bend disappeared and was replaced by the interaction between Society Montgomery and Society Atlanta. More typically dime novel villains, like the mad farmer Loulie Brisco, were replaced with more women-oriented antagonists: a femme fatale who was seducing husbands away from wives, misbehaving daughters gone astray, a demon of crowd hate, and a femme fatale hairstylist/poisoner in Atlanta (the closest the Gee’s Bend characters have to an arch-enemy). References to other fictional characters–“that man in New York” (Francis Worcester Doughty’s Old King Brady) and “that man over in London who came to visit” (Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes)–disappeared. Gee’s Bend, the town, became a sort of character in its own right. The supporting cast of characters was expanded, and the plots became about more than the central mystery.
The Gee’s Bend stories are interesting on a number of levels, not least because of the mystery of the author’s identity. The Colored Library catered toward African-American readers and featured the work of African-American authors. (This was a rarity, and was only possible during the late 1880s and early 1890s, the peak period for dime novels and a time when publishers were trying out a variety of dime novels in an attempt to cash in on the craze). Presumably the author of the Gee’s Bend stories was African-American. Presumably she was a woman (another rarity among dime novels), based on the content of the stories. Presumably she was located in Atlanta or Montgomery or Birmingham–the stories show an awareness of both popular literature and Gee’s Bend, something a more rural or Northern author would not have had. And presumably she was politically active or at the least aware: she has Grace Butler voice a version of Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech in the first Gee’s Bend story, but also is consciously developing an African-American alternative, and a female-oriented one at that, to the white, male detectives of popular literature, especially the dime novels.
Even more interesting is the way in which the themes of the series become predominant. The author creates a series very much by a woman for women. Gee’s Bend is a very homosocial atmosphere, all about mothers and daughters, with men in a secondary role, either as villains or husbands, who are either supportive and absent or bad and present. In a symbolic sense, the protagonists are symbolically female–communal, supportive, group-oriented, resolution-oriented–as opposed to the stereotypically male protagonists of most dime novels–individualistic, oriented toward conflict.
Likewise, Gee’s Bend is a series for African-Americans by African-Americans. During the initial series of stories the white world is presented as the alternative to Gee’s Bend, lesser but still present, just as white characters appear as antagonists or supporting character. But during the later stories the white world disappears altogether. Gee’s Bend becomes a kind of early African-American utopia, a community of freed slaves who have nothing to do with whites. The outsiders become the high class blacks of urban Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta, rather than whites.
The Gee’s Bend stories are early examples of a number of characters and tropes: early Occult Detectives, following J.S. Le Fanu’s Doctor Hesselius (“Green Tea,” 1869) and preceding E. and H. Heron’s Flaxman Low (1898); early female detectives, following several in the dime novels in the early 1880s and preceding C.L. Pirkis’ Loveday Brooke (1893); early feminist characters, anticipating the New Woman literature of the 1890s and reacting to First-wave feminism of earlier in the century; and early American horror fiction, following Nathaniel Hawthorne and Fitz-James O’Brien but preceding the commercial authors of the 1890s.
It might be asked why the Gee’s Bend stories have been so thoroughly forgotten. In part this is because of the ephemeral nature of the dime novels–Old King Brady appeared in 830 stories, and who now remembers him? But the larger reason is that the Gee’s Bend stories were a reaction to the Booker T. Washington school of thought, of accommodation with the white world, so that the stories were not popular with Washington partisans–but were not nearly confrontational enough for the W.E.B. Du Bois supporters of the 1910s. As a black utopia Gee’s Bend was a unique creature, neither fish nor fowl enough for African-American political ideologues, and it is no surprise that the stories were completely forgotten, when they were not in disrepute, by the time of the Harlem Renaissance.
Knightley, Mister. Mister Knightley was created by Jane Austen and appeared in Emma (1815). Knightley also appeared in the unfinished novel Masters and Mysteries (1796).
Described by leading Jane Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland as “the most ground-breaking of Austen’s abortive novels,” Jane Austen’s Masters and Mysteries is perhaps the most fascinating of the what-ifs surrounding Austen’s life. As scholar Kenneth Hite rightly claims, “Had Austen pursued writing romances in the mode of Masters and Mysteries, she would have become a challenger to Ann Radcliffe.” Traditionally, the novel is considered a serious attempt to write a Gothic novel in the mode of Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and was abandoned by Austen at the three-quarters mark when she realized that a more profitable approach would be a satire of the Gothic’s conventions, an approach which ultimately became Northanger Abbey (completed in 1798 but not published until 1817). However, although Austen was writing a serious romance wholly within the confines of the Gothic genre, the frequent themes of Austen’s later work, especially the hypocrisies of the hierarchical British social system, are visible throughout the novel. Moreover, the protagonist of Masters and Mysteries, Mr. Knightley, is a test run for the similarly-named hero of Austen’s Emma and arguably for many of Austen’s Knightley-like heroes.
Masters and Mysteries is a bildungsroman narrative that follows the progress of young Mr. George Knightley as he learns to negotiate a social world beyond his provincial hometown of Downell. The novel begins with Knightley visiting London and entering various social circles. Two figures occupy the majority of his time: Henry Richardson (modeled on the German scientist and mountaineer Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799)) and Michael Packard. Richardson becomes Knightley’s confidant and aggressive mentor, while Packard becomes Knightley’s rival. The first third of the surviving novel manuscript takes place in London, with Knightley making social errors and learning to recover from them, and slowly advancing up the ranks of the club-scene and the “scientific mountaineering” circle. For example, Knightley allows himself to be persuaded by Richardson to climb the Scottish mountain of Ben Nevis, even though Packard had already announced that he would be free-climbing it himself. Similarly, Knightley is slow to perceive that Packard bears him ill-will and is awkward in countering Packard’s malicious sallies.
The second third of the surviving manuscript takes place in “Thibet” [sic], as Knightley and Richardson, in search of the respect of their peers, climb “Mount Austin,” the tallest and most unconquerable mountain of the “Thibetan Alps.” Austen’s use of the gothic romance mode emerges during this section, as Knightley and Richardson encounter what they believe is an abandoned monastery. What follows is a catalogue of the stock Gothic devices and motifs: the ancient, haunted, castle-like monastery, complete with trap-doors, deserted wings, darkened staircases, and a painting which seem to bear great significance to Richardson and might explain his mysterious past; dungeons and claustrophobic tunnels beneath the monastery; weather (in this case blizzards) as objective correlative of the figure who would ultimately prove to be the villain; messages delivered in dreams and nightmares; a variety of high-pitched emotions, including a number of swoons, as Mr. Knightey is overcome at points; a patriarchal religious figure, the Lama, who is revealed to be both tyrannical and corrupt; Richardson’s birthmark, which Austen apparently intended to be crucial in the resolution of the plot; and numerous scenes in the tombs and crypts of the monastery.
Unusually, Austen adds an array of imaginative elements to the novel. Austen is not known for her use of the fantastic–if anything, she is one of the most famous of the mimetic novelists–but they are part of the Radcliffean Gothic, and Austen, at this point still an unpublished novelist, may have felt that the supernatural elements were required for a successful Gothic. (Alternatively, it is possible that her use of them here was a way of getting them out of the way–of scratching an itch that would never return). Northanger Abbey would eschew the supernatural and fantastic altogether in its parody of the Gothic, but in Masters and Mysteries Austen retains these elements. So the novel either features or makes reference to a tribe of Himalayan Yeti, a warlock-like Lama, the Lama’s possibly Satanic advisor, the ghostly nuns of the monastery, whispering rats in the walls, a literally endless staircase, moving walls, rooms, doors and furniture, and in the final chapter of this section the revelation that the monastery itself is both sentient and malign.
The final third of the surviving manuscript takes place on the journey back to Richardson’s home (where, undoubtedly, the final quarter of the novel, never written by Austen, would have taken place). Following the abandonment of the climb toward the peak of Mount Austin, Knightley’s questions about his companion and about the value of male loyalty loom large. Knightley’s nagging concerns about Richardson having abandoned him in the monastery are magnified by the haunting memory of Richardson’s reaction to the monastery’s painting. This and other mysteries are brought up during the long nautical voyage back to England–a ship which becomes increasingly prison-like and confining to Knightley as the trip progresses. Knightley’s worries become fears as the ship becomes figuratively littered with male corpses whose tragic, repressed histories are unearthed during the course of the voyage. Their fates remind Knightley of the gothic’s foremost moral, as articulated by Horace Walpole, that “the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generations.”
From Austen’s manuscript notes, the ending of the novel can be seen: on arrival at Richardson’s home in Bath, an increasingly awkward relationship between Richardson and Knightley becomes fractured and then shattered as Richardson’s secrets are revealed and he is forced to literally and figuratively confront his ghosts. Once Richardson’s hidden past–he is both half-Indian and a wife-murderer–comes to light Knightley is forced to acknowledge both the hypocrisies of society with regard to race and the crimes of his friend and mentor. Knightley overcomes his own fears and anxieties, delivers the cut directe to Richardson (thereby losing his position in London society and among the “scientific mountaineers” whose company Knightley has so valued) and in so doing becomes a man. Knightley then returns home to Downell and vows to life out his life in a properly moral manner.
Masters and Mysteries has a heavier, darker tone than Austen’s later novels while still engaging–somewhat uneasily, it must be admitted–with major social and cultural issues. The first third of the novel, set in Society London, set the reader up to expect a typical Austen novel of manners, family, and society. The transition to the Gothic is therefore somewhat jarring to the reader. (Lord Bulwer-Lytton would manage the transition from society novel to novel of horror more smoothly in his A Strange Story (1862)–perhaps he used Austen and Masters and Mysteries as a model of what not to do?). Austen is skillful in delivering chills to the reader–specifically of what Anne Radcliffe thought of as Terror, which arises from the Burkean sublime and “expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life.” Austen nicely evokes the archetypal horror fiction Bad Place in the form of the monastery. And Austen, clearly having some form of fun, indulges herself in the over-the-topness of the horror elements in the novel. (Austen was clearly a practitioner avant la lettre of the theory that too much is too much, but way too much is just enough).
We were somewhere around Kashgar on the edge of the Taklamakan desert when the opium began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should steer….” And suddenly there was a terrible roaring all around us and the sky was full of what looked like dragons, all swooping and screeching and diving around the dirigible, which was going about 25 li an hour to Ürümqi. And a voice was screaming: “Jade Emperor! What are these goddamn dragons?”
It was almost noon, and we still had more than 1000 li to go. They would be tough li. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely spastic. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out. Press registration for the fabulous Weapons Show was already underway, and we had to get there by the hour of the Rooster to claim our suite in the Walking City. A fashionable newspaper in Shànghăi had taken care of the reservations, along with this two-man “Sky Dragon” dirigible we’d just rented off a mooring in the Old City…and I was, after all, a professional journalist; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.
The editors had also given me ¥300 in cash, most of which was already spent on drugs and extremely dangerous weapons. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile Army lab. We had sixteen bags of tobacco and heroin powder, eighty two balls of opium, ten quarts of hard wine…and also a Mk. 2 Bifurcator, a Divine Rat, a Transcendent Kraken, and an Eight Banners Auto-Spear.
All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed searching all over the Old City in Kashgar–from Xiazi to Yengisar, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious weapons collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
Following the death of Crassus at the hands of the Parthians in 53 B.C.E. at the battle of Carrhae:
Messengers delivered the head and hand of Crassus to the palace of the king of Armenia where the Parthian king was a guest. Both kings were watching a performance of the Bacchantes by Euripides, an allegorical study contrasing the barbaric military practices of Asia with Hellenic culture. During the announcement of victory the head of Crassus was tossed onto the stage: a coup de theatre which the actors must have found hard to follow….
In the reign of the great Shogun Yoshimune (again, quoting Murdoch):
Among other retrenchments the new Shogun curtailed the expenditure on the Palace Gardens and placed them under more efficient managment. At the head of the staff employed in them he placed a certain Yabuta, an old Kishu vassal of his own. This man, who was thoroughly trusted by the Shogun, was instructed to report on everything he saw or heard not only in connection with the gardens but in the city itself. It was his wont to spend days roaming about in the citizens’ quarters, entering into converse with all sorts and conditions of men, and keenly noting all that was passing, and on the first suitable opportunity to make full report of all this to the Shogun himself. Yoshimune was thus kept wonderfully well-informed as to what the people at large were thinking and saying and doing.
Who better to be a detective in 18th century Japan?
Historical what-if: Japan invades China, restores the Ming Dynasty.
A jonbar hinge, for those who like such things (as I do). In 1658 the great pirate Zheng Chenggong (a.k.a. Koxinga) was leading a Ming resistance against the Qing. Quoting Murdoch:
Koxinga was half Japanese, for he was born in Japan (1624) of a Japanese mother. Accordingly in 1658 he appealed to Japan for help.
The appeal was made to the Governor of Nagasaki, and by him it was transmitted to the Bakufu. The Great Council did not venture to give an answer on its own responsibility. Hoshina, the three Go-san-ke, and Ii Naotaka were all consulted. The Go-san-ke pronounced themselves strongly in favour of responding to Koxinga’s appeal by the dispatch of a strong and powerfully equipped expedition. But Ii Naotaka held different views, and as the great aim of Matsudaira Nobunaga was to keep things as they were, as far as he could, it was Ii Naotaka’s arguments that prevailed at the momentous meeting of the Council when the matter was finally settled. There can be no doubt that such an over-seas expedition would have been highly popular in many quarters in Japan at the time. Many of the Hatamoto were profoundly dissatisfied with the inactivity to which it seemed to be the settled policy of the government to condemn them. The samurai of the clans discerned in such a venture the prospects of fame and wealth, while it would have been welcomed as a veritable godsend by the tens of thousands of hunger-pinched ronin then swarming in Yedo [sic], or lurking in obscure corners all over the empire. If successful, as it very possibly would have been, the services of a Japanese army would have had to be suitably rewarded by the Chinese, and Japan might very well then have obtained a permanent foothold upon the continent. At all events the prohibition against building ships-of-war and large sea-going vessels would have had to be cancelled, and the edicts which practically imprisoned all Japanese within the circuit of their own seas revoked.
And, of course, when Commodore Perry arrives in 1853, Japan is in a much different position, and the Kanagawa Treaty of 1858 is a lot different.
In the 17th century, during the enforced peace, samurai could no longer distinguish themselves in battle, and so had to find other ways to gain distinction. “Whoever wished to get his name handed down to posterity must now reap fame in the realm of letters or polite accomplishments…crowds of wealthy men curried favour with Kuge house-stewards to get these worthies to induce their masters to condescend to impart instruction in Japanese classical literature, in Divination, in Astronomy, in Flower-arrangement, in Gardening, in the fashion of robes and how to wear them, in the art of entering and quitting a room, in the demeanour to be observed on meeting a Kuge in public, and in football.”
…? Football? Who played, and when? Did they have leagues? Did they have the equivalent of Arsenal-Man U? What did they wear when they played? And why haven’t I run across this before? I MUST KNOW.