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Reggie Turner, Forgotten Edwardian Novelist Stanley Weintraub University of Delaware THE TWELVE NOVELS Reginald Turner (1869-1938) published between 1901 and 1911 are among the least known of the Edwardian years, an era rich in forgettable fiction. The only books more rare than his first editions were his second editions, he would say, although at least three of his novels did become cheap two-shilling reprints. Sadly, Reggie called his ill-fated offspring "stillborn children of my fancy."1 Now the rare copy of any of them which turns up for sale fetches five hundred times its original few shillings.2 Thousands of other novels were commercial or artistic failures during the years Reggie struggled to make his mark in fiction, and they are now equally rare; thus why the unique value of a Turner book? Most of the reason is their association interest, for he was a member of the Oscar Wilde circle, and at his bedside when Oscar died; and he later became a part of the flourishing English expatriate colony in Florence, and a friend of Somerset Maugham, Norman Douglas, and D. H. Lawrence, who fictionalized him in two of his own novels.3 Yet Reggie Turner's novels have an interest in themselves, as they look back upon the fading late-Victorian world Reggie could only view from self-exile. Turner's unpretentious novels resonate with the wry comic ambience of H. G. Wells's History of Mr. Polly (1910), Arnold Bennett's Buried Alive (1908), and, although Max Beerbohm's style was inimitable, even that of Reggie's bosom friend's Zuleika Dobson (1911). Reggie's obsession with the mystery of his origins permeated his fiction and lent it a between -the-lines pathos aware only to his intimates. He never knew who his mother was, and had been raised by the Levy-Lawson family, proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, on whose income he lived all his life. He assumed that his half-brother was either Frank Lawson, or possibly Lawson's nephew, Edward, who became the 1st Lord Burnham. The de- O From a copy of 7%e Second Book of the Rhymers' Club (1894). The book catalog of John Parke Custis states: "This copy is especially notable for a full-page drawing by Max Beerbohm, "The Rhymer's Club,' showing a winged figure (Reggie Turner) in a business suit, holding a copy of 'Mes Larmes' [My Tears], the 12 words in Beerbohm's hand explain the drawing. With Turner's book-plate." The five identifications are difficult to decipher: 1. The Fiery Sword 2. Stars WEINTRAUB : REGGIE TURNEE vice of unknown origins carried on the comic (and sometimes sentimental ) tradition in novels and plays about unknown parentage recalled more memorably in The Pinafore (1878) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Oscar Wilde's death in November, 1900, freed Reggie Turner from the deathbed, and the most onerous responsibilities he had ever borne. But life seemed empty. He felt alienated from an England which had driven Oscar to his death, and realized that some of the hostility toward Wilde might now continue to be directed toward those who had stood by him, and were similarly suspect. Reggie had given up his Daily Telegraph column , "London Day-by-Day," and had only his small allowance and whatever occasional writing for the Telegraph might bring him. His funds were so low that when Max Beerbohm had written him to get a wreath in his name for the coffin, Reggie could spare only ten francs. But, for ten francs in Paris, he assured Max, one could get very pretty flowers. Although Reggie had little money, he kept Oscar's Henri in his own service—little as he needed a valet—until the faithful Henri was able to find a place. He had a bed placed in his sitting room—for More Adey, or Max, or others whom he invited to Paris, and he determined to remain for a while. But Max, as he had done before, at the time of Wilde's arrest and Reggie's flight from London, pressed him to come home. They could collaborate on a play, Max enticed. Reggie would supply the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 3-37
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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