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JSLT 38:2 1995 Arthur Machen Letters Arthur Machen & Montgomery Evans: Letters of a Literary Friendship, 1923-1947. Sue Strong Hassler and Donald M. Hassler, eds. Kent: Kent State University Press, 1994. χ + 195 pp. $26.00 ACCORDING TO MANY reviewers of his books in the mid-1890s, Arthur Machen was the purveyor of what was unhealthy, nauseous, morbid, and sensational. What sort of correspondence might we anticipate from him to a young American bibliophile, Montgomery Evans, who befriended the Machen family such that his subsequent visits to England were few when he did not visit them? The Hasslers do a great service in publishing these documents for those whose concerns are not only the 1890s, but literary currents and eddies from the 1920s into the 1940s, the course of British literature in general, Anglo-American cultural ties, and living conditions brought about by World War II. Montgomery Evans, from Norristown, Pennsylvania, put together two notebooks (now on loan to Kent State University) to preserve the well-nigh 200 letters sent to him by Machen, whose writings he admired and collected, and whose friendship-mentoring he valued. The Hasslers assemble the meat and potatoes of this gathering of correspondence, and they include some of Evans's own writings and letters to Machen, plus those from Machen's son informing Evans of the elder Machen's death in 1947, when such documents flesh out the story they wish to tell. Evans came to take the place of Vincent Starrett, whose correspondence from Machen (along with some of his to Machen) was published by Michael Murphy. Starrett, to the Hasslers, was not so faithful a friend to the British writer as Evans was. Evans and his friend, Hunter Stagg, traveled to England in 1923 to meet Machen and other fantasy writers. Machen's Johnsonian presence (as an actor, he had actually portrayed Samuel Johnson) attracted younger literary fans to him as to a father, and that element in his personality surfaces time and again in the letters. The primary appeal of the Hasslers' book will probably be its riches as a reference work for the 1890s, that era when Machen first attracted considerable public attention because of his two books of supernatural horror fiction in John Lane's Keynotes series, The Great God Pan (1894) and The Three Impostors (1895). Machen's works, with much left uncollected , eventually filled the nine volumes of the Caerleon edition published by Martin Seeker. As a journalist for many years, Machen turned 238 Book Reviews out pieces that many now doubtless would not scurry to have in collected form, though he remains a figure of devotion for many readers of occult fiction. Machen's downplaying of Wilde in juxtaposition to his (Machen's) claims that the Sherlock Holmes stories were what would last longest from the 1890s literary output will occasion annoyance and dismissal by some, and his idea that Poe's Dupin loomed stronger than Dr. Bell in Holmes's character will bring forth "hurrah's" or "oh hell's," depending on one's orientation. Elsewhere Machen also displays a good opinion of Poe, notably when he teams him with Dickens as a man of genius (and, in Poe's case, at the expense of Kipling—which opinion minimizes yet another darling in 1890s circles). Machen also quotes Wilde on Henry James's defects as a novelist to support his own ideas about pretensions to "cleverness & sophistication" in much current literature, remarking that Vaughan Kester's The Prodigal Judge (1911) revealed a genuine love of writing—a love that was too obviously absent from much contemporary (1930s) writing (p. 74, although indexed as p. 73). To Wilde, James's fiction betrayed its creator's fashion of writing novels as if that activity were "a painful duty." Machen later termed James's style "quite terrible," albeit The Turn of the Screw was "the finest Tia'nt' in the English language," a feeling that should mollify Jacobites. Although he does not admire him particularly on account of his 1890s publications, Machen obviously enjoyed Mark Twain's works, just as he relished other American authors such as Carl Van Vechten, James Branch Cabell, Washington Irving, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 238-240
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Ceasing Publication
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