The Good, The Bad and The Extraordinary

The Sheffield Hallam University Popular Fiction Reading Group (1900-1950) has now reached its tenth birthday, and celebrations are planned. There will be an event at the University on July 19th (of which more later), and there will be a publication.

The Good, the Bad and the Extraordinary is a collection of reviews by members of the group, giving an idea of the wide range of books we discuss at our monthly meetings. The reviews are arranged in chronological order, from Anne of Green Gables, first published in 1908, through to Torment for Trixie by Hank Janson, from 1950.

Popular fiction is a wide term, and we have treated it without bothering too much about a strict definition. This allows the reviews to cover everytthing from the seething romance of Ehel M. Dell to the sensible realism of Lettice Cooper’s National Provincial, but with detours for the unashamed swashbuckling of Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche and The Place of the Lion, a strange and rather disturbing theological best-seller by Charles Williams.

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Twenties Novelists consider War Poets

I’ve just put online a paper I wrote a few years ago. It’s called ‘I too am a Murderer’: Representations of War Poets in Fictions of the 1920s. You can find it by clicking here.

I first wrote it for the excellent Oxford centenary conference in 2014, where it was received quite well. I went on to deliver it at a meeting of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship, and also elsewhere.

It shows how war poets (especially protesting ones like Sassoon) who today are revered, were during the twenties often looked on as a threat by novelists including John Buchan, John Galsworthy and the playwright Patrick Hamilton.

My main reason for putting it online just now is that Mary Grover is kind enough to refer to it in an essay on Warwick Deeping in a forthcoming book that I am helping to put together – and I needed a definite internet link to go in the footnote.

The book is The Good, The Bad and the Extraordinary: Explorations in Popular Fiction 1900-1950. This is a collection of reviews of early twentieth century novels by members of the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction Reading Group – a wondefully varied collection, starting with Anne of Green Gables and ending with Hank Janson. I’ll be giving further details of the book as we near its publication date, timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the reading group’s foundation in the summer of 2012.


I’m watching ITV News, and the word Przemyśl jumps out at me from the bottom of the screen. It is one of the places where Ukranian refugees are being welcomed to Poland. But the name strikes memories, of course. This is not the first time it has been in the news.

In the autumn of 1914, the town was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of course. It was besieged by a huge Russian army that was poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly managed. In time, though, force of numbers told, and in March 1915, the fortress surrendered, because of starvation and exhaustion. It was a grim business. The besieging Russians then, of course, were Britain’s allies.

This is far from the only reminder of 1914 in the past week.

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Geoffrey Hill on Owen, Rosenberg and ‘Pity’

This post is a recommendation to take a look at the lectures that the late Geoffrey Hill gave when Professor of Poetry at Oxford between 2010 and 2015.You can find them at: I don’t know how long they’ve been online, and this is probably old news to many people, but I’ve only just discovered the website, and am enjoying the lectures greatly.

A particularly stimulating one is ‘Mine angry and defrauded young a talk he gave in December 2014 about Wilfred Owen and war poetry.

A few years before that, when I lived near Oxford, I had heard him give a wide-ranging talk that argued ferociously with Owen: ‘The poetry had better not be in the pity – or it will not survive.’ I remember clearly his great white beard, his judgmental certainty and general air of an ancient prophet challenging our certainties as he delivered this verdict.

Geoffrey Hill
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Woolf, ‘Sapper’, Edgar Wallace

Sometimes the census just tells you what you already knew. Here is the return submitted by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, from an address oddly transcribed as ‘Rodmell, Lewes, Southease & Rodmell, Sussex, England’:

Click for a larger image

Living with the couple are Nellie and Lettie, brought to life so vividly in Alison Light’s book Mrs Woolf and the Servants.

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I loked for Frederic Manning in the 1921 census, and found him at Edenham, near Bourne in Lincolnshire:

Click the image for a lerger version.

He was lodging with the family of Joseph Kirby, a farm labourer, and probably starting to write Her Privates We. He named the hero of the novel Bourne, the same as the village. He must have liked the place.

Arnold Bennett and the census

Where was Arnold Bennett on census day?

On his yacht, of course, enjoying the fruits of his literary success.

Here’s the census return submitted form Bembridge, Hampshire.

Clisk the image to see a larger version.
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Over the time I’ve spent with Rose Allatini, author of Despised and Rejected, and so frequently disappointed by life, I have found her using several names:

R. Allatini, A.T. Fitzroy, R.L. Scott, Mrs Cyril Scott, Lucian Wainwright, Eunice Buckley…

Rose Allatini

Now, in the 1921 census, she has yet another name. The census was taken just a month after her marriage to the composer Cyril Scott, and he filled in the form for 24 Newton Road, Paddington. (This had been his home before the wedding.)

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The 1921 Census

I’ve already posted about Evadne Price’s interesting appearance in the census, and will be adding a few more details about other writers in due course.

I consulted the census at the Manchester Central Reference Library, a place dear to me since my BA student days, nearly sixty years ago. Apart from the National Archives at Kew, this is the only place where the census records can be accessed free of charge.

Getting access is easy – but you will need to become a member of Manchester Libraries. A driving license, utility bill, or similar proof of address is needed. A very pleasant lady explained the procedure to me, and I was logged in very quickly. There is a large bank of computers in the Family History section, where advisors are on hand to help (but where there is a limit of two hours per session.) Other computers in the Library can also be used, without a time limit.

I began by finding my parents, both only twelve years old when the census was taken. No surprises, except that my grandfather, about whom I have written previously, was listed as a ‘manufacturer’s agent’. What’s going on here? He had his own business before.

Then I began loking for authors. One I found was T.S. Eliot, whose entry at 12 Wigmore Street is rather painstakingly printed:

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Evadne Price tells the truth (to an extent)

A life-story that I’ve been interested in for a long while is that of Evadne Price, who as ‘Helen Zenna Smith’ wrote Not So Quiet…, one of the most striking pretend-memoirs of the war.

By now it is accepted that she is the Eva Price who was born in Australia in 1888, married a man called Henry Dabelstein and worked there as an actress before the First World War. The ODNB, which earlier accepted her own account that she was born at sea in 1896, has now altered its entry to match the evidence.

Throughout her career Evadne Price was a resourceful and imaginative liar, and I don’t blame her. As a young woman, especially when she moved to England, she had her way to make, with nothing but her talents to rely on. So she made up a story, with birth at sea explaining the lack of proper documentation for her early life; late in life she would claim strongly that she she had never been to Australia till she retired there with her husband in 1975.

Until now, the evidence for her Australian birth has been circumstantial. The 1921 census, however, shows her (perhaps for the last time?) telling the truth about her place of birth. In June of that year she was a visitor of the Lamington family, and she is listed thus:

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