When I posted about William J. Locke’s The Mountebank, Andy Frayn commented: “He clearly is a potboiler writer, isn’t he? The Rough Road is also quite gripping tosh. ”
I don’t think “potboiler” is fair. In Land and Water in Feb 1919, “Peter Bell” (maybe J.C.Squire?) wrote:
The position of Mr W.J.Locke has always been a little odd. no serious critic of literature can take him seriously as being in the category of great novelists. And yet no critic can withhold his unwilling admiration for an undeniable gift when one of Mr Locke’s novels falls into his hand.
Or her hand. Virginia Woolf was ironic about The Rough Road in the TLS, but you can tell that she enjoyed it.
I’ve just got hold of a copy of Gods of Modern Grub Street by A. StJohn Adcock. It’s a collection of profiles of contemporary writers, and includes, together with Hardy, Buchan, Kipling, Masefield, Maugham, Wells and others, an essay on William John Locke
The book came out in 1923, but the profile only deals with Locke’s pre-war novels, comparing him with Anatole France.
He has the sure touch that is at once light and scholarly, an abounding sense of fantasy, and a tolerant, worldly-wise philosophy that he edges with an irony… delicately shrewd, though never so bitter, so devastating as that of the great French master.
He puts himself into his books, and you find him there, scholarly, kindly, witty, unaffected, and so much a man of the world that he no more finds it necessary to write like one than a millionaire feels it necessary to prove he is rich by talking all the time about his money.
So in his time, some people were certainly willing to say that he was more than a potboiler.