Locke’s literary status

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.

Adcock concludes:

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.



  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted May 27, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    The obvious question that arises here for me is who is A. St John Adcock, and why was he so praising? What were his views on the other disparate band of writers you mention?

    And I’m fascinated by why you make this comment…:
    “Or her hand. Virginia Woolf was ironic about The Rough Road in the TLS, but you can tell that she enjoyed it.”
    If I was in less polite company I would be making a rather off-colour analogy about that…! What exactly did she have to say? I went into the library today to find the review but have had to call the volume up from storage.

  2. Posted May 27, 2007 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    From V.Woolf’s review:
    “According to Mr Locke… ‘We were in danger of perishing from fatty degeneration of the soul. As it was, it took a year or more of war to cure us.’ The great charm of Mr Locke’s work lies in the assurance that is wafted to us by innumerable touches of irrepressible good nature that the worse the disease the more certain the cure; the darker the cloud the more silver the lining; the steeper the hill – but Mr Locke puts it at greater length and more persuasively than we can. His difficulty lies always in the first half of the proposition. It is amusing to see how persistently in spite of every effort his faith in human nature keeps breaking in… Mr Locke can hardly stay his hand until the outbreak of war to begin that process of unveiling and vindication and making good in which he delights so heartily that we can scarcely help enjoying it too.”
    and Doggie, at the end
    “… is married to a French wife, who not only personifies “the heroic womanhood of France,” but believes that it is the peculiar mission of women to see that heroes are kept permanently up to scratch.”
    The tone of all this, I’d say, is gently but affectionately mocking – and it sounds to me like the review of someone who has spent a few pleasant hours in the company of a book that she has found silly but likeable.
    The review, by the way is identified as by VW on the TLS online database, but isn’t included in her collected writings.

  3. Eric Stott
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m very fond of Locke’s work, though to call his plots improbable is inadequate description- who else could build a book on this: A middle aged professor (lately come into money and a title) is walking in the park and stops to comfort a young woman. It turns out that she is a harem girl, who has run away from a forced engagement. Most of his books are jaw-droppingly ridiculous (funny names like Alexis Triona and Peralla Annaway abound) and yet I can’t get enough of them. Still, he produced one book in a more serious vein- I strongly reccomend that you read “Stella Maris”.

  4. Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    I agree that Locke is wonderfully readable. He keeps you turning the pages. By the way, I’ve found out that St John Adcock was the editor of The Bookman.

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