Max Beerbohm, “Sapper” and William Le Queux

Looking through old magazines, you can come across some odd and unexpected things. Hunting for War stories today in Hutchinson’s Story magazine for 1919, I was surprised to find, in the October issue, together with stories by Ethel M. Dell, William Le Queux, and Rider Haggard, and the second instalment of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Max Beerbohm’s Hilary Maltby and Stephen Braxton, one of the best (and most literary) of his the stories collected in his Seven Men volume in the same year. I was especially delighted to find illustrations, by Max, of the two main characters.

maltby.jpg

I had not seen this picture of Maltby before, but it is probably the same as the one referred to in the Hart-Davis catalogue as appearing in the New York edition of the stories in 1920. The catalogue says that the caricature of Braxton in that edition, though, is “Head and shoulders of Stephen Braxton,” whereas the picture in Hutchinson’s is (very effectively) almost full-length. Braxton is the darkly rural writer from the Cotswolds. In this picture Beerbohm makes him look wonderfully (and prophetically) like Ted Hughes.

braxton.jpg

I’m delighted to have made this discovery, because it is good evidence for something that I have long argued – that there was a huge overlap between the audience of popular fiction and the readers of “literary” fiction. Academic orthodoxy seems to like neat territories of highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow – and it is usually only the highbrow that is taken seriously. Yet here we have Max, a writer enjoyed by the elite and highly valued for the sophistication of his style, printed in the same magazine as the very lowbrow thriller-writer, William Le Queux.

Le Queux was a writer that Max himself had labelled lowbrow in the cartoon that I found a while back in Land and Water magazine (also 1919):

beerb2.jpg

(Click the image for a larger version)

This cartoon mocked a Times leading article that imagined increased leisure in a post-war utopia, where “Girls are learning house-craft, mothers the art of keeping children healthy, boys the use of their hands, and men the use of books.” The father in the picture is using his increased leisure to read William Le Queux, which Max clearly doesn’t consider an impressive demonstration of  literary taste.

Yet here they are, yoked together in the same magazine – and Bulldog Drummond, too. It’s a small literary world.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Ian Hopper
    Posted July 30, 2007 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate your remark about the lack of a clear distinction between readers of high and lowbrow literature. One problem with such an easy classification is that authors themselves don’t fit neatly into either category. I think G. K. Chesterton is a perfect example of a popular, hack writer whose intellectual weight (if not his physical) equaled the likes of Shaw and Wells.

  2. Posted July 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I think GKC’s reputation sank after WW1 because he definitely did produce a large amount of lower quality journalism – among which there are still some brilliant pieces. And he appeared in relatively low-status magazines like “The Storyteller” – which academics in the new discipline of English wanted to distance themselves from. So there was a tendency to over-value writers like Pound and Joyce whose lack of populist appeal was self-evident, and whose body of work was relatively small, at the expense of those who wrote a great deal, and from whose work the very good had to be chosen with some discrimination.
    Coming back to the academic world late in life, I am astonished by how much academic writing there is about a small modernist canon, and how relatively neglected many other writers are.


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