Last month the Sheffield Reading 1900-1950 group considered melodrama, especially in the passionately seething novels of Ethel M. Dell. This month we’ll be considering sea and adventure books, and I shall be looking at an author I should have delved into more thoroughly a while ago.
‘Bartimeus’, I’ve discovered, sounds rather an interesting man. Born Lewis Anselm da Costa Ricci in 1886, he anglicised his name to Ritchie and trained as a naval officer. Bad eyesight prevented him from pursuing a career at sea, but he remained in the Navy, in the accounting branch. It was then that he began writing stories, mostly set at sea. He took his pen-name from the Bible, ironic ally hinting at his reason for leaving the career he loved by naming himself Bartimeus, the blind beggar of Mark 10, 46-52.
During the War he was seconded to the Admiralty, as secretary to Admiral C.L.Napier, and then later worked under Jellicoe. His literary output seems to have increased during the War, and some of the most interesting-looking pieces in this collection (which I’ve only just started reading) are stories closely based on fact – accounts of operations, and of topics like Q-ships.
In 1932 he served on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. In the Second World War he joined the Ministry of Information. He reported on Dunkirk and many other topics, until becoming Press Secretary to the King in 1944. He stayed in this post until 1947, when he retired.
His output was mostly in the short-story format. The Times obituary, from which I’ve gathered most of my facts, says that his one novel, Unreality:
made enjoyable reading, but […] from a technical point of view, exhibited a sailor’s open-handedness in the profusion of secondary episodes.
Over the next week or two, expect to see a few posts here about how he tackled the problem of turning wartime naval exploits into stories.
If anyone knows more about him, I’d be interested to hear.