This is the start of a series, one essay per post, on some of the pieces in William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland edited by Massimo Berruti, S. T. Joshi, and Sam Gafford.
One post on all of them would be too long, and I’ve already covered some of the essays in other posts.
For Hodgson fans also interested in literary criticism, I definitely recommend the book. Besides the essay, it has a very complete bibliography for all of Hodgson’s works in all languages as well as Hodgson criticism up to 2014. It also two indexes: one for names, Hodgson titles, and periodicals and a general index.
Review: “William Hope Hodgson: In His Own Day”, A. Langley Searles, 1944.
Searles looks at the reviews, in the English literary journal Bookman, of Hodgson’s last two novels: The Ghost Pirates and The Night Land (though it’s clear the reviewer of The Ghost Pirates had read The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and The House on the Borderland).
The negative criticism of The Ghost Pirates was that Hodgson’s punctuation was annoying and the Cockney dialect of one character unsatisfactory. On the plus side, the reviewer said “There is no one at present writing who can thrill and horrify to quite the same effect.” That, as Searles says, was high praise given that Arthur Machen and M. P. Shiel were Hodgson’s contemporaries.
While the Bookman review of The Night Land notes that the language is sometimes obscure and hard to follow, it also says Hodgson produced a novel “very original and sufficiently imaginative”.
Three other newspapers also gave high praise to that novel.
When Carnacki the Ghost-Finder come out its reviews were perhaps even better than The Night Land’s. One reviewer even went so far as to say that Hodgson’s was England’s best writer of ghost stories – and this was at a time when M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Oliver Onions, E. F. Benson, and F. Marion Crawford were all publishing ghost stories.
Three newspapers and Bookman gave Hodgson’s collection Men of the Deep Waters very good reviews. The Bookman said the collection gripped like “Poe’s grim stories”.
The Daily Telegraph likened Hodgson’s collection The Luck of the Strong to Edgar Allan Poe’s work. Bookman said of the collection that Hodgson had a “crisp, racy style” and “a flair for macabre and horrific that will always appeal to a wide public”.
Clearly then, whatever his sales figures, Hodgson was getting good reviews.
Speaking of E.F. Benson, I once read his entire collection of ghost stories, which totalled over 700 pages. I have this really bad habit of always reading every single page of something to the end that I’ve started, no matter how bad it is– and I can safely say that these stories really were bad. In the table of contents I put an “x” next to those that I thought were good. (There were over fifty.) Well, by the end, I don’t think I’d put more than five or six “x’s” next to the titles. And even those five or six I wouldn’t classify as great. He’s certainly no Algernon Blackwood.
Most of Benson’s stories involve two well-to-do effeminate men with a lot of time on their hands who rent a cottage or house together for a month and bring their inexhaustible supply of servants with them. What few women appear in his stories are almost always depicted as shrews. At some point a ghost comes along, but the endless exposition is so dull and tedious and the plots so uneventful, with little sense of drama, that I couldn’t help but think that this was simply the wrong genre for him. His humorous Mapp and Lucia novels were considered much better, though to date I’ve only watched the 1980s series based on them and haven’t read any of them yet.
My good impression of Benson only comes from three stories, all reviewed on the blog. I do have Wildside Press’s E. F. Benson’s Megapack, but those are the only stories I’ve read out of it.
Since he is thought to have been a homosexual, it sounds like he validated the accompanying stereotypes with the stories you mentioned.
Let me just add, in fairness to Benson there aren’t any overt homosexual tendencies in his characters. They just seemed, as I mentioned, a bit odd and effeminate, in my opinion, and the stories just about always feature two men living together. Maybe if he were writing today, he would be much more “daring,” partly because, I suppose, there’s a market for it, and “homosexual literature,” or whatever it’s called, is now considered an established genre. I guess it can be debated, however, whether stories or books based on a particular sexual preference is truly deserving of being classified as a distinct, specific genre.
Also, again in fairness to Benson, after consulting my copy of “Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson,” I see that I actually put “x’s” next to seventeen out of fifty-four of the stories. Well, I must after all have thought more highly of his stories than I remembered, although, again, it would be hard to say that any of them are truly great or memorable stories.
So, all in all, I found the stories dull, though I’m sure he has his fans and that they no doubt think highly of him. By the way, I even found a lot of his titles to be dull and bland. Here are some examples:
Between the Lights
The Other Bed
The House with the Brick-Kiln
In the Tube
Christopher Comes Back