Fantastic Victoriana: N

ameless Child. This Nameless Child was created by Jerome K. Jerome and appeared in “Silhouettes” (The Idler, February 1892). Jerome (1859-1927) was the creator of Lieutenant Fritz. “The Dancing Partner” was a dark short story. “Silhouettes” is darker and more disturbing, and much better. And "The Dancing Partner" was pretty good.

A nameless man reminisces about his childhood on the coast of England. The years he spent there put him in a “somewhat gruesome turn of mind,” as he admits, but nonetheless he loves such places as the lonely sullen lakes and the dreary marshes and the fields in cold autumn twilights. When he was younger the “dismal stretch of coast” was full of dark wonders, of wide shallow pools that seemed, in the right (or wrong) light to be full of blood; of “unken” spots which trapped the boy, or seemed to; of giant stones–“pebbles,” as the locals called them–which had been thrown onto the land from the sea, and which crashed in the surf, so that the locals would say, “Old Nick’s playing at marbles.” Out to sea the boy could see a perpetual thin white line of surf, underneath which was something called “the Bar,” something which was cruel to the fishermen and which the boy came to imagine as a kind of underwater ogre, for the fisher folk attribute desires to him. After one storm the “pebbles” had been tossed a hundred yards inland, and giant holes had been dug into the sand and the wall of stones looking over the sea. In one of these holes was found the body of a local who was known to one of the fisher folk over forty years ago. The narrator also thinks about an awful black land visitors sometimes told stories about, a place of blackness upon blackness and weariness upon weariness. Stories about that land were grim, and the people there valued their dogs far more than each other. One night a fugitive came to the narrator’s parents’ house, and they gave the man sanctuary. A lynch mob came after him, and the narrator’s father was prepared to kill, and die, to prevent the man from being lynched, but before that could happen others came and stopped the lynch mob. The narrator remembers a final nightmarish vision, or perhaps merely a dream about Hell.

“Silhouettes” is more a vignette and memory than a story. There’s no definable beginning, middle, or end; the story really consists of atmosphere and reminiscences. But they actually add to the strange power of this story. Jerome does a superb job of conjuring up the rural, coastal environment, even better than Quiller-Couch did in the somewhat similar “The Roll Call of the Deep” (see the John Christian entry). Jerome then uses that setting as backdrop to dark, horrific, and almost hallucinatory memories and descriptions. Jerome does not provide a rationale for what he describes, instead leaving everything ambiguous, as memories from early childhood often are, so that one could, if one liked ascribe a rationalist interpretation to everything in the story. It’s clear, though–clear to me, at least–that the supernatural interpretation is the more accurate one. Another way in which Jerome adds to the effect of this story is by leaving the mysteries unresolved, so that we never learn the story behind the body in the pit, or why the lynch mob was after their victim. Finally, “Silhouettes” is simply full of fine writing, of quite memorable images and well done turns of phrase:

I like the twilight of the long grey street, sad with the wailing cry of the distant muffin man. One thinks of him, as, strangely mitred, he glides by through the gloom, jangling his harsh bell, as the High Priest of the pale spirit of Indigestion, summoning the devout to come forth and worship.
And then there is the passage in which the narrator describes the black land:
From these sea-scented scenes, my memory travels to a weary land where dead ashes lie, and there is blackness--blackness everywhere. Black rivers flow between black banks; black, stunted trees grow in black fields; black withered flowers by black wayside. Black roads lead from blackness past blackness to blackness; and along them trudge black, savage-looking men and women; and by them black, old- looking children play grim, unchildish games.

When the sun shines on this black land, it glitters black and hard; and when the rain falls a black mist rises towards heaven, like the hopeless prayer of a hopeless soul.

By night it is less dreary, for then the sky gleams with a lurid light, and out of the darkness the red flames leap, and high up in the air they gambol and writhe--the demon spawn of that evil land, they seem.

“Silhouettes” is a peculiar and powerful piece of work.

Who knows what the Nameless Child is, really? As an adult he has that “gruesome turn of mind,” but even as a child it seems clear that he was, like part of the shore, “unken.” As an adult he admits to seeing things that weren’t there, like the body of the Bar floating beneath the waves, but he does not admit that his other visions were unreal, and his final one might have been a child’s garbling of adult events. Or it might have been a glimpse into another realm.

ameless man (I). As was occasionally the case in Victorian-era stories, the narrator of Jack London's "A Thousand Deaths" (1899), is never given a name. Which is really a shame, because this obscure London story is creepy even by today's standards.

London, I trust, needs little introduction; the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang and many another fine work is still read, even today. What many people don't realise is that he also wrote "fantastic" stories, about science fiction and horror. "A Thousand Deaths," which first appeared in The Black Cat, is one of them.

The nameless narrator is the son of an English bourgeois couple, but they are neglectful of him (the father "being constantly lost in the abstractions of his study" and the mother "sated herself with the adulation of the society in which she was perpetually plunged") and so he leads a wild life and ends up being disowned by them. At the age of 30 he has led a wandering, aimless of style and is drowning in San Francisco Bay when he is rescued by his father.

The father (similarly unnamed) does not recognise his son (and later, when informed of his son's identity, does not care), and did not when he rescued him. He picked up his son from the water to test a hypothesis:

Starting from the proposition that the direct cause of the temporary and permanent arrest of vitality was due to the coagulation of certain elements and compounds in the protoplasm, he had isolated and subjected these various substances to innumerable experiments. Since the temporary arrest of vitality in an organism brought coma, and a permanent arrest death, he held that by artificial means this coagulation of the protoplasm could be retarded, prevented, and even overcome in the extreme states of solidification. Or, to do away with the technical nomenclature, he argued that death, when not violent and in which none of the organs had suffered injury, was merely suspended vitality; and that, in such instances, life could be induced to resume its functions by the use of proper methods.
Naturally, the narrator's father discovers the method. The narrator had been drowned when rescued, but he'd been picked up and attached to a machine:
It was composed chiefly of glass, the construction being of that crude sort which is employed for experimentative purposes. A vessel of water was surrounded by an air chamber, to which was fixed a vertical tube, surmounted by a globe. In the centre of this was a vacuum gauge. The water in the tube moved upwards and downwards, creating alternate inhalations and exhalations, which were in turn communicated to me through the house. With this, and the aid of the men who pumped my arms, so vigorously, had the process of breathing been artificially carried on, my chest rising and falling and my lungs expanding and contracting, till nature could be persuaded to again take up her wonted labour.
It was this, plus an unknown method of resuscitation (although the narrator does refer to "hypodermic injections of a compound to react upon the coagulatory process"), which saved the narrator.

After being rescued the narrator pretends to be only a sailor, and becomes interested in his father's studies (the narrator being educated and interested in scientific matters) and his father's assistant. But the narrator eventually discovers his father's plot: to repeatedly kill his son and then resurrect him by the means he has at hand.

The father takes the narrator to "an uncharted South Sea Island" and then does just that. The narrator dies via "a series of experiments in toxicology," starting with strychnine. As the months pass, though, the father's "speculations took wilder and yet wilder flights. We ranged through the three great classes of poisons, the neurotics, the gaseous and the irritants, but carefully avoided some of the mineral irritants and passed the whole group of corrosives." The only mishap with the poisons is from a "minute quality of that most frightful of poisons, the arrow poison, or curare." But the father saves the day, and his son's life.

The narrator is electrocuted and resuscitated. The narrator is given lockjaw, but "the agony of dying was so great that I positively refused to undergo similar experiments." Not so with asphyxiation, drowning, strangling, suffocation by gas, and morphine, opium, cocaine and chloroform overdoses.

The narrator (who very strangely seems to suffer from no psychological dysfunction through all of this) finally rebels when he discovers that he had been kept in cold storage for three months and that his father had been "tampering with my breast." So the narrator sets a trap for his father--two "powerful batteries" projecting "tremendous forces" (which the narrator discovers on his own) between them--and gets his father and his father's servants to walk into them. At story's end the narrator is free and his father disintegrated.

"A Thousand Deaths" is interesting for a couple of reasons. Setting aside the casual racism (the constant use of the word "darkies"), the modern reader sees London attempting to extrapolate, more-or-less strictly along theoretically-possible lines, from what was scientifically known in his day--not for London the "it's too complicated to get into" excuse of a Garrett Serviss. London refers to apergy, specifically crediting Astor for it; London was clearly more aware of the science fiction of the time than he is usually given credit for. And, finally and most interestingly, there is the issue of London's parentage.

London was the child of parents who had "united briefly in common-law marriage." The father was an itinerant astrologer who left London's mother before London was born. London could never quite face up to the fact of his bastardy; in modern terms, he was in denial through much of his life (although later in life he admitted to his daughters that he was certain that the astrologer was his biological dad). 2 years before "A Thousand Deaths" was published London had written to the astrologer, who had responded denying that he was London's father. "A Thousand Deaths" should therefore be viewed in psychological terms as well as literary ones, as a cri de coeur from London.

"A Thousand Deaths"
The e-text, courtesy of those wonderful Gaslight folks.

ameless man (II). This anonymous figure appeared in "The Artificial Man. A Semi-Scientific Story," by "Don Quichotte." It appeared in The Argonaut on August 16, 1884. The author's name was obviously a pseudonym; the real identity is unknown. The nameless narrator meets an old man in a coffee shop. The old man, who is similarly nameless, looks sickly and frail, but he claims to be in good health nonetheless. He also claims to be an artificial man. He says he was born and raised in a bell jar and that he is fed by chemicals inserted into his body through his stomach, which contains the "gastric juices of a calf." Despite his appearance he claims to be only 18. The narrator is, understandably, dubious, so the old man removes the top of his head and then his "brain." After replacing both he continues with his story; he is the future of mankind, who will replace ordinary, common, 19th century man. In turn the android (the word is not used in the story) will be replaced in the future by more vigorous and energetic "men," and so evolution will perfect the "human" race.  An odd little story.

ameless man (III). This nameless man was the narrator of Frank Stockton's "A Tale of Negative Gravity," which first appeared in 1884, although in what magazine I've been unable to discover. (Biographical information on Stockton can be found in the War Syndicate entry) The man is a retiree, an amateur scientist who spends his time in his small home town trying to discover "the means not only of producing, but of retaining and controlling, a natural force, really the same as centrifugal force, but which I called negative gravity." He eventually discovers it after "the labors and disappointments of several years." His method for controlling negative gravity is

a strong metallic case, about eight inches long, and half as wide, contained the machinery for producing the force; and this was put into action by means of the pressure of a screw worked from the outside. As soon as the pressure was produced, negative gravity began to be evolved and stored, and the greater the pressure the greater the force.
The man puts the machine on and then goes to explain to his wife what he's done: "it could diminish, or entirely dissipate, the weight of objects of any kind," if matching instruments were attached to those objects. She's not happy about this, and for interesting (to modern eyes) reasons: going public with the invention will take away their happiness. She's not interested in money, or fame, or any of the things that will come with public exposure; she just wants the happiness that she currently has with her husband, and which she will lose if he goes public.

He concedes the point (even more interestingly) and his wife tells him that he should use it for personal amusement and satisfaction, but wait to go public. He agrees to this, and arranges things so that his son Herbert will receive information about the machine once the narrator and his wife die. And then off the narrator goes to enjoy his invention; because he only weighs 30-40 pounds, walking, even with a full backpack, is a joy, and lifting even very heavy things (a "two-horse wagon, loaded with building-stone") is very easy. The man and his wife go mountain climbing and hiking and in general enjoy themselves, until their behavior causes Herbert's engagement to be broken off (the father of Herbert's fiancé sees this behaviour as evidence of insanity). The misunderstanding is eventually resolved and the marriage made good, and the narrator and his wife put the invention aside, for fear of future, similar misunderstandings, and live happily ever after.

ameless man (IV). This nameless character appeared in Louise J. Strong's "An Unscientific Story," which appeared in Cosmopolitan in February, 1903. Strong is an author I've been able to find little about. The character in "An Unscientific Story" is a saner and less moral version of Frankenstein. He is a professor who has devoted himself, over the course of many years, to discovering the secrets of life, how to create and manipulate it, and finally succeeds in breeding the "life-germ" in his laboratory. The Professor's life form grows at a fantastic rate, forming itself into a humanoid within what seems to be hours.

And then the unpleasant part begins. It was, I think, not Strong's intention to portray the nameless Professor in this fashion; he is rather clearly meant to be the hero and the person the reader identifies with. But his treatment of his creature is so immoral and heartless that the modern reader can't help but sympathize with the poor creature. Yes, the Professor's life-form is vampiric; that is, it feeds on raw meat and blood. But it is also intelligent and looking for guidance, and the Professor treats it as a soulless brute, rather than with any sort of morality or care. The creatures (the initial one begins to subdivide into many) turn against him, but given the horrendous treatment and attitude the Professor displays towards them ("What a curse I have called forth! It is of the devil!") it is no wonder they become his enemy.

The Professor eventually destroys them all and goes off to enjoy the comforts of home and family, never dreaming that he, rather than his creation, is the real monster.

ameless man (V). This man appeared in Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford's "In a Cellar." Spofford (1835-1921) was, for some decades, one of the most respected writers in America, although today she is remembered only by obscurists and scholars. This is unfortunate, for she's more interesting than you might imagine, and "In a Cellar," published in 1859, is a good example of this. Although (to be perfectly honest) the story took a twist which caused me to lose most of my interest in it, Spofford is still an able and interesting story-teller whose style is not nearly so dated or overly rococo as many of her contemporaries.

The story is about the main character being hired to recover a "diamond of wonderful size and beauty," which has been stolen by the unscrupulous assistant to a jeweler and made its way into the hands of French rebels. The main character eventually recovers it, of course, and not without the expected difficulties. He's an interesting character, though, for he's a kind of consulting detective, a gentleman of independent means who solves crimes at his leisure. While this would be a somewhat common character by the turn of the century, in 1859 it was a far less commonly encountered character type.

The detective (there's not really another handy term to attach to him) is English, but very familiar with and to Parisian high society; he is on a first-name basis with the mighty and notable in Paris, both the natives and the foreign diplomats and personages who come to the city for politics and mischief. He has an affection for Paris and knows its roads and byways. He had formerly been sent on a "special mission" to the Parisian government, and after completing the assignment had resigned his post and stayed in Paris, finding it "the only place on earth where one can live." He is "old friends" with the police, having often done favors for them (and vice-versa) and being willing to call them in when need be. The detective is a cool man, intelligent and educated, and quite capable of gliding through the Parisian salons and underworld with equal ease.

The Moonstone Mass and Others
The home page of the Ash-Tree Press' edition of The Moonstone Mass.

ameless man (VI). Nameless Man (VI) appeared in Kruger’s Secret Service (1900). The author of Kruger’s Secret Service was “One Who Was In It,” the pseudonym of Douglas Blackburn (1857-1929). Blackburn was a member of Kruger’s Secret Service, which explains the elements of authenticity about the novel; he was also discharged for corruption, which explains (as we’ll see) other elements of the novel.

Kruger’s Secret Service is a peculiar book, a real oddity, whose obscurity is undoubtedly the result of Blackburn’s approach to the book’s subject matter. Nameless Man (VI), hereafter N., is an English businessman in Johannesburg in 1895. His business is ruined by the unrest in the Transvaal, and he is persuaded to join the Australian Dismounted Corps during the days of the Jameson Raid. Once that ends, with the surrender of Jameson, N. becomes a traveling salesman and falls in love with the daughter of an inventor, but the inventor is arrested by the Boer government. N. successfully pleads for the inventor’s release, but this brings him to the attention of the Boer Secret Service–not the guardians of the leader of the South African Republic, but their spy agency. N. does them a service by telling them of the existence of some guns, an overriding obsession with them, and he is then hired by Dr. Leyds, the State Secretary of the Transvaal. N. carries out several missions for the Boers, including stealing a set of valuable papers, spying on other Boer spies, and even participating in the planning of an assassination attempt on Cecil Rhodes himself.

But N. is a patriotic Brit, and his work for the Boer Secret Service is done purely as a swindle. N. takes the Boer government for as much money as he can, feeds them false information, and after receiving the plans to kill Rhodes, N. goes to Rhodes himself and discloses all. (Rhodes, smartly, asks for proof in writing, so that he can take it to London. N., equally smartly, is reluctant to do so, as it would give away his own position). N. investigates some corrupt Boer officials who are hip deep in the illegal liquor trade, but his fortunes turn for the worse, and he is drugged and a compromising set of papers are taken from him. Then he gets involved in a series of incidents in which he is unable to hold his temper and so lets his pro-Rhodes/English, anti-Kruger/Boer sympathies be known. These put him in a bad light with the Boer leadership, who dismiss him from their service. When the war begins in 1899 he goes to fight for the English, participates in a couple of harrowing battles, and is stricken with “enteric fever.” The book ends with N. convalescing in a hospital.

Kruger’s Secret Service is odd for several reasons. The Secret Service/espionage genre hadn’t yet cohered in 1900. There were precursors, of course, going back at least to James Fennimore Cooper’s The Spy (a work I’ve done myself the favor of not reading for this site). But in Erskine Childers hadn’t yet written The Riddle of the Sands and neither the vile E. Phillips Oppenheim (see the Mr. Sabin entry) nor the atrocious William Le Queux had hit it big with their spy novels. So Douglas Blackburn was, in some ways, forging new ground. It’s because of this, I think, that some of the elements of the spy novel which we now expect to find are present in Kruger’s Secret Service, but others are absent, and the novel itself is neither a spy novel nor a war novel, despite its ending. Kruger’s Secret Service has elements from both genres but falls comfortably into neither. The key to the novel is that Blackburn wrote it to persuade British readers that the Boer Secret Service was in fact just as venal, corrupt, and incompetent as they had heard and wished to believe. (Predictably, the venality and corruption was Blackburn’s own, while the real Boer Secret Service was no better or worse than other contemporary spy agencies). Blackburn’s fictional South Africa is the inverse of what his readers believed England to be, so that South African officials are corrupt and self-serving, the workers are drink and drug users, and malfeasance and incompetence is rampant. Despite Blackburn’s politically motivated reasons for writing the book, however, Kruger’s Secret Service remains of interest to the modern reader, although perhaps not for the reasons which Blackburn might have anticipated.

The novel has a distinctive feel of verisimilitude. The amount of local detail, from names to historical events to customs, is good, and between that and Blackburn’s somewhat convincing veneer of this-actually-happened and his quite convincing depiction of the emotional tenor of the times, Kruger’s Secret Service is a very credible reaction of life in South Africa for the English before and during the Boer wars. Blackburn likewise writes memorably about some of the local scenery and vividly describes a local leper colony.

One of the novel’s failings is that it provides no context for the historical events it portrays and refers to, so that the American reader who is not familiar with the events of the Jameson Raid and the 1899 Boer War will likely feel lost. That consideration probably never entered Blackburn’s mind, as he was writing about current events for the contemporary audience, but 100+ years later it is a flaw in the book. Blackburn’s intended audience, in fact, influences the novel in another way. Blackburn is writing didactically with political motives, as mentioned above. So much of the novel is concerned with arguing and justifying very recent events, especially British actions in South Africa. Kruger’s Secret Service is by no means an objective treatment of history, but rather a piece of propaganda–entertaining propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless.

Along with this propaganda is the de rigeur bigotry. N. is not notably racist, relative to his contemporaries, but neither is he lacking in it, and his comments about the “kaffirs” (blacks), “low Dutch,” and the Jews are as racist as might be expected from an Englishman in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. His opinion of the Boers is little better. He sees them as ignorant and superstitious peasants, but he is quite insistent that most of the Boers were innocents led astray (in his view) by evil leadership, rather than actively supporting the actions of Kruger et al. (Again, historical accuracy is not to be expected from Blackburn).

I mentioned the verisimilitude of the novel. Blackburn’s descriptions of South Africa and its people are good, and he even includes things like a photo of a telegram he received from a military officer as support for his story, but what really made the novel interesting reading is the quite realistic depiction of N. as a new spy and a new soldier. On his first missions as a spy N. is a nervous bumbler, bumping into walls, knocking over a vase, accidentally setting a drape on fire during a housebreaking, and in general being incompetent rather than the super-competent spy type which Oppenheim and Le Queux would later portray. N. is not blase about his spy work, either, suffering from pangs of guilt and great nervousness while doing his job.

The best part of the novel, however, is the final section, in which N. describes his experiences in the Boer War. N. compellingly describes the emotional and physical feelings of soldiers, from fear to nausea to exultation to stress to despair, and the awful sights and sounds which men in battle are exposed to. Blackburn does not valorize or romanticize war: he shows it in all its awfulness, in a voice that can only be one of experience. Kruger’s Secret Service contains some excellent writing on war, and it’s a shame so few people have ever read it.

N. is never named, but some facts can be gathered about him from the text. He is in his 20s, a businessman, familiar with most of the Transvaal and with all levels of Johannesburg society. He’s a patriotic Englishman who can’t hold his tongue when Cecil Rhodes or England is attacked, which eventually blows his cover–but he keeps saying things when he should be silent, which gives you an idea of his temper. He fights bravely during the war and is a good boxer, but he’s not particularly skilled as a spy.

ameless Man (VII). Nameless Man (VII) was created by Guy de Maupassant and appeared in “Was It A Dream?” (1887). De Maupassant was the creator of The Horla, and you can find information on him there. “Was It A Dream?” is a sardonic short in which the bitterness of De Maupassant’s syphilis-induced insanity is quite clear.

The nameless narrator of “Was It A Dream?” has lost his lover. She, who he loved dearly, who for a year had kept him alive on her kisses and tenderness, has died. She went out into the rain and came home wet, and caught a cold from that damp which took her from him. His grief is all-consuming, so much so that the details of her last week and of her funeral are gone. What did she tell him as she lay dying? What happened at the funeral? He does not remember. All he knows is that she is in a hole, rotting, and he is still alive.

So after the funeral he wanders the streets and then returns to the apartment he shared with her–but the rooms retain her atoms and the mirror will not yield up its memories of her, and so he has to leave. He goes to the cemetery in which she is buried, and he visits her simple grave, marked just by a white marble cross with the words, “She loved, was loved, and died.” He resolves to spend the night in the cemetery, one last night spent crying for her, but he knows he will be found by the night watchman and kicked out, and so he walks to the end of the cemetery and waits there. It is the oldest part of the cemetery, and the least tended. And while he is there, the grave on which he sits moves. From out of it comes a skeleton, pushing the marble back with its bent back. On the cross are the words, “Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He loved his family, was kind and honorable, and died in the grace of the Lord.” Olivant picks up a stone, carefully effaces the letters, and then, with the tip of his forefinger, he writes in luminous letters, “Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He hastened his father’s death by his unkindness, as he wished to inherit his fortune, he tortured his wife, tormented his children, deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could, and died wretched.” All throughout the cemetery the graves give up their dead, all of whom write the truth of their lives on their stones. Thinking that his lover might have written something on her tombstone, the narrator runs to her site, and sees that she has written, “Having gone out in the rain one day, in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold and died.”

“Was It A Dream?” is an intense reading experience. The reader doesn’t get the sense of madness and the splintering mind which “The Horla” conveys, but rather unalloyed and raw grief, the kind people feel when someone very close to them has died. De Maupassant does not engage in histrionics, but rather simple questions and statements which carry a powerful undercurrent of sadness. The ending, with its crushing of the narrator’s view of his dead lover, is a bitter and unhappily powerful one. You might even call it infuriating. (I did).

The narrator, Nameless Man (VII), is like many of us at the death of a lover: consumed with grief at his loss, and willfully blind to the departed’s flaws. He is very much an Everyman character, in other words, which makes the ending that much harsher.

ameless Woman. The Nameless Woman was created by Robert Hichens and appeared in “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” (from Tongues of Conscience, 1900). Hichens (1864-1950) was a British author, prolific in his lifetime but nearly forgotten now; “Professor Guildea” is the best known of his stories.

Professor Guildea is a rather cold and dispassionate scientist and lecturer. Father Murchison is a warm, generous priest who “viewed the world with an almost childlike tenderness.” They are an odd couple, and a pair which no one would guess would become friends, and yet they do. They have many long conversations together in which they discuss a variety of topics, including love. Professor Guildea thinks that love is irrelevant, that he helps humanity through his work and that how he feels about humanity doesn’t matter. Father Murchison, on the other hand, thinks the reverse, that “given your powers, you would be far more useful in the world with sympathy, affection for your kind, added to them than as you are.” They more or less agree to disagree, but one day Professor Guildea becomes convinced that something is inside his house with him, something only he can sense. One night he saw something on a bench in the park across the street from his house; when he went to see what it was, it was gone, but when he returned to his house he was sure that it, whatever it was, whatever invisible thing it was, had followed him into the house. And as the days go by Guildea becomes convinced that the thing is stupid–idiotic, even–but that it feels love and affection for him, two feelings that Guildea not only does not welcome but feels are intolerable. Murchison is dubious, but after hiding behind a curtain and watching Guildea’s parrot react to the invisible presence Murchison is convinced. Matters grow worse, to the point where the invisible creature is crawling into bed with Guildea, “squeezing, with loathsome, sickening tenderness, against my side.” Murchison urges Guildea to flee London, and Guildea goes to Paris, to give a lecture, but the creature follows him there. Murchison, ailing from the being’s constant attention, gives it his hate, and it finally leaves, but as it does Murchison dies of “failure of the heart.”

“How Love Came to Professor Guildea” is viewed as one of those classics of 19th century horror fiction which should be much better known than it is. It certainly has several virtues. Hichens writes in a very turn-of-the-century style, with modern-feeling dialogue (none of the ponderous Bulwer-Lytton rhetoric to labor through), a deceptively good style at setting scenes (Hichens doesn’t ladle on the adjectives, but his visual and aural descriptions are subtly effective at making scenes come to life in the reader’s mind), and one excellent Moment. Most good horror stories have one or two Moments that stick in the reader’s mind, the classic example being the knocking on the door in “The Monkey’s Paw.” The scene when the parrot reacts to the presence of the invisible ghost and then has his head scratched by it is “Professor Guildea”’s Moment. But, while well-crafted and very entertaining, “Professor Guildea” is not very frightening, or wasn’t to me, simply because it’s clear from the start that the invisible spirit isn’t malevolent, and loves Professor Guildea, rather than wants him dead.

The Nameless Woman of the story is first seen on a park bench, a “blackish object” so indistinct that Professor Guildea can’t even tell whether it is man, woman or child. Inside Guildea’s house it cannot be seen, neither by Murchison (who does not sense its presence at all) or by Guildea (who senses its presence and can eventually feel it touching him and nuzzling his hands, but who never actually sees it). It can speak, however, in a voice which is “sickly and disagreeable, a cooing and, at the same time, querulous voice, like a woman’s,” but it never forms words, only the cooing. In personality it has an “extreme sentimentality combined with that sort of weak determination which is often the most persistent. Such weak determination is a very common attribute of persons who are partially idiotic.” So, it turns out, is the Nameless Woman. She is not bright, and does not take hints from Guildea very easily. He can’t stand her, but she shows all the mindless devotion of a stupid dog, even, as mentioned, crawling into bed with Guildea and nuzzling his hands. She finally leaves him and returns to the bench–broken-hearted, one would think.

“Professor Guildea” is not frightening, but in all other respects it is an excellent horror story.

atas. Natas was introduced in The Angel of the Revolution, written by George Chetwynd Griffith Jones (1857-1906). Angel was originally published as a serial in Pearson's Weekly in 1893, but proved immediately popular--phenomenally so--and was collected into a book the following year. Griffith Jones was a traveler, journalist, and extremely successful and influential science fiction writer. He was in fact the most popular science fiction writer in England between 1893 and 1895, his work outselling Wells', with Griffith being the "envy and exasperation of Wells." Griffith was likewise quite influential on contemporary British science fiction, although his anti-Americanism led to his work not being published or even pirated in the U.S., which is why his influence in America is negligible and he remains mostly unknown.

Natas was formerly Israel di Murska, a Hungarian Jew. He'd had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Russian secret police after traveling to Russia to protest the Russian persecution of the Jews. They, of course, tormented him and treated him horribly, forcing him into hard labor and eventually paralyzing him from the waist down. He was later freed, only to find out that his wife had also been taken by the Russians and used as a sexual plaything by a Siberian official until she died of shame and misery.

Understandably, Natas bore a great hatred in his heart for Russia, and this hate later spread to an animus for all established authority. Natas (who is a powerful mesmerist but never seemed to have used his powers to help himself when it counted) therefore founded the organisation Terror as a way to overthrow the governments of the world and form a new and more just world order. For years they are the fear of the organised world, assassinating government officials who are cruel, abusive, or exploitational; they leave the bodies behind with a T carved in their foreheads. Then, purely by chance, Richard Arnold, a down-on-his-luck inventor, is brought to their attention. Arnold, a rather hapless sort whose genius lies in his machine, which combines "two liquefied gases which, when united, exploded spontaneously" and a "clockwork escapement" which enables the propulsion of heavier-than-air crafts, is broke when he is befriended by a high ranking Terrorist. (That's what they're called in the novel) Arnold's impulses and beliefs run in sympathy with the Terrorists, and when they reveal himself to them he agrees to work for them.

And so he does, building a fleet of a dozen airships, all of which are armed with guns firing extremely powerful shells. Against the backdrop of a world war (the British and Germans against the French and Russians) they lay their plans and prepare for their final moves, working from an idyllic and remote African location. (Oh, there are subplots--Arnold falling in love with Natas' daughter Natasha, the titular "angel of the revolution," a high-ranking traitor amongst the Terrorist ranks, one of the Terrorist airships falling into the hands of the Russians, who use it against the British fleet, etc--but they are secondary to the general plot of Terror against the world)

Finally Terror acts. When a Franco-Russian revolution takes place in America (and Griffith's description of those events, what follows, and the Americans themselves are unpleasantly anti-American), Terror squashes the Revolution, executes the President, the Cabinet, and a number of Congressmen (who were, of course, in the pay of corrupt capitalists--this being America and all), and institutes a new government in America, run by one of Terror's officials. Then, as the French and Russians have bombed and starved Britain almost into submission via their submarines and "aerostats" (war balloons), and as their soldiers are preparing to finish the siege of London (the description of the brave British is so worshipful as to border on homoerotic), Terror takes action and destroys the Franco-Russian fleet and aerostats and much of its army. After overthrowing the French government, Terror proceeds East, overthrowing the Tsar, capturing him and sending him into Siberian exile. (Tsar Alexander dies two years later of hard labor--a just fate, if one thinks about it) The novel ends with a New World Order, run by Terror and with the nature of an armed and enforced world peace, and with Arnold and Natasha married (her precondition for marriage was that he had to do what he swore to do, which was to bring about world peace. That is a strict precondition) and living happily ever after.

The Angel of the Revolution isn't a bad novel, exactly. It has some drawbacks, among them a decision on Griffith's part--one relatively common to Victorian writers--to concentrate on the romantic parts of the novel to the exclusion of more interesting aspects. Similarly, Griffiths' prejudices are on full display; he seemed to dislike everyone except the British. He had, though, several laudable sentiments about how the lower class was treated by an exploitive bourgeois class, and he seemed to have a positive hatred for the Tsarist government and what it did to the Russian people; his descriptions of what the Siberian camps and guards did to its prisoners, and the implications of what was done to women unfortunate to fall into their hands, are genuinely uncomfortable to read. And the plot is interesting, with some interesting twists and a willingness to see the premise through.

On the whole, The Angel of the Revolution should be read, if only because of its place in science fictional history.

(There was, it should be added, a sequel to The Angel of the Revolution called The Syren of the Skies (1894), in many ways it is superior to The Angel of the Revolution, with more vivid characterisation and descriptions, a greater display of imagination (sonar and electronic countermeasures are anticipated), and a truly compelling main character in Olga Romanoff, the mad Russian woman who plots to overthrow the Terrorist world order. But The Syren of the Skies is set in 2030, and therefore outside the scope of this page).

Nebogipfel, Dr. From H. G. Wells' "The Chronic Argonauts" stories, which appeared in Science Schools Journal from April-June 1888. Wells is, of course, too well known for me to spend time describing him; he is, with Verne, the father of modern science fiction. Dr. Nebogipfel is a scientist who has discovered that time is a dimension similar to length, width, and height, and that it can be traveled through with the help of a machine which Nebogipfel has invented. Unfortunately, Nebogipfel lives and works in a small Welsh village whose inhabitants are clannish and superstitious, and when one of Nebogipfel's most vociferous opponents falls dead outside the Doctor's mansion, the villagers storm the labs. The Doctor and the local clergyman, Dr. Elijah Cook, hop on the saddle-shaped seat of the time machine and disappear. They reappear above an inland waterway and Cook is dropped there.

That's about it for the story; it was ended abruptly, with Wells promising future adventures which were never written. There are hints that Nebogipfel and Cook traveled back to 1862 (where he killed someone) and forward to 4003 and 17901 AD. The "Chronic Argonauts" stories are generally seen as a sort of trial run for the "Time Machine," and is of interest for only that reason.

epos, Cornelius. Cornelius Nepos was created by Ludwig Joachim von Arnim and appeared in Isabella von Ägypten (Isabella of Egypt 1812). Arnim (1781-1831) was a German, one of the leaders of the Heidelberg Romantic school, a writer and a familiar of Goethe, Ludwig Tieck, Heinrich von Kleist, and the Brothers Grimm; today he is best remembered for his collection of folksongs, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1805-6). Not unlike The Phantom Ship (see the Amine entry), Isabella of Egypt is more interesting in its ideas and conception than in its execution, but Isabella is much less readable than Frederick Marryat’s novel.

Isabella of Egypt is about Bella, a poor Gypsy/Romany girl whose father, Duke Michael, was the leader of the Romany until he was killed. While mourning for him Bella finds a book of magic which teaches her how to obtain a mandrake root and then harvest it and grow it so that it will become alive; once alive it can find any amount of hidden treasure. Before she can do that, however, she has to fool Prince Charles (later King Charles V of Spain), who on a bet stays the night in the house in which Bella is hiding. (She’s a Romany, so she’d have to flee if she were discovered). The house is reputed to be haunted, and so Charles is trying to show some bravery by staying the night there. But Bella slips into bed next to him and kisses him while he sleeps, which wakes him up. He flees in terror, but falls in love with her at the same time. She, of course, falls in love with him as well. Bella waits for the right weather and then goes mandrake-harvesting, a complicated and dangerous ritual. Her heart is pure, however, and so she survives and gets the mandrake. She instantly falls in love with it (maternally rather than romantically) and cares for it, feeding it and giving it a mouth and two sets of eyes (one in the back of its head). It becomes fully grown and very mischievous and disobedient. Then Braka, the malicious old Romany woman who acts as Bella’s aunt, tells Bella and the mandrake (which calls itself Cornelius Nepos after Braka’s brother-in-law) the story of the Bearskinner, a soldier who in the time of Sigismund made a deal-with-the-devil type deal with a ghost. This summons the Bearskinner, who agrees to become a servant to Cornelius. The group sells the treasure the Mandrake has found, buys good clothing, and then, all dressed up, goes into the city. Bella is taught the proper ways by tutors and governesses and Cornelius enters school. Cornelius meets the Archduke and announces that he is going to marry Bella. Charles, hearing this, decides that he must meet Bella. Braka, finding this out, advises Bella to seduce Charles and tell him she loves him. Bella is hesitant but goes along with it. When the time of the assignation occurs Charles is initially too nervous to do anything, and then Cornelius interrupts matters (he’s drunk). Bella goes forward with the plan, but then backs down and tells Charles everything. Charles, angry at being lied to, leaves. Charles is jealous of Cornelius for marrying Bella, and so when his friend Cenrio tells him about golems Charles has one made of Bella. Golem Bella is Bella’s physical duplicate, but is a calculating minx, and so pretends to be the real Bella and runs away with Cornelius, who Charles appoints as his minister of finance, due to Cornelius’ ability to find money. Bella, meanwhile, takes up with Charles. Their love affair goes through various twists and turns before Bella, realizing that Charles will never marry her, leaves. Charles is thus deprived, through his own actions and his greed, of bringing about a new golden age for Europe as well as for himself–had he followed his heart and married Bella, he would have been rapturously happy, as would Europe itself. Golem Bella is reduced to dust when her name is erased (the traditional way to destroy a golem). Braka dies. Cornelius, deprived of Bella, is taken by a demon which his rage summons up and which he can’t control. The Bearskinner is finally allowed to rest. And Bella, who gives birth to Charles’ son Selrahc, is faithful to Charles from afar until the day she dies.

Isabella of Egypt is viewed by critics as an important work in the German Romantic tradition. Arnim knew many of the important figures in the movement. Even more than the other Romantics Arnim delighted in making his work difficult, with complex and confusing plots, an “artless” mixture of fantasy and reality and folk culture and intellectual learning. Like the other Romantics Arnim sought and achieved a feel of conversational prose, with repetitions, interruptions, and discursions, while also using rhetorical devices to call attention to his art. Arnim succeeded in these goals, which has the effect of making Isabella of Egypt difficult to enjoy. This was deliberate on Arnim’s part; he took pride in his fiction being like “like the Kingdom of Heaven: only the few may enter.” (Isn’t that precious?)

So one doesn’t read Isabella of Egypt for enjoyment. (One won’t find much). It is disjointedly episodic, obtuse and distancing in tone. Its attitude toward sex is smirking. It displays Arnim’s own anti-Semitism. And the novella has little regard for historical accuracy, something Arnim thought overrated but which I personally privilege more than artistic indulgence. (Arnim’s response to that criticism was that he was aiming for a mythical or poetic truth which transcended mere fact). Honestly, there was only one bit in Isabella which I liked, the chilling moment when the Bearskinner first returns from the dead. But there are aspects of the novella which are notable.

One of Arnim’s goals, similar to what his contemporaries were doing, was to combine disparate material, creating a fusion of very different motifs–more of the mixture of folk culture and intellectual learning mentioned above. This can be seen in the combination of folklore with historical fact. Arnim’s use of folklore is interesting. It’s very authentic, which is to be expected, given Arnim’s friendship with the Grimm Brothers, but it’s still nice to see. Especially interesting is the use of the Golem as Bella’s doppelgänger. The term itself was only coined in 1796, and was a recurring motif in Gothic fiction, representing the duality of man, or what Antonio Ballesteros González calls “an archetype of otherness and narcissistic specularity indissolubly linked to the individual.” Golem Bella anticipates the Id/SuperEgo doppelgänger distinction seen in, for example, Edward Hyde.

Isabella is disjointed, as I mentioned. This disrupts the flow that fiction requires. But the choice to make the novel disjointed (or, in litcritspeak, display “interpenetrating planes of narrative and symbolic reference”) was a deliberate one, and so has to be evaluated in those terms. As an intellectual achievement it is interesting and leads the reader to observe and even appreciate what Arnim. The Surrealists found this disjointedness fascinating, and André Breton translated Isabella into French. It detracts from the reader’s enjoyment of the novel, but does make us value the work somewhat more.

Cornelius is a mandrake, which for those of you not up on your folklore is a mandrake root which is harvested by a woman “who loves with her whole soul, without the carnal desires of her sex, for whom her beloved’s mere proximity suffices.” Once harvested and cared for, it grows into a three-and-a-half feet tall being who looks human, except for the “disproportionate shortness of his legs, which gave him the appearance of a costumed dachshund...he would be flawless, except perhaps his  mother’s body had been overheated, so that, like burned bread from a too-hot oven, he had emerged cracked and shriveled.” He grows up quickly, and goes from being needy to maliciously mischievous to boastful, vain, quick to anger, quicker to get drunk, grasping, lustful, and hard on those under him, such as the Bearskinner. He has the supernatural ability to find money, no matter how skillfully it is concealed.

eranya. Neranya was created by W.C. Morrow and appeared in “His Unconquerable Enemy” (a.k.a. “The Rajah’s Enemy,” The Argonaut, 11 March 1889). Morrow (1852-1923) was the creator of Arthur Kimberlin. “His Unconquerable Enemy” is a ghastly tale of either brutality and horror or the darkest kind of comedy. Or perhaps both.

A nameless doctor in India during the time of the Raj is summoned to the household of a powerful Rajah in order to operate on one of the rajah’s women. The rajah is grateful enough to ask the doctor to stay as a guest at the palace for as long as he wants. The doctor accepts, although he soon discovers that the rajah can be even crueller than he is noble. The doctor soon notices Neranya, one of the rajah’s servants. Neranya has a “marvelous capacity of malice,” and is unlike the native Indians in that he likely has “a large proportion of Malay blood in his veins, for...he was extremely alert, active, nervous, and sensitive.” Unfortunately he’s also got a temper, and this leads to him stabbing a dwarf to death. The rajah orders that Neranya’s right arm be cut off, the doctor being required to perform the amputation after the limb severing goes awry. Neranya had formerly been devoted to the rajah, but the loss of the arm turned his love to hate, and so he tries to stab the rajah. Neranya fails, and the rajah orders that his other arm be removed. Again, the limb severing is incompetently done and the doctor is forced to complete the amputation. Absent his arms, Neranya becomes depressed and helpless, but the doctor sees to it that Neranya is fed, and soon Neranya’s spirits have revived and he teaches himself how to do any number of things with his legs, feet, and toes. This ends up including the murder of the rajah’s son. The rajah does not suspect Neranya, but the doctor does and accuses Neranya to the rajah. Neranya initially denies it, but when he sees that the rajah is convinced by the charge he gloats over the murder. The rajah orders Neranya’s legs to be broken with hammers and then amputated at the knees by the doctor. The doctor is of course sickened by this but goes along with it anyhow. Neranya is then placed in a pit near the rajah’s favorite sleeping place, so that the rajah can comfort himself with Neranya’s screams and curses. Neranya is unable to kill himself and cannot even starve himself to death, for the rajah’s servants force food down is throat. Neranya sets himself to vengeance, however, and one night achieves it. Using only his teeth he tears his pillow into strips, then ties it (again using his mouth, all that is left to him) into a cord which he ties to the railing of the pit. He then pulls himself out of the pit, using the cord, and then, with great exertion, wriggles to a nearby stairway and, with still greater exertion, pulls himself to the top of the stairs. The doctor is watching this, shocked and bemused. Neranya then pulls himself to the edge of the balcony directly overlooking the sleeping rajah and shoves himself off. Neranya drops onto the rajah, the impact of the blow crushing the rajah’s chest. Neranya rips the rajah’s throat out with his teeth and then dies with a “triumphant look of accomplished revenge upon his face.”

I did say, at the start of this entry, that “His Unconquerable Enemy” was either brutal and ghastly or darkly comic or both, didn’t I?

Morrow is described as one of the founders of the American Decadent movement, and his work has the attributes of the Decadents. In the case of “His Unconquerable Enemy,” though, he’s not so much Decadent as working in the French traditional of cruel stories. The contes cruel (see the Fiddler and Pedro Arbuez d’Espila entries) were cynical and harsh in their outlook, and gloried in the cruelty of fate. The more vicious and violent of the contes cruel were precursors to the Grand Guignol, which was far more explicit and shocking than the stories had been. “His Unconquerable Enemy” is hardly as in-your-face and gory as most Grand Guignol plays, but it is as disturbing and cruel, if not more so, than most contes cruel. Morrow tells the story in a deadpan fashion, absent the sardonic tone of his “Over an Absinthe Bottle.” This matter-of-fact narration adds to the shudders that the readers feel. Too, the fact that the white surgeon, the narrator who the audience implicitly identifies with, becomes so morally culpable to the rajah’s crimes only increases the discomfort of the story. I suspect that Morrow intended “His Unconquerable Enemy” to be read at least partially humorously, but that would require a sense of humor as black as Ambrose Bierce, and most readers are more likely to smile only queasily while reading the story.

Neranya has many positive qualities. He’s bright, creative, imaginative, and determined. He can be quite sly, is dexterous with his feet, and has an indomitable will. But man does he hold a grudge!

ic-Nac, Senor. Senor Nic-Nac was created by Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg and appeared in Viaje Maravilloso Del Senor Nic-Nac (The Marvelous Travels of Mr. Nic-Nac, 1875). Holmberg, a brilliant Argentinian about whom relatively little is known today, is seen as being responsible for the founding of the study of natural sciences in Argentina as well as the writing of science fiction in that country. Marvelous Travels is not his only science fictional work, but it is Holmberg's most important one. Unfortunately, Senor Nic-Nac has never been translated into English, has only been partially reprinted once since its original appearance, does not exist in any library in North America, and my Spanish is next to non-existent. So I'm only able to pass along a very little information about the book. Senor Nic-Nac starves himself until his soul separates from his body and flies up to Mars. (Keep in mind that this was written in 1875, 37 years before Edgar Rice Burroughs began his "John Carter of Mars" stories using the same device) Holmberg's Mars turns out to be similar to Earth in some ways, inhabited by intelligent and culturally complex aliens, affording Holmberg the opportunity to satirize Argentinian society as well as the human condition through Nic-Nac's conversation with the alien Seele.

ick of the Woods. Nick of the Woods was created by Robert Montgomery Bird and appeared in Nick of the Woods (1837). Bird (1805/6-1854) was a playwright, author, and artist of some note during his lifetime. His best-known work remains Nick of the Woods, which is still in print today.

A work like Nick of the Woods leaves me in something of a quandary. The novel has its place in literary history, and the character of Nick is definitely interesting enough to be included here. But Nick of the Woods is so ugly, so filled with racial bias and sheer, unmitigated, unalloyed hatred that I wanted–no, needed–a long, hot shower after finishing the book. I type the following while holding my nose, and recommend that you avoid the book unless you’re a bigot who likes having your biases confirmed.

In the mid-1700s Nathan Slaughter is an innocent Quaker living in the mountains of Pennsylvania with his wife, children, and mother when they are attacked by the Shawnees. Everyone but Nathan is killed, and he is scalped. This unbalances Nathan and he adopts a dual life. Around Anglos he is Nathan Slaughter, gentle Quaker, widely cursed for never taking up arms against the Natives. He bears up under the gibes of the Anglos with as much dignity as he can manage and tries to be a good Quaker. When not around other Anglos, however, he becomes another person: “Nick of the Woods,” a.k.a. “Jibbenainosay,” a.ka. “Shawneewannaween.” “Nick of the Woods” from “Old Nick.” “Jibbenainosay” from the “Injun gabble” for “Spirit-that-walks.” And “Shawneewannaween” from the Shawnee for “Howl of the Shawnees,” because “of his keeping them ever a howling.” Nick of the Woods is the never-seen being who slaughters every Indian he can, and always leaves them with a tomahawk-cloven skull and the shape of a cross carved in their chest. Nick takes a particular pleasure in hunting down and massacring the Shawnees, hence their name for him. Nick of the Woods is the story of Nick’s encounter with a group of Anglo settlers in Kentucky and with his finally avenging himself on the particular Shawnee chief responsible for the death of Nick’s family.

Nick of the Woods has a certain “dark and bloody power,” as the jacket sleeve states, and no less than Edgar Allan Poe thought well of the book. But every stereotype imaginable that white Americans could apply to the Natives is applied in the book, and African-Americans are treated only a little better. (The n-word is freely applied). Bird wrote the book as a rebuttal to James Fennimore Cooper, as “the North American savage has never appeared to us the gallant and heroic personage he seems to others.” It’s a vile thing, Nick of the Woods, laden with awkward dialect and a tedious sub-Fennimore Cooper style. Best to avoid it.

Robert Montgomery Bird: Writer and Artist
A very good University of Pennsylvania digital exhibit on Bird’s life and work.

imble, Ned. Ned's author is unknown. Ned first appeared in Ned Nimble; or, The pupils of Pickleton Priory (1880), and then again in Ned Nimble amongst the Bushrangers of Australia (1880), Ned Nimble amongst the Chinese; or, The secrets of the Purple Pagoda (1881), Ned Nimble amongst the Tartars (1882), Ned Nimble amongst the Mormons (1883), Ned Nimble amongst the Pirates (1884), and Ned Nimble amongst the Indians (1884). I've only read Bushrangers and Purple Pagoda, but have received synopses of the other novels, and so can write with some certainty about the series as a whole.

Ned Nimble is very much in the vein of Tom Wildrake and Jack Harkaway, although more popular than the former and not as popular as the latter. He is a teenage schoolboy and adventurer who travels around the world encountering hostile non-English people and killing them, thus proving the moral superiority of Ned and by extension the British race as a  whole, especially over the non-whites of the world.

Ned is an earnest, moral, upright (etc etc etc) English youth, the son of a wealthy ship maker who dotes on him. Ned's mother is absent, as is so often the case in these sorts of stories. Ned is bored with life in England, getting up to hijinks and shenanigans and zany wackiness at Pickleton Priory, so when the opportunity presents itself for him to travel, he does. Ned's father William has to go abroad in each novel except the first, as there is a mysterious loss of money in his businesses in China, India, the United States, and wherever else the plot requires. William is unwilling to leave Ned at home, for fear of him getting into trouble (a fear well-grounded in reality), so he takes with him Ned, Ned's best friend Jack Harper, and Black Jack O'Leary, the de rigeur drunken Irishman stereotype.

Naturally, this being boys' adventure fiction, a number of sensational events take place before Ned, William, Jack and Black Jack are safe and sound back on English soil, with Jack having learned his lessons and become slightly less headstrong and somewhat more mature for his troubles. These lessons are quickly forgotten about, of course, and by the next serial Ned is the same as always; the Ned Nimble stories lack the sense of the progression of time that the Jack Harkaway stories had. In both the Australia and China stories the patterns are the same. In both stories Ned is instrumental in the discovery of the thieves in his father's company--the secretaries to the branch managers. In both stories Ned discovers the greater danger not only to his father's company, but to the white men and women of the Australian outback and Shanghai--cannibalistic aborigines and opium-smoking heathen Chinamen (never mind that the natives of Australia weren't cannibals...). In both stories Ned and Jack are captured and at the point of torture when they free themselves. In both cases white women (young, single, beautiful, attracted to Ned and possessed of Irish servants who are attracted to Jack) are captured and threatened with The Fate Worse Than Death by the natives, only to have Ned and Jack rescue them by killing  great numbers of the "savages." In the Mormon story it is the Mormons who are the villains of the piece and who are threatening white American women with slavery and forced marriage. And there are (of course) encounters with bad weather, sea and land, wild  animals, obnoxious adults, and the more run-of-the-mill thugs. All in all, the Ned Nimble stories were quite ordinary for their genre.

orroy, Yorke. Yorke Norroy, Diplomatic Agent, was introduced in "How Norroy Created a New Republic," in the April 1905 issue of The Popular Magazine. Norroy was created by George Bronson-Howard (1884-1922). Bronson-Howard was a very interesting man; a newspaper reporter, war correspondent, playwright, movie director, employee of the Philippine Civil Government and the Imperial Chinese service, an agent of US Intelligence in London, and an ambulance driver in France at the end of WW1. Norroy is an original character, one of the earliest true secret agents of the James Bond type. He appears to be a foppish swell (a tautology, that), a "brainless popinjay, a butterfly of fashion, a boneless dandy, suave, slim, elegant:"

His clothes were just a little too much the mode of the day, and one indefinably regretted that a  man of his intelligence should spend the thought necessary for such ultra-fashionable attire. They had evidently been cut not a week before, for they embodied a new wrinkle in evening clothes which had originated at the period.
And Norroy himself seems to play the role:
I am never more serious...than when engaged in overcoming imperfections of attire...Man, at best, is so unlovely a creature that if the eye can be deflected from him to his attire, it is every man's duty to array himself in the most becoming fashion possible."
Norroy's waistcoats are legendary, and he is credited with being the "foremost amateur actor in the United States," and thus regarded as something of an inconsequential lightweight. This is by his choosing, for he is a self-titled "diplomatic agent," (read: counter-intelligence agent), and a reputation like that is essential for his work.

It should be emphasized that what he does is not described as "spying" or "counter-spying;" in the Victorian and early Edwardian years such words were unpleasant to society, which looked down upon the men and women who labored in the service of their countries. Norroy works in the field of "diplomacy." What he does...

For something like fifteen years I've followed the devious intricacies of the craft. Men will do anything when big things are at stake. I have done things officially which I would have never done personally...Diplomacy--pfugh!

But it's a disease. It gets into the bones; just as crooked gambling does. That's why we are all diplomats--that and because we need the money.

The money is the important thing. In something of a departure from the spy characters of the time, the need for money is equally balanced, in Norroy's mind, with the patriotic drive. Norroy worries about his money and worries about his future. He's hired by the job, not being an official employee of the State Department; he draws no regular salary, gains no official recognition for his work from them, and has no pension to look forward to. Worse, much of what he is paid goes towards maintaining his cover identity. So money is always a concern, and his future is not a bright one. This never stops him from doing his job, for he is both patriotic and a thorough professional, concerned with doing his job the best he can no matter the opposition or the morals involved in the job's commission ("service to the State excuses all actions, removes these actions from the moral and ethical, transplants them to some neutral place where no values exist, save expediency"), but it is a black cloud hanging over him.

A short list of his accomplishments will show how well he does his job:

There were other stories, including his long-running duel with "the Devil's Chaplain," a feared underworld mastermind, and his ongoing efforts against Germany and Japan, but the ones given above make up the meat of his efforts.

Norroy's past is interesting. The scion of upper-class Baltimore, he was recruited by the State Department when he was 25, and spent years in Peking and "almost every civilized country, some barbarous ones, and some entirely savage." His French, Spanish, and Russian are flawless. He is "of medium height," svelte, with small hands and feet. His hair is light and cut close to the skin, revealing protruding (though well-shaped) ears. He has high cheek bones, a prominent chin, and large, pale eyes; "there was a hardness, a steeliness about them that was not altogether pleasant." He has a number of scars on his body, all taken in the line of duty.

All in all, Norroy is a nasty piece of work, widely feared by all but the Americans.

umber 252 Rue M. le Prince. No. 252 Rue M. le Prince was created by Ralph Adams Cram and appeared in  “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince” (Black Spirits & White, 1895). Cram (1864-1942) was the creator of “The Dead Valley” and  “Sister Maddelena.”  “No. 252" is unlike “The Dead Valley” and “Sister Maddelena” in style, but like them is a very good read, one of the best of the haunted house stories of the 19th century.

“No. 252 Rue M. le Prince” is another story from the life of the same nameless narrator of “The Dead Valley and “Sister Maddelena.” In “No. 252" he tells about how, in 1886, he decided to visit an old friend of his, Eugene Marie d’Ardeche, in Paris. On the death of his aunt Eugene had been left the woman’s property, No. 252 on the Rue M. le Prince in Paris. The aunt and Eugene had never gotten along, so the bequest was a surprise to Eugene. Worse, it was a surprise to Sar Torrevieja, “the King of Sorcerers,” a “malevolent old portent” who had been a familiar of the aunt and a regular at No. 252 Rue M. le Prince during the woman’s lifetime. When he discovered that Eugene had been given the property the Sar Torrevieja had removed everything from the property and then cursed it, “elaborately and comprehensively, together with all those who should ever dwell therein.” When the narrator goes to Paris, he finds No. 252 only a grim doorway of old black stone. The narrator quickly finds Eugene, who tells the narrator that he hasn’t yet stayed in No. 252, which is supposedly haunted and which he can’t rent to anyone–he’s had three tenants in the past six months, none of which has lasted beyond four days. So Eugene and two friends are planning on staying in No. 252, which is known as “la Bouche d’Enfer,” very soon. The narrator is invited along and gladly accepts. Over dinner Eugene tells the three about the history of No. 252, how his aunt had lived there by herself and had only one regular visitor, Sar Torrevieja–who was never seen leaving the apartment, only entering it. Once a year, however, many veiled women and men with their collars turned up arrived at the apartment, and then strange music could be heard from the apartment’s interior, and monotonous chanting. And only the previous month those same sounds could be heard coming from the apartment, although it was quite empty. When Eugene, the narrator, and Eugene’s two friends enter the apartment, they find it quite empty and deserted, and although dark and silent, generally respectable. But then they enter the three worst rooms of No. 252, and all four begin to frighten. The first room is without windows and is completely in brightly polished black lacquer. The second is circular, covered by a dome:

walls and ceiling were dark blue, spotted with gold stars; and reaching from floor to floor across the dome stretched a colossal figure in red Jacquer of a nude woman kneeling, her legs reaching out along the floor on either side, her head touching the lintel of the door through which we had entered, her arms forming its sides, with the fore arms extended and stretching along the walls until they met the long feet. The most astounding, misshapen, absolutely terrifying thing, I think, I ever saw.  From the navel hung a great white object, like the traditional roe's egg of the Arabian Nights. The floor was of red lacquer, and in it was inlaid a pentagram the size of the room, made of wide strips of brass. In the centre of this pentagram was a circular disk of black stone slightly saucer-shaped, with a small outlet in the middle.

The effect of the room was simply crushing, with this gigantic red figure crouched over it all, the staring eyes fixed on one, no matter what his position. None of us spoke, so oppressive was the whole thing.

The third room is like the first, but “entirely sheathed with plates of brass, walls, ceiling and the middle stood an oblong altar of porphyry...and at one end...a pedestal of black basalt.”

The four men decide to keep the doors to their sleeping rooms open, the lights burning, and at the slightest noise rush to the room where the sound comes from. Conversation soon flags, and the narrator has trouble staying awake. He finally falls asleep, only to awake, certain that something was attacking him, body and mind. His body is paralyzed, but he tries to keep his mind awake. Then he sees eyes in the darkness, and feels a ghastly wet something attach to his body and a icy, jelly-like mouth fasten itself on to his. The narrator fights it, for hours he thinks, and then passes out. He wakes up in the hospital, where Eugene tells him that they called to him, and when he didn’t respond when to wake him, only to find the door closed and locked from the inside. They finally broke down the door, to find the floor and walls dripping to the height of six feet with noisome, glutinous substance, and the narrator drenched with the same liquid. They dragged him away, but as they did so a lantern–perhaps–was knocked over, and the entire building burned to the ground.

“No. 252 Rue M. le Prince” is more evidence that horror fiction lost a major talent when Cram decided not to write more horror stories. In the Cram stories I’ve included on this site Cram has used three of the traditional horror forms to excellent effect. “The Dead Valley” is a classic story of a Bad Place. “Sister Maddelena” is a very good ghost story. And “No. 252" is an excellent haunted house story.  Had Cram decided to continue writing horror fiction he would undoubtedly have become an immortal in the field, rather than being known for his work in architecture.  (No doubt the latter paid him much better than the former would have).

Cram chooses a different tone and style in which to tell “No. 252" than he did in the other two stories.  Unlike the folklorish tone of “The Dead Valley” and the more straightforward style of “Maddelena,” “No. 252" is told in a witty and descriptive style, full of small, nice touches, like the description of Sar Torrevieja’s “crab-wise” sidle up to the door of No. 252 and how he was only ever seen entering the house. No one ever saw him leave it.... Cram’s scene setting is nicely concise and descriptive, and he conveys why Paris is such a great setting for a story like this. “No. 252" is also interesting for its assumptions about the reader. The sense of Paris as a natural destination for rich young men doing the American version of the Grand Tour in the 1880s and 1890s, of a place that readers would know almost as well as their own home towns, is heavy in the story. Cram casually refers to settings and events, like the Jardin Mabille, an outdoor dance hall and theater known for its risque dances, which his contemporaries would have known about but which modern readers are ignorant of. In some cases this use of cultural knowledge which is lost to modern audiences can be off-putting, but I found it effective in creating and sustaining the atmosphere of this lost Paris.

As a horror story, “No. 252" works quite well. Cram invokes Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” and, to better effect, Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Haunters & the Haunted” (see the Mr. Richards entry), which not only nicely hints at the horrors to come but prepares the reader to be frightened by those horrors. (Modern readers will no doubt be unaffected by the reference to Bulwer-Lytton, but it must be remembered how well-known his work was in the 19th century. Mentioning “The Haunters & the Haunted” in the course of a haunted house story, before the scary parts have begun, is similar to a modern possession horror story mentioning “The Exorcist.” It frames the story within a context the reader is likely to know while preconditioning the reader for what is to come). Although I thought Cram built the frightening atmosphere more gradually in “The Dead Valley,” the scare, when it comes, is quite effective. The image of the “dead cuttle-fish”  mouth settling over the narrator’s mouth and drawing the life from him is memorably nasty.

No. 252 Rue M. le Prince was not a healthy place in which to stay, before it burned down. Forbidden rituals performed in it, noises emerging from in it when no one is inside it, and something nasty living in it:

In the velvet blackness came two white eyes, milky, opalescent, small, faraway,--awful eyes, like a dead dream. More beautiful than I can describe, the flakes of white flame moving from the perimeter inward, disappearing in the centre, like a never ending flow of opal water into a circular tunnel. I could not have moved my eyes had I possessed the power: they devoured the fearful, beautiful things that grew slowly, slowly larger, fixed on me, advancing, growing more beautiful, the white flakes of light sweeping more swiftly into the blazing vortices, the awful fascination deepening in its insane intensity as the white, vibrating eyes grew nearer, larger.

Like a hideous and implacable engine of death the eyes of the unknown Horror swelled and expanded until they were close before me, enormous, terrible, and I felt a slow, cold, wet breath propelled with mechanical regularity against my face, enveloping me in its fetid mist, in its charnel-house deadliness.

Better off burnt, is Number 252, yes?

utter, Alice. The fictional Alice Nutter was created by William Harrison Ainsworth and appeared in The Lancashire Witches (1849). I’ve mentioned Ainsworth in this pages before, in the John Dee and Barbara Lovell entries. The Lancashire Witches is a (very) fictionalized version of the 1612 Lancashire witch trials, and Ainsworth’s Alice Nutter is a fictionalized version of a real member of the Lancashire Witches. (For the curious among you, Terry Pratchett took the name of “Nutter” and something of the manner of Granny Weatherwax from The Lancashire Witches).

The novel itself (and I’m going to spare myself the effort of summarizing at too great a length) is about a coven of witches in Lancashire, how they hold sway over the people in and around Pendle Forest, and how they eventually come to grief. Ainsworth has his virtues as a writer; he does not lack imagination, some of his more intense scenes (like the Black Mass) are well-written, on occasion (as with Alice Nutter) his characterization is good, and overall the novel, which is probably his best-known, has a great deal of energy. But, lord, the prose. Prolix, full of speechifying and interminable scene-setting, with far too much dialect and not enough wit or brevity. There are numerous motifs lifted from the Gothics and recapitulated rather than played with or imaginatively altered. Ainsworth tries to evoke emotion but too often merely strains after effects. Ainsworth, as I said, has his virtues, but generally he is an energetic rather than good writer.

Alice Nutter, for her part, is the head of the local coven, and a somewhat formidable witch. She’s polite but mean when crossed, and she’s not just cunning but also bright. (In a land dispute about the borders of her property she summons up a creature of the devil to shift the courses of rivers and uproot trees so that the disputed property, once surveyed, will seem to be hers. Clever, that). She’s got a black cat familiar who understands English. She can bestow curses, turn invisible, alter her appearance, summon agents of the Devil, throw around pain spells, cause fits and paralysis, conjure up ghosts, use doll magic, force dream visitors back into their bodies, create bodily doubles of victims, and fly via her broomstick. She’s a classic, even archetypal English witch, in other words, and her late renunciation of Satan and conversion to Christianity do nothing to besmirch her memory as a great evil witch.

A. Abällino to Axel
B. Hajji Baba to Amelia Butterworth
C. Cahina to Inspector John Cutting
D. The Damned Thing to Dyson
E. Robert Easterley to Pedro Arbuez d'Espila
F. Fantomas to the Fulgurator
G. "G" to Dr. Ginochio Gyves
H. Les Habits Noir to the Hypnotist
I-J. Ichor to Rob Joslyn
K. Kai Lung to Kreuzgang.
L. Lady Detectives to Arsène Lupin
M. Madame Koluchy to Dora Myrl
N. Nameless Child to Alice Nutter
O. Jack O'Halloran to Ozmar the Mystic
P. Pan to Psammead
Q. Dr. Jack Quartz to Quong Lung
R. A.J. Raffles to Lord Ruthven
S. Mr. Sabin to Count Szémioth
T-U. Adrian Temple to Undine
V. Vaila to Vril
W. Hilda Wade to Wung-Ti
Y. Yákoff to Yuki-onna
Z. Zaleski to Zoe

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