The Weekly Machen

This week, Machen offers another quartet of obscure books while adding insights to his personal reading habits. Incredibly, he leaves the best book for last, but leaves the reader hanging! Appended to this article is an unhappy correspondence from Keighley Snowden, whose book had received a review from Machen the previous week. As with Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Whom the Trees Loved,” Machen criticized Snowden’s “Bright Shame” on its approach to Nature. That article is available for reading.

Among My Books
Arthur Machen
August 3, 1912

Up to a few years ago there were two publishing seasons. Books were issued in the spring, and still more books were issued in the autumn; and the summer was the dead time. And of all hopeless seasons for book publishing the two months between the month of July and the 15th of September were the most hopeless.

All this has been changed. Five or six years ago, or earlier still perhaps, some of the leading firms discovered that the “bestsellers” sold well whenever they were put on the market; and many bad but highly successful novels were issued in August.

Now another change has come. To my surprise some of the best stories of the year have come to my desk in the last week or ten days. I have been wondering since last February what had become—not of the masterpieces of fiction—but of the well written, well constructed tale, the book that showed cleverness at all events, if not genius.

The months went by bringing dulness in fiction, with small and rare relief, the “spring season” passed without anything approaching a portent in novel-writing; and then at the end of July and beginning of August I find myself considering a row of half-a-dozen books, each of which is worth reading and worth talking about.

None of these books is written by a “bestseller,” none of them, so far as I know, has at its back a name good for an issue of 100,000 copies; still here they come in the heart of the dead season, and I hope the experiment will be justified.

I have already dealt in this column with Mr. Algernon Blackwood’s short stories and Mr. Keighley Snowden’s novel with a moral. Now we are to talk of “The Rat Trap,” by Daniel Woodroffe (Laurie); “The New Humpty Dumpty,” by Daniel Chaucer (Lane); “Golden Vanity,” by Maisie Bennett (Mills and Boon); and “The Woman Between,” by Edmund Bosanquet (John Long).

The Woman Between

Mr. Bosanquet’s novel offers the fewest problems, so it may be taken first. It may be said, indeed, that “The Woman Between” offers no problems at all—save to the absorbed reader who wants to know what will happen, who feels as he comes to the middle of the book that he must turn to the last page and so assure himself that everything comes right in the end.

The author, that is to say, has set himself the task of inventing a tale that will hold the attention from the first page to the last, and he has succeeded very well. Here and there there is a hint of melodrama; the Squire’s silver dinner service, the wealthy Aungier’s wealth, and the Irish accent of the Irishman are all a thought too much underlined and insisted on. Still I, who am of an impatient and scornful skipping habit where novels are concerned, read “The Women Between” from beginning to end and liked doing so: and what higher praise can the contriver of plots desire?

Golden Vanity

Paradoxically, Miss Maisie Bennett’s “Golden Vanity” is a much better book than Mr. Bosanquet’s—and also a much worse book. The first part, dealing with the orphaned Jeanette, the orphanage which trained her to be a tenant and savagely ill-treated her in the process, her companions behind the horrid walls, notably little ’Randy, the boy Don whom she met of afternoons after she had discovered an exit by the walnut-tree; all this is of very high merit indeed; I would say boldly, of rare and extraordinary merit.

Indeed, I have not the slightest hesitation in declaring that the “orphanage” section of “Golden Vanity” is by a long way superior to the somewhat similar convent school section of the excellent though over-praised “Marie Claire.”

Miss Bennett has etched in her picture of the miseries of oppressed and tortured children in a fierce dry point; the stylus has dug deep and black into the plate, and you know that there is truth behind every word of it. I have read the story of the hanged puppy once; but I could not read it again.

And then when Jeannette leaves the orphanage and “goes into service” in the suburbs; this is admirable also; I do not think Gissing would have been ashamed of these chapters.

And then we get to Part II. The characters have grown up! Jeannette is on the stage—and by some unholy and unlucky magic which I do not understand, the book becomes entirely impossible. It is written, this second part, in the worst manner of the worst feuilletonist, and after a couple of chapters I put it down unfinished.

Golden Vanity” to me is a puzzle and a problem; and as such I leave it.

The New Humpty-Dumpty

md31385064638I wish Daniel Chaucer—the name, I understand, ought to be distinguished by quotation marks—had paid no attention whatever to the advice of his publisher, Mr. John. Lane. {Ed. Note- Daniel Chaucer is a pseudonym of Ford Mattox Ford.}

The author wanted to call his book “The Dark Forest.” “Mr. Lane, however,” he says in his preface, “insists on rechristening it ‘The New Humpty Dumpty.” Mr. Lane was quite wrong. “The Dark Forest” is a beautiful title, and an expressive and appropriate title, for it is the phrase that was ever on the lips of the wonderful hero, Sergius Mihailovitch to express the strangeness and mystery of the Russian mind. The publisher’s title may be very clever, but though I have read the book carefully I don’t know what it means, or who the Humpty Dumpty of the story was.

The book is a brilliant and convincing piece of work, a quite fascinating combination of curious character-drawing and a most exciting and unexpected plot.

It was Stevenson, if I remember, who dwelt on the marvels that might be accomplished by the skilful invention of incident, and he took the first part of “Monte Cristo” as an example of this truth. The characters, he pointed out, were mere puppets, lay figures jerked into various attitudes by the manipulator, Dumas. And yet, as Stevenson truly declared, these chapters are wholly enchanting; Dantes in the Château d’If, the Abbé Faria, and all his contraptions and contrivances remain delightful in the memory.

Now Daniel Chancer is by no means in the superb rank of story-tellers where Dumas sits, but his tale as a tale is a very good one.

And then all the people are alive and entirely convincing from the wretched little converted Socialist doctrinaire to the Grand Duke. Indeed, I cannot praise this Grand Duke too highly; he is magnificent, terrific—and most amusing. Here is an account of the wedding of the hero and heroine, celebrated according to the rite of the Orthodox Eastern Church:—

The only hitch in the ceremony itself came from Mr. Dexter [an American gentleman]. He strolled into the small back room that had been turned into a chapel with his hands in his pockets, and an immense cigar in his mouth . . . . His cigar very much irritated the Archbishop of Nicomesia, who interrupted his extremely beautiful intoning to say, in a harsh voice, that this was the House of God, and not a place for a man to make a beast of himself in.

And as Mr Dexter did not understand him, the Grand Duke pulled the enormous cigar from his mouth, and threw it into the Holy Water font. After that it all went very quietly.

And through all the humours and adventures and tragedies of the tale moves Sergius Mihailovitch Macdonald, the modern Quixote, whose soul was as a dark forest.

I have left myself but wholly inadequate space to deal with “The Rat Trap,” by Daniel Woodroffe. I must be brief; but I will be emphatic. I think that it is certainly the best novel of the year.

To the Editor of “The Evening News.”

Sir.—I am aware that Mr. Arthur Machen’s attitude towards Nature is very different from my own, but I do not believe that he would willingly misrepresent any man’s. However, he misrepresents mine surprisingly. It is not the fact that “Mr. Snowden tells us that the cure for all our ills is to follow Nature.” It is gratuitous and mistaken to imply that, even in one respect, I would have Nature followed unintelligently; and, far from being a disciple of “the idiot philosophy of the eighteenth century,’’ I am not much concerned to defend it.

Your courtesy will at once allow me to make these disclaimers, and to say that Mr. Machen’s comment on the rationale of “Bright Shame” goes over my head. I do not know that I have any right to ask for space in which to make this evident, or to answer him on the question between us; but 1 am very ready to do so.

Keighley Snowden
London, July 30, 1912

[I am sorry if I have misrepresented Mr. Snowden’s view of Nature. I have not got a copy of “Bright Shame” to refer to: but, unless I am mistaken, Mr. Snowden states that our chief fault is that we do not sufficiently follow “the hint of Nature.’’ My point is that Nature hints to one man the expediency of committing murder, to another the necessity of suffering martyrdom; and so, to repeat my own phrase, the word Nature cancels itself out. — Arthur Machen.]

The Weekly

Previous: A Clever Study of the”Average Young Girl”


Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2023 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Among My Books (August 1912)

  1. I don’t find Woodroffe’s Rat Trap at or Project Gutenberg. New York University appears to have the only copy in an American library, i.e. the Library of Congress doesn’t have it. No copies appear to be on sale at

    The publisher is T. Warner Laurie — a new name to me. Intriguingly, Worldcat shows TWL as publisher of another book by Keighley Snowden (a pseudonym if there ever was one, I suspect), called The Life Class (1908?). The publisher is also credited with a German primer from 1880. It seems the publisher existed as recently as 1950 with a book called Noah’s Ark, by Nancy Spain, and 1953 with something called Laurie’s Space Annual, credited to Sidny J. Bounds and John Keir Cross. I recognize the latter name as the author of a literary ghost story I have seen somewhere. A 1906 book was Camp-Fires in the Canadian Rockies. 1907’s Robert Thorne, the Story of a London Clerk sounds like a novel. Zoo Folk (1912) sounds like a children’s book. Barry Pain was an author who is not quite utterly forgotten (Orwell praised his thriller The Octave of Claudius) — I see Laurie published Pain’s The Diary of a Baby: Being a Free Record of the Unconscious Thought of Rosalys Ysolde Smith, Aged One Year. , also a Pain book with a less fanciful title, Mrs. Murphy.

    I’m going to send this comment before I lose all these data, and come back for more.

    Dale Nelson


    1. I’m glad you found one copy of The Rat Trap in existence, because I couldn’t find anything. What a cliffhanger Machen left for us! Does anybody want to race for the interlibrary loan?


      1. I’ve submitted an ILL request for The Rat Trap at my local university and have said I’d pay $10 if there were a fee.


      2. Christopher and everyone, my interlibrary loan department got back to me. The Rat-Trap is indeed held by just one American library, and is part of a non-circulating collection. I suppose if one were desperate to read it, one could get in touch with them and ask how much they would charge to have someone photocopy the whole book — if they were willing to do that in the first place. Or someone could arrange to visit the library of New York University and (maybe) get permission to read the book there.


      3. I’m looking into the possibility that the library would be willing to scan the book. My guess is that the cost would be prohibitive, if they are willing to scan it at all.


  2. Continuing the exploration at Worldcat of the books of T. Werner Laurie…

    another Keighley Snowden book, Verity Lads: Being Letters of Harry Verity to His Uncle Donty (1910); 1909 (?) saw publication of Louis Becke’s Adventures of Louis Blake (the similarity of names is noted); in 1926 we had A Handefull of Pleasant Delites [sic] credited to Robinson and Kershaw… and in 1907, a book by an author with whom, I believe, Machen was personally acquainted, M. P. Shiel, here represented by The Last Miracle (1907).

    Well, perhaps that will suffice. TWL seems to have been a publisher in a small but not insignificant way. And now who remembers it?



    1. More about the publisher of The Rat-Trap — T. Werner Laurie published as recently as 1987, though I don’t find the title of the book very informative: The Memorial Tournament 1987 Honoring Tom Morris Sr. & Tom Morris Jr. But Laurie was not confined to the publication of obscurities. It released one of the “Poldark” books, Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790. Perhaps the books were not well known at the time, but they were made into a series, or more than one series, that eventually turned up on public TV in the States in the mid-1970s.


  3. Fascinating reviews – and glimpses of publishing-house history! Thank you!

    To add to both, a bit, the only Daniel Woodroffe I’ve found so far is Her Celestial Husband published in 1895 by T. Fisher Unwin, whose nephew, Stanley, worked for him – before, in 1914 “purchasing “a controlling interest in the firm George Allen and Sons, and established George Allen and Unwin” – which may be most famous as Tolkien’s publisher – while Uncle T. Fisher Unwin’s “publishing house merged with Ernest Benn Limited” when he retired in 1926 (Wikipedia). Wikipedia also has a lot I never new about the first 20+ years of Mills and Boon, which apparently included “numerous adventure titles by Jack London”.

    The copy of Woodroffe’s Her Celestial Husband scanned in the Internet Archive is from Cornell University’s “Charles William Wason Collection China and the Chinese” – and has two jolly dragon’s on the cover!

    James Keighley Snowden has had his own Wikipedia article since July 2019, and I find six scans of his books in the Internet Archive: two of different copies of his biography of Sir Swire Smith, LL.D., M.P., published by George Allen & Unwin in 1921, two other novels, his Tales of the Yorkshire Wolds (1893), and a book with a title suggesting that whatever he might understand by “Nature” it probably has nothing to do with ‘natural law’ as understood by St. Paul and orthodox Christians in the course of the past two millennia: Myth and Legend in the Bible (1915) – “Issued for the Rationalist Press Association, Limited”. It would be interesting to read Machen’s thoughts on it.

    Do we know if, and if so, when, Machen learnt that ‘Daniel Chaucer’ was Ford Madox Ford (né Joseph Leopold Ford Hermann Madox Hueffer) – and what he thought of any of the other works of this prolific writer (and Conrad co-author)? Machen outlived him, and so, lived long enough to read everything he published during his lifetime, including his excellent Parade’s End tetralogy novels, and his fascinating short story, “Riesenberg”, anthologized by Dorothy L. Sayers together with Machen’s “The Great Return” in Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror – Second Series (1931). One wonders if Tolkien knew it, too…


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