A Publication of
THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
|Newsletter No.8||3 January 2002|
Since the last Newsletter in July, the Society has welcomed two new members.
Joan Philip found the Society on the Web and e:mailed me, extolling The Nebuly Coat as "one of my favourite novels". She says that she has always admired novels that examine the concept of redemption, thinking The Nebuly Coat is one of the best presentations of this theme. Joan lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas and is an English teacher in the Arkansas public school system.
Christopher Freebie also hails from the USA. He lives in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, is a professional writer and a collector of rare super- natural literature from the 19th and 2Oth centuries. He recently obtained a first edition of The Lost Stradivarius, "a novel I found
absolutely fascinating and beautifully written".
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Robin Willis alerted me to an article she had written in The Center Post [The Navy Public Works Center and Regional Engineer official employee newsletter in Norfolk, Virginia] on the saving of a local landmark in Hampton. One of only three remaining l8th century buildings in the city was due to be bulldozed "for a multimillion dollar marina" - for years this Herbert House was known locally as "Blackbeard's House", because the pirate's head had been displayed nearby as a grisly warning to other buccaneers. As we "go to press", there is hope for the building's future. Perhaps if a diamond is unearthed....
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Mark Valentine passed on a brief reference to JMF that occurred in The Spectator on 6 October. Dot Wordsworth [any relation to Christopher Wordsworth, JMF's friend and regular correspondent on matters ecclesiastical?] introduced her column "Mind your language" with the following:
"There are some books of which we imagine ourselves to be the discoverers, and so we like to bring our friends into the secret. Examples that are always being rediscovered are Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg; The Nebuly Coat by John Meade Falkner; Period Piece by Gwen Raverat; Nollekens and his Times by John Thomas Smith..."
Appreciating Dot Wordsworth's literary taste, I must find a copy of Nollekens and his
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Peter Oates, not a Society member, is doing some research into Dorothy Sayers. Apparently, she was greatly influenced by The Nebuly Coat, and Peter wrote asking for information about Cullerne and its Minster. Peter lives in Godmanchester, Cambridge and assumed Cullerne was modelled on a Norfolk town, despite JMF setting it in the South. I sent him extracts from Chris Hawtree's introduction to The Nebuly Coat in the OUP "World's Classics" series and Peter Davey's article in last July's Journal.
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John Meade Falkner: Principal Auteur?
Browsing the Internet recently, I came across a site entitled "Bibliotheque des Grandes Aventures - Principaux Auteurs". It is subdivided into three geographical headings: Amerique, Europe and Autres Regions. Only Edgar Rice Burroughs makes it onto the first list whilst under the last named are authors I have never heard oF! - V. Arseniev, I. Efremov, V. Obroutchev... Within the European field, the Grande Bretagne section lists only five major authors: Henry Rider Haggard, Anthony Hope, A.E.W. Mason, Rafael Sabatini and
John Meade Falkner.
JMF's pages are rather splendidly laid out, with a photograph of him, a colour scene from Fritz Lang's Moonfleet and a picture of the book itself. The text makes mention (and gives a link) to Robert Wilson's site which, amongst other goodies, publishes all our Newsletters. A brief biography starts it all:
Falkner est ne en 1858. Son pere est un ecclesiastique (ce qui explique peut-etre le charactere moral de son recit). Apres un voyage en Europe, Falkner travaille dans le secteur de l'armement. Ses nombreux voyages d'affaires lui laissent l'occasion d'ecrire quelques romans;The Lost Stradivarius (1895) et The Nebuly Coat (1903), deux textes fantastiques dans la tradition de Sheridan Le Fanu, et Moonfleet (1898). Il semble qu'il ait cesse d'ecrire a la suite de la perte d'un manuscrit (un recit dans la veine de Moonfleet); decourage, il n'eut jamais le courage de reprendre la plume. Il ecrit egalement des vers, dont on tirera un recueil apres sa mort, qui survient en 1932.
A longer section is devoted to Moonfleet, and includes the following comment:
Si le recit de Falkner appartient aux grands romans d'aventures, ce n 'est pas seulement parce que, comme Treasure Island (dont il tire une bonne part de son inspiration), it sait presenter des scenes qui materialisent la quintessence de ce que reserche le lecteur de romans d'aventures independamment de tout realisme; c'est aussi, plus prosaiquement, parce que Falkner sait construire une intrigue solide, menager les aventures sans chercher necessairement a les enchainer au plus vite.
It is pleasing to see that among the three Bibliographie critique
highlighted, our JMF Society member, Edward Wilson, is prominent, with his "Literary
Allusions and Sources in John Meade Falkner's Moonfleet [Notes and Queries,
The site can be found on:
Bibliotheque des Grandes Aventures - Principaux Auteurs
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Falkner in Reference Books
Naturally, one opens a large, 500-page Concise Encyclopaedia of Modern World Literature in full expectation of finding Proust, Marcel; James, Henry; and Montale, Eugenio. It is always the mark of a guide to see what place, if any, it has for Falkner, John Meade, and this 1963 volume does so, with relish, for it describes him as
"one of the slightly secret, minor, yet entertaining authors of the century. His boy's adventure story Moonfleet  has seldom if ever been out of print, and has never been out of memory";
Falkner is called an "intriguing and unlikely character" with a "scrupulously fine and
strong English", even if that terrifying novel The Lost Stradivarius is deemed
"rather mannered". His life is briskly related, with mention of a school after Marlborough,
and welcome emphasis is laid upon the poetry, which brings the assertion that "Falkner's own
guns and ships and explosives helped to destroy the world he celebrated and longed to retain".
And so, as is often the case, it is then on to his Mississippi namesake ["the prevalent smell is his novels is of damp and rotting leaves"], but those who flick through these pages might be startled to find that Hemingway, Ernest is followed by Henson, Herbert Hensley, "a man impossible to meet in public dispute, and impossible to resist in private converse" : few guides find room for him, admirable as he was [praised by Eliot], but this volume was edited by Geoffrey Grigson, a Falkner enthusiast whose tastes ranged widely -the Henson entry is followed by one for Hey, Victor, "author of Ferelih, a strange story which excited the interest of Andre Gide, Julien Green and others; it was published in 1903 and has never been reprinted"
Of such browsing are discoveries made, lists lengthened of books to be read [Jouve, Pierre-Jean "has received little attention in England and America, and has been acknowledged only tardily and grudgingly in his own country"]. Grigson's volume is no dutiful plod, and makes one look to see the showing that Falkner makes elsewhere.
One would have thought that he would be much to the taste of Sir Paul Harvey, who, in the year of Falkner's death, published his Oxford Companion, which, as early as 1932, did find room for the windy Mississippian ["one of the most remarkable of the young American novelists"] but no JMF, an oversight never rectified as the well-known volume went into a fourth edition overseen by Dorothy Eagle in 1967 and in print until eased aside by Margaret Drabble's version in 1985. This last allots him a third of the space given the author of Sanctuary - and has a desultory air: "a tale of the supernatural. ..a romance involving smuggling. ..an antiquarian romance dealing with a church threatened by collapse" -phrases that could be written without reading the novels in question. Better is the Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature edited by Margaret Drabble's assistant, Jenny Stringer, who mentions more of Falkner's work and acknowledges that The Lost Stradivarius is a "complex narrative" and The Nebuly Coat "imaginatively disquieting".
It was almost two decades after his death that JMF appeared in the Dictionary of National Biography, in an entry by Alfred Cochrane, who knew him well enough to write of his "leaving the university filled with an affection for Oxford and the south of England and expressing an extreme distaste for the north and everything connected with it" - and well enough to have said more than he did, but contenting himself to say of his work at Armstrong's that "his genius as well as his tastes followed other lines". He is spot-on in his brisk accounts of the work: The Lost Stradivarius is "wonderfully well worked out"; Moonfleet, "not perhaps his best, it is decidedly the most popular"; and The Nebuly Coat "may well rank as his masterpiece".
No mention here of childhood upheavals, which are described in the entry that he is given in Peter Parker's Reader's Companion to Twentieth-Century Writers, a volume in the Grigson spirit, which notes, "such was the erudite teasing charm of this gangling man that he travelled the world in this capacity, a most unlikely salesman for bellicose products". The Nebuly Coat is called "one of the century's greatest novels", and, as I read the phrase "many did not realise that he was married, and perhaps neither did he", I remembered that I had written the entry, that this phrase somehow came to mind as I was typing the pencilled draft: I had been asked to write several entries for it, at the last minute, and it is perhaps a curious, even Falknerian reflection that I have published rather more anonymously or pseudonymously - and often better - than that to which I have put my name. As I looked again at the other half-dozen pieces in this volume - including Peter de Vries ["the only wisecracker to find repeated inspiration in Sir Thomas Browne"] and Dawn Powell [since better known, with a remarkable diary published as well as entertaining letters and two volumes in the Library of America] - it was with the reflection that to enjoy Falkner one should not read him; that is, just as his tastes ranged widely, so enjoyment of him should be part of much more, that he has to take his place in a pantheon widened all the more by chancing upon Grigson's volume for £2 in a charity shop. That said, who can resist reading The Nebuly Coat once a year?
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Renewal of Membership
Subscriptions are now due for the majority of members. Those of you who do not receive an A5 slip with this Newsletter can breathe a sigh of relief - your sub is not due until January 2003! I hope you agree that three Newsletters and a Journal each year is good value for your subscription.
Mind you, I am still looking to some of you for an article or review as well.
Best wishes for 2002.
Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne Derbyshire. DE73 lBX
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