Monday, 19 May 2014

The Green Book: 3


The third issue of a magazine usually offers a decent litmus test of its likely long-term quality. Has the momentum of the first two numbers been maintained? By this standard The Green Book, from Dublin's Swan River Press, is set to be with us for a while. The standard remains very high and the contributors are still diverse and interesting a bunch.

It's the 200th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Le Fanu, and the 150th of the publication of Uncle Silas, by far his best-known novel. So it's not surprising, as editor Brian J. Showers notes in his introduction, that we're in for a Le Fanu fest and no mistake. Hence the cup of green tea on the cover. However, before we get into that, let's look at some items that don't deal with old J, Sheridan.

For a start, there's part three of Albert Power's almost preternaturally erudite essay (or book) entitled 'Towards an Irish Gothic'. He's just reached the early 19th century, which gives you some idea of how exhaustive this work is. Power has a style (rococo, maybe?) that suits his subject matter. Thus we read of 'intermittent glintings of sacerdotal roguery' rather than dodgy priests. In dealing with the life and works of clergyman-author Charles Maturin he raised several smiles from your humble reviewer. He almost persuaded me to give Melmoth the Wanderer a try, if only to find out if it's quite as ludicrous as it seems. 

Altogether different, but just as interesting, is Rob Brown's 'Hybrids and Hyphenates: H.P. Lovecraft and the Irish'. Close examination of several stories by Lovecraft, plus his correspondence and amateur journalism, shows how the Anglophile author struggled to define the Irish and ended up - as per usual - wallowing in rather unpleasant stereotypes. One point that I had missed - yet it's undeniably there - is the weird way Lovecraft merges Irish and Jewish stereotypes in some characters, almost as if he'd heard of Leopold Bloom at third hand and was determined to launch a riposte to Joyce.

On, then, to Le Fanu, and Terri Neil's 'The Embodiment of Sinister Agencies'. This focuses on the author's famous treatment of the disembodied hand theme. 'The Authentic Narrative...' is the favourite Le Fanu tale of author Jane Jakeman, and her enthusiasm led me to re-read it recently. It is a very odd story, not least because there is no clear explanation for what occurs, and in a closely-reasoned piece Neil notes how Le Fanu sets his haunting apart from more obvious tales. It is, as Neil points out, peculiarly horrible to know nothing more than that a presence is in the house, close by members of the family. And it takes a peculiar genius to make an effective story from such a simple idea.

'Some Notes on Le Fanu's Beatrice' by Philip A. Ellis and Jim Rockhill is especially interesting (to me) as it concerns the author's only drama. Beatrice is a verse-drama in two acts, and has been almost wholly ignored by critics and editors. This is not surprising - drama has relatively few enthusiasts these days, poetry even fewer. The play is a closet drama, in that it's intended to be read aloud rather than performed. It does not, I must admit, look especially entertaining, but it may well bear comparison with better known efforts by Browning, among others.

I recently acquired a dog-eared copy of one of the Pan Books of Horror Stories, and was pleasantly surprised to see an article about the series' editor, Herbert van Thal. While some have found fault with van Thal's choices for Pan, J.A. Mains makes out a strong case for the editor as a genuine connoisseur of weird fiction's great tradition and of Le Fanu's work in particular. The article also reproduces two introductory essays on Le Fanu that van Thal wrote at very different stages in his career. 

As you can see, this latest Green Book covers a lot of ground. The review section is similarly diverse, with insightful items on the new DVD release of Schalcken the Painter, a heroic attempt to put Melmoth on stage, and several books. The overall feel here is not of fusty excavation in a small corner of the literary world, but of exploration on a broad front that continues to unearth intriguing finds.

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