Home » Jeremy Strange’s Column

FREAKISH FACTS (No. 1)

By JEREMY STRANGE

This column is dedicated to freakish facts about authors and books. Horla readers are invited to share literary oddities from the worlds of horror & the supernatural. Titbits of a peculiar, incongruous and humorous nature – ‘coffee house curiosities’ you might call them – are the sort of morsel savoured by our connoisseur of such snippets, Jeremy Strange.

Send yours via our Letters portal (see tabs), marked ‘Jeremy Strange’. You must indicate a verifiable credible source. If published, we shall attach your name (or pen name). Send nothing that might expose any living person to hatred, ridicule or contempt. The departed, however, are a different matter (as far as the laws of libel are concerned)… usually.

                                                       

 

Arthur Machen struggled to find a publisher for his decadent masterpiece The Hill of Dreams. It first appeared in the improbable pages of Horlicks’ Magazine, which was put out by the proprietor of the malted milk drink company, where it ran from July to December 1904. It wasn’t published in book form until 1907 when Grant Richards took it on, ten years after Richards had first rejected it. Machen’s biographer Mark Valentine has observed of the serialisation by homely Horlicks: ‘… what the readers made of it would be well worth knowing.’

This titbit was supplied by ‘Mr Henry Wood‘. Source: Arthur Machen by Mark Valentine, Borderlines / Seren, Bridgend, 1995.

 

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Machen’s serialisation by Horlicks (a brand best-known as a bed-time beverage) owed much to the fact that the magazine was edited by his friend A.E. Waite, an American-born scholar/mystic who wrote extensively on the occult and esoteric subjects (and who, like Machen, was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn). Waite is perhaps best known as co-creator of the Rider-Waite deck of tarot cards and as author of its companion volume The Key to the Tarot. Rather like Machen’s novel, a somewhat improbable seeming association for Horlicks’ Magazine.

This gossip was gratefully received from Clare Ramsey. Source: Valentine biography.

 

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In his young adulthood and undergraduate years Graham Greene was addicted to Russian roulette, which he secretly ‘played’ with a revolver (belonging to his brother) on Berkhamstead Common, near the family home, in Hertfordshire, England. Not an activity endorsed by Horla. ‘… looking down at the chamber I could see that the charge had moved into place. I was out by one. I remember an extraordinary sense of jubilation. It was as if a light had been turned on… I felt that life contained an infinite number of possibilities.’ Greene ceased the practice when the ‘jubilation’ gave way to a (much less valuable) mere kick of excitement. 

I was fed this morsel by M.J. Allen. Source: The Lost Childhood by Graham Greene, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1951.

 

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Greene was deeply interested in dreams, particularly in what he considered to be their influential role in the creative process. He chronicled his own, which were highly fantastic. In one, the poet W.H. Auden (left) led a gang of guerilla fighters against Greene and ally Evelyn Waugh. Waugh shot Auden and Green followed up by stabbing the poet in the side with a kitchen knife: ‘… he seemed unhurt by my blow and began a literary discussion…’ Greene said in an autobiography: ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’  Do any authors today make such utterances (in public)? Enlighten me.

These snippets were submitted by ‘The Last King of Scotland’. Sources: A Sort of Life, Bodley Head, London, 1971, and A World of My Own, Reinhardt / Viking, London, 1992 (both written by Graham Greene).

 

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When once laid-up sick in bed as a child in St Petersburg (the family house is pictured, left) Vladimir Nabokov remotely envisioned – with, he said later, great clarity – his mother buying a gift for him on a shopping trip. She purchased a pencil from a stationer’s, a footman being called upon to carry it to her carriage. Nabokov, who could perhaps fill this and every other column, described being affected throughout his life by photisms inside his eyelids, praedormitary visions and hypnagogic mirages, one being of ‘a coarse-featured and florid dwarf’.  

Supplied to me by Dominic Kildare. Source: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1967

 

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And finally for now, permit me to take you inside the home of Nabokov’s fellow Russian Maxim Gorky, which, surprisingly for a writer so associated, at least in his final years, with Jozef Stalin, is a startling place brimming with decor and design of the Art Nouveau period. Gorky was given Ryabushinsky Mansion on returning to Moscow in 1932. It was designed in 1900 by Fyodor Schechtel for the wealthy Ryabushinsky family. Its rather rakish interior – some difficult dusting there, to be sure – seems at odds with the intense Gorky,  a Marxist anti-Tsarist who fell out with Lenin. There is no record of Maxim Gorky having been a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. But one suspects that Machen, Waite, Aleister Crowley and co would have been ‘wowed’ by the Ryabushinsky Mansion.

The snaps below were passed to me by caller at the Ryabushinsky Mansion, Matthew G. Rees (not, in case you may think, on a bench in Gorky Park) copyright Horla.

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