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RE: [GAdetection] Clemence Dane

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  • Nicholas Fuller
    ... wrote: Hi Nick ... who spurred Gladys Mitchell s interest in witchcraft, which was, as I recall, my opening
    Message 1 of 24 , Sep 2, 2001
      --- "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
      <Adrienne.Ralph@...> wrote: > Hi Nick
      >
      > Do you know more about Clemence Dane aka Helen
      > Simpson. I gather she is the > same Helen Simpson
      who spurred Gladys Mitchell's > interest in
      witchcraft, > which was, as I recall, my opening
      gambit for this > group.

      I don't know much about Dane / Simpson, I'm afraid.
      The author biography of THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL (1939
      Penguin) states: "DEATH AT THE OPERA was written
      after [Mitchell] became interested in the educational
      theories of A.S. Neill, and THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
      came as the result of hearing a lecutre on witchcraft
      by Miss Helen Simpson." Don't really understand the
      thing about good wine needing no bush on the back of
      the 1950s Penguins...

      > I am starting to see the Mitchell interest in
      > witchcraft and the > supernatural is akin to some
      novelists interest in > ghost stories. They add >
      colour and imaginative dimensions. But I can't abide >
      them!

      Why don't you like ghost stories? Personally, I can't
      stand fantasy or science-fiction, but I am a great fan
      of ghost stories--as opposed to Stephen King horror
      stuff, which just strikes me as being mental junk
      food. M.R. James is deservedly famous--his ability to
      create fear and tension is unsurpassed, and he does
      this without the screaming heebie-jeebies of J.D. Carr
      (a great plotter but, in many ways, a horrible
      writer). You should try "CASTING THE RUNES", "THE
      TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS", "A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS",
      and "OH, WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD"--all
      are superb.

      The Mitchells with witchcraft and the supernatural
      are, I think, her best--THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL is a
      tour de force of imagination; COME AWAY, DEATH has
      really compelling atmosphere; WHEN LAST I DIED is one
      of the greatest uses of the haunted house setting in
      the genre; DEATH AND THE MAIDEN has a distinctly odd
      feeling all its own, with its water nymphs and river
      setting; THE DANCING DRUIDS has an incredibly
      terrifying opening, with a young man playing hares and
      hounds, and getting lost in the wilds, stumbling
      across the odd inhabitants of a house with only dead
      trees growing outside; TOM BROWN'S BODY's witchcraft
      is superb--the ending "the genuine Mitchell frisson"
      as Larkin put it; MERLIN'S FURLONG's witchcraft is
      entertaining and unusual--FURLONG is in many ways the
      quintessential Gladys Mitchell novel; and HERE LIES
      GLORIA MUNDY has an ending which, like that of TOM
      BROWN'S BODY, has to be read to be believed. On the
      other hand, I find her works of the 1960s and 1970s
      inferior--WRAITHS AND CHANGELINGS, for example, has a
      ghost tour setting that should work, but goes merrily
      down the plug hole after a few chapters--she did this
      much better in THE WHISPERING KNIGHTS, which combines
      stone circles with flitting wraiths of evil. Another
      problem with the works of the '60s and '70s is that
      too often there is little ingenuity of plot, the plot
      tends to be simplistic (simplistic by most author's
      standards, which is surprising considering that
      Mitchell's books are "based on the thicket theory of
      plotting", to quote Patricia Craig, or what Margery
      Allingham termed "plum pudding"--complication,
      complication, and more-complication) and too much
      travelling--e.g., DEATH OF A DELFT BLUE (1964), 3
      QUICK AND FIVE DEAD (1968), LAMENT FOR LETO (1971),
      WINKING AT THE BRIM (1974). On the other hand, a few
      books of the 1960s and 1970s stand out: THE CROAKING
      RAVEN (1966) is quite entertaining; DANCE TO YOUR
      DADDY (1969) is an excellent take-off of the Gothic
      novel, complete with young woman forced to wear armour
      by her wicked guardian; GORY DEW (1970) has some
      excellent misdirection; LATE, LATE IN THE EVENING
      (1976), her fiftieth, has a good plot, and a nice
      setting; FAULT IN THE STRUCTURE (1977) is an excellent
      tale--how the psychological thriller should be done;
      and from 1979 on, her books improved--both NEST OF
      VIPERS and THE MUDFLATS OF THE DEAD are well worth
      seeking out.

      Regards,

      Nick Fuller

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    • Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)
      ... From: Nicholas Fuller [mailto:stoke_moran@yahoo.com] Sent: Monday, September 03, 2001 11:37 AM To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com Subject: RE: [GAdetection]
      Message 2 of 24 , Sep 2, 2001
        -----Original Message-----
        From: Nicholas Fuller [mailto:stoke_moran@...]
        Sent: Monday, September 03, 2001 11:37 AM
        To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: RE: [GAdetection] Clemence Dane


        --- "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
        <Adrienne.Ralph@...> wrote: > Hi Nick
        >
        > Do you know more about Clemence Dane aka Helen
        > Simpson. I gather she is the > same Helen Simpson
        who spurred Gladys Mitchell's > interest in
        witchcraft, > which was, as I recall, my opening
        gambit for this > group.

        I don't know much about Dane / Simpson, I'm afraid.
        The author biography of THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL (1939
        Penguin) states: "DEATH AT THE OPERA was written
        after [Mitchell] became interested in the educational
        theories of A.S. Neill, and THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
        came as the result of hearing a lecutre on witchcraft
        by Miss Helen Simpson." Don't really understand the
        thing about good wine needing no bush on the back of
        the 1950s Penguins...

        Well there was obviously quite a lot going on between Mitchell and Simpson,
        including naming characters. Could be a lead for your biography Nick.

        > I am starting to see the Mitchell interest in
        > witchcraft and the > supernatural is akin to some
        novelists interest in > ghost stories. They add >
        colour and imaginative dimensions. But I can't abide >
        them!

        Why don't you like ghost stories? Personally, I can't
        stand fantasy or science-fiction, but I am a great fan
        of ghost stories--as opposed to Stephen King horror
        stuff, which just strikes me as being mental junk
        food. M.R. James is deservedly famous--his ability to
        create fear and tension is unsurpassed, and he does
        this without the screaming heebie-jeebies of J.D. Carr
        (a great plotter but, in many ways, a horrible
        writer). You should try "CASTING THE RUNES", "THE
        TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS", "A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS",
        and "OH, WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD"--all
        are superb.

        I'm not sure there could be a rational answer to why I don't like ghost
        stories. But, perforce, such a preference is nothing but irrational. There
        are some exceptional ghost stories that I have enjoyed, and the supernatural
        can be an interesting element in any genre, but anything that smacks of mere
        superstition repels me. I hate superstition, it is akin to mischief-making,
        and I have no time for it. Therefore Buddhist or Chinese ghost stories are
        the more interesting because, for these cultures, ghosts can be part of
        deeply-help metaphysical belief-system.

        I don't appreciate gratuitous violence or being manipulated into fear. (I
        have been known to find gratuitous sex quite tolerable, but I don't let that
        get around too much...) It may be my age, or life experiences, but after a
        couple of bad frights (I'm sure no more than most people who have been
        around the block a few times), I respect fear too much to think about
        playing with it.

        The Mitchells with witchcraft and the supernatural
        are, I think, her best--THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL is a
        tour de force of imagination; COME AWAY, DEATH has
        really compelling atmosphere; WHEN LAST I DIED is one
        of the greatest uses of the haunted house setting in
        the genre; DEATH AND THE MAIDEN has a distinctly odd
        feeling all its own, with its water nymphs and river
        setting; THE DANCING DRUIDS has an incredibly
        terrifying opening, with a young man playing hares and
        hounds, and getting lost in the wilds, stumbling
        across the odd inhabitants of a house with only dead
        trees growing outside; TOM BROWN'S BODY's witchcraft
        is superb--the ending "the genuine Mitchell frisson"
        as Larkin put it; MERLIN'S FURLONG's witchcraft is
        entertaining and unusual--FURLONG is in many ways the
        quintessential Gladys Mitchell novel; and HERE LIES
        GLORIA MUNDY has an ending which, like that of TOM
        BROWN'S BODY, has to be read to be believed. On the
        other hand, I find her works of the 1960s and 1970s
        inferior--WRAITHS AND CHANGELINGS, for example, has a
        ghost tour setting that should work, but goes merrily
        down the plug hole after a few chapters--she did this
        much better in THE WHISPERING KNIGHTS, which combines
        stone circles with flitting wraiths of evil. Another
        problem with the works of the '60s and '70s is that
        too often there is little ingenuity of plot, the plot
        tends to be simplistic (simplistic by most author's
        standards, which is surprising considering that
        Mitchell's books are "based on the thicket theory of
        plotting", to quote Patricia Craig, or what Margery
        Allingham termed "plum pudding"--complication,
        complication, and more-complication)

        Both excellent descriptions. I find the thicket-like plots - ie beyond
        labyrinthine - can detract from her work, distract from her characters and
        frankly could be pruned back to a more elegant structure which would give
        her works greater cohesion.

        and too much
        travelling--e.g., DEATH OF A DELFT BLUE (1964), 3
        QUICK AND FIVE DEAD (1968), LAMENT FOR LETO (1971),
        WINKING AT THE BRIM (1974). On the other hand, a few
        books of the 1960s and 1970s stand out: THE CROAKING
        RAVEN (1966) is quite entertaining; DANCE TO YOUR
        DADDY (1969) is an excellent take-off of the Gothic
        novel, complete with young woman forced to wear armour
        by her wicked guardian;

        I remember this as funny but silly. Credulity was bent out of all
        recognition.

        GORY DEW (1970) has some
        excellent misdirection; LATE, LATE IN THE EVENING
        (1976), her fiftieth, has a good plot, and a nice
        setting; FAULT IN THE STRUCTURE (1977) is an excellent
        tale--how the psychological thriller should be done;
        and from 1979 on, her books improved--both NEST OF
        VIPERS and THE MUDFLATS OF THE DEAD are well worth
        seeking out.

        Regards,

        Nick Fuller


        ps Sepulle, as I strain my short-term memory, was the doctor in 'When I Last
        Died'.
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      • chenrik@tiscali.se
        ... People, people. Let s try this again, shall we? :) Helen Simpson and Clemence Dane are two different people. The connection between them is that they
        Message 3 of 24 , Sep 3, 2001
          --- In GAdetection@y..., "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
          <Adrienne.Ralph@r...> wrote:
          > Hi Nick
          >
          > Do you know more about Clemence Dane aka Helen Simpson. I gather
          > she is the same Helen Simpson who spurred Gladys Mitchell's
          > interest in witchcraft, which was, as I recall, my opening gambit
          > for this group.

          People, people. Let's try this again, shall we? :)

          Helen Simpson and Clemence Dane are two different people. The
          connection between them is that they collaborated on three novels.

          Christian Henriksson
        • Nicholas Fuller
          . --- Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb) ... between Mitchell and Simpson, including naming characters. Could be a lead for your biography Nick. Well, I m
          Message 4 of 24 , Sep 3, 2001
            .> --- "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
            > <Adrienne.Ralph@...> wrote: > Hi
            > Nick
            > >
            > > Do you know more about Clemence Dane aka Helen
            > > Simpson. I gather she is the > same Helen Simpson
            > who spurred Gladys Mitchell's > interest in
            > witchcraft, > which was, as I recall, my opening
            > gambit for this > group.
            >
            > I don't know much about Dane / Simpson, I'm afraid.
            > The author biography of THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
            > (1939
            > Penguin) states: "DEATH AT THE OPERA was written
            > after [Mitchell] became interested in the
            > educational
            > theories of A.S. Neill, and THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
            > came as the result of hearing a lecutre on
            > witchcraft
            > by Miss Helen Simpson." Don't really understand the
            > thing about good wine needing no bush on the back of
            > the 1950s Penguins...
            >
            > Well there was obviously quite a lot going on >
            between Mitchell and Simpson, > including naming
            characters. Could be a lead for > your biography Nick.

            Well, I'm going to see if I can find a copy of ASK A
            POLICEMAN--that should give me some material to work
            with--interesting to see what Dane did with Mrs. Croc.
            I should also keep an eye out for the Simpson / Dane
            books--see how much similarity there is between them
            and Mitchell. And if I could get a copy of Winifred
            Blazey's CROUCHING HILLS--Mitchell dedicated several
            books, including SUNSET OVER SOHO, MY FATHER SLEEPS, &
            DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, to Blazey...

            > > I am starting to see the Mitchell interest in
            > > witchcraft and the > supernatural is akin to some
            > novelists interest in > ghost stories. They add >
            > colour and imaginative dimensions. But I can't abide
            > > > them!
            >
            > Why don't you like ghost stories? Personally, I >
            can't > stand fantasy or science-fiction, but I am a
            great > fan > of ghost stories--as opposed to Stephen
            King horror > stuff, which just strikes me as being
            mental junk > food. M.R. James is deservedly
            famous--his ability > to > create fear and tension is
            unsurpassed, and he does > this without the screaming
            heebie-jeebies of J.D. > Carr > (a great plotter but,
            in many ways, a horrible > writer). You should try
            "CASTING THE RUNES", "THE > TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS",
            "A WARNING TO THE > CURIOUS", > and "OH, WHISTLE AND
            I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD"--all > are superb.
            >
            > I'm not sure there could be a rational answer to why
            > I don't like ghost > stories. But, perforce, such a
            preference is > nothing but irrational.

            Well, as ghost stories rely on humanity's IRrational
            fears to achieve their effect...

            There > are some exceptional ghost stories that I have
            > enjoyed, and the supernatural > can be an
            interesting element in any genre, but > anything that
            smacks of mere > superstition repels me. I hate
            superstition, it is > akin to mischief-making, > and I
            have no time for it. Therefore Buddhist or > Chinese
            ghost stories are > the more interesting because, for
            these cultures, > ghosts can be part of > deeply-help
            metaphysical belief-system.

            Superstition for the sake of superstition is often
            irritating--Mitchell neatly parodied this in HERE
            COMES A CHOPPER, where, owing to the insanity of the
            hostess, a party of 14 sits down at table for five
            hours under the misapprehension that there are 13 at
            table, and that the first one to stand up will die. I
            also find horoscopes irritating--the "predictions" can
            be applied to anything.
            On the other hand, superstition can often give an
            indication of how people think, and of how cultures
            function--e.g., the Roman habit of taking the
            auspices--interesting to see the highly ingenious
            interpretations made from the evidence!

            > I don't appreciate gratuitous violence or being >
            manipulated into fear. (I > have been known to find
            gratuitous sex quite > tolerable, but I don't let that
            > get around too much...) It may be my age, or life >
            experiences, but after a > couple of bad frights (I'm
            sure no more than most > people who have been > around
            the block a few times), I respect fear too > much to
            think about > playing with it.
            >
            > The Mitchells with witchcraft and the supernatural
            > are, I think, her best--THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL is a
            > tour de force of imagination; COME AWAY, DEATH has
            > really compelling atmosphere; WHEN LAST I DIED is
            > one > of the greatest uses of the haunted house
            setting in > the genre; DEATH AND THE MAIDEN has a
            distinctly odd > feeling all its own, with its water
            nymphs and river > setting; THE DANCING DRUIDS has an
            incredibly > terrifying opening, with a young man
            playing hares > and > hounds, and getting lost in the
            wilds, stumbling > across the odd inhabitants of a
            house with only dead > trees growing outside; TOM
            BROWN'S BODY's witchcraft > is superb--the ending "the
            genuine Mitchell frisson" > as Larkin put it; MERLIN'S
            FURLONG's witchcraft is > entertaining and
            unusual--FURLONG is in many ways > the >
            quintessential Gladys Mitchell novel; and HERE LIES >
            GLORIA MUNDY has an ending which, like that of TOM >
            BROWN'S BODY, has to be read to be believed. On the >
            other hand, I find her works of the 1960s and 1970s >
            inferior--WRAITHS AND CHANGELINGS, for example, has >
            a > ghost tour setting that should work, but goes >
            merrily > down the plug hole after a few chapters--she
            did > this > much better in THE WHISPERING KNIGHTS,
            which > combines
            > stone circles with flitting wraiths of evil.
            > Another > problem with the works of the '60s and
            '70s is that > too often there is little ingenuity of
            plot, the > plot > tends to be simplistic (simplistic
            by most author's > standards, which is surprising
            considering that > Mitchell's books are "based on the
            thicket theory of > plotting", to quote Patricia
            Craig, or what Margery > Allingham termed "plum
            pudding"--complication, > complication, and
            more-complication)
            >
            > Both excellent descriptions. I find the thicket-like
            > plots - ie beyond > labyrinthine - can detract from
            her work, distract > from her characters and > frankly
            could be pruned back to a more elegant > structure
            which would give > her works greater cohesion.

            I like complication in books--it shows that the author
            has got an imagination, and is trying to construct an
            elaborate maze. Of course, some books, such as THE
            WORSTED VIPER (1943), where everything is unclear,
            even the murderers' identities and motive--something
            about a French translation of a name being the only
            "clue"--are horrible; others, such as the early books
            from BUTCHER'S SHOP - COME AWAY DEATH, SUNSET OVER
            SOHO, and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN are good complex
            stories.

            > and too much > travelling--e.g., DEATH OF A DELFT
            BLUE (1964), 3 > QUICK AND FIVE DEAD (1968), LAMENT
            FOR LETO (1971), > WINKING AT THE BRIM (1974). On the
            other hand, a > few > books of the 1960s and 1970s
            stand out: THE CROAKING > RAVEN (1966) is quite
            entertaining; DANCE TO YOUR > DADDY (1969) is an
            excellent take-off of the Gothic > novel, complete
            with young woman forced to wear > armour > by her
            wicked guardian;
            >
            > I remember this as funny but silly. Credulity was
            > bent out of all > recognition.

            How much of Mitchell is credible? Written down in
            summary form, much of Mitchell looks as though it
            would fail miserably--try writing down the plot of one
            of Mitchell's masterpieces, and see whether, without
            benefit of Mitchell's writing and ability to sustain
            atmosphere and characterisation, the piece would work.
            One of Mitchell's gifts--a git she shared with
            Michael Innes, especially in STOP PRESS or THE
            DAFFODIL AFFAIR--was the ability to take the
            fantastic, and build up a structure to make it
            credible.

            > GORY DEW (1970) has some > excellent misdirection;
            LATE, LATE IN THE EVENING > (1976), her fiftieth, has
            a good plot, and a nice > setting; FAULT IN THE
            STRUCTURE (1977) is an > excellent > tale--how the
            psychological thriller should be done; > and from 1979
            on, her books improved--both NEST OF > VIPERS and THE
            MUDFLATS OF THE DEAD are well worth > seeking out.
            >
            Regards,

            Nick Fuller

            > ps Sepulle, as I strain my short-term memory, was
            > the doctor in 'When I Last > Died'.

            Ah!

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          • Nicholas Fuller
            On the subject of pseudo-supernatural detective stories: Idly glancing through Barzun & Taylor (actually, have spent the last month underlining things in
            Message 5 of 24 , Sep 3, 2001
              On the subject of pseudo-supernatural detective
              stories:

              Idly glancing through Barzun & Taylor (actually, have
              spent the last month underlining things in it--much
              less eccentric and much more catholic than Symons, as
              it covers detective stories, thrillers, H.I.B.K.,
              psychological stories, detective novels, police
              procedurals, etc.--Symons condemns everything that
              isn't "realistic"), and was struck by the work of
              R(ubie). C(onstance). Ashby, whose work seems to
              resemble Gladys Mitchell's:

              HE ARRIVED AT DUSK has an M.R. Jamesian "London
              antiquary summoned to value and catalogue a library"
              investigating "the possible curse laid on by the ghost
              of a Roman centurion", while

              OUT WENT THE TAPER has "elements of the supernatural
              ... left dangling at the end of the tale, which
              concerns a young Rhodes scholar's involvement in the
              mystery surrounding a ruined Welsh monastery".

              As the author's work is rare--and therefore
              expensive--I am wondering whether it is worth the
              expenditure to secure an expensive copy (i.e.,
              $50--$60 U.S., roughly twice as much in Australian
              money) of one of those two books. If so, which one?

              Regards,

              Nick Fuller

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            • Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)
              I must say I m rather disappointed in your attitude Christian. There I was assiduously pursuing the key tenets of rumour-mongering: 1 Maintain and where
              Message 6 of 24 , Sep 3, 2001
                I must say I'm rather disappointed in your attitude Christian.

                There I was assiduously pursuing the key tenets of rumour-mongering:
                1 Maintain and where possible enlarge on the rumour in the face of the
                evidence.
                2 Ignore all facts unless they support or do not contradict the rumour.

                Finally the group stumbled upon an opportunity to propagate a rumour about
                the GAD era redolent with the hallmarks of some of our favourite authors,
                and you insist on scotching it:
                1 Mistaken identity.
                2 Possible mistaken gender attribution (see Speedy Death). Are we sure of
                anyone with a name like Clemence? And we all know about Danes as a red
                herring.
                3 Paucity of biographical information maximising opportunity for
                fabrication.
                4 Authors are famous for using nom de plumes, sometimes several.
                5 Witchcraft.
                6 Fiction writing, and a theme of fact vs fiction, life imitating art.
                7 Misdirection.

                And the things we could have done with Dane/Simpson:
                1 Ran off with Agatha Christie's first husband.
                2 Ran off with Agatha Christie.
                3 Head of Mitchell's coven.
                4 Other lovechild of Dorothy Sayers.
                5 We discover her unpublished MS (otherwise known as your round robin, what
                has happened to that by the way?).

                Well I could go on, but if I have this intransigent insistence upon fact and
                conformism it certainly limits my options...

                Adrienne


                -----Original Message-----
                From: Nicholas Fuller [mailto:stoke_moran@...]
                Sent: Monday, September 03, 2001 7:54 PM
                To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
                Subject: RE: [GAdetection] Clemence Dane


                .> --- "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
                > <Adrienne.Ralph@...> wrote: > Hi
                > Nick
                > >
                > > Do you know more about Clemence Dane aka Helen
                > > Simpson. I gather she is the > same Helen Simpson
                > who spurred Gladys Mitchell's > interest in
                > witchcraft, > which was, as I recall, my opening
                > gambit for this > group.
                >
                > I don't know much about Dane / Simpson, I'm afraid.
                > The author biography of THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
                > (1939
                > Penguin) states: "DEATH AT THE OPERA was written
                > after [Mitchell] became interested in the
                > educational
                > theories of A.S. Neill, and THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL
                > came as the result of hearing a lecutre on
                > witchcraft
                > by Miss Helen Simpson." Don't really understand the
                > thing about good wine needing no bush on the back of
                > the 1950s Penguins...
                >
                > Well there was obviously quite a lot going on >
                between Mitchell and Simpson, > including naming
                characters. Could be a lead for > your biography Nick.

                Well, I'm going to see if I can find a copy of ASK A
                POLICEMAN--that should give me some material to work
                with--interesting to see what Dane did with Mrs. Croc.
                I should also keep an eye out for the Simpson / Dane
                books--see how much similarity there is between them
                and Mitchell. And if I could get a copy of Winifred
                Blazey's CROUCHING HILLS--Mitchell dedicated several
                books, including SUNSET OVER SOHO, MY FATHER SLEEPS, &
                DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, to Blazey...

                It would be fasciniating to see another treatment of the saurian one!

                > > I am starting to see the Mitchell interest in
                > > witchcraft and the > supernatural is akin to some
                > novelists interest in > ghost stories. They add >
                > colour and imaginative dimensions. But I can't abide
                > > > them!
                >
                > Why don't you like ghost stories? Personally, I >
                can't > stand fantasy or science-fiction, but I am a
                great > fan > of ghost stories--as opposed to Stephen
                King horror > stuff, which just strikes me as being
                mental junk > food. M.R. James is deservedly
                famous--his ability > to > create fear and tension is
                unsurpassed, and he does > this without the screaming
                heebie-jeebies of J.D. > Carr > (a great plotter but,
                in many ways, a horrible > writer). You should try
                "CASTING THE RUNES", "THE > TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS",
                "A WARNING TO THE > CURIOUS", > and "OH, WHISTLE AND
                I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD"--all > are superb.
                >
                > I'm not sure there could be a rational answer to why
                > I don't like ghost > stories. But, perforce, such a
                preference is > nothing but irrational.

                Well, as ghost stories rely on humanity's IRrational
                fears to achieve their effect...

                There > are some exceptional ghost stories that I have
                > enjoyed, and the supernatural > can be an
                interesting element in any genre, but > anything that
                smacks of mere > superstition repels me. I hate
                superstition, it is > akin to mischief-making, > and I
                have no time for it. Therefore Buddhist or > Chinese
                ghost stories are > the more interesting because, for
                these cultures, > ghosts can be part of > deeply-help
                metaphysical belief-system.

                Superstition for the sake of superstition is often
                irritating--Mitchell neatly parodied this in HERE
                COMES A CHOPPER, where, owing to the insanity of the
                hostess, a party of 14 sits down at table for five
                hours under the misapprehension that there are 13 at
                table, and that the first one to stand up will die. I
                also find horoscopes irritating--the "predictions" can
                be applied to anything.
                On the other hand, superstition can often give an
                indication of how people think, and of how cultures
                function--e.g., the Roman habit of taking the
                auspices--interesting to see the highly ingenious
                interpretations made from the evidence!

                > I don't appreciate gratuitous violence or being >
                manipulated into fear. (I > have been known to find
                gratuitous sex quite > tolerable, but I don't let that
                > get around too much...) It may be my age, or life >
                experiences, but after a > couple of bad frights (I'm
                sure no more than most > people who have been > around
                the block a few times), I respect fear too > much to
                think about > playing with it.
                >
                > The Mitchells with witchcraft and the supernatural
                > are, I think, her best--THE DEVIL AT SAXON WALL is a
                > tour de force of imagination; COME AWAY, DEATH has
                > really compelling atmosphere; WHEN LAST I DIED is
                > one > of the greatest uses of the haunted house
                setting in > the genre; DEATH AND THE MAIDEN has a
                distinctly odd > feeling all its own, with its water
                nymphs and river > setting; THE DANCING DRUIDS has an
                incredibly > terrifying opening, with a young man
                playing hares > and > hounds, and getting lost in the
                wilds, stumbling > across the odd inhabitants of a
                house with only dead > trees growing outside; TOM
                BROWN'S BODY's witchcraft > is superb--the ending "the
                genuine Mitchell frisson" > as Larkin put it; MERLIN'S
                FURLONG's witchcraft is > entertaining and
                unusual--FURLONG is in many ways > the >
                quintessential Gladys Mitchell novel; and HERE LIES >
                GLORIA MUNDY has an ending which, like that of TOM >
                BROWN'S BODY, has to be read to be believed. On the >
                other hand, I find her works of the 1960s and 1970s >
                inferior--WRAITHS AND CHANGELINGS, for example, has >
                a > ghost tour setting that should work, but goes >
                merrily > down the plug hole after a few chapters--she
                did > this > much better in THE WHISPERING KNIGHTS,
                which > combines
                > stone circles with flitting wraiths of evil.
                > Another > problem with the works of the '60s and
                '70s is that > too often there is little ingenuity of
                plot, the > plot > tends to be simplistic (simplistic
                by most author's > standards, which is surprising
                considering that > Mitchell's books are "based on the
                thicket theory of > plotting", to quote Patricia
                Craig, or what Margery > Allingham termed "plum
                pudding"--complication, > complication, and
                more-complication)
                >
                > Both excellent descriptions. I find the thicket-like
                > plots - ie beyond > labyrinthine - can detract from
                her work, distract > from her characters and > frankly
                could be pruned back to a more elegant > structure
                which would give > her works greater cohesion.

                I like complication in books--it shows that the author
                has got an imagination, and is trying to construct an
                elaborate maze.

                Yes and no. Imagination does not need to be complex.

                Of course, some books, such as THE
                WORSTED VIPER (1943), where everything is unclear,
                even the murderers' identities and motive--something
                about a French translation of a name being the only
                "clue"--are horrible; others, such as the early books
                from BUTCHER'S SHOP - COME AWAY DEATH, SUNSET OVER
                SOHO, and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN are good complex
                stories.

                I think we're probably talking fine lines here Nick: The fine line between
                straining credibility to the point that it compromises the plot and the
                puzzle; the fine line between complexity and lack of clarity; the fine line
                between using superstition as an atmospheric device and it becoming tedious.
                Mitchell only ever strays across fine lines at times because she is such a
                good author.

                BLUE (1964), 3 > QUICK AND FIVE DEAD (1968), LAMENT
                FOR LETO (1971), > WINKING AT THE BRIM (1974). On the
                other hand, a > few > books of the 1960s and 1970s
                stand out: THE CROAKING > RAVEN (1966) is quite
                entertaining; DANCE TO YOUR > DADDY (1969) is an
                excellent take-off of the Gothic > novel, complete
                with young woman forced to wear > armour > by her
                wicked guardian;
                >
                > I remember this as funny but silly. Credulity was
                > bent out of all > recognition.

                How much of Mitchell is credible? Written down in
                summary form, much of Mitchell looks as though it
                would fail miserably--try writing down the plot of one
                of Mitchell's masterpieces, and see whether, without
                benefit of Mitchell's writing and ability to sustain
                atmosphere and characterisation, the piece would work.
                One of Mitchell's gifts--a git she shared with
                Michael Innes, especially in STOP PRESS or THE
                DAFFODIL AFFAIR--was the ability to take the
                fantastic, and build up a structure to make it
                credible.

                > GORY DEW (1970) has some > excellent misdirection;
                LATE, LATE IN THE EVENING > (1976), her fiftieth, has
                a good plot, and a nice > setting; FAULT IN THE
                STRUCTURE (1977) is an > excellent > tale--how the
                psychological thriller should be done; > and from 1979
                on, her books improved--both NEST OF > VIPERS and THE
                MUDFLATS OF THE DEAD are well worth > seeking out.
                >
                Regards,

                Nick Fuller

                > ps Sepulle, as I strain my short-term memory, was
                > the doctor in 'When I Last > Died'.

                Ah!

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              • Nicholas Fuller
                Imagine! A theory could be devised stating that Clemence Dane, Helen Simpson, M.R. James (who came back from the dead as a ghost in order to write detective
                Message 7 of 24 , Sep 3, 2001
                  Imagine! A theory could be devised stating that
                  Clemence Dane, Helen Simpson, M.R. James (who came
                  back from the dead as a ghost in order to write
                  detective stories), Gladys Mitchell, Malcolm Torrie,
                  R.C. Ashby, H.C. Bailey, and G.K. Chesterton were all
                  the same individual. I am also Dane / Simpson / James
                  / Mitchell / etc. writing under a pseudonym.

                  Regards,

                  "Nick Fuller" (obviously a pseudonym of A. Non, alias
                  U.N. Owen)

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                • chenrik@tiscali.se
                  ... I m truly sorry to have spoiled this fine rumour, but of course you are welcome to ignore my well-researched facts and go on assuming anything you like
                  Message 8 of 24 , Sep 4, 2001
                    --- In GAdetection@y..., "Ralph, Adrienne (REA-PtMelb)"
                    <Adrienne.Ralph@r...> wrote:
                    > I must say I'm rather disappointed in your attitude Christian.
                    >
                    > There I was assiduously pursuing the key tenets of rumour-mongering:
                    > 1 Maintain and where possible enlarge on the rumour in the face of
                    > the evidence.
                    > 2 Ignore all facts unless they support or do not contradict the
                    > rumour.

                    I'm truly sorry to have spoiled this fine rumour, but of course you
                    are welcome to ignore my well-researched facts and go on assuming
                    anything you like about this great Dane.

                    > Finally the group stumbled upon an opportunity to propagate a
                    > rumour about the GAD era redolent with the hallmarks of some of our
                    > favourite authors, and you insist on scotching it:
                    > 1 Mistaken identity.
                    > 2 Possible mistaken gender attribution (see Speedy Death). Are we
                    > sure of anyone with a name like Clemence? And we all know about
                    > Danes as a red herring.

                    Do we? I thought Danes were known for their pastry, not for their
                    fish.

                    > And the things we could have done with Dane/Simpson:
                    > 1 Ran off with Agatha Christie's first husband.
                    > 2 Ran off with Agatha Christie.

                    Or both! Maybe not at the same time, though.

                    > Well I could go on, but if I have this intransigent insistence upon
                    > fact and conformism it certainly limits my options...

                    I tend to suspect Dane of being a real bloodhound, myself.

                    Christian Henriksson
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