Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 27, 2012


Oops!  Blogger published this one four days early (on Tuesday even though it's dated Friday).  Oh, well...

The Evening Standard Second Book of Strange Stories, edited anonymously (@1934)

In the 1930s London-based publisher Hutchinson & Co. published a slew of large themed fiction collections, each weighing in at 900 to a thousand pages or so.  Humorist P. G. Wodehouse edited A Century of Humour, Rafael Sabatini edited A Century of Sea Stories and A Century of Historical Stories, Dennis Wheatley contributed A Century of Horror Stories, Francis Brett Young did A Century of Boy's Stories, and so on.  Others in the series were edited anonymously (A Century of Creepy Stories, A Century of Detective Stories, A Century of Ghost Stories, The Second Century of Humour, etc.).  In the mix were two collections of "Strange Stories" from the London Evening Standard newspaper.

     What constitutes a "strange story"?  Well, practically anything if one is to judge by this anthology.  Ghost stories, fantasy, and horror, to be sure, but also crime and detective stories, as well as stories with an unexpected twist.  Bear in mind that the degree of "unexpected twist" lies with the reader; the editors seemed to take the term "Unexpected" rather loosely in several cases.  Many would have been suitable for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show (indeed one, T. O. Beechcroft's 'The Ringed Word", was included in the first hardcover Hitchcock anthology). 

     Eighty-four stories are crammed into 1021 pages in the book we are considering today; all are interesting for one reason or another.  Some -- such as M. R. James' "A School Story" and Saki's "Gabriel-Ernest" are well-known -- some slightly less so (Hugh Walpole's "The Snow" and Marcel Ayme's "The Dwarf".  Most are completely unfamiliar to today's reader.  It's interesting to read stories from authors who were highly popular back then, yet are a faded memory today -- Ring Lardner, Achmed Abdullah, P. C. Wren, Phyllis Bentley, H. A. Manhood, James Hilton, Edgar Wallace, E. M. Forster, Erskine Caldwell, Louis Bromfield, Norman Matson, Gouveneur Morris, Eric Linklater, Louis Golding, Michael Fessier, Walter R. Brooks, Manuel Komroff, Thomas Burke, Oliver La Farge, "Marjorie Bowen" (as well as her alter ego, "George Preedy"), T. H. White...How many of those names do you recognize?  Other contributors include Alexandre Dumas, Pushkin, Turgenev. John Collier, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Agatha Christie.  Among the many authors whose names I did not recognize were Pansy Pakenham, Elizabeth Irons Folsom, Dana Burnett, and D. Wilson MacArthur.

     The stories take us through Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, from the middle ages to the Twentieth Century.  All in all, a pretty good mix of stories.

     I can't pick a best of the eighty-four stories.  Some, of course, are better than others, but all are pretty good.  The only clunker of the bunch is Peter Cheney's "Nice Work", a Lenny Caution story which still remains interesting if only to see a British writer's attempt at American gangster slang.

     (From the title,  I can only assume that these stories appeared  at one time or another in The Evening Standard, although there is no indication of this anywhere else in the book.)

   To my knowledge the book has never been reprinted, so copies are hard to find.  (My copy came from an Interlibrary Loan.)  I think this would be a perfect candidate for reprinting as an "instant remainder."  It would be a shame if this collection remained unavailable to many of today's readers.


  1. These early megabooks also seem like natural candidates for ebookery.

  2. "How many of those names do you recognize?" Well, all of them just before this question except Manhood. Perhaps that's a metaphor. (Pansy Pakenham also unfamiliar. So, clearly, I'm avoiding both the butch and the femme.)

    1. A very respected writer of short stories in the Thirties, Manhood's most notable collection was his first, NIGHTSEED. Manhood's writing was admired by A. E. Coppard and H. E. Bates, among others. He quit writing (in a snit, evidently) after World War II when he realized how little he was being paid for his stories. After that, he devoted his life to cider. Mark Valentine writes: "Manhood spent most of his years living in a converted railway carriage in a field in Sussex, brewing his own cider and growing much of his food." Manhood published at least eight books that I know of; one collection of fifteen stories, GAY AGONY, is available online at Haiti Trust. Sundial Press released a collection of twenty-seven of his best stories just this month, LIFE, BE STILL.

      A brief check online shows that Pansy Pakenham led a pretty interesting life until her death in 1999 at age 94:

      Sometimes an author's life is as (or more) interesting than his or her writings.